Influences

By March 5, 2011Comms

I’ve been getting a few requests to post samples from the book on this website. I’m currently coordinating that with the publisher, and it’s going to take some time. I just turned in the revised manuscript a couple of weeks ago, and my editor needs time to dig into it. Even then, I’m sure Ace will want to have a say in which samples get released and how, so I beg your patience on that. Please remember, even though it’s just the author’s name on the book, a novel is a *group* effort, and a lot of folks have a stake and a say-so in how it gets produced/marketed. This is to the good, and ensures the best possible book reaches the store shelves (physical and virtual). Hang with me, folks. We’ll get there. If folks are interested, you can check out some of my shorter work on my PRODUCTS page. There are links there if you’d like to try to track down some of the stuff online. Also, feel free to shoot me an email if you need help finding something.

While I can’t give you a sample chapter from the novel just yet, I can talk a little bit about my influences, which might give you an indicator of what to expect. I might be flattering myself, but I think the SHADOW OPS series is doing something that hasn’t been done quite this way before in SF/F – the modern military, at the fire-team level, using sorcery in the kind of gritty, house-to-house fights so common to the counterinsurgency throw-downs that dominate today’s battlespace. It’s tackling a lot of the big modern questions; civil liberties, the line between law enforcement and the military, how to deal with national security threats while preserving basic concepts of liberalism and democracy. That, and mixing fireballs and 5.56mm rounds downrange is just plain awesome.

But that’s just the conceit. There’s writing involved, and to that end, there’s an evolution that I only wish I could adequately describe. The best way I know how to do that here is to point out some of the giants whose shoulders I’m struggling to stand on:

Lloyd Alexander: His Chronicles of Prydain got me reading period, and more importantly, reading fantasy. I won’t lie to you, a lot of this was due to The Book of Three, which I got in elementary school as part of one of those Scholastic take home catalog thingies that your mom checks off for you (thanks, mom!). This reinforced the critical nature of good cover art, but it also taught me the roots of epic fantasy, its debt to the historical (read: Germano-British) epic and kicked off that sense of nostalgia for things that never happened that drives a lot of us dedicated nerds to this day.

J.R.R. Tolkein: I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say anything more about this guy other than his name. Odds are, you know who he is and why he was important not only to me, but to every writer . . . well . . . ever.

Peter V. Brett: Pete’s Demon Cycle taught me the roots of my narrative pacing and prose styling. Pete, while also a lover of Tolkein, departed from the foliant prose styling of epic fantasy, with the goal of creating a clipped narrative. Pete doesn’t spend a ton of time on extraneous description. He relies on the readers to already have an idea of what things are looking like based on context and the institutional genre knowledge of the reader.

At the same time, he’s super careful to ensure that “every mule hauls wood” in his story. That is to say, there isn’t a single sentence in his books that isn’t advancing significant character development or plot points. He writes, then cuts and cuts and cuts until every word has justified itself. He writes by the George Bernard Shaw axiom “Forgive me for writing a long letter but I did not have time to write a short one.” (though I admit he’d make fun of me for using that quote. Pete marches to his own drum. He’s no follower of Shaw’s, I’m just trying to describe his style here).

The result is that Pete’s narrative is relentless, action packed and breakneck. It is the quintessential page turner, the book that keeps you reading until 4AM when you have to be up for work the next morning.  There’s still plenty to ruminate over throughout Pete’s books, but people have a tendency to put down slow stories. Pete’s stuff grabs you and keeps you until it’s done with you. In this, it is the best example of fantasy writing that I know, and I strive to emulate it. The only other example of this degree of conscious competence/perfectionism that comes to mind is Orson Scott Card in his Ender series.

Jack Campbell: Jack is a retired naval officer and as such, really gets the pernicious politics that pervade staff commands. This enables him to write military science fiction that is eminently believable, logically extrapolated and recognizable to military members as “the real deal.” At the same time, he’s got an outstanding sense of the best elements of storytelling: blistering action, impossible odds facing an endearing protagonist, and just a plain old awesome world/background. It’s a page turner like Pete’s stuff, but has the added military element that is so dear to me, which makes it a major influence in my own work.

