Catching Up With Myke Cole – Part Two
Welcome back to our interview with Myke Cole, author of the military fantasy series, Shadow Ops. If you missed part one you can read it here. And now back to the interview!
Have you found that your patterns or the way you write has changed now that you’re writing to deadlines and things like that?
Yeah. I never ever really had a pattern to writing, to tell the truth. I have days where I sit down and nail it for as many hours, and I have days were I just procrastinate, and I can’t get it done. I make my deadlines, that’s for sure.
But again, it also depends on the book. Control Point was 50% “ I’m rocking it, no problem,” and 50% “Oh my God, this is the worst thing I’ve ever written.” And then Fortress Frontier was 80% “I’m rocking this,” and 20% “Oh my God, this is the worst thing I’ve ever written.” And Breach Zone has proven to be 80% “Oh my God, I suck,” and 20% “I think I got this.” So there is no pattern.
And when I do this “Oh my God, this is the worst thing I’ve ever written,” I procrastinate; I stall. I do that self-indulgent thing where you tell yourself you suck, and that you’re a failure. It’s so useless.
One thing I think that I suffer from, and granted, this is partly my fault, is that I’ve really managed to have become typecast as this hard ass military guy who never has a weak moment. And it’s not true, man.
Writing has this in common with commanding a Coast Guard unit: all eyes are on you. And if it goes south, man, that’s you. And there is no one to turn to, and no one to blame, and often no one to ask for help. And your girlfriend, and your dad, and your brother, and your sister, and whoever can tell you that they love you and they believe in you, but they can’t help you. You gotta do it on your own. And there are not too many places in life that are like that.
And that is so hard sometimes, because the truth is you don’t know what you’re doing. And all you want is someone to tell you what to do. But there’s no one to tell you that. And you wouldn’t know if they were right if they did. That’s the hardest thing about writing.
Look, my agent [Josh Bilmes] sometimes says, “Hey, this part of your book sucks, and I want you to get rid of it.” This man has twenty years more experience in the business. This is the guy that brought in Brandon Sanderson, Peter Brett, Charlane Harris, and Jack Campbell. Standing up to him and arguing with him? That’s a hard thing to do. But sometimes you gotta do it.
Fighting for those darlings instead of killing them sometimes? Is there a piece of writing advice that didn’t seem to make sense to you until you had reached this point, or you look at it in a new light?
Let me just put it this way. Out there on the interwebs and at cons and stuff, they say things like (adopting a grumpy-old-man tone), “You have to have proper manuscript format! Everything needs to be Courier New and underlined instead of italicized!” Or the thing that short story markets do (adopting tone again) “No such things as simultaneous submissions!” But then they take like six months to get back to you? And I’m like, dude, no, f**k you. I’m not going to do that crap. (old man voice) “If you don’t do those things, your career won’t advance.”
First of all, I’ve never used proper manuscript format. Never, ever, ever. No, that’s not true. I did it when I was not selling. You know, stupid short stories. Can I just friggin’ tell you, Control Point was in Times New Roman, in 12-point font. I didn’t pay attention to the margins. I didn’t underline my italics. And I have six books under contract. So I don’t know what they’re talking about with all of these rules.
So if you’re a starting writer, please dear God, don’t worry about the rules. There are no rules. Worry about craft. Read great writers, and try to figure out what makes them great, and do that. Watch a lot of great TV because that’s stories too. Play some video games that have great stories in them.
The f**king rules? If you write a dynamite story that’s in Times New Roman, or it shows instead of tells because the story dictated it? You’re still gonna sell it because it’s good. I was so obsessed with all of that. I totally bought into all that crap. I lost years of my life underlining my italics. Don’t do that!
One of the things I’ve heard you talk about in other interviews is the importance of building, as you put it, the adamantium skeleton before you put meat on the bones. You know, coming up with that solid outline. And then I recently saw that you tweeted a photo of, I think, your 12th version of Control Point, and Peter Brett saying, “The next one will sell.” And so I was wondering if you went through the same amount of iterations with Fortress Frontier and now with Breach Zone, or if you’re finding your ability to make an outline is even better than before.
