In between teaching, Michael has manage to combine not only his experiences during his service and deployments to Afghanistan, but his love of writing, to create, write, and have the PLANETSIDE series published. Today he joins us to talk about that journey and what went into becoming a full time author.
To start with, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
I started writing late in life—in my 40s. I’d wanted to be a writer since my late teens, but that was more in theory. I liked the idea of being a writer. But I never did anything about it. I cut myself a bit of a break about that, since I was pretty busy being an army officer. But I started thinking about it more, and I started writing some really bad fantasy. The thing is, I didn’t know how to write. But I read a ton of books, and how hard can writing one be, right? This culminated with me sending a very much not good manuscript out to a bunch of agents and getting a lot of quick rejections. And right about then I discovered this writing contest called Pitch Wars. So I entered. And even before they picked their winners, I’d already learned that I wouldn’t be one. Because for the first time I had met some other writers and let them read my book. That’s right…I entered Pitch Wars with a book that nobody had ever seen but me.
Spoiler: I didn’t get selected. But I did meet some great critique partners, and I learned a lot about what I was doing wrong. So I started studying. Specifically, I studied plot structure. And I started doing critique for other people, and in doing that, I started to see what they were doing wrong, and more important, I was having to explain to them not only that it was off, but why. And learning to do that helped me figure out my own writing. It was a very cool time for me, as a lot of the people I worked with now have books sitting on my shelf.
What drew you to writing military SF as opposed to say, military-style thrillers?
I never really set out to write science fiction. At the time, I was reading more fantasy than SF, and saw myself in that space. But then I had the idea for PLANETSIDE, and it kind of took off from there. I started writing PLANETSIDE in late 2014, just after I got back from Afghanistan, and I had all these ideas that fit into a military story. But I didn’t think I could write it as a military thriller, because to do that, I’d have had to make it too real. And there were a lot of problems with that. First, I couldn’t talk about the real technology without getting arrested. Second, it would be rather problematic for an army colonel to write a commentary on the Afghanistan war. With PLANETSIDE, I could write that commentary on a generic war that I made up using technology that I also made up, which gave me some space to be more honest, I think. Not that PLANETSIDE is a super-preachy book or anything. It’s mostly a missing-person thriller set in a military science fiction environment. But if you look deep, you’ll probably find some thoughts on some real-world things.
What made you decide to write the PLANETSIDE series to begin with?
First off, PLANETSIDE wasn’t ever intended to be a series. I wrote it as a stand alone book. Then my agent sold it in a two-book deal, and I got the contract and book two was in there as being from the same world, with the same characters. And I was like…huh. I guess there’s going to be a sequel. So it was news to me. At the time, I was working on the start of two other books (more on that later). But let me answer the question about what made me decide to write PLANETSIDE. As I mentioned, I had just spent a year in Kandahar, Afghanistan. On that base, there were a bunch of different units with a bunch of different missions, and nobody was really in charge of the whole thing. But everybody was totally professional, and there were a bunch of great leaders and they made it work. But it got me to thinking…what if they weren’t so professional? What if the leader of every individual entity had their own agenda? And that became Cappa Base. So I had the idea for a setting, but nothing else.
The next thing that happened was that I read GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. And in the first chapter, there’s this awesome first-person voice.
Up until then, I saw myself as a third-person writer. But I read that, and it just hit me…I needed to write in first person. I needed to write with voice. So I wrote a couple of short chapters and sent them off to some readers, and they all said “Yes! More!” So I had a setting and a voice, and I just started writing. No plot or anything…you know, that’s not that important.
After that, I kind of just figured it out. It took me 9 weeks to write the first draft. It all kind of came together in chapter 8, when Butler meets Elliot for the first time. She was supposed to be a bit character. He was supposed to walk in to her office, grill her, and get the information he needed to move on with his case. But a funny thing happened when I went to write that scene. Elliot said no. Actually, she used a little bit stronger language. After all, she was a colonel too, and she wasn’t having it. And that’s when I figured out that she wasn’t a bit player at all. She was important. And the rest of the plot developed from there.
Will the series conclude with COLONYSIDE or can we expect more from Col. Carl Butler?
COLONYSIDE is the last planned Carl Butler book at this time. With that said, COLONYSIDE is really pretty separate from the first two books. It has some of the same characters. Butler, of course, plus Mac and Ganos return. But it’s really a stand-alone story set in that same world. Butler’s past is an element, but there’s a lot of new stuff, too. So I can’t definitively say this is the end. Once I get my current commitments finished, I’m sure the publisher and I will talk. I’ll tell them what I want to write, they’ll tell me what they want me to write, and we’ll work something out. That’s a long way of saying that I might return to the world of PLANETSIDE at some point down the road, but I don’t know. I have a lot of things in my head that I want to write.
And, of course, could you tell us a little bit what you are working on at the moment?
I finished writing a book called MISFITS, and turned it into my editor two weeks ago. It’s a project that I’d started back while I was on submission with PLANETSIDE, and now it should be coming out in late 2021 or early 2022, from Harper Voyager. I’m really excited about it. And I just transitioned to writing a book called THE WEIGHT OF COMMAND, which is going to be an Audible original. I’d expect to see that come out sometime in mid-2022 in audio format only, and then to come out in print and e-book six months later. Both of these books follow younger protagonists, and while I can’t speak for WEIGHT yet, since it’s in its early stages, MISFITS is a lot lighter in tone than the PLANETSIDE series. I think it’s going to make people laugh but still have the military intrigue that people seem to like about my first series.
And finally, as an aside, what made you jump in to become a mentor for #PitchWars?
There are quite a few reasons. First, Pitch Wars gave me my start. PLANETSIDE was a Pitch Wars book in 2015, but the year prior to that was really what mattered most. Hanging around Pitch Wars is where I first met other writers, and it’s how I found the critique partners that helped me develop into the writer I am today.
Michelle Hauck and MaryAnn Marlowe set up this forum (Pitch Wars now has it’s own, dedicated forum, but that didn’t exist back then). On that forum I met Colleen Halverson, Rebecca Enzor, Red Levine, and got a critique on my page from Janet Wrenn. All of those authors had skills that I didn’t have, and I learned a lot from them.
Second, I love working with developing writers. I’m good at giving critique, both on short samples and for entire books. And it’s something I really enjoy. I love taking apart a scene or an entire plot, figuring out what is working and what isn’t, and helping the writer realize their potential. And when you help someone with a manuscript and they then go on to get it published…that’s just a great feeling.
I’m not going to list them off, but there are some books (and some authors) out there partially because of me. I have a dedicated shelf for them. Finally, it’s just a great community. Kellye Garrett, Brenda Drake, Sara Nicholas, Sonia Hartl, and all the other people who make Pitch Wars work are all great people, and I really enjoy working with them. And I’m still in touch with a bunch of my Pitch Wars classmates from 2015. They are great supporters of mine and of each other. There’s really nothing I can think of that’s quite like it. So when I was asked to co-mentor in 2016, it was an easy decision. I took 2019 off, because I didn’t have the time. I was working full time as a teacher and I had a book deadline to meet (for COLONYSIDE). But in 2020, I became a full-time writer, so I had the time to dedicate to it again.
Michael Mammay is a science fiction writer. He is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a master’s degree in military history, and he currently teaches American literature. He is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His debut novel, Planetside came out in July, 2018, and was selected as a Library Journal best book of 2018. The audio book, narrated by RC Bray, was nominated for an Audie award. The sequel, Spaceside, hit shelves on August 27th, 2019. While the third book, Colonyside, is available from December 29th, 2020. Michael lives with his wife in Georgia.
Check out his website for more information.