2009-05-18: MilSciFi.com interviews Mike McPhail, contributor to the military
science fiction anthology, So It Begins,
book two in the Defending the Future
MilSciFi: "Welcome back. With the releases a So It Begins we find you once again as
the book's editor and cover artist."
McPhail: "Unlike BTH (Breach The Hull), which was basically assigned to me, I had much
more control over this project, and in all honestly I've learned a great deal
(both good and bad) from the first book, and hopefully I've put that knowledge
The biggest change was the demise of Marietta Publishing.
Literally we were ready to go to press, and where looking for the contracts to
go out from the publisher, when he announced that he was out of the
book-business. Fortunately, within 12-hours we were picked up by Dark Quest
Books, a company that had first approached me to do my Alliance Archives
Martial Role-Playing Game manuals. Well, so far so good, I know that Dark Quest
has high expectation for this, and the other related project we have brought to
MilSciFi: "Is the new publisher going to
re-release Breach The Hull?"
McPhail: "Yep, we have just finished
converting the old Marietta files to the new DTF (Defending
The Future) series format; with luck it will physically be available by
Balticon for the launch party for So It
In addition, Dark Quest has also given us the go-ahead for DTF book
three, By Other Means, scheduled for release
in late 2010/11."
MilSciFi: "What is a launch party?"
McPhail: "In short, it's just a get-together
(party) among the authors, their friends, and fans to celebrate the publication
and/or first printing of a new book. In our case, Danielle (of Ackley-McPhail
fame) also likes to hold a raffle, and this year the grand prize is a walk-on
part in a future Lost Fleet novel by Jack
MilSciFi: "What was the inspiration of So It Begins' cover?"
McPhail: "I was watching Dreamworks',
"Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima", when the idea hit me,
stage an invasion from space--so it (the final battle) begins--have an armada
of ships ring the planet, with a battleship in the foreground pounding away at
the surface--it sounded hot at the time--but as the movie went on, it wasn't
the sight of the big-guns that told me that the 'U.S. Marines was here to
stay,' no it was the landing craft coming onto the beach. So I changed the
primary ship to a troop carrier launching its orbital Landers toward the
planet. I also put the planetary horizon on its side for a more dramatic
MilSciFi: "Are there interior illustrations
McPhail: "Just as with BTH, each story has
its own custom black-and-white chapter icon, based on some aspect of the story.
This time around I had a few carryovers, but mostly they (the authors) kept me
on my toes trying to be an artist instead of a graphic designer; don't get me
wrong, in the end I was proud of the work, but it definitely took time and
several emails to get it right."
MilSciFi: "You’re also a contributor to So It Begins, isn't that a bit unusual,
that is to have the book's editor also in the work?"
McPhail: "In the case of working for one of The Great Publishing Houses of the Landsraad
that would be true, but with small press (in general), it's often the only way
to get a share of the sales. Beside, my story still had to be approved by the
other editors; plus, if the book ran long, mine would have been cut for space."
MilSciFi: "Please tell us a little something about
McPhail: "It’s a gremlin story set on a
starship in hyperspace--instead of a B17 flying over Germany--and the poor engineer who has to deal
with the related problems."
MilSciFi: "Is this part of a large series or
McPhail: "It takes place within the universe
of the Alliance Archives series, but
is not as part of any current story-arc or timeline. It's kind of like playing
with toys, you can recognize what and where they’re from, but the kids are just
making it up the story as they go along. Many a good story (mostly by Danielle
Ackley-McPhail) is set within such a realm."
MilSciFi: "What inspired you to write this
McPhail: "The story is based on an old Star
Trek RPG I used to run back in my Academy days. The intent of which was to isolate
a player and drive him to step outside the normal chain of command in order to
come to some resolution. Usually I managed to get the player to start rambling
about "some hotdog headed alien" as security dragged him off to
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?"
McPhail: "The sci-tech should only be a tool
to help frame and work through the story. After all, we general need a point of
reference--a character--we can relate to (or dislike and hope for their
inevitable downfall) in order to become part of the story. Even when the
characters are not human--aliens, machines, etc--we almost always make them
anthropomorphic, or at the very least give them some level of personality."
Although it must be said that bad sci-tech can take a good story
and run it straight into the ground, as the reader loses faith in the author's
ability to weave a convincing story."
MilSciFi: "Do you have plans to expanded
upon, or write other works based on this story?"
McPhail: "Maybe. There's definitely a plot
point that would allow for a follow up story."
MilSciFi: "Most authors we encounter write
novellas/novels, do you find it a challenge to write short stories?"
McPhail: "To date, I've only written shorts
and novellas, I'm not at the point where I have a novel hiding within me,
scream to get out. When a story ends usually is not up to me--I'll just be
writing along when suddenly it's over--sometimes I've hit all the key points
I've outline, but often, it just ends. So if the concept is straight forward,
with a clearly defended outcome, the story can wrap up pretty quickly."
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?"
McPhail: "You need to drop them (the reader)
into the action; let them get to know a character or two, and then use them as
your gateway to the rest of the story's universe."
MilSciFi: "Do you have any other projects in
McPhail: "Currently I'm working on an
illustrated article about the physics of hyperspace, and the engineering of a
starship's hyperdrive (based on the Alliance Archives series)."
MilSciFi: "Do you have any upcoming author
McPhail: "Right now, Balticon is on the horizon.
One more very important note in
closing. All of this effort is underpinned by the hard work and dedication of
my loving wife Danielle; the person who makes all this possible.
MilSciFi: "Thank you"