Posts Tagged ‘Myke Cole’

We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.

Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.

Headshots of Myke ColeCole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.

Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).

So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).

geminicellOne of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?

Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).

But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.

Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.

At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.

My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.

Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?

All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.

All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.

I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.

When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.

One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?

I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.

I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.

This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?

This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.

One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.

Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)

Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.

PlayersHandbookYou’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?

I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.

This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?

operationarcanaFunny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.

While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.

We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.

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.

Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and NobleAmazon IndieBoundPowell’sBooks-a-millionPandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge MassBooks on the Square, Providence RI

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So the antihero is firmly established in all corners of literature, film, and storytelling what-have-you. They’re the gruff, but lovable, people who cut corners and kicks asses but overall their karmic balance tilts towards the good. Eventually. The antihero is flawed, troubled, and screwed up a little bit. They’re a type, though, and have become a trope in their own right. Unless someone is mucking around with the trope, we know the antihero is ok even if they bust heads and break laws. They’re chaotic good to use the convenient DnD alignment chart.

I could rattle off all sorts of examples of the antihero in our genre in any medium. I’ve even got some examples on this here blog.

But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about.

Antiheroes can still be likeable. What do you do when you’re reading a book and you don’t like the characters?

A lot of times, it means you put the book down and pick up the next one. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a huge To Read Pile and a To Buy List a mile long. The physical books I have in my To Read Pile are actually as tall as my kid. That doesn’t count anything on my Nook. It’s easy to just cycle out to the next book.

How can the writer still hook people even if their readers can’t stand their characters? This has been on my mind a lot because the godpunk novel I’m writing right now has a screwed up protag that drinks away her problems.

I’ve had this happen a few times, and not really with books I expected. Chuck Wendig‘s Miriam Black, Diana Rowland‘s Angel Crawford and Lee Collins‘ Cara Oglesby all start out as deeply flawed, screwed up people. Some of them remain this way. (At least as far as I’ve read, out of date on all three series) I never disliked any of them though even though it’s almost expected a little bit when you’ve got characters that are so messed up.

desertspearThe characters I didn’t like were Peter Brett‘s Jardir, Myke Cole‘s Harlequin and Delilah Dawson‘s Ahnastasia.

This blog post has been stewing in my head for a long time and I think I’ve finally twigged on to why I still consider all their books absolutely flipping fantastic anyways.

First and foremost, they’re all great writers. All the other parts of the books are expertly crafted. Worldbuilding, plot, supporting cast… all the set dressing is there to let the protags shine. Cole’s militarized magic has the plausibility to draw in readers. Dawson’s alternate world steampunk vampires are a fully realized mishmash of genres that are ripe for exploring. Brett’s got the sprawl, in both plot and worldbuilding, to support the massive tomes he writes. I’ve talked about all three authors around here frequently because these traits in their writing are the same kinds of traits I want to hone in my own. If anyone is looking for examples to act as torch bearers to level up their own work, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Set dressing is fantastic, but character is where things happen. I wrote about Jardir last year when I read The Desert Spear. I think he’s a serious asshole. Even though Brett’s sprawling series has a lot of POV characters, Jardir is set up against who I consider the primary POV. It’s easy for him to come off as a bit of a backstabber. And he does. And I never warmed up to him. Eventually though, I understood him, even if I still didn’t like him. I knew why Jardir had to stand opposite of Arlen. Now, I actually like Arlen but the course of the novel is better when the lines between protagonist and antagonist are blurred.

breachzone-usCole does something very similar with Harlequin in his third book, Breach Zone. In the earlier books, he is at odds with the hero. Each of the first two of Cole’s books had different protags, so I wasn’t surprised that Breach Zone would. I did think it was an interesting choice to go with Harlequin though. Everyone is the hero of their own story, right? He always came off as a stuffed shirt kind of guy in the first two books. He’s not bad, not really. To me, Harlequin was the Bill Lumburg of the Shadow Ops universe. He was the middle management guy that got through the day by being a bit of a pain in the ass to the people around him. If Oscar Britton had a red stapler, Harlequin would have taken it.

