Catching Up With Myke Cole – Part One
One year ago, Jennie Ivins interviewed Myke Cole before his debut novel Control Point was published. Well, it’s another year, Myke has another novel, Fortress Frontier, and Fantasy-Faction got another interview.
This time we’ll hear a bit about what readers can expect from the second book in the Shadow Ops series as well as how Myke’s life has changed since the last time we spoke with him, including responding to Hurricane Sandy, how his writing process has changed with a couple of books under his belt, and which cons you can see Myke at this year.
Why don’t you tell readers a bit about Fortress Frontier?
One of my objectives when I wrote this book was to give the reader a very, very different experience from Control Point. I understand that there is a tendency, especially in serialized urban fantasy—and a lot of readers expect this—to get a single protagonist with an ongoing series that goes on forever. And I mean absolutely no disrespect to that form of storytelling. Lord knows, I’ve read 18 Richard Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell. But my favorite fantasy novels have always been ensemble casts, with books being in series, but giving the readers very, very different experiences.
For one thing, Oscar Britton is a major character, but he’s not the main character. The main character is Colonel Alan Bookbinder, who’s an Army bureaucrat who has almost never fired a shot in anger in his whole life, but has risen very high in the ranks of the Army.
And Fortress Frontier is a traditional, good, old-fashioned, D&D-style quest, but with a modern military twist to it that I think readers will like a whole lot. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Michael Caine film Zulu? It’s based on a true story about a Captain in the Royal Engineers who was doing a survey for a bridge near a mission station where less than 100 British soldiers who were badly wounded were convalescing. And they found themselves surrounded by 4,000 Zulu, I think? And he steps up and takes command. And they won against the most hopeless odds, possibly in the history of warfare. I was really captivated by that story. People who are familiar with it will see certainly tones of it in Fortress Frontier.
Do you read Naomi Novik? Novik does novels about the Napoleonic Wars, except she adds dragons. And it’s fantastic. But Novik really gets interested in how the introduction of dragonkind has changed the whole world, not just the belligerents in the Napoleonic Wars. You go to Turkey, China, Africa, Mexico, and Australia. And each one of them is really believably constructed.
And of course I have the same possibilities here in the Shadow Ops universe. So in this book, I really got to tour India, which was such a blast. And Mihir Wanchoo, who is the guy who does Fantasy Book Critic—great guy. Thank God for him, because he’s the one fantasy nerd I know in the community who was raised on Hindu mythology and the Hindu language. While you and I were growing up playing D&D and reading fantasy novels, he was growing up reading comic books about Vishnu and Shiva and Hindu deities.
And in Breach Zone [the third book in the Shadow Ops series], I’ve been able to take a little bit of a look at Mexico and hint at what’s going on in Quebec. And in the epigraph, I nod towards England. But it’s definitely a global appeal, and it was really cool to be able to explore India.
For the next books in the series, are you’re going to have a different protagonist for each one and slowly build out and expand the world with each story?
Breach Zone has a different protagonist, one that you know already. And you’re going to get to learn a lot more about this person. You’ll also get to learn a lot more about one of the main antagonists, and that person’s backstory. I will say I destroy New York City in Breach Zone, which I am really pleased to do, because I live here, and this town is eating me alive. Again, Breach Zone will be totally different book.
The fourth book, which is going be a prequel, taking place during the early days of the great reawakening when magic is first coming into the universe, will have a completely different protagonist who you have not seen before. But you’ll get to see the world as magic is first coming into it and governments are first beginning to grapple with it. And the second prequel will be a sequel to that.
And the sixth Shadow Ops book will be a completely different book that will follow one of the ancillary characters that you met in Fortress Frontier who had very brief stage time. And that will be chronologically happening at the same time as Breach Zone.
I got inspired to do that by Joe Abercrombie. He wrote a trilogy, and then he then wrote three “stand alone” novels that did the same thing I’m intending to do with the six Shadow Ops books.
I also just finished a Shadow Ops novelette—a 15,000-word story from the goblins’ point of view in the Source. Once I can get that edited and get some opinions on it, I might self-publish it or try to sell it to a market. It’ll help with the reading of Breach Zone.
Why don’t we circle back to publicity vs. writing? Now that you’ve hit pro status, you’ve got all these great opportunities—interviews, guest at cons, things like that. But it’s also time away from actually writing and editing, so I’m curious how you handle that doubled-edged sword and how you balance things.
