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Editor Mike McPhail's So It Begins reviews

Editor Mike McPhail's Breach The Hull

Interview for Breach The Hull

Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Space Pirates

Author Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

First Line

Biography of

2009-05-31: interviews Danielle Ackley-McPhail, contributor to the military science fiction anthology, So It Begins, book two in the Defending the Future series.

MilSciFi: "Welcome back. Please tell us a little something about your story, First Line."

Ackley-McPhail: "My story, First Line, is an exploration of combat through the eye of Lieutenant Sheila Tremaine. What makes the story unique is the fact that "Trey", as she is called, is dead. Before she died she consented to an experimental process where her brain was scanned and her life experiences imprinted as data on the processor of a packbot, a demolitions robot already used by the military today. She is told her consciousness will not be recorded but she learns otherwise the first time the unit is activate. Not only is the story a study of what it would be like to exist as one of these robots, but also about personal redemption."

MilSciFi: "Is this part of a large series or universe?"

Ackley-McPhail: "This story is currently a stand-alone arc, but it does take place within an established universe; that developed by Mike McPhail for the Alliance Archives Martial Role-Playing System. Having played the game for years it was a natural backdrop for my military science fiction writing. It gives me a stable, established base to work with so that my mind can focus on the particulars of the story itself, rather than the window dressing. The Alliance Archives is a very rich universe with a complex backstory that gives me plenty of room to play in as well as a framework to build upon."

MilSciFi: "What inspired you to write this story?"

Ackley-McPhail: "This particular story was one of those odd, off-the-cuff ones. I knew I needed to come up with something, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. The current story arc I was working on wasn't quite what the editor was looking for so I was somewhat at a loss. By chance, though, we were at a friend's house just hanging out and watching TV when one of the guys stopped on a station airing a documentary on packbots. All of a sudden, pretty much the whole story just sprang into my mind. About a third of it was written right there while they watched the program and the rest was polished after a bit of research into the different packbot configurations and options. Ironically, the story arc that I was not able to pursue for this collection, The Devil You Don't, was later finished and accepted for publication by bookstore owner Greg Schaur of Between Books ( in Claymont, DE for a 30th anniversary commemorative anthology called Storied Between, which is to be published by The Fantasist Enterprises ( later this year."

MilSciFi: "Does science and technology play an important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it secondary to the story telling and characterization?

Ackley-McPhail: "Most of my work is character-driven; all the other elements are there, but secondary. In fact, I like to say that the plot is what happens when you are getting to know the characters. However, in this story, characterization and tech were very much intertwined. This was an exploration of altered consciousness in a manner we have rarely seen. Because of this I had to understand the workings of these robots, how they were used and what they were capable of. Still, that having been said, I can't say I didn't take some liberties, not having access to anyone that has actually used a packbot in combat situations. Regarding my work as a whole, mostly I indulge in informed technobabble. What I mean by that is I throw in a few terms and concepts that I have some limited understanding of, but I don't go in depth. I have my husband to keep me technically correct, within reason, or I research something I want to use to see if there is a scientific or technical basis actually being explored that would lend my concept validity. Is what I write plausible? I try and make it so, but in the end…it's fiction, after all."

MilSciFi: "Do you have plans to expand upon, or write other works based on this story?"

Ackley-McPhail: "Not necessarily this story, though the potential is there and I will do so if a good concept starts nagging at me, but in this universe? Definitely. So far I have written four stories directly in this universe: In the Dying Light (Breach the Hull, 2007), Carbon Copy (Space Pirates, 2008), First Line (So It Begins, 2009), and The Devil You Don't (sequel to Carbon Copy, to be published in Storied Between, 2009). I'm also in the process of writing a fifth, with the working title Star Crossed, intended for an upcoming woman pirate anthology that follows the Carbon Copy story arc, and have planned a sixth, also in this arc, titled No Joking Matter, and that one is slated for By Other Means, the third collection in the award-winning Defending the Future series. I'm thinking the Carbon Copy arc will likely turn into a novel at some point, or a linked collection, once I have enough short stories to make a cohesive storyline."

MilSciFi: "Most authors we encounter write novellas/novels, do you find it a challenge to write short stories?"

Ackley-McPhail: "Hmm…not really. I've done both and am fortunate that I am able to switch between the forms without too much difficulty. Mostly it is deciding what portion of the story you are going to tell. The challenge with short fiction is keeping the buildup to a minimum and getting right into the action as quick as possible. You have to economize on the words and tell a tight story. With a novel you can kind of meander… spend a little more time on characterization and backstory, get a little more into the descriptive. The challenge with novels for me is finding the end…I don't know where the story is going most of the time. I let the characters guide me, or I let the story develop from things I encounter in my research so it is more like traversing a maze than running a race. Also, since my novels have developed into a series, the other challenge is maintaining personal interest in finishing the story arc when so many other ideas intrude."

MilSciFi: "Since time is of the essence for getting a reader up to speed in a short story, do you have a strategy, or preferred method for doing this?"

Ackley-McPhail: "Mostly I try for a real attention-getter of a first line; once I have that I get you into the character's head, preferably with some occurrence that makes you care what happens. In the one I'm currently writing I start with the death of a character from the previous story and the fate of her remains. It is a very intense, ritualistic scene that really grabs you and draws you in as a reader, makes you want to avenge the death, and then I go from there. I make my characters real and tangible, like a friend, so that it matters what happens to them."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any other projects in the works?"

Ackley-McPhail: "Oh my…how long do I have? There is always something. Mostly I spend my time compiling anthologies. Those I'm working on right now are the Bad-Ass Faeries series, which has been signed by Mundania Press ( For that I have to redesign the first two books in the series, as well as put together the third. I'm also working on two stand-alone anthologies for Dark Quest LLC, ( Dragon's Lure, about all things that tempt a dragon…and why; and In An Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, which is self-explanatory. For my non-anthology work, I am completing a novella, The Halfling's Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, also for Dark Quest. Once all of that is done I have a vampire novel I am co-writing with Jeffrey Lyman, one of my fellow contributors to the Defending the Future Anthologies, as well as co-editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries series. Right now we are using the working title Blood Will Tell, but we discovered there are so many vampire novels out there with that title that we are going to use it as the series title and give the novels their own unique monikers."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any upcoming author events?"

Ackley-McPhail: "The next major event I have is the Collingswood Book Festival (October 3), followed by Faeriecon (November 6-8), and Philcon (November 20-22). There are a bunch of one-day events sprinkled in there that you can find out about on the Appearances page of my website."

MilSciFi: "Thank you"

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