Harlequin ended up being awesome by the end of Breach Zone. Cole leveled up his writing and that book is really a romance novel disguised as military fantasy. (Romance hiding in SF is a blog post for another day by the way) In one of the two threads in Breach Zone, we get to see how Harlequin became the super by the book guy. The state of his mind isn’t what I thought it would be in the past tense thread. When he was handed the tough situations, he found refuge in the rules. The rules aren’t his end all be all, they become his shield and he becomes much more human for it.

In Dawson’s Blud books, they are interconnected and set in the same world. There is overlap with characters and history but the books aren’t reliant on one another. In the second Blud book, Wicked as She Wants, Ahnastasia is a completely new character and the sole POV character. There is no luxury of her having a past. She comes out of the box (ha! literally!) as someone I really would not want to be involved with. This is aside from the fact that Ahnastasia is a bludwoman who would consider me breakfast. She is 100% a spoiled princess. True story. She’s a blud princess of Muscovy and all the pretentious snobbery that comes from said spoiled, sheltered life.

wickedasshewantsBy the end of the book, I want to high five Ahna for the awesome things that she does. Dawson nails the slow burn of Ahna’s character arc. There’s never any prophetic moment when Ahna changed her outlook on life and the people around her. It hit me somewhere around the two-thirds mark that “Wow, she’s been kind of awesome for a while now.” I am sitting here trying to think of another book where the slow burn was written with such a deft touch but I seriously can’t think of one. Dawson had nothing else to prop up Ahna while she was being a jerk. There were no other POV characters and there were no other timeline threads. Ahna has one, single, linear character arc. As I’m sitting here thinking of the mechanics of that from the Writer / Analysis point of view rather than my Reader point of view, I am all the most impressed by it.

I think it is worth noting, that with all three of these authors, Brett, Cole and Dawson, I had read previous books of theirs. To a certain extent, they earned the benefit of the doubt. I liked their writing already so that “you have 50 pages to hook me” gets a bit of a fudge factor. Not that I wasn’t hooked by any of the books in question. They already built up reader trust before throwing down characters that I wouldn’t like.

So where do all these examples leave me and anyone else writing “problematic” protagonists?

Well, character arc is key. Ahna, Jardir and Harlequin were not the same people from the beginnings to the end. You can have great characters, but if they’re stagnant, that means the plot of whatever you just wrote didn’t really have any stakes or agency to it. Hook the reader and then let the plot change the character. With a problematic, troublesome, or just plain unlikeable character, there is a lot more riding on that change. The plot becomes more critical because each bump in the narrative needs to shift the character down that arc a little more forcefully. The supporting cast and their attitudes to the protagonists cast a sharper reflection on how that arc is progressing.

I think following that change in a character is a big pay off to the reader. You’ve gone through three hundred pages and bam! Results. Find the treasure? Get the man? Save the world? Yeah, cool and all, but we’ve all read that story a thousand times. How did the treasure change someone. What had to happen to get the man? Did saving the world come at the expense of someone’s soul?

That’s what readers really want, I think, deep down inside.

Now that this has topped 1400 words and I’ve spent a large chunk of my afternoon noodling about characters I didn’t like when I opened the book on page one, I’m hitting that point where I realize how picking apart what works with these books will help my own writing. I’m seeing more of the missteps I took with the now dead Amity I tried to shop around. More importantly, I’m seeing what direction I need to head in to find the right steps for the book I’m working on now.

When I was in film school, the old adage was a quote from one of my favorite directors, Sam Fuller, “You gotta have story!” Picture a 70 year old with big glasses chomping on a cigar with a raspy yell when you say that quote. Storytelling is storytelling, no matter the medium, I used to always think. And it’s true. In a novel, you need a plot, but the more I write, the more I’m seeing it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Where the story comes from matters a lot more in a novel where you can, quite literally, be inside someone’s head with all their thoughts, dreams and desires.

I hope that conclusion can help people level up their own work. I think it will help mine. But hey, this hasn’t all been 1700 words of thinking out loud. Go read those books I talked about. Even if you don’t need examples to help level up your work, screwed up, problematic, difficult and unlikeable characters make for good reading. Why?

Because they gotta have story.

The Year End Shenanigans for 2013 is going to focus on the books I’ve been reading. Largely because of all that free time I don’t have, I’ve scaled back on book review posts here. But I still love pontificating about great writing and spreading the word. I picked up most of the books I read now because of the people around me, so I want to do the same for the great things I read.

