Back in the first months of The Ranting Dragon’s existence, I wrote an article about Myke Cole. At the time, Cole had just sold his first fantasy novel, Latent, and its pitch, along with Peter V. Brett talking about it, made me eager to find out more.
The details in that article were vague, and all I really did was guess. However, five months have passed and a lot has changed. Cole’s debut novel, published by Ace, has been renamed Control Point, first in the Shadow Ops series of military fantasy. With all the changes, we felt it was time to ask Cole some questions about his forthcoming debut novel.
First of all, thanks a lot for agreeing to the interview!
Thank you! This is my first interview since I went pro, so The Ranting Dragon will forever have a special place in my heart. Fan/community sites like yours are the real way I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry and it’s really gratifying to get to be a part of one.
It’s been over four months since you’ve signed a book deal with Ace, and there have been a lot of developments around both the first book, Control Point, and the Shadow Ops series as a whole. Can you tell us what the last four months have been like for you?
To put it mildly, they’ve been revolutionary. On the professional level, I’ve turned in the revised manuscript for Control Point and written about 200 pages of Fortress Frontier (book two). As you’ve noticed, there’s been the title change. I had originally proposed Latent, Riven and Union, for the three books, but one of my first lessons in pro-writing is that once you’re under contract with a publisher, novel writing becomes a collaborative effort. The publisher has a financial stake in your books, and that means they have a legitimate say in how it develops. Fortunately, I have an awesome publisher and a great editor and we worked together to come up with titles that are stronger overall.
On the personal level, the last four months have been just as nuts. Since I was a kid, I had promised myself that if I ever got a book deal with one of the major New York City publishing houses, I’d quit my day job and make a go of it full time. I also made an internal promise to move to New York City (where my dearest friends and family live). When it finally happened, I was more than a little terrified that I would finally have to put my money where my mouth was. I was almost too frightened to make a go of it, but I’m writing this from Peter V. Brett’s couch. I’m heading off in an hour to sign a lease on a new apartment in Brooklyn. I quit my day job a week ago (they were incredibly supportive). I’m staying in the reserves, of course. You’re going to need a crowbar to get me out of that gig. I blogged about this experience as well.
Besides coming up with new titles, finding cover art is important in this stage as well. There hasn’t been any art released so far. Have you seen any drafts of the artwork yet, and is the amazing background of your website (which is entirely awesome and well-suited, by the way) any indication? How involved are you with this process?
I was really concerned about the cover art. I believe most books sell either through word-of-mouth or cover art. I commissioned Nick Stohlman’s painting for my website (and yeah, I really love the way it came out) in the hopes that it would influence the publisher’s cover art decisions. I also commissioned Paul Jacobsen to do the SOC (Supernatural Operations Corps) and Shadow-Coven logos (which appear in the banners on my website) and passed those on to Ace as well. I can only hope my influence campaign is working. Ace has Nick’s painting and the logos and they really liked them.
I was heavily involved with Nick in making sure that the image came out perfectly. I was particularly concerned about the equipment. I know that real operators are going to read this book and they will nail me to the wall if I don’t get the details right. Every shred of gear you see in Nick’s painting is accurate. The lead soldier is using a Remington 870 to breach the door. The next assaulter in the stick has an SOPMOD Hk-416. The vests, the NODs, the body armor, the pistols, even the holsters were researched to death. Of course, I had to take some liberties when I was kitting out the sorcerer, but I think it’s as realistic an extrapolation as can be.
My editor at Ace asked me for input for the cover art for Control Point. I provided a book’s worth. I know they’ve had a meeting to discuss cover art. Now, all I can do is sit back and hope for the best. I have a lot of faith in my editor and Ace’s art department. The covers for the Kat Richardson and Jack Campbell books are awesome, so I feel like I’m in good hands.
Without spoiling too much, what will Control Point be about?
Control Point is a book operating on 2 levels: AWESOME and ISSUES. At the AWESOME level, it’s taking magic and integrating it into hard edged modern combat. This is *not* war on the state-based model that went out in the cold war. My sorcerers are dealing with war as it currently functions: house-to-house, with no real front lines, at the fire-team/squad level. The truth of modern warfare is that most line infantrymen function like Special Forces operators now. I wanted to explore how that would look if the support weapon billet in your squad was occupied by a Pyromancer instead of a 19 year old with a SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon). And that flight of fancy is so awesome that it gives me chills.
At the ISSUES level, Control Point is trying to seriously examine how our new epoch of warfare has impacted our own sense of self. Who are we in a world where the line between civilian and combatant is hopelessly blurred? How do soldiers cope with being unsure if they’re warfighters or cops? How does the military’s inherent culture of self-policing, internal suspicion and placing regulation higher than individual rights gel with a strange and dangerous new power?
