Please welcome Michael Mammay to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Planetside is published on July 31st by Harper Voyager.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing Michael a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
Michael: I wrote some in college. I had a couple of funny essays published in The Pointer, at West Point. While I’ve known that I wanted to write fiction since I was about 18 or 19, I never really started to do it seriously until much later in life.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Michael: I definitely started out as a pantser, and probably still am, though I do plot certain elements. So maybe a hybrid? I tend to write to events. So I might pants the first act, but I have a pretty good idea what the end of that act looks like. Then I’ll write to the midpoint. So I kind of plot out what each quarter of the book looks like. But inside of scenes, I’m definitely a pantser. Half the time I get characters together, they do something I don’t plan for them to do. It keeps things interesting.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Michael: Not immediately hating what I’ve written. It took me a long time to believe that Planetside is good. Even past the point where I knew it was going to be published, which is of course ridiculous. So when I write new stuff--and at the time I write it, it’s not as good--I hate it. Depending on the day, I either hate it a little, or I hate it a lot. I rely a lot on other people to help me know what is good and what needs work. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, because I don’t obsess over it. It’s more like a thing where it only affects me when I think about it. But yeah, I’m highly critical of my own work.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Michael: I read a lot. While I mostly read sci-fi and fantasy, I also teach literature, so I’m pretty well read in the classics, too. For Planetside, the two biggest influences weren’t sci-fi at all. The thing I was reading that got me to start writing Planetside was reading Gone Girl. I’d been writing third person, and was reading GG and it has this amazing first person voice that just punches you in the face from the first chapter. I knew immediately that that’s how I needed to write Planetside. I sat down that night and banged out a chapter which I sent to a few readers. That fast…just sent them a draft. Their reaction to it was all the motivation I needed. There’s also a lot of Heart of Darkness influence in it.
TQ: Describe Planetside using only 5 words.
Michael: NCIS in space combat zone
TQ: Tell us something about Planetside that is not found in the book description.
Michael: It’s actually got some pretty funny parts. It’s not a comedy by any means, but Carl Butler, the main character, doesn’t take himself too seriously, even when the situation around him might be pretty dire. He can be a sarcastic bastard.
TQ: What inspired you to write Planetside? What appeals to you about writing Military SF?
Michael: I did three year-long tours in Iraq, and another year in Afghanistan, so writing Military SF comes pretty natural to me because the characters are real. None of them are based on real people, but for people who have served in combat, they’re going to recognize a lot of these people. As far as the book itself, the ideas mostly came from my time in Afghanistan. I didn’t do a front line job there, so not the combat part of the book. More the politics and the command structure, and how those people work with each other (real life was nowhere near as dysfunctional as it is in the book!)
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Planetside?
Michael: I spent a long time in the army. Seriously, I’m pretty light on the science in this book, so I didn’t do a ton of research. I did research stars, and what type would support life. Recently I went to a conference called Launchpad (sponsored by SFWA) and learned a ton of science stuff, so I think there will be more in later books.
TQ: How does the military in Planetside differ (or not) from your own experiences with the U.S. Army?
Michael: The thing that really comes from my time in the army is the relationships between the characters. That’s pretty real. Officers are in charge and enlisted follow orders from them, but it’s more subtle than that. There’s not an undying loyalty to a cause or unwavering support. They know who the boss is, and they treat him with respect, but it’s a two-way street. Good leaders also give respect, and the people they lead feel it, and do better because of it. The other thing that I think comes across, I hope, is I tried to write how it feels to be in a situation where bad things are happening. What it feels like when something explodes. In the combat scenes, I wanted to put the reader as close to it as I could.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Planetside.
Michael: I love my cover. Sebastien Hue did the art, and I think it’s just beautiful. It kind of provides a big picture of the setting, though a part you never seen in the novel. Planetside is set on a space station orbiting a planet, with a war going on down below. The cover shows part of the station and a distant view of the planet, both of which, in the book, you see from closer up. Butler is inside the station and he’s down on the planet.