It’s been devastating. I won’t lie to you. I am at a point now in my life where between social obligations, the Guard, pumping the book, and writing other books; I’m dropping apples, starting to get short with people.
People hear military, and they think I’m some kind of a hard ass—but the reality of it is I’m that personality type that is desperate to be liked, and I can’t bear the thought of disappointing people. I’m at the point where I’m blowing off friends. I don’t have the time to answer e-mails or hang out. I have to be very ruthless in prioritizing my time and rely on people to be understanding. But the truth is, I do feel like my writing suffers. And I have horrible panic attacks about it.
In talking to other writers, I think this is a very common experience for any measure of success. I wouldn’t compare myself to a Peter Brett, Scott Lynch, Mark Lawrence, or Joe Abercrombie. I don’t have that kind of success, but I have enough success that I worry about what if the effort of having to do all this stuff short circuits my writing, and I suck, no one will like me anymore, and I’ve ruined everything. This is a spiral that apparently all writers go through.
On top of the sophomore worries, or is that part and parcel of it?
Well, I am actually fairly confident about Fortress Frontier. I was very pleased with the way that ultimately turned out, but that doesn’t mean it will sell or that it will do well. And frankly my next contract is done, so I’m at least good for six novels.
I never thought I would publish one book, and I now have a lock for six. I’ve already done more than I ever thought I would. If it tanks now, well, then, I’ve still made it farther than I thought I ever would. I guess that’s how I comfort myself.
But I am really excited about the fourth book—the first prequel. But the less said about that, the better. But I’m really psyched for it.
On top of all the stuff you mentioned, you also had your work in response to Sandy. Can you speak to that for a minute?
Look, one of the things I love so much about domestic disaster response, as a member of the military, is the lack of moral ambiguity. When I went off to Iraq, I still feel good about what I did, but Iraq was a morally fraught engagement. And I don’t want to comment too much on that, because I’m not interested in enflaming anybody. But domestic disaster response is not. There is a hurricane, and people are hurting, and off you go to help them. And that’s just the best feeling in the world.
I was sitting there, waiting for that call, eating myself alive. Fortunately, I was only gone for about a week. And at that point, we had such a force flow into the area that there was no need for the Guard to spend money on mobilizing guys like me.
And it’s funny. I gave Anne Sowards, my editor at Penguin, the ESGR Patriot Award, which is the Employer Support of the Guard and Reservists. It’s an award given by the Department of Defense to employers that support Reservists, and she was the first editor to get it from a writer in the history of the awards. Now Anne Sowards is not my employer, but Penguin takes a huge risk in giving a book contract to a Reservist because of things like Sandy. Because if I have a book due, and I get called up, and I’m gone for a year, well, guess what? Book’s late. And they did it anyway. So one of the things I did when she first signed me up was to present her that award.
I would imagine it’s a good thing, and the fact that you live in New York lends more to it.
The irony is that the area of New York in which I live was completely unaffected. And then when I was activated, I was activated to do what Bookbinder does: logistics and supply. I was sitting in an air conditioned/heated office at Sector New York, on Fort Wadsworth, with no storm impact whatsoever. I worked my ass off on disaster recovery, and I never saw the disaster. I never went anywhere near it.
But I think a part of being a little more mature, and not a lieutenant junior grade or an ensign any more, is understanding that the job was very, very important, and I helped a lot doing that. Probably a lot more than I would have, if I had been in the muck, throwing washing machines in a truck to clear a street or something.
And congratulations, by the way, on making O-3 [Lieutenant].
Oh thanks, and it’s funny, I’m pleased about that, but nowhere near as proud of that as I am about pinning on my Boat Forces Qual Pin.
Could you explain what that is?
Sure. In both the Navy and the Coast Guard, there are things called “Qual Pins.” They are big, silver pins that go above your ribbon rack, your medal rack. And they speak to your belonging to a community of operations inside the service.
For example, in the Navy, you’ll frequently see a ship with two crossed swords. That means that these people are surface warfare officers or enlisted men and women. And you can go your whole career without that pin, but having that pin tells people what your skill set is, and that you’ve done a lot of work to get and to maintain that qualification.
And that Boat Forces Pin is the one worn by small boat operators that do search and rescue or maritime law enforcement or ports, waterways, and coastal security missions. And I finally got it. And it’s a great feeling. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Other than get a book deal.