Myke Cole: The Terribleminds Interview

All I gotta say is, Myke Cole? Bonafide bad-ass. Furthermore, an all-around nice guy. He’s also a guy with a book out this week — the military-meets-magic CONTROL POINT (AKA “Black Hawk Down” meets the “X-Men”). I managed to get a moment of Myke’s time in between, I dunno, punching tanks and playing Frisbee Golf with landmines, and here he sits down and submits to the terribleminds interview. Read it, and then visit his site — MykeCole-dot-com — and follow him on Twitter (@MykeCole).

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

During my first tour in Baghdad, I was sitting in my hooch at around 0200. I couldn’t sleep, so I was playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on my laptop. It was over 100 degrees, so I was sitting in my underwear.

Whoosh. Bang. Whoosh. Bang. Incoming rounds. From the sound and the shivering impact, I guessed they were 107s.

And I panic. Instead of doing what you should do (hit the deck), I grab my go-bag and my pistol and go flying out of the hooch, racing for the bunker, making myself a giant upright target for any low-flying shrapnel.

A round comes in danger-close, just on the other side of a cinder-block wall. It doesn’t detonate, but the bang is loud and the shaking so dramatic that I can swear that it did (if it had, I surely would have died).

The attack is over. I’m lying in the dirt, completely coated in dust. My ears are ringing and there’s a cloud of sulphur/cordite hanging over me. I’m only wearing underwear. I have no idea where my go-bag and weapon are. I think I may have pissed myself.

I’m one of the lucky guys who has a cellphone. When it rings, I find my go-bag.

It’s my mom. She’s calling to let me know how frightened she is that I’m in Iraq.

Why do you tell stories?

To communicate. To get a reaction. To know that other people are hearing what I have to say and that it is impacting them. I am no Emily Dickenson and I absolutely cannot understand people who operate like that.

I also do it to pay back. Stories saved me, reared me, created me. They are the reason I live. I know there are people out there who are the same way. They need them as much as I do. If I can add to the body of work that makes lives wonderful, then I have truly done something worthwhile.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Cowboy up. Novels don’t write themselves. Don’t wait for your muse. Don’t wait until you “have the time.” Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re wasting your time, or if you suck. Shut the hell up, and get to work.

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

I’m going to Confusion (a convention in Detroit) this coming weekend. At that con, I will be sitting down with many of my favorite authors: Peter V. Brett, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch.

We will be playing a game of 1st edition D&D, with a classic Gygax-written module, probably KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS.

The fact that I get to do crap like that is, frankly, transcendent.

The worst thing is poverty. Even with a major book deal, full-time writing is uncertain at best. If it weren’t for the health insurance and slight income stream I get from serving in the reserve, I would be homeless. I frequently tell people that I love everything about my life except for how poor I am. But I also firmly believe that money is the easy-part and you can figure that out eventually.

I suspect a lot of authors are or were gamers — tabletop in particular. What did gaming teach you about writing and storytelling? Positive or negative lessons.

I was *just* talking about this last night. I really feel that DM’ing D&D campaigns taught me incredibly important lessons about storytelling. I played with Peter V. Brett in college and watched him craft incredible campaigns that were as engaging as any novel, and then I tried to match them. You have to be willing to do a TON of worldbuilding that your “readers” will never see. I would pour hours into drafting incredibly detailed NPCs, only to have my players just come out and kill them without so much as saying hello. You also have to willing to change course on a dime. Your players can just decide that they don’t want to open that door when the campaign DEMANDS that they OPEN THAT F*&KING DOOR! That agility is critical to being a good novelist.

That author game sounds fucking phenomenal. Let’s extend that. If you could play D&D with, say, five different authors (living or dead), who would they be?

Oh wow:

- Gary Gygax (yes, he’s an author, by god).

- George R. R. Martin.

- Richard K. Morgan

- Naomi Novik

- Ernest Cline

And the module? Tomb of Horrors. Because I’m fantasizing, there’ll be this mind-ray that makes us all forget the module, so that none of us know where any of the traps are and how to get around them.

