One thing that I thought was how you slipped in the fact that Oscar is black. Granted, the cover explicitly shows him as black, but you don’t force it to the reader in the narrative. Was this almost casual mention of his race something you were aiming towards?
There was never a racial agenda for me in creating Oscar Britton. I am glad that he’s pushing the envelope a bit (it’s true that there aren’t many black men on fantasy novel covers), but that was never my goal. Britton was always black in my mind from the moment I first conceived him, he arrived fully formed and took up residence in my brain. When I started thinking about his background, I realized he was a black kid born and raised in largely white Vermont, which presented him with a host of challenges that helped define him as he grew up. His character began to crystallize from there.
Oscar struggles a lot with what he thinks is the right thing to do, and in doing so, you’ve raised more questions than answered. What kind of questions do you ask in the subsequent volumes of the Shadow OPS series?
In Fortress Frontier, the main question is a staple of military fiction “What makes a great leader? How does one find the strength not only to carry on, but to lead others, in the face of hopeless odds?” Breach Zone will ask the question “What is more important to us? Ideology or survival?” In Control Point, I tried really hard not to provide hard answers to the tough questions I was presenting. Because, life doesn’t work like that. The hardest questions are most often left unanswered. I hope to do the same thing in the rest of the Shadow OPS series, show characters dealing with those bigger issues as best they can, and leave the reader to decide whether or not they did right. Those kinds of debates and deconsructions are the best thing about good books and movies. I like nothing more then sitting around with a bunch of friends at a con and arguing over whether or not Jamie Lannister is really a villain, or if Darth Vader could’ve have been saved from turning to the Dark Side in the first place.
I think many of your characters come across as people in tough situations struggling with choices that couldn’t be considered ordinary. Though seemingly an antagonist to Oscar, the character Harlequin seems to beg for more stories, will he feature in the next book? Will the next book feature a continuation of Oscar’s journey?
Yes to both. Both Harlequin and Oscar have major roles in Fortress Frontier, and you will finally get to see things from Harlequin’s point of view.
Many Military SF novels, starting the granddaddy of them all Starship Troopers and recent novels like those by Robert Buettner, show the novel through the eyes of a fresh recruit. You chose to focus on a character with previous military experience. Why an experienced military man rather than a fresh recruit?
I did some active duty time at our “boot camp,” at Training Center (TRACEN) Cape May, on the southern tip of the Jersey Shore. The fresh recruits I dealt with were mostly kids who were just beginning to find their way in life. The fresh recruits portrayed in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers are remarkably mature, and Jason Wander (from Buettner’s Orphanage) has been seasoned by life long before he signs up for the military.
Oscar Britton was going to have to face some critical choices very early on in the book, choices that had to have a cost associated with them. Britton was going to have to choose between losing everything he’d built with the army, or knuckling under to its wishes. A bootcamp recruit hasn’t built anything yet. He loses very little if he runs afoul of the military machine. But Britton is a bright and rising young officer and an aviator to boot. Running from the army means a tremendous sacrifice for him, going from a scion of his country to a hated enemy almost overnight. Britton is a man with something to lose, and that hopefully makes his story more engaging.
You’ve served in Iraq, trained in New Jersey (my home state) and now you live in NY. Has NYC always been ‘home’ for you?
Yes. I was born in New York City and raised in Hartsdale (Westchester county). I graduated from White Plains High School. I lived in DC for well over a decade (I went there from graduate school and stayed to work in government and the military), but I always dreamed of moving back to New York City, not just because it’s where publishing is located, but to reconnect with my family. I now spend a lot of time with my brother and his children and that’s a great joy for me.
What was the process of getting the book published like, as opposed to the nose to the grindstone writing process? If I’m not mistaken, your agent is Joshua Bilmes one of the more high-profile genre agents in the States. Did you go to the agency first or publisher first?
Agent first. I’m represented by Joshua (who is also a dear friend). I did it the traditional way: I won the Writers of the Future contest first, then sold short stories to magazines. These credits got me associate membership in SFWA, which in turn got me into closed parties where I was able to meet Joshua.
I followed that path (short stories, to credits, to parties, to connections, to novels) because I firmly believed that was the way it had to be done. I now know that’s absolutely not the case. You can also just write a dynamite novel and sell it (even unagented, though it’s harder).
My path to publication has worked out really well for me, and I don’t regret one minute of it, but I do see a lot of folks laboring away at short fiction when they really want to be novelists (It’s a different skill), because they think they have to.
Thanks for taking the time to conduct this interview amidst early 2012 conventions and the fervor of the book’s release. Do you have anything else you’d like to add or say to our readers?
Yes. Please consider a reserve commitment to your country’s military. If you can’t join the reserve, most branches have auxiliaries where you can help out. The military can be a powerful force for good, and is representative of the people working inside it. Be good, and be one of them. Stand with me. I can’t do this alone.