Overall, I just asked a simple question: how would our brave new world really deal with a resurgence of magic? How would we regulate it? How would we use it? How would it change our society? Control Point is attempting to answer that question as rationally as I know how.
Hope that doesn’t spoil anything. I work for the government. I excel at being vague.
How do these issues your characters face relate to the issues already present in our real world? Of course, we don’t have any magic here, but some of the issues you mention seem pretty real to me. How much of this have you taken from your own military experience?
I love the military dearly, but the fact remains that they could screw up dry toast. The rules-bound, highly bureaucratic nature of the military manages to take the most awesome, thrilling experiences in the world (like flying in a helicopter, shooting a weapon or jumping out of an airplane) and bind it up in red-tape and regulations to the point where it becomes inconvenient and boring. This is necessary. You have to be concerned with discipline and security. It might be fun to fly an F-18, but the thing can level a city, so it’s not playtime when you’re running an op. But that notion of using a rules-heavy system to bleed the life of out something as magical as . . . well . . . magic, and to squash real people in the process, was a real-life experience that I wanted to explore.
But that’s just one theme. Control Point and the entire Shadow Ops series is deeply influenced by my experience in the military and in federal law enforcement. I wouldn’t be surprised if readers saw glimmers of my experiences in Iraq rising through the narrative.
Will the Shadow Ops series be set in our world or a fantasy world? What will this world be like?
The Shadow Ops series is set largely in the modern world we all know, mostly in the US but also touching other countries. Without spoiling anything, I do want to hint that, yes, there are other worlds out there that will be familiar to fantasy readers. The characters definitely will do some exploring in them, and you’ll be along for the ride.
You are a good friend of Demon Cycle author Peter V. Brett. He said that there is a lot of you in The Warded Man, and a lot of him in Control Point. How has Peter V. Brett influenced your own path as a writer?
Pete is nothing short of my Professor X. We have been friends since high school and have been encouraging one another and swapping manuscripts ever since then. We have the same agent. Apart from the personal support he’s given me over the years (without a lot of long phone calls to Pete, reentry/adjustment post-Iraq would have broken my spine), he’s been an incredible writing mentor. Pete has taught me many things, but perhaps the most important lesson I’ve taken from him is narrative pacing. Pete keeps his prose styling clipped and active, and steers clear of long descriptors even when they’re beautiful. Every word in his work either moves plot or develops a character, and while it’s not the only style out there, it’s the style that works best for me. Pete defines the term “breakneck pace” in narrative, and I try really hard to work the same tension into my own stuff. Our subject matter couldn’t be more different, but I think our plotting/prose styling is similar. Readers of Pete’s work may find my own familiar in that respect.
You’re a fantasy fan yourself; what kind of fantasy do you enjoy reading? What are your favorite fantasy books?
I prefer the tight narrative pacing of Pete’s work. Except when I don’t. Pete is hands down my favorite author (and would be even if we weren’t friends). I have a lot of other SF authors I love, but let me stick to fantasy. I just finished Rothfuss’ latest which left me moved and haunted despite being the opposite of that tight/breakneck pace I just described. I also love China Mieville (though, as a sea service officer, I was crushed when New Crobuzon lost the naval engagement in The Scar), because he pushes the boundaries of the genre beyond their limits. Naomi Novik is a classic military fantasy author (though of a different period) and Chris Evans works in the same vein. I loved Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains. Oh! How could I forget George R. R. Martin? I think at this point, he’s as expected as Tolkien. I’m currently reading C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire series, which is sort of fantasy? When I reread this paragraph, I realize there’s no unifying theme. I guess the linkage here is that these are all writers who do thing I feel I can learn from. I also read a ton of comics, but I’ll spare you that.
You name a lot of great works of fantasy, but was there any author or novel that initiated your love for fantasy?
That’s easy. It was Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three. When I was a kid, my middle school let us choose three books from a Scholastic catalog to take home. The Book of Three had the Horned King on the cover, mounted on a rearing horse, wearing a skull mask surmounted by antlers, and swinging a broadsword. That image absolutely electrified me. I read that book and the next four that made up The Chronicles of Prydain with the voracity all dedicated fantasy readers are familiar with. It was my first fantasy series and it initiated a lifelong devotion to the genre.
This goes back to my original point about cover art. The Book of Three was a great book, but I bought it because of the cover art.
Thank you for your time! Is there anything else you would like to share?
Military service has been a huge boost in my life. I’m not blind to its flaws. There’s a lot of heartless bureaucracy and danger, but I still firmly believe it to be one of the greatest forces for social mobility, humanitarian assistance and the kind of experiences that make it possible to fuel great art. I hope your readers will consider a reserve commitment. Stand with me. I can’t do this alone.
Myke Cole, we owe you our gratitude! Not only for the amazing military fantasy novel you will be bringing us, but for your service to your country as well! I will definitely be marking February 2012 in my agenda.