Myke Cole – Author Interview
Joining us today is Myke Cole, author of the Shadow Ops series, Control Point, Fortress Frontier, and the forthcoming Breach Zone. He was gracious enough to agree to this interview and I hope you all enjoy hearing what he has to say as much as I did.
Myke keeps a fantastic blog over at his website, http://mykecole.com/category/blog, that is one of my go to sources whenever I need a kick in the pants and motivation to get back to writing and finishing my own work. He isn’t afraid to tell the honest truth and he won’t sugarcoat any of it. Without any further ado, here’s Myke Cole!
- First off, why not give us a little bit of info about who Myke Cole is and what he’s accomplished?
* There are two main threads in my life: my nerd roots in comic books, fantasy novels and role-playing games, and my deep and abiding interest in national security. Those two passions have been a constant in my life.
The results have been predictable. I’ve had a long (and ongoing) military career, including three tours in Iraq and deployments to respond to a bunch of domestic disasters. I’m also fortunate enough to have gotten two back-to-back book deals, which means that I’m going to publish at least 6 novels. That’s a dream come true for me, and I’m continually pinching myself and trying to come to grips with the fact that it actually happened. My two great passions combine in my writing in what seems to me like an inevitable way: I write fantasy novels about military hard operators who use magic.
Accomplishments? Let me pick two, one from each side of my life: At the end of my third tour in Iraq, I was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal from Admiral McRaven (the head of US Special Forces. You see him at the end of Zero Dark Thirty). My first novel, CONTROL POINT, recently won the Compton-Crook Award for 2013. Awards are brief shots of adrenaline, and in the end you’re left with the work, but those few moments in the sun sure are nice.
What’s a standard writing session look like for you? Do you have any particular rituals that you like to do before writing for the day?
* When I first went full time as a writer, I had a writing routine, but once I got assigned to my new guard unit and CONTROL POINT came out, all that went to hell. My life is as unpredictable as it is full and every day is different. There are days where I sit in a coffee shop and write for hours on end, and there are weeks where I can’t find the time to write a word. I’m sometimes amazed that I get as much accomplished as I do (one book a year so far, and I’m fairly confident I can keep that up).
My current ritual? I’ll steal this from about 5 different people on Twitter: When I’m ready to write, I pour myself a cup of coffee, sit down, and attempt to read the entire Internet.
What was the hardest part about the formation of the Control Point world? Did any one aspect give you more trouble than you expected?
* Never the world. Worlds are easy, they do precisely what you tell them to do, and grow and change in the directions you dictate. Ditto for plot. Character is the real challenge (and the real heart of what makes a story good). Characters frequently don’t want to follow the orderly plot you’ve laid out for them to follow, and they can come off wooden if you force the issue.
It’s critical that a writer be willing to subordinate plot in order to give the characters compelling, believable motives and to follow them on their logical course of action. The characters were the hardest part of the SHADOW OPS universe, just as they are the hardest part of any universe I work in. But like anything in life that’s hard to do, it’s SO awesome when you pull it off.
Oscar Britton and Alan Bookbinder are two very different people thrust into the world of magic yet they handle their situation very differently. How important was it for you to have such different characters star in each of your books?
* Extremely. Ace (my publisher) is famous for doing serials that follow a single protagonist. Examples include Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs and Jack Campbell. But that was never my intent.
All my favorite writers (Peter V. Brett, George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch) have ensemble casts. Even when the story has a main protagonist, there is a huge supporting cast that is richly and fully developed. Martin takes it to extremes, and I love him for it. Following a single protagonist doesn’t work for me. I find the breadth and diversity of humanity too fascinating to follow any one person for too long. Exploring Britton and Bookbinder (and Harlequin, as you’ll see in BREACH ZONE) allowed me to indulge this magpie fascination, and also challenged me to truly empathize with very different points of view. That’s one of the most important ways to grow as a writer.
After Breach Zone you have another book, Gemini Cell, in the works, which is a prequel that shows the birth of the Supernatural Operations Corps. Is this the start of a new trilogy set in the past or merely a bridge into a new series?