I’m not really feeling detailing out the query grind on this. Anyone familiar with a query grind is nodding knowingly right now anyways.

Onward to the books! I’m going to do this is lumps rather than singling out titles for specific things. Why? Cause it’s my post and I can do what I wanna! Except for the first thing. Always with the exceptions. But it’s an important one…

The Most Recommended Book of the Year

The Lives of Tao / The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

From the overlords at Angry Robot Books, the first Tao book came out in February and did so well the second was pushed up to October. Hence I’m listing them both. There’s all sorts of awesome going on with these books which can tell you all about why I liked it. What makes the Tao books so recommendable for me though is the genre blend going on here. Chu writes science fiction with a healthy dose of adventure thriller. It opens doors to a broader audience. There’s something special about accessible genre writing. We’re not going to grow the genre without pulling new people in. A lot of readers I know in real life don’t read off of the same lists that I do. Tao has been recommended to the military SF readers to the non-SF Jack Reacker Clive Cussler crowd.

The Most Influence on My Own Writing

I guess I lied and I am going to talk about my writing a little bit. This is a special kind of category for me though. I firmly believe that you can’t help being influenced by everything you read. You take cues from positive things you read and steer clear of the stuff you don’t like. There are a few authors that have very directly influenced both the book that I’m shopping around and the one I’m writing right now.

In Amity, the book I finished polishing over the summer, there are two chapters specifically dedicated to positive writing influences. There is a Soviet style show trial going on dedicated to Saladin Ahmed. The third POV character needed the perspective shift so it was dedicated to a person who challenges people to broaden their own perspective both in his writing and generally in life. The second scene in Amity specially dedicated is to Myke Cole. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole entire novel. There’s a riot cop facing off with my main protag. There’s a respect that they’re both just doing their job… one that happens to put them at odds with each other.

My current in-progress novel, the Rhode Island godpunk, owes a lot to Chuck Wendig first. There is so much swearing involved and Wendig is a virtuoso of swears. Seriously, I work in a shipyard and swear every tenth word and it has taxed my ability to creatively swear. The female lead of my book has a little bit of Miriam Black in her. The book also owes a tip of the hat to Delilah Dawson. Remember Wicked as They Come? Oh yeah. Don’t fear the smooching in SF! There’s totally smooching happening because that’s what the characters want, it’s what they need. My novel doesn’t work without the chemistry between the two leads and that means there’s smooching.

The Favorites of 2013

favorites2013I will leave you now with blurb sized exhultations of my favorite books of the year, in no particular order beyond how they’re piled on my kitchen table right now. Fun fact, I got to meet three of the five at conventions this year. They were all very awesome people and personalized books for me. Also, I saw Wes Chu in the distance at Readercon.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu – A genre blend that takes one of my all time favorite tropes, multiple consciousnesses stuffed inside of the same noggin and throws in a history spanning secret war.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Ok so I got to read it early before it’s January release date, but it still counts because I say it does. Bookbinder is a fantastic character bringing a different perspective to the military based SF. The logistics guys are just as important as the front line fighters but it’s not a POV that’s full of traditional glory. I loved getting the new view as watching Bookbinder grow into the roll he is thrown into. I’m loving this series enough that I already made my local B+N order book three for me so I can have it on day one.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – How could I not include the new adventures of Locke and Jean? I drove to Massachusetts so I could get mine from the man himself. (I also won at twitter that day) We finally got to see Sabetha in action. Finally! Book one was Locke as a planner and in book two, he was more reactionary. In book three, he’s matching wits with his equal, not something he ever really has to do even when shit hits the fan.

Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri – Straight up proper fantasy novels have had a resurgence in my reading lists lately. There’s a lot of tradition embroiled in fantasy and that’s not always a good thing. Manieri takes all the good parts of the epic fantasy and strips away all the bad breathing new life into the stodgy genre at the same time. World spanning sprawl and very personal stories come together to make something very special.

Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson – I picked this up as a recommendation by Chuck Wendig. This is dimension hopping science fiction sprinkled liberally with steampunk but shelved as romance. Forget artificial shelf segregation and do yourself a favor by reading this. Tish has a fantastic character arc pulling herself back together after some bad times. The world building is top notch. So what that there’s smooching? Embrace the smooching!

So thanks to twitter again today, I’ve noticed a phenomenon in SFF publishing. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed it, but it happened again today and hey look! For once I have the time to do something about it.

