Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on science fiction author Michael Mammay. He is a retired army officer who has always had a desire to write but never really had the time while he was serving. His first novel, PLANETSIDE published in 2018 and the second two books in that series published each subsequent year. They are mysteries set in military science fiction environments and feature a crusty old protagonist named Colonel Carl Butler. Now he writes full time from his home in Savannah, GA, where he lives with his wife.
The first question I asked him was, where can people find his work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
Pretty much anywhere you buy books. Although if you’re into audio books, I definitely recommend that version, as it’s narrated by the incomparable RC Bray.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’m on twitter @MichaelMammay, have an author facebook page @MichaelMammay, and my website is MichaelMammay.com
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your newest book, Colonyside?
The PLANETSIDE series follows Carl Butler, who is a Colonel nearing retirement in book 1. The military calls on Carl to do one last job – investigate the disappearance of a politician’s son in a distant war zone. When he arrives to the war zone, evidence starts to disappear and it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and people he thinks are friends might be covering things up. To find the answers, he heads Planetside into the combat zone. Books 2 and 3 aren’t exactly sequels, but the events of the first book still resonate and several of the characters come back. The books have a little bit of a detective/noir feel crossed with elements of military science fiction. They tend to appeal to both science fiction fans and thriller readers, especially fans of something like THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER by Nelson DeMille or the Jack Reacher series.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
A lot of what went into PLANETSIDE came from my last tour in Afghanistan, and veterans of that war or people familiar with it will likely recognize some similarities. I also use my military experience in general to bring realism to the characters and their interpersonal relationships. I try to write realistic military characters and have them interact the way that professional soldiers really do.
What was the inspiration for the Planetside series? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
When I was in the military, I had a conversation with a friend of mine (who happened to be a senior officer) and we were talking about great army leaders – the kind of people where if they asked you to do something, you’d do it without question because you trusted their leadership. And that led me to the question: What if that person wasn’t as trustworthy as you thought? And that was the genesis of PLANETSIDE.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
Carl Butler is the main character, and I do enjoy writing him, but I think my favorite character is from the first book – Colonel Elliot. I like her because she was never supposed to be an important character, but then I was writing a scene where Butler was supposed to come in and run over her and get the information he needed to continue his mission, and Elliot absolutely wasn’t having it. Like the character almost wrote herself, and the whole thing came out in a way that I never anticipated. And she became a much more important part of the story.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
My favorite part of writing is after I’ve got a first draft, refining it and adjusting parts of it here or there to make the whole thing work. With stories containing mystery, the whole thing is like an intricate puzzle, and when some of the pieces of that come together, it’s a great feeling.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Other writers are an asset, not your competition. You can’t get better without sharing your work, and the best people to help you get better are other writers.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
I left Southern New Hampshire when I was 17 to attend West Point, and I really haven’t lived in New England since, though I’m still a fan of all the sports teams from there. I’d go back and visit my parents, of course, but now they’ve moved south as well, so I don’t make it back that often.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you, and what would the answer be?
What science fiction books do you love? Wow! What a great question. Thanks for asking. I try to read about forty books a year, and about 30 to 35 of those will be books published in the last two years. I think it’s important to know what the genre is doing and who is taking it to new and great places. (The other 5 to 10 I dedicate to going back and reading important works from the past that I missed). Some books I’ve loved from the last few years are NOPHEK GLOSS, by Essa Hansen, THE RAGE OF DRAGONS, by Evan Winter, and the Murderbot series by Martha Wells. I also read everything that NK Jemisin writes—I think she’s the best sci fi/fantasy writer working in our generation. There’s also a debut Sci Fi book called THE LAST WATCH (by JS Dewes) coming out in April, and it’s fantastic.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
My fourth novel is already written and in the editing process. It’s tentatively called MISFITS and will be out from Harper Voyager in February of 2022. It’s my first novel that is not in the PLANETSIDE series. It has a younger cast, more military action, and is a bit lighter in tone than my first three books.
What are some of your writing-related hobbies, crafts, addictions?
I work with a lot of developing writers and teach seminars from time to time. It’s just something I enjoy and happen to be pretty good at.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I have an office, in a very real and legally tax-deductible way. Basic desk, basic desktop computer. It’s the only place that I write. It’s usually messy, as it’s the only room in the house that my wife doesn’t control.
What is one thing that most people don’t realize about you?
That I have grandchildren.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
Absolute silence please. I get easily distracted, which is not helpful to getting words on the page.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
My wife has a cat. The cat and I have a good relationship—I don’t mess with her, she doesn’t mess with me. The only time she interferes with writing is when it’s dinner time and my wife isn’t home. She’ll come to my office door and just meow at me until I get up and feed her.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
Bourbon, unfortunately, isn’t particularly helpful to the writing process. I usually keep a big cup of water on my desk. You should drink more water.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
Writing on days where you don’t really feel like writing. If you’re going to be a pro writer, you’ve got to write even when you don’t want to. Because deadlines are deadlines, and you can’t miss them too often or you won’t have a job anymore.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
That there’s always more to learn. That’s probably a cop-out, but it’s true. I’ll give you another one. Story structure. Learning the structure of a novel absolutely got me to the next level with my writing. Understanding structure leads to better pacing, which makes for a better book.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
I came out of a program called Pitch Wars (You can read all about it at Pitchwars.org) and I now mentor there. It’s a contest that pairs developing writers with an established writer mentor. The mentor advises the newer author on their book, helps them revise it, and then they present it in the agent showcase. (Note: The agent showcase for this year literally starts tomorrow (2/10), though my mentee’s entry is not in it as she already found an agent for her book).
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Michael.