* The jury is still out on that. My contract states that I will write GEMINI CELL and one sequel to it, but the third book is up in the air. I have a stand alone SHADOW OPS novel in mind that follows the character Render from FORTRESS FRONTIER on his own story, and I love the way that Joe Abercrombie writes “stand alone” novels that actually further his universe in a way that’s hugely satisfying for fans of serial novels. Render might be the star of a novel that tries to do that. We’ll see.
I also have a full outline and about 10,000 words of a straight medieval fantasy down. It’s dark stuff, with a young girl as the protagonist. The working title is THE FRACTURED GIRL, and I’m definitely going to finish it. The question of when I’m going to finish it is still up in the air. I’ve sold myself to the publishing industry as a hard-edged military writer, and this book will have to be dynamite to get them to see past that stereotype. I hope I can make it that good. I guess we’ll find out.
I’ve seen you mention before a board game based on the Shadow Ops world. Any chance of this becoming a reality for your fans?
* I have a completed rulebook and have play tested it with many people (including a pro game-designer) and they all say it’s a really great game and commercially viable. The only problem is that it would be an expensive game to manufacture and have a high sticker price. I’m at the point where I need to hire an illustrator to flesh out the manual and put in diagrams, and then send it out to my fans to playtest straight out of the box without any guidance from me. I’m blessed with a large body of fans who would be happy to do this, but I just need the time to get it moving. It’s hard to justify spending precious hours working on a game that’s paying me nothing when I have books to write that are already under contract.
You have the chance to be transported and spend time in the world of any book of your choosing, with the option of coming back at your leisure. Which do you pick and why?
* So ironic. I rail and rail against those who criticize the dark flavor of newer fantasy novels (the scathing term “grimdark”), but when you ask me this question, I see their point. My favorite fantasy novels all take place in worlds so bleak and nasty, I would never want to live in them.
So, I’ll take one from my childhood. I’d love to visit Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea. I’m a maritime officer, and I spend a lot of time on the water. For me, it’s a thing of hard edges, a place where I have to save lives and enforce the law, and where a single misstep can have devastating consequences. But Earthsea makes the water seem enchanting, pregnant with magic, gently dancing waves and the sun dissolving in molten gold. I’d like to see that, if only for a little while.
I have a personal love for collecting prop replicas and have noticed a lot of authors have started offering merchandise from their world. You are one of the few that doesn’t sell your replica but instead has a challenge coin exchange system. Why did you decide to do this and will we see more replicas from the Shadow Ops universe?
* The challenge coin is a century old military tradition. Challenge coins are awards, calling cards, thank you notes, and lucky totems, all rolled into one. The tradition of swapping coins is also a distinct and enduring US military tradition. Since the SHADOW OPS novels are so clearly American military stories, I thought it would be neat to honor that tradition by minting my own coins stamped with the crest of the fictional units in the story. Swapping them also helps bring me closer with my readers, and that means the world to me.
As for other replicas, I’ve got unit patches (that can Velcro onto uniforms), but other than that, no plans. But I do love fan art, hint hint.
Say the Great Reawakening, the rebirth of magic to the world, from your book happens tomorrow. What do you do and what role do you play as people start taking to the skies and summoning elementals?
* It pains me to admit it, but it’s the truth: I am a company grade officer in the US military. I would carry out the orders of my superiors provided they were legal. The McGauer-Linden Act makes it clear: Selfers are to be brought to justice. I would be commanding a gunboat squadron patrolling the coastline, or bringing guns to bear when Selfer Hydromancers were reported to have escaped into the sea.
Oscar Britton has the courage to defy his government and follow his conscience. I am not nearly that brave.
Lastly, thanks for agreeing to this interview! Is there anything else you’d like to say or add before you go?
* It’s not a dead certainty yet, but it looks like I’ll be having a SHADOW OPS novelette published in a major fantasy anthology coming out this fall. It takes place just before BREACH ZONE, and finally gives readers a story from the goblin point of view. I’m really pleased with it, and hope you will be too.
Thanks so much for having me!
As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Counterterrorism to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
All that conflict can wear a guy out. Thank goodness for fantasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dungeons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.