10 Questions with Martin Shoemaker

  1. Who has been your biggest influence as a writer?


The list is long; but if I have to choose only one, I would choose Jack McDevitt. After years of being so busy with work that I had little time to read for pleasure, A Talent for War rekindled my love for good old science fiction. And book after book, Jack has inspired me. And answered fan mail, inspiring me more.

Plus Jack started his career late in life, making his first sale at age 46. That convinced me that it wasn’t too late for me, leading to my first sale at 48. Jack gave me a cover quote for my novel, and I couldn’t be prouder.


  1. What was it like having lunch with Buzz Aldrin?

Heh. It was intimidating. I honestly didn’t recognize him. Our table at the ISDC luncheon was full of professionals in the space industry. They engaged in a lively debate about the best way to get to space; and there was one gentleman, very opinionated, who received a strange deference from the rest. Even when they clearly disagreed with him, they couched it very politely and carefully.

Then during the salad course, I leaned over my plate at one point to make sure I didn’t spill. I tilted my head sideways, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught his nametag: “Buzz”.

And I can tell you exactly what went through my head at that moment: Don’t drop the fork do NOT drop the fork oh PLEASE DON’T DROP THE FORK!


  1. What current writing projects are you working on?


I have promised Baen a story set in the Today I Am Carey universe for their web site. I’m working on edits for my next novel, tentatively titled Mutiny on the Aldrin Express (coming in September from 47North). And I’m 50,000 words into Ulla: Martian Song Book 1, a revision/sequel to War of the Worlds.



  1. What’s more difficult, writing programming code or writing fiction?


That’s a great question. I’m going to say fiction. With programming, there are rules and tests to help you know when it’s right. With fiction, you just cross your fingers and send it out.

(All right, sometimes it seems like programmers do the same thing…)


  1. Is there an overall theme to your writing?


Every story’s different, of course; but if I have a recurring theme, it’s identity. Who are you, and how do you find your place in life?


  1. What is the genesis of your Blue Collar Space series?


It actually started as a role-playing game campaign. We never played it, but I drew up incredibly detailed maps of the Corporation of Tycho Under, and I wrote a history for it and other Lunar cities. When I sat down to write a story, I “borrowed” that setting. Then I wrote more Tycho Under stories. Then when I started writing other stories in the near future, it was just easier to reuse the same setting and add to it.


  1. What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?


Readers telling me that when they read “Today I Am Paul”, they can feel that I understand them. Especially readers who identify with the character of Susan. When I wrote the story, I feared that I was kind of harsh with Susan; but readers tell me that Susan feels what they feel, and they thank me for understanding.


  1. How do you define success as a writer?


I’m tempted by the flip answer: “I’ll tell you when I get there.” But a more serious answer is what I often advise friends when they’re struggling with their writing careers. I call it the Five Years Ago You theory: if you could go back five years ago and show yourself where you are today, would Five Years Ago You be excited or disappointed? If the answer is “excited”, that’s success.

And that also means that success if a moving target. Five Years Ago Martin is pretty happy with where I am right now; but Today Martin has lots of new goals!


  1. Which person do you most admire?


There’s a doctor I know. For confidentiality reasons, he uses a pseudonym online, so I won’t identify him. He does psychological and medical care for really sick kids. Often terminal cases. He has to care for them and their parents in the worst situations I can imagine. He finds ways to keep their spirits up, to ease their pain, to console their grief. He watches little kids die, and then he goes out and does it again the next day because they need him.

I get tears just thinking about it. He’s stronger than I could ever be. Him and all the caregivers out there who fight battles they cannot win, but who refuse to give up. I admire them, and I’m glad they’re out there.


  1. If you could create a Mount Rushmore of the greatest science fiction authors, which four writers would you choose?


Only four? Grumble, grumble…

Let me start by taking the question very literally, meaning only science fiction authors. That means I’ll leave Tolkien off the list, even though I’ve read Lord of the Rings over twenty times.

First I’ll have to go with Robert A. Heinlein, for more titles than I have time to list here, so I’ll just hit two. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is so revolutionary (pun unintentional). It’s my go-to vision of life on a colony. And “Requiem”, sequel to “The Man Who Sold the Moon”, is a perfect gem of a story.

Second I’ll say Harlan Ellison, who was the finest stylist I’ve ever read. There have been times when I was reluctant to pick up an Ellison book because I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down until it was done.

Third I’m going to cheat: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in collaboration. Together they’re just about the perfect writer.

And fourth I’m back to Jack McDevitt, for all the reasons I stated earlier.