Only one side of the war has space technology, so if you’re on the station, you’re kind of away from the war zone. This leads to a situation where there are really two different war experiences…the support of the war, spaceside, and the shooting war, planetside. This isn’t unlike some of our current conflicts where some soldiers are in base camps and others are out on missions. That’s another aspect I wanted to capture, and I think from a larger perspective that’s something the cover shows.
TQ: In Planetside who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Michael: Butler was the easiest. He just spoke to me from day one. It’s his story, and he told it to me. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. The hardest, I think…there are two. I’m writing about Dr. Elliott in some detail for another site, so I’ll go with Lex Alenda here. Lex was hard to write because I didn’t know her role in the story when I wrote the first draft. First off, in the first draft, she was a man. When I changed her to a woman in a later draft, she got some life. She went from being just a character who Butler used to do basic errands to a three-dimensional person who had her own thoughts on things and played her own role in the greater story. She develops a lot throughout, and the relationship between her and Butler has a lot of depth. Trying to get their scene together at the end right was something I had to go back to several times…it was probably the hardest scene to get right.
TQ: Does Planetside touch on any social issues?
Michael: There are definitely some colonialism issues. Humans have basically taken over a planet with life on it because they want the resources. I don’t spend a ton of time with that, but it’s there, underlying everything. We’re not necessarily the good guys.
TQ: Which question about Planetside do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Michael: Well my favorite question to answer is when people ask me how much of this is real, and happened to me while I was in the army. I get a real serious look on my face and say ‘All of it. It’s all true. I went to a distant planet and fought aliens.’ Seriously, though, there are a lot of twists in Planetside, so almost anything I say here is going to be a spoiler, and I don’t want to do that. I love talking about the book with people after they read it. There are always great questions.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Planetside.
Michael: Oh man, that’s tough. I’ve been working on other books for so long now. Here’s one where Butler is describing what it feels like to come out of sedation after space travel:
I’m not sure what to compare it to, as it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. I had one colleague compare it to finishing a twenty-kilometer run, combined with a hangover and vertigo. In other words, it sucks.
Another non-spoilery one that I really like is an interchange between Butler and a reporter named Karen Plazz, where she’s trying to get information from him and he’s being a bit of a dick, trying to avoid the questions. I really like these two characters together.
“So what can you tell me about the attack?” asked Plazz. I shrugged. “Certainly nothing you don’t know.” “But you’re in danger.” I looked around suspiciously. “Am I?” “You have three armed soldiers walking with you.” I glanced over at my guards. “Yeah, but I don’t think they’re that dangerous.” “You’re avoiding the question.” “I really am.”
TQ: What's next?
Michael: Planetside 2 (not it’s real name) is done and with my editor, and I expect that will come out next year. It’s the further adventures of Carl Butler, a couple years after the events of Planetside. I’m on a two book deal, so right now I’m working on a couple different projects that I want to write; developing the concepts, doing the research, and writing the pitches. Which will get written and when depends on a lot of different factors, but I’m excited about both of them.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
Harper Voyager, July 31, 2018
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
--“PLANETSIDE is a smart and fast-paced blend of mystery and boots-in-the-dirt military SF that reads like a high-speed collision between Courage Under Fire and Heart of Darkness.” – Marko Kloos, bestselling author of the Frontline series
--“Not just for military SF fans—although military SF fans will love it—Planetside is an amazing debut novel, and I’m looking forward to what Mammay writes next.” – Tanya Huff, author of the Confederation and Peacekeeper series
--“A tough, authentic-feeling story that starts out fast and accelerates from there.” – Jack Campbell, author of Ascendant
--“Definitely the best military sci-fi debut I’ve come across in a while.” – Gavin Smith, author of Bastard Legion and Age of Scorpio
A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…
War heroes aren't usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it's something big—and he's not being told the whole story. A high councilor's son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there's no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.
The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won't come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…
Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a master’s degree in military history and is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his family in Georgia.