So what the hell is it? [Insert Monty Python and the Holy Grail yelling GET ON WITH IT!]

Short answer, international cover art is way cooler.

humandivEhumandivjapanesexample A…. John Scalzi‘s Human Division dropped in Japan with this pile of kick ass on the right. Now… don’t get me wrong, the US version looks pretty damn spiffy but it also looks somewhat traditional. I don’t need to be a marketing genius or some sort of cultural expert to see that the manga looking cover is going to have a lot more attraction in Japan than the traditional space station.

Now actually, as far as traditional SF covers go, I think the Human Division cover is pretty damn spiffy. It’s got a nice color palate instead of black starscapes. But, I am partial to covers that show characters and while the Japanese cover doesn’t show an actual scene from the book, people are always more interesting than tech alone. I also agree with what Scalzi said himself that it’s great they show Ambassador Abumwe and not just the shooters.

So both good, but Japan wins. Like woah.

lockelamora-uslockelamora-ukExample B…. Scott Lynch‘s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Full disclosure, Lies is one of my all time favorites. But I totally did not pick it up off the shelf because of the cover. I actually picked up it’s sequel off the shelf first because of it’s cover. Again with the US cover, kind of traditional. I dunno what the hell Locke is supposed to be thinking sitting there. He’s certainly not being a very good thief sitting out in the open like that. It would bother me a lot less if that was something that happened in the book, but he never stares off at Camorr’s towers looking all pensive, wry and slightly emo.

UK over on the right still has Locke perched in odd places for some reason, but that captures the feel of the city and the book so much more. Locke’s version of Camorr is the dirty slums where you’re more likely to get shanked and dumped into the canal.

UK absolutely wins here and I’m pretty sure they stayed with the same artist for all the covers going forward, US and UK.

breachzone-usbreachzone-ukExample C…. Myke Cole‘s upcoming (and greatly anticipated) Shadow Ops Breach Zone, or in the UK, just plain Breach Zone. Now, again here, I don’t think the American cover is bad, I just think that the UK one is a whole lot better. Over on the left, Harlequin looks pretty damn impressive. Scylla looking pretty cool down in the corner but it’s totally Harlequin’s show and he could be a poster child for a recruitment poster there. Which is the point. We know this because we’ve met Harlequin before and I think the cover captures him pretty well.

But poor Harlequin can’t hold a damn candle to Scylla over in the UK on the right. She is fucking Bad Ass. Capitol letters and all. Seriously. Like Betty White, Scylla is sick of your shit. It captures the character more perfectly than any cover I’ve seen in a while. I want to find some British pounds to get my hands on that one.

Also, there’s a new blurb on the UK cover. The Peter Brett blurb on the left is a good one, (though nothing beats “I do not wish Sam Sykes dead” in Tome of the Undergates) but it’s the same one through all three books.

I’m getting into the rhetorical territory here now but I’m wondering why the covers are so different. The Japanese cover isn’t too hard to figure out but do the marketing departments in London and New York really so divergent? I was clicking around on goodreads and some people have wild variants around the world with their covers. Peter Brett, China Miéville and the afore mentioned Sam Sykes all have completely different covers out in EuropeIf you call up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, one of my favorite covers, it’s the same across the world. I’m not sitting around in the publishing house or anything but I think it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall to get some insight into the why’s of these decisions.

As my novel’s query letter goes off through the grist mill, worrying me into an ulcer, I feel the need to dust off my blog and stop neglecting it for a few minutes.

When writing, it’s as easy as the night is dark, i.e. goddamn very, to worry and doubt over every little thing about every word you’ve ever written. It’s pretty across the board no matter what stage of the career someone is in. Usually I can have confidence in my writing and brush off troubles with “I do tend to write weird quirky stuff, ‘course it’s gonna be trouble to find a home.” But it certainly doesn’t work all the time. Those rejection letters still sting.

Times like that are when it’s easiest to pull back into a bubble, but that’s when bubbles are counterproductive for both the person and the product. For all it’s problems, the SF community is a haven on the tough days.

There are a lot of writers out there in the SF community that are interactive and write fantastic books and blogs. Seriously, twitter is the best thing ever for that kind of stuff. I love to hear updates on projects and offer up digital high fives when people hit their word count. I love the blogs and the book recommendations and finding new authors to read. It’s all fantastic stuff that makes slogging through the word mines easier.

