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Myke Cole Interview

Headshots of Myke ColeMyke Cole is the author of the soon to be released, military fantasy series Shadow Ops. As a security contractor, government civilian, and military officer, Myke’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 & Dragons, and lots of angst fueled writing.

Myke’s first book Control Point is due out in February 2012. Authors and readers alike who have had the good fortune to get a sneak peek of his book, have praised the story as action packed, full of great characters, and fantastic dialog. Myke was nice enough to do an interview with us here at Fantasy-Faction and give us a bit more of a teaser before his first book makes its big debut!

You can read the Fantasy-Faction reviews of Shadow Ops: Control Point here and here. Now on to the grilling! I mean…uh…questions. 😉

So to begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you are qualified to write a military fantasy series?

Well, I don’t want to say that only people who have military experience are “qualified” to write military fantasy. I think that sheer storytelling prowess and research skill can make up for much of that. But in my case, I’ve been in the war business for pretty much all my professional life, including three tours in Iraq. I still serve in the military reserve now, but in a mostly domestic response (search-and-rescue, natural disaster response and law enforcement). To be honest, that suits my style a lot better. Far less morally ambiguous.

Did you have any formal training as a writer? Did you always plan on writing a book or is it something that just kind of happened? And who, if anyone, influenced your writing the most?

I am a graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop (a fabulous workshop for aspiring speculative fiction writers that isn’t nearly as long as Clarion). Other than that, I have no formal training (beyond the fact that we all learn to write in high school and college). But I have always written. My first loves in life were role-playing games, comic books and fantasy films based on novels, which are all ultimately text-based. It wasn’t a huge jump for me to wind up writing at a very young age.

As for writing professionally, that was kicked off by seeing my close friend, Peter V. Brett, make a major splash in the industry. Watching his rise put a real fire in my belly to become his colleague. He mentored me tirelessly throughout his rise (and long before), and I have stated in many interviews that he is my absolute number one writing influence as well as one of my favorite writers.

Coming back to the story, what is the Shadow Ops series about?

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke ColeI like to describe it as a story functioning on two levels: On one level, it is straight up classic nerding-out over matchups between kickass modern military hardware and all the stuff I loved from Dungeons and Dragons. Sorcerers with HK-416’s? Check. M1-Abrams takes on a Hill Giant? Check.

On a deeper level, it is asking fundamental questions about the nature of large government bureaucracies and how they handle sudden and dramatic change. More importantly, it examines how individuals are impacted as big organizations prioritize processes over people. When you add lethal force to the equation (as is the case with the military), the results can be pretty dramatic.

Oscar Britton is the only person with a point of view in Control Point. Will there be other characters with point of view sections in later books, or will the series follow Oscar exclusively?

Absolutely. I’m down to minor tweaks on Fortress Frontier (Book II) right now, and I can tell you it introduces another major character with his own POV. You will also see through the eyes of another of Control Point‘s major characters. Don’t worry. Britton gets plenty of screen time as well.

Oscar is a great character. I love how he is torn between following the rules he’s always thought were important and doing what he knows is right. Being that you are a big fan of the military in real life, was it hard to write a character that was bucking against the system that you yourself are a part of and love so much?

Not at all. I’ve often worried that readers of Control Point would think I am anti-military. I’m not. I absolutely love the military. I feel it’s a tremendous force for social mobility. A military, judiciously used, can work incredible good in the world. I am honored to be a part of it and my “rack” (the ribbons and medals I wear on my uniform) is one of the things I’m proudest of.

But I’m also very realistic about the challenges of operating a giant organization that’s essentially dedicated to killing people and destroying property. The military is an incredibly rigid, conservative institution. Its slowness to change and its lack of flexibility can occasionally steamroll decent people. This is a byproduct of having to stick to the rigid standards necessary to ensure deadly force isn’t misused and to keep hundreds of thousands of people who are entrusted with that force all moving in the same direction at all times. Military members are entrusted not only with the power to kill, but with some of the most expensive hardware in the country. Misfire a weapon? Crash a hojillion dollar jet? That’ll be all over Twitter in thirty seconds. The pressure to live up to the public trust results in a culture of internal inspection and suspicion. We are forever policing and punishing our own members. Sometimes, innocent people, or people who had to make hard calls under pressure, get caught up in that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love the military, but sometimes we eat our own. Shadow Ops is examining that in a fantasy context.

In the story, the US Military plays a major role where magic is concerned. Is magic treated similarly in other countries? And are other nations going to be involved in future books?

You catch glimpses of foreign magic using corps in Control Point (India, France, Russia). In Fortress Frontier, you’re going to get a fairly in-depth look at the magic using arm of the Republic of India.

I think one of the things that pulled me into the story the most was how real and plausible you made the world, even though it was full of magic-wielding humans and rampaging goblins. Was it hard to get the balance right between real and surreal since the book is set in the present day?

I spent a lot of time trying to get the magic system right. Good fantasy books are made by believable, realistically extrapolated magic systems. The two best examples I can think of are Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Those are the two most incredibly plausible and well-supported magic systems I’ve ever read. The Shadow Ops magic system isn’t close to as well researched (I believe that Rothfuss is an actual chemist), but I did spend a lot of time trying to poke holes in it, especially as I blended it with military hardware and its real world limitations.

