My science fiction novel The Martian Marauders was published in 2012 by Double Dragon Publishing. I really didn’t write it in the eighth grade!
Well, okay, it’s true that the somewhat dysfunctional Commer family and the history of the evacuation of Earth in 2033 have been with me since the 1960’s. I was in the eighth grade in the fall of 1965. That fall and the following spring I got through 110 handwritten pages of a novel called The Martian Marauders, basically a Hardy Boys adventure set in space. But halfway through I got bored, and though I still have some rudimentary 1966 notes about completing it, I abandoned the novel, leaving Captain Jack Commer and his brother Joe hanging in the ventilation shaft of a Venusian prison for the next twenty years.
The Commers had been around long before they blundered into this predicament. In September 1962 I wrote a story, “Voyage to Venus,” for a fifth grade assignment, introducing my hero Jack Commer, who appeared in several other stories that year. As outlined in a previous blog post, I recall reading these science fiction stories in class to the wide-eyed attention of my classmates.
My first attempt at what I called a novel, in the spring of 1964 when I was eleven, was Trip to Mars, fifty-five penciled pages in a small yellow notebook. Starring Jack Commer and his three brothers lurching from crisis to crisis, this story outlined the horrors of a 2033 World War IV and the evacuation of Earth’s surviving population to Mars. Many of its details were taken up in next year’s The Martian Marauders and some, like the trauma-inducing passenger shell catastrophes that so numbed the second oldest brother Joe, came to be part of 2013’s Nonprofit Chronowar. The notebook also included a senseless Kennedy-like assassination, still fresh in my mind from the previous November.
By the time I’d begun writing novels as an adult I’d dismissed all these efforts as kid practice. But twenty years later I ran across the handwritten manuscript of The Martian Marauders and I knew I had to spring the Commer boys from their Venusian prison. A fresh Part II allowed me to explore some current life themes as I glibly explained away the scientific ludicrousness of the 1966 version. I didn’t get bogged down in real science but just invented whatever was necessary–the EnviroFields humans needed to survive in the open Martian environment, the destructive power of Amplified Thought, and one-way Martian telepathy.
Then there was the fact that “the boys” were really men with romantic urges, and the brainwashed planetary engineer Amav Frankston arrived to torment Captain Commer. The quick and easy output, the fun of new plotting and composition, was a turning point in my writing.
Though I left the 1986 Part II as a typewritten rough draft, I decided to teach myself word processing by inputting the child Part I into the primitive EasyWriter II program, on an equally primitive PC. I only changed minor aspects, like certain sentences that made no logical sense, and the misspelling of Typoon throughout. So with a printout of this computerized Part I and a photocopy of the typewritten Part II, I had a completed MS. to foist upon friends and coworkers, who were generally amused at how the “black and white” Part I abruptly gave way to the “color” Part II.
Aside from making a photocopy of the entire effort (like all word-processing neophytes, I wasn’t terribly concerned with whatever remained on the five and a quarter-inch disk), I made no further attempt at preservation or updating, though the story spurred me to write a sequel that same year, Jack Commer, Supreme Commander, where I explored the embarrassing ramifications of one-way Martian telepathy, Phil Sperry’s hopeless infatuation with Jack’s wife Amav, and Jack’s desperate order for the remaining sane people to keep diaries so that he could track the moment when they were brainwashed into worship of the Alpha Centaurian Emperor.
But I had no desire to revise either novel into a finished, adult work. Both novels remained rough drafts, with minor handwritten corrections, for the next couple decades.
Then a third Commer novel, Nonprofit Chronowar, came along. In 2000 I began planning a new novel intended as a psychic collage of where I’d been over the past few years. But before long a time travel dream demanded science fiction, and I soon realized that Joe Commer had trauma issues requiring attention. As I got into the novel, the problem of congruency to The Martian Marauders and Jack Commer came up. Much of the plot of even the 1966 version, like the destruction of the outer solar system and the evacuation from Earth, still echoes through Nonprofit Chronowar, but I felt free in this third novel to alter any aspect of the previous two.
By this time I was thinking of the three manuscripts as a trilogy, and I revised The Martian Marauders and Jack Commer, stabilizing the three novels with massive fact, character, and chronology files.
As I began The Martian Marauders Draft 2, I thought I might have a difficult time with 1966’s Part I, that it might have some ancient holiness I might feel unable to alter, but I felt a new resonance to that childish beginning and I carved out a high energy plot. This second version was clean–no major structural problems, problematic chapters, or psychic messes. Yet because of the need to update writing in one case thirty-seven years old and wondrously naïve, in the other seventeen, Draft 2 had an experimental rough draft feel as I radically altered the mood of the 1966 boy’s story and 1986’s adult answer to it.
Then it was time to do the same for Jack Commer. These two novels taught me so much about having fun with writing, and keeping a storyline flowing, that I realized to my chagrin that the spur to all this, Nonprofit Chronowar, itself needed a major revision back into clear, fun writing–which was also a major writing lesson. I’m grateful to have gotten the best of both worlds from the Jack Commer series–both kid fun and adult expression.
I had most of this information on my website’s Martian Marauders page up to the point in March 2011 where Double Dragon Publishing notified me that that the novel had been accepted for publication. Then I removed it from my website, fearing that people would think I was getting a novel published which I wrote in the eighth grade!
But this was not the case. Really! And I finally decided to explain why this novel has resonated so deeply with me for so long.
Copyright 2013 by Michael D. Smith