I get to be the Human Paladin. With at least a +3 Holy Avenger. That’s very important. Dude. Seriously. I’m not f$#king around here.

Gaming is big in the military, or so I hear. What other games have you played?

Gaming is HUGE in the military, as is all other SFF-genre loving activities (most importantly, reading). I love any tabletop word game (Scrabble and Boggle) and also the classic board/card games (San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne and Settlers of Cataan. Though, I should admit that I’m new to some of them). Talisman (with all its expansions) is OUTSTANDING.

I will play Magic if someone brings their decks, but I don’t own any of my own.

Then, there’s wargaming. I am a big fan of historical ancients/medieval games (I prefer 15mm) and my favorite rule set for that is DBA. I don’t really do napoleonic, but I will if I have a good mentor.

And, of course, there’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. There are no words for how unspeakably cool that universe is.

But the most important thing in gaming is the players. I really don’t care what I’m playing, so long as I’m at a table with a bunch of really cool people who are fun to hang out with.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

My favorite word, hands down, is “Contact.” There are SO many awesome meanings and implications, both science-fictional, military, and every day.

My favorite curse is “Balls.” I know, it’s not technically a curse, but I like the fact that it can be used in both positive and negative ways.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Hard cider (best I’ve ever hard is Hornsby’s). I love going to the UK because they take it seriously there. In America, if I have a drink with my sailors and order a hard cider, inevitably one of my chiefs will ask, “Why don’t you just order a Flirtini, sir?”

Okay, so, tell us about CONTROL POINT — what is it, and why did you write it?

CONTROL POINT is a book that asks the basic question “What if the modern, counterinsurgency-focused military had magic? What would a fire-team look like if you had 2 riflemen, a support-weapon and a sorcerer?” Now that’s the fun squee part “how does an Apache helicopter gunship match up against a Roc?” But it also raises bigger issues about the nature of big bureaucracies and how they handle sudden and dramatic social change. A lot of these questions were asked by the X-Men comic book series. I expand on those in SHADOW OPS.

I wrote the book because I was walking around the Pentagon in 1998, wondering how these regulation obsessed bureaucrats would handle magic. What if the monsters from D&D were real? How would the law deal with that? Those questions HOUNDED me. CONTROL POINT was my way of getting them to shut up.

How is CONTROL POINT a book only you could’ve written?

I’m probably flattering myself here, but I feel like I have a somewhat unique blend of loving-to-write, nerd-roots and military experience. I have been to war and responded to major domestic disasters. I am raised on comic books, D&D and mass-market/spinner-wire-rack fantasy novels. I have been writing all my life. I am sure there are lots of folks with two of those attributes. But all three? Well, maybe so. Maybe CONTROL POINT *isn’t* a book that only I could’ve written. But I’m the guy who wrote it. Here’s hoping folks are happy with that.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Book: Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series, which is (so far) The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. He is, hands-down, one of the best writers I’ve ever read. I frequently use those books to woo non-fantasy readers who I am trying to get into genre, and it has never failed me.

Comic Book: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America Omnibus. It’s as thick as a phonebook, and you’ll wish it were twice as long.

Film: Les Pactes des Loupes (The Brotherhood of the Wolf). Watch the extended edition, in French, with sub-titles.

Game: Sword and Sworcery for the iPad. Beautiful, haunting and the Jim Guthrie soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

I’ve been to Iraq 3 times. I was a responder to both the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Irene. Crisis is what I do. I’m a good shot and was a competitive swordsman in my halcyon days, both in kendo and the SCA. If there’s a guy you want on your six when the chips are down and the undead come calling, I’m him.