Joe Abercrombie: There is so much to love with this guy’s stuff, but I am going to pick out one example that I specifically try to emulate. Abercrombie is a *master* of effective dialogue. In just a few lines, he can teach you an enormous amount about a character, make you fall in love with that character and help you understand that character’s relationship with others. It’s breathtaking and I am struggling to understand how he does it. Another good example of this can be found in the work of Scott Lynch. Such effective dialogue allows the writer to convey a lot more information with less writing, which keeps the narrative pace strong.

George R. R. Martin: I’m tempted to brush over this guy like Tolkein, because he’s clearly earned a similar level of adulation. But suffice to say that I have two big takeaways from him: He has the most complete, intricate and in-depth world building I’ve ever encountered and he is a master at exposing alternate points of view and getting you to identify with them. You hate Jamie Lannister in A Game of Thrones and love him by the end of A Storm of Swords (Pete does this too). That kind of control over the reader is the mark of a real master of character, and character is what drives great stories. James Clavell is a close second to Martin in these two strong suits.

Bernard Cornwell: One of the most famous military/historical fiction writers out there, Cornwell constructs the most believable veteran, hard-bitten soldiers I’ve ever seen, and pompous, high born officers that ring true whether they’re serving in Napoleon’s legions or the command tent of a medieval French count. Like Campbell, he combines this with a mastery of basic plotting/pacing elements to make it sing. For a military writer like myself, it’s essential. Robert Graves and Gore Vidal are my other military historical mainstays, though they are different fare than Cornwell. Still worth the read. Naomi Novik does a great job of blending historical reality (and military reality at that) with a fantasy element, and creates something unique and special in that effort. Her Temeraire series is strong in my mind when I write.

China Mieville: Let’s put aside his politics or his quasi-supermodel status. Mieville’s writing is absolutely genre-busting, envelope-pushing, ground-breaking. For a genre that prides itself on cultivating a sense of wonder, fantasy tends to stick to formulas. My brother once summarized every fantasy novel as “Gelf the Elf must travel to the magic land of Wallymalloo to get the magic lantern so he can save the Princess from the big, bad Ogre, and in the process discover his true self.” Flip, to be sure, but the man has a point. Mieville isn’t having that crap. He is out to bend your mind around some angles you didn’t know existed, and damn if he isn’t going to be successful. Since I’m engaging in a little genre busting myself here, I always keep his successes in mind.

Patrick Rothfuss: Rothfuss influences by reminding me that not every narrative has to grab you and shake you like a mad dog. Rothfuss’ style lacks that sense of immediacy/urgency. He rambles and takes his time, a gently flowing stream where the other writers I’ve talked about are a rushing torrent. But it works. There’s a peaceful, appealing, even haunting quality to his style that resonates. This doesn’t detract from the tension ratcheting up when it needs to, but it’s an example for me of not always having to drag the reader kicking and screaming along. There are times to slow roll it, and Rothfuss shows me how.

Steven Pressfield: He’s famous for his historical fiction blockbusters like Gates of Fire and Tides of War. The Afghan Campaign is my favorite work of his. But I admire him most for his incredible The War of Art. It’s the only self-help book I’ve ever read that did anything for me, and is quite possibly one of the most influential things I’ve ever read as far as my writing is concerned. Any writer, any artist, any person striving for anything, needs to read this.

Holy crap. This is insanely long and I haven’t even covered half of it. Hopefully that’ll give you some idea of where I’m coming coming from. It would be interesting to see if you can recognize any of these threads in my work if you read it.

Author Myke Cole

Myke Cole is an American writer of history and fantasy who leverages a lifetime in military, law enforcement and intelligence service to take you to battlefields, real and imagined.

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