But there are a few authors that have passed on a jolt of momentum thought the smallest of gestures. Things that have effected my productivity, my writing and my whole outlook on this shared passion we all have. I doubt most of them would remember those small gestures that helped me out, but I sure do. It really doesn’t take much for established authors to really help out someone who is striving to be their peer. A digital high five, a couple words of luck and encouragement. Little things like that mean a lot to me. More so because my first author interaction back in the wild west days of the internet called the 90s was a very negative one that discouraged me from writing for the better part of a decade.

When (not if) I get my book out into the world, It’s someone I’m going to make sure to pay the positive forward.

I also believe that as a community, the SF world needs to celebrate the good in addition to addressing the bad. I want to take the time to publicly offer up high fives to a handful of authors who have encouraged and motivated me thought the smallest of gestures. This is by no means an exhaustive list of those who inspire me, but this is an important subset of that list to me. I’ve gotten through bad days in the wordmines because of these small things.

First off are Lauren Buekes and Tobias Buckell. I’ve never actually met either in person, but my sister has gotten transcontinental book signings from them for me. She told them I am a writer and they put words of encouragement in the books for me. They didn’t just dash off their name and write “To Mike” on it and leave it at that. I thought it was pretty awesome that a couple of authors who had barely a couple of twitter conversations with would take the time to do that.

Delilah Dawson not too long ago took a few minutes to answer some “after the book is written” questions on getting things published. A lot of people wouldn’t take the time or effort to do that sort of thing. Putting your work out there finally is a daunting task with big steps. Those little questions I asked have helped me get to the stage I’m at now, (which is actually still trying to give me an ulcer, but in a good way)

Saladin Ahmed and Myke Cole have been such an influence on my work, each one has a specific scene in my novel specially dedicated to them. I’ve mentioned before, last time I went to Boskone, how Myke Cole is super approachable and a hell of a nice guy in person and online. Cole and Ahmed both will both challenge you to think. My output has been better for it. I had my some of my novel’s beta readers call out the scenes they inspired as some of the best in my book.

The last public thank you today is to Seanan McGuire that also prompted this post. Yesterday on twitter she was talking about how fan fiction shouldn’t be looked down on, but rather as a positive fan engagement when treated correctly. She likened it to “Hey, you’ve got all the cool toys, can I come over to your house to play?” It was something that really hit home for me. When I was in high school, I was dabbling with it a bit and first starting to really enjoy the whole writing thing. It was the Wild West days of the internet and authors were still just the mythical paragraph at the end of the book. My first interaction with an author was “You’re bad for even thinking of fanfic!” I’m sure being an awkward teenager had a bit to do with it, but it was still such a bad experience to me, I didn’t pick up a pen to try to write for eight years and didn’t dream of taking it seriously until meeting my wife a couple years after that. I related the tweet sized version of the story to McGuire said “Whoever said that to you was wrong. I am sorry. Hear me teenage Mike? You are awesome for ficcing!” It struck a chord real hard and shifted me into a much more positive mindset.

So thank yous, high fives and fist bumps (with the explosion pow) all around.

When (not if) I get my book out there and get to leap to the other side of the fence to be a peer of the community, know that you had a small, but definitely not insignificant, part to play.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Reading
Tags: , ,

Want to know what one of the coolest books you could ever get is? An ARC! I won myself an advanced copy of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole from a contest he ran a couple months ago. It’s actually funny how the contest went because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell to win. Throughout the month, Cole posted different entries on twitter coven13so I got to see how cool everyone else was. “Aw man… I don’t even have Photoshop, I did a literal cut and paste. Oh well, it was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon.” So I was slightly floored when I won. I shook my fist at that hurricane that slowed down the mail when I was waiting for the book to show up on my doorstep and I devoured the hell out of it when I got it in my hands. Even though I was in the middle of the final push to finish my own novel. And I get to talk about it now.

Coven 13 Tredici – Who’s Unlucky Now? Got me a shiny green ARC. Now, this is cool well beyond being fancy and getting to read the book early. The first Shadow Ops book was one of the first books I talked about on this blog and I dubbed it the most recommended book of last year. Control Point has been talked up all over ye olde internets. Likewisein the past few weeks, Fortress Frontier has been all over the “Anticipated for 2013” lists. Go ahead, open a new tab and search it. It’s there.