Yes, version 13 did sell, because Peter Brett is always right about everything. I think for Fortress Frontier, the ninth draft was the one that went to press. Version seven of Breach Zone will probably be the one that goes to press. So yeah, I’m getting a little better with each one.
That said, Breach Zone is a completely different book than what I outlined. Oh, and by the way, so was Fortress Frontier. And so, by the way, was Control Point. With both Control Point and Fortress Frontier, at the eleventh hour I wound up throwing out about 40,000 words. With Breach Zone, I wound up adding a completely different storyline to it at the eleventh hour and also throwing out about 30,000 words.
So I do build that adamantium skeleton, and then write the story and discover that the story sucks and need to do surgery on it at the last minute. At least for these three novels, that’s definitely been my process.
As far as that last-second, big adjustment, was that something that had been nagging at you for a while, or did the light just go on, and suddenly you realized that this is much better now?
I suffer from the worst malady a writer can suffer, which is the inability to judge one’s own work. I will write a novel, and I will know something is wrong, and I will have no idea what it is or how to fix it. I’ll just have a bad feeling about this.
And then a good beta reader will say, “Yeah, this doesn’t work, and here’s why. And maybe you should think about doing this.” And I slap my forehead and say, “Oh, my God. That’s so obvious. Why the hell didn’t I see that?” And that has happened to me with every single professional novel I’ve written, bar none. So I think I’m just one of those writers who needs beta readers.
And what scares the sh*t out of me about that is what do I do if they are sick? What do I do if they get hit by a car? What do I do if we get in a fight, and they don’t want to help me any more? I want to reach a point in my writing where I don’t need anyone.
It’s funny, I beta read for Peter Brett, but he doesn’t need my help. He is a man who can sit down and write a novel with zero input and have it go to press. He gets input, don’t get me wrong, and he listens to it. He solicits it, but he doesn’t need input. He doesn’t rely on it. I do.
I believe Mark Lawrence writes one draft of a novel. If you’ve read Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns, they are magnificent books. I think he is one of the great fantasists of our age, and history will judge him so. But he writes one draft.
Look, in the end, I have to work with what I have to work with. And pissing and moaning about it isn’t going to help anybody. But it does bug me. And becoming more self-sufficient as a writer—and that doesn’t mean not having feedback, just being less reliant on it—is certainly a goal of mine.
Before we wrap up, are you going to be doing any cons or tours with the release of Fortress Frontier?
I can’t justify having a book publisher put me on tour. So I am making cons, but I’m not doing a city-to-city tour.
I have to say that what kills me most is that I really loved it when I visited the UK to promote Control Point. I have a lot of fans in the UK, and I loved meeting them when I was over there. But I can’t afford to get over there just now. I’m hoping to do so later in the year, even if it’s just for a long weekend, to head to London and hit Waterstone’s and Forbidden Planet to do signings of Fortress Frontier.
I will be at Boskone in February. I will be at Balticon in May. I’m debating between Dragoncon and WorldCon right now. There is some talk of another author D&D game at WorldCon featuring Howard Taylor, who I’m a great fan of. He does the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. So I may end up doing WorldCon. If I can get back in, New York Comic Con again, because that’s right in my backyard. So there will be plenty of chances for fans to meet me if they want to come out and say hi.
Oh, and just come up and say hi. You don’t have to wait until a signing. I’m the easiest person in the world to approach. Don’t be creepy, don’t overdo it. But if you want to say hi to me, just come say hi to me, and if you want me to sign your book, just come bring it, and I’ll sign it.
Ha, I can verify this, having met you at the Nebulas in DC.
Thanks. Yeah, I’m not off-putting. But please be patient with me if I’m talking to 27 people at once, and I’m scatterbrained. I’m trying juggle a lot, but it’s important to me to connect with my fans.
Well, I’ve definitely taken up more than enough of your time between now and then. I really appreciate it.
Oh, I don’t mind at all. This stuff is a pleasure for me. And I love Fantasy-Faction. It’s amazing how that site revolutionized the fan community, particularly in the UK.
Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much.
Fortress Frontier is due out January 29th in the US and January 31st in the UK. For more information on Myke’s Shadow Ops series check out his website or you can follow him on Twitter. And if you are a UK resident, you can also enter to win a signed copy of Myke’s first book Control Point here.