Meet Michael Mammay, science fiction author and Pitch Wars mentor alongside Dan Koboldt. He is represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. His book PLANETSIDE is coming summer of 2018 from Harper Voyager
Your book PLANETSIDE is coming out summer of 2018 and is about an officer being pulled out of near-retirement to investigate the disappearance of a High Councillor’s son at the active war front on a distant planet. Not only do you write about soldiers, but you’re former a soldier yourself. Do you ever find your soldier characters to be more similar to you than you intended? And do you use many of your own experiences as a soldier as inspiration for your writing?
This is an incredibly complicated question, and I will write a few thousand words about it someday. The short answer is that I apply a lot of experiences in general, but not too many that are specific. The military atmosphere, what it feels like to be in certain combat situations…those are based on experience. But as far as specific experiences, those are pretty limited. It’s more a feel I’m trying to convey. When I am writing about soldiers in combat, I’m trying to put the reader there. Hopefully some of that comes across.
In PLANETSIDE will we get to see any cool new war tech?
As far as sci-fi goes, I’m pretty low tech. I try to bring more of a modern feel to it because of my experience. But absolutely I’m throwing in some things I see in the future of warfare. It’s certainly not a re-definition of the way we fight. More like taking what we’ve got and turning the amp up to eleven.
Care to tell us a fun fact about the distant planet in your novel?
The planet is Cappa, and the area in the war zone is kind of loosely based off of a combination of the Nevada/California desert and the high plains of Colorado. There’s no particular reason for that other than I thought it would be a cool place to stage a war. Silver is a key element in the economy of my galaxy, and Cappa has lots of it.
You recently became an English teacher. Did your love of writing help inspire that career path? Do you think your experiences in the classroom might someday influence your future writing?
Honestly if I didn’t write, I’m not sure I would have got the job. I don’t have an English degree or any particular qualifications that make me special. It’s a military school, so certainly my educational and service background helped. Will it affect my writing? Who knows, right? The ideas come from wherever they come from. I don’t plan for it to be a key element in my future books, but who knows how it will change me?
The first time you entered Pitch Wars you didn’t get in, but you persevered and got in the next year in Pitch Wars 2015. You often tell people not getting in was more important than getting in. Why is that?
Yeah, I entered in 2014 and I didn’t get in. I didn’t even come close. I discovered the online writing community on July 24th, 2014. I had a novel that I’d just started querying…I’d never shared it with any other writers. I didn’t know that was a thing. Hint: Don’t do this. Somehow I stumbled over Pitch Wars and it seemed great, so I joined Twitter and started figuring it out. Brenda Drake was my first Twitter follower. Seriously, you can look it up on my account. There was like one day until the submission deadline and I skimmed the mentor blogs and picked four people. One of them was Rebecca Yarros, who was mentoring YA that year and is a romance writer. I literally picked her because she wrote about military people (in her romances) and was married to a soldier. Again…and I can’t stress this enough…don’t do that.
As we were waiting for mentors to pick their mentees, I started to meet people. That year Michelle Hauck and Mary Ann Marlowe created a forum where you could post your query and your first 250 words (Almost exactly like the new Pitch Wars Forum) and I got involved there. I put my page up and an author named Janet Wrenn critiqued my first 250 words. Thirty seconds after I saw that critique I knew I wasn’t getting into Pitch Wars. I had SO much to learn. So I set out to learn it. I traded chapters with everybody who would trade—like eight to ten people. I found three critique partners who are still with me today: Colleen Halverson, Red Levine, and Rebecca Enzor. If I didn’t meet them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple. I spent a few months learning and in November of 2014 I wrote the first chapter of what would become Planetside.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you before your first Pitch Wars?
Truth? I’m glad nobody told me anything. Because if I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have entered, and things would have worked out differently. But if I was giving one piece of advice to people on the fence now it would be this: Get involved. I know it’s hard to put yourself out there, but that’s how you grow as a writer. It’s scary and it’s nerve-wracking and you want to puke, but push through and do it. Talk to that mentor on twitter. Swap that chapter with another potential mentee. You never know what could happen. Take every opportunity you can find. There’s one universal truth about this business, and that’s this: Everybody’s path is different, and nobody knows what your path looks like. All we know is that if you’re not where you want to be on that path, you have to take another step.
As a mentee, which one was more nerve-wracking: getting your first edit letter from Dan or experiencing the agent round?
You ask the best questions, because they’re hard. Truth? Neither was very difficult for me. (Yes, it’s acceptable to hate me for that.) Here’s why: Before I got Dan’s edit letter, I’d had one from my critique partner Colleen Halverson. Dan has been very, very helpful to me in my developing career. But he’s not nearly as terrifying as getting an edit from Colleen. She’s a badass, and she and I tear each other’s stuff apart. You know that axiom where when you’re doing a critique and you say two good things for every bad thing? Yeah…we don’t do that with each other. We call each other on our BS, and it’s pretty no nonsense. It’s also incredibly effective for both of us, and we wouldn’t change it. Dan’s edits were really useful, but I’d gone through harder stuff before that.
As far as the agent round, in 2015 as an adult SF writer, there weren’t a lot of agents participating who were looking for what I wrote. Dan was really up front about that with me, so I knew what to expect and had prepared for it. I was hoping to get one request, and I got exactly one. But Dan had helped me develop a query strategy, and it all worked out because I ended up with Lisa Rodgers at JABberwocky, and she is the perfect agent for me.
You mentored for the first time in Pitch Wars 2016 alongside Dan Koboldt. After being a mentee the previous year under Dan, what surprised you the most about being a mentor?
The most surprising thing was how hard it was. As it turns out, I’m super bad at choosing between manuscripts. We got about 140 submissions, and if it was up to me I’d have picked about 15 of them. Why? Because I could help them. I could see what they needed and they were pretty close and I could work with the mentee to make them better. And if it was up to me, I’d probably still be paralyzed, looking at those same 15 manuscripts and wanting to work with all of them. Of course that’s impossible. This is one reason why a co-mentorship fits me really well. Dan and I both bring different things to the table. False modesty set aside, I’m a really good editor. And I love editing. And I want to edit everything. I probably critiqued a dozen books last year, most of them just because I enjoy it so much. Dan can edit too, but he’s also extremely well versed in the business of writing and the SF/F world as a whole, and he’s much more level headed when it comes to that. It’s a perfect partnership. Some have called it a #dreamteam. Just sayin. And I joke about that, but when you get Dan and I, you really do get a team. You get us, but you also get all the people we know. And we know a lot of people. We’re going to help you from the start of your revisions right through marketing as your book releases.
Finally, you’ve claimed to be useful in a zombie apocalypse. So if a zombie apocalypse broke out, what’s the first thing you’d do? Do you already have a full plan of action decided just in case, you know, an unexpected zombie epidemic breaks out?
Well the first rule of being prepared for a zombie apocalypse is to not talk about your preparations for the zombie apocalypse. Because it’s coming. I’ll say this. It’s all about location. And knowing how to make explosives. Or beer. See? Now I’ve said too much.