I really hope I got it right. I don’t enjoy fantasy novels where the rules are magic are vague and anything can happen. If anything can happen, it makes it impossible for the reader to get truly concerned about the fate of the protagonists, because some heretofore unknown quirk of magic can save the day at any moment.

2012 JAN Myke Cole Interview (pic)

Magic, of course, is a big part of this world. Can you explain a bit about how it works and did it take you a long time to come up with the system?

I wrote a first draft of Control Point (then called Latent) in 1998, so I guess you could say it took me 14 years to come up with the system. The magic system in Control Point is elemental (though I take a broad view of what constitutes an “element”). There are five legal schools of Pyromancy (fire), Terramancy (earth), Aeromancy (air), Hydromancy (water) and Physiomancy (live flesh). Magic is conducted through a person’s limbic system (the emotional center in the brain), with seemingly random people “coming up Latent” and “Manifesting” magical ability. Anyone can Manifest at any time (though it is extremely rare) and nobody knows who will Manifest, when or why.

There are other schools of magic (practitioners are known as “Probes”), but they are prohibited by an act of congress. These are Necromancy (dead flesh), Portamancy (gate magic), Negramancy (black magic), Whispering (a sub-discipline of Terramancy involving animal control), Rending (offensive Physiomancy) and Sentient Elemental Conjuration.

If you Manifest in the world of Shadow Ops, you can join the Supernatural Operations Corps (SOC) as a commissioned military Sorcerer, or go into a sanctioned government Suppression program. What you cannot do is “go Selfer” and use magic on your own. You do that, the SOC will come for you.

And if you’re a Probe? Better start running.

And if you were a magic user in your world which type of magic would you have?

I’ve been asked this question many times, and I always answer that I wouldn’t want to be Latent. Manifesting magic in the world of Shadow Ops puts you forever outside normal society. SOC Sorcerers may be revered, but they are also feared. They’re a lot like the Berserkers of the old Viking warbands. You wanted one covering your flank, but you sure as hell weren’t going to grab a beer with him.

If I had to Manifest in a magical school? Government studies have found some evidence that dreamers, mavericks and artists tend to Manifest in Aeromancy, so I might wind up with that. Not too shabby, I suppose. By the time most Aeromancers achieve their Stormcraft qualification, they can fly, summon storms and bring lightning down anywhere they please.

I happen to know you are a full-blooded geek. Did gaming and other geek related activities help you create your story or influence your plot at all?

That can’t be a serious question. To quote Inigo Montoya (first geek reference) “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” If you don’t see Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, Aliens, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Demon Cycle, The X-Men, and about a hundred other reference points in Shadow Ops, then I’d wager you aren’t paying attention.

Good answer, and yeah, I just asked to see what you’d say. 😉 But getting back to the serious questions, I know you’ve finished the first draft of your second book. When will the second installment of the Shadow Ops series be coming out?

Fortress Frontier should hit shelves exactly a year after Control Point. Look for it roughly January 31, 2013.

Can you give us any hints about what might be in the second book?

Argh. I hate spoilers. Suffice to say that you will learn the fates of all characters left living at the end of Control Point (including at least one you might have thought was dead), see a magical school you didn’t know existed, meet a new protagonist and antagonist and watch a lot more of the same mixed military/magical action you enjoyed in Book I. You’ll also get up close and personal with a foreign military, and get to see how they use magic and how it plugs into their culture.

And do you have any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about? A short story for fantasy anthology perhaps?

Funny you should mention. I’ve just donated a short story (a Mexican science-fiction ghost story) to Marc Aplin that he will be using for the upcoming Fantasy-Faction Anthology, which will feature some of my favorite fantasy authors, including Mark Lawrence and another of my favorites that I can’t mention yet. I’m trying to convince one media tie-in franchise to let me write for them, and have another trilogy proposal (for an original fantasy series) that I am refining before pitching it to my publisher. Other than that, I am trying to diversify my career and branch into comic book and video game writing (tough gigs to land, but I’m trying).

Thanks so much for your time. As a closing question, what books are you looking forward to reading this year?

Great question. First and foremost, I will possibly be beta-reading Peter V. Brett’s 3rd Demon Cycle book, The Daylight War, which I am incredibly excited about. Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns should be coming out soon and I really loved Prince of Thorns and expect more great things there. Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves should be coming too (Lynch is a master). Joe Abercrombie is an amazing writer. I have followed him for five books and he has gotten better with each one. His Red Country is possibly going to be released this year, and I’m eagerly awaiting it. China Mieville is another fabulous writer (though our styles couldn’t be more opposite), and his newest book Railsea should be out very shortly.

2012 is going to be a great year for fantasy!

You can find out more about Myke Cole’s upcoming release Shadow Ops: Control Point on his website. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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5 Comments

  1. the_hound says:

    Hi, a really great interview which has propelled this book up my TBR list for 2012! So good job both of you on that, and Myke Cole comes across as not only a really likable guy but really well informed on the genre and where it is today.

  2. […] Some of you may have seen my interview with the author of Control Point, Myke Cole. If not I’ll wait while you go and check it out here. […]

  3. […] gratified to see that I achieved that balance (at least for you). In an earlier interview for Fantasy Faction I said: “I like to describe it as a story functioning on two levels: On one level, it is straight […]

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