So what does an author do when he sets the bar really high with the first book? Open up an industrial can of awesome.

Back of the book time!

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people begin to develop terrifying powers –  summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed… but not for everyone.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front lines.

Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier – cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

Now he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place: Oscar Britton, public enemy number one.

First, huge, nine hundred pound gorilla in the room… we have a new protag. This brings up mixed feelings if you liked Oscar Britton, I’m sure. He had a great character arc in book one, so it’s risky to move him to a secondary role in Fortress Frontier. Put any worry out of your head right now. Alan Bookbinder is an even better main character. Don’t take this as a knock against Britton and the first book, read that sentence as it’s intended, Cole’s risk paid off and he raised the bar again. Britton is a soldier who became magical and went to do different soldier things with his magic. Bookbinder is a professional paper pusher who is told “You’re going to the front likes. Now. There’s paper to push there.”

Bookbinder is an almost-outsider. He is good at what he does and had a long military career prior to page one of the book. His role as support is crucial, but he is aware of how the combat elements of the military view him. So when he comes up latent (i.e. discovers he has magic), he isn’t exactly happy about being thrown to the front lines of another dimension. This is a point of view of support staff thrown into combat roll. It isn’t something I think I’ve ever run across in SF and if I have, definitely not someone with the rank Bookbinder’s got. He has this mindset of self doubt and inadequacy but is determined to make it through the meat and potatoes of the plot swirling around him.

Speaking of the plot, there’s a shift here too from the first book to Fortress. Britton is fighting the system. Bookbinder is surviving. Shit has hit the fan, lots of it. Bookbinder doesn’t stay a passive character, only reacting to the disasters facing FOB Frontier. He makes things happen. I’m not going to tell you what he makes happen because I don’t want to ruin all sorts of things I enjoyed. It’s another case of there being a very fine line between giving examples to prove I’m not blowing smoke, and spoiling things for anyone who reads this. Bookbinder’s quest is thoroughly fantastic, you’ll just have to read it yourself and be amazed.

I did get confused early on in Fortress however. The timeline as it compares with Control Point is a bit blurry in the first couple chapters. It’s set up the way it has to be in order to tell a coherent story here in book two, but I missed the clues that told me how they related. It’s really not something that’s dwell worthy though. Even money most people caught on to the clues I missed and didn’t get phased one bit.

Fortress gets upgrades across the rest of the board too. I’m not spoiling anything by saying there are non-American military personnel involved with this. It’s just as fascinating to see how the other nations of the world deal with magic. Throughout both books there are so many tantalizing snippets about the rest of the world. Every chapter starts with a little blurb about the world at large. Holy crap yes I want to know all about how the Danish military controls the weather. Even these blurbs and off hand comments show how smart and well thought out this series is. I was constantly beset by a feeling of logic, similar to when I read World War Z. You come away feeling that you just read how the world really would end up if magic just showed up one day.

I’m starting to seriously ramble on here, by I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on a couple more points, at least briefly, before I goad you one last time to read this book. First off, the magic system itself gets an upgrade. This is in both application of existing magic and the magic available to the world. We’re starting to dance that fine line between knowledge and spoiler again. The important part to take from it though is that there are new mechanics here in this book, and it shows us that Cole isn’t about to stop moving his world forward. If there’s an exact timeframe between the Great Reawakening and the books’ current date, I can’t think of it, but it surprised me that there was still discovery in Cole’s world. The magic always had an entrenched feel in the world, but it makes sense for discovery to be ongoing. There’s that whole well thought out world thing coming up again. I have no doubt that all the ripples being cast in this book are going to be felt farther out in the series.

Seriously, this post is mushroom clouding. Last point though. Maps. Maps are lacking from books too often nowadays, especially for urban fantasy or other books that involve the modern world. Fortress has a beautifully crafted set of maps up front that mark out all the major locations of both books so far. It greets you up front and makes me happy. It should make you happy. Check out his own blog post about the map.

So that’s it. It’s not a stretch of the mind to think I’ll be talking about this book again at the year end for 2013. This whole series is worth all the buzz. I just wish I didn’t have to wait around until next year for another.