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

A NYC deli style BLT, but only because they’re held together with those little plastic swords you see in cocktails. I’d use that to carve up the place and escape.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

I’ve just turned in FORTRESS FRONTIER, the sequel to CONTROL POINT. I have recently been commission to write a novella in a media tie-in universe, and hopefully that will lead to novels. I am turning and burning on my efforts to get the comic book and video game industries interested in my work. A Hollywood agency has picked up CONTROL POINT and is trying to get film/TV folks interested in it. The long and short is this: I want to be able to write full-time, in genre, without having to do anything else besides serve in the reserve (which I love), for the rest of my days. A failure scenario sees me having to go back to a full-time day job.

Okay, so, tell us about CONTROL POINT — what is it, and why did you write it?

* CONTROL POINT is a book that asks the basic question “What if the modern, counterinsurgency-focused military had magic? What would a fire-team look like if you had 2 riflemen, a support-weapon and a sorcerer?” Now that’s the fun squee part “how does an Apache helicopter gunship match up against a Roc?” But it also raises bigger issues about the nature of big bureaucracies and how they handle sudden and dramatic social change. A lot of these questions were asked by the X-Men comic book series. I expand on those in SHADOW OPS.
I wrote the book because I was walking around the Pentagon in 1998, wondering how these regulation obsessed bureaucrats would handle magic. What if the monsters from D&D were real? How would the law deal with that? Those questions HOUNDED me. CONTROL POINT was my way of getting them to shut up.
How is CONTROL POINT a book only you could’ve written?
* I’m probably flattering myself here, but I feel like I have a somewhat unique blend of loving-to-write, nerd-roots and military experience. I have been to war and responded to major domestic disasters. I am raised on comic books, D&D and mass-market/spinner-wire-rack fantasy novels. I have been writing all my life. I am sure there are lots of folks with two of those attributes. But all three? Well, maybe so. Maybe CONTROL POINT *isn’t* a book that only I could’ve written. But I’m the guy who wrote it. Here’s hoping folks are happy with that.
Ah, you’re a gamer. I suspect a lot of authors are or were gamers — tabletop in particular. What did gaming teach you about writing and storytelling? Positive or negative lessons.
* I was *just* talking about this last night. I really feel that DM’ing D&D campaigns taught me incredibly important lessons about storytelling. I played with Peter V. Brett  in college and watched him craft incredible campaigns that were as engaging as any novel, and then I tried to match them. You have to be willing to do a TON of worldbuilding that your “readers” will never see. I would pour hours into drafting incredibly detailed NPCs, only to have my players just come out and kill them without so much as saying hello. You also have to willing to change course on a dime. Your players can just decide that they don’t want to open that door when the campaign DEMANDS that they OPEN THAT F*&KING DOOR! That agility is critical to being a good novelist.
That game with the other authors sounds fucking phenomenal. So let’s extend that out — if you could play D&D with, say, five different authors (living or dead), who would they be?
* Oh wow:
- Gary Gygax (yes, he’s an author, by god).
- George R. R. Martin.
- Richard K. Morgan
- Naomi Novik
- Ernest Cline
And the module? Tomb of Horrors. Because I’m fantasizing, there’ll be this mind-ray that makes us all forget the module, so that none of us know where any of the traps are and how to get around them.
I get to be the Human Paladin. With at least a +3 Holy Avenger. That’s very important. Dude. Seriously. I’m not f$#king around here.
Gaming is big in the military, or so I hear. What other games do you or have you played?
* Gaming is HUGE in the military, as is all other SFF-genre loving activities (most importantly, reading). I love any tabletop word game (Scrabble and Boggle) and also the classic board/card games (San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne and Settlers of Cataan. Though, I should admit that I’m new to some of them). Talisman (with all its expansions) is OUTSTANDING.
I will play Magic if someone brings their decks, but I don’t own any of my own.
Then, there’s wargaming. I am a big fan of historical ancients/medieval games (I prefer 15mm) and my favorite rule set for that is DBA. I don’t really do napoleonic, but I will if I have a good mentor.
And, of course, there’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. There are no words for how unspeakably cool that universe is.
But the most important thing in gaming is the players. I really don’t care what I’m playing, so long as I’m at a table with a bunch of really cool people who are fun to hang out with.

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