Name Mike Duke
Where are you from? Franklin, VA
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc.
A year after graduating high school I married my high school sweetheart, Kristi Duke. I was in college and working part time and she was working full time. Near the end of my second year we got pregnant with my son, Alex. I had to scramble to get a job. I decided on becoming a cop but it initially fell through when the city withdrew funds to hire someone who was uncertified that they would have to send to the academy. I ended up working in hell for nine months…on a Brake Press at a logging tractor manufacturer. The police department contacted me and said they wanted to offer me the job now that funding had been made available. I jumped on it. A year later we had our second child, Allyson. I ended up working at the PD for almost 12 years before going to work full time for a training facility teaching military, Law Enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens High Speed and Tactical Driving and Hand to Hand Combatives. I’ve been there 10 years now. My kids are grown. Alex has moved out and my daughter will be starting her Masters Degree in Psychology this Fall.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My novel LOW is releasing the end of January 2017. I am incredibly excited.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing in high school, I believe it was 9th grade. At first it was poetry. I railed against society and authority. Then I wrote a few short stories and several more poems over the next few years. Not to mention my senior Honors English teacher, Luann Scott, fanned the flames by reading my work and encouraging me frequently to keep it up. I had a creative spring in me that couldn’t be capped at the time. I read, I wrote, I played the drums and I was very much into role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and Shadowrun – creating my own storyline campaigns to put my friends through.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
By 10th Grade I had written about 20 or more poems and a short story. I was committed to it.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book is LOW. I finished writing it about three years ago and its gone through several rewrites since then. It’s geared around a cop and a lawyer a supernatural entity whose driving force is vengeance, but the initial spark of inspiration that it grew from was two songs that I happened to listen to one day driving down the road. Metallica’s ‘All Nightmare Long’ and Testament’s ‘Low’. The first made me think about using night terrors as a way in which the villain could torment his prey before sealing their fate. The second made me think of all that I saw on street and how people so often are willing to sink to the lowest depths to get what they want, or, the human condition.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’ve been told I have a “punchy” style of writing that hits you with my words and that my descriptions and dialogue are very authentic and convincing. I think I switch back and forth, sometimes being very straight forward and other times being more poetic. But I’ve been praised by other people for my dialogue for some time now.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Well, the Testament song itself is a big part but my intent in writing the novel from the start was to tell a story that presents man in his weaknesses, struggles and failures; that essentially has the theme “how low will you go to get what you want”.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. A couple of interconnected ideas. Acknowledging weakness and struggle is OK. So many people are afraid to open up and talk honestly about their problems – whether it’s moral weakness, physical sickness and / or chronic pain, dysfunctional relationships, doubts and insecurities, whatever. But we should. It is cathartic, often the first step in fixing things and healing and, as a bonus, sharing our experiences can often touch someone else in the midst of their own struggles. Additionally, the more we lie to others the more we start to believe our own lies and stop facing our problems, instead, stuffing them down where they will only procreate.
Ultimately, I wanted to create a concrete story that embodies both the idea of forgiveness and redemption in the face of undeniable guilt and simultaneously the tragedy of a soul that refuses to change, even when given every opportunity. To paraphrase someone else, for us to appreciate the greatness of our redemption we have to understand the depths of depravity from which we have been delivered. I didn’t want to flinch away from a genuine presentation of the depravity we find in this world, some of which I saw with my own two eyes as a cop. It’s ok to acknowledge and accept reality. Acceptance enables us to respond and possibly find some victory over our demons. Goodness, as men and women, isn’t defined by the absence of sins, it’s defined by our constant struggle with them in the midst of a life full of suffering, futility, and discontent.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Most of the book is simply fiction as far as the story goes, but there are some little bits here and there that were inspired by things I saw or did on the street as a cop or by people that I dealt with on the street or coworkers. Additionally, over the 25 years of marriage my wife and I have overcome three separations, two of which were three months long, to come back together and continue our lives together. During the writing of large portions of the first draft of LOW, my wife and I were on downhill ride heading for the third separation. So, the tension and feelings I write about are based in reality but the progression of events between my main character Mark Adams and his wife has no basis in my own life.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Early on I read multiple books that dealt with animals in epic struggles against natural forces and fighting against the abuses of callous men. Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild plus some of his short stories, a book called Flight of the White Wolf, a non-fiction trilogy about a couple working with a particular family of lions in Kenya on a game preserve (Born Free, Living Free and Forever Free). Then came the fantasy books. I devoured Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon riders of Pern series and all the other books that revolved around it. I think these books birthed some desire for doing great things and not settling for a “normal” life. They made me dream big and probably were the seeds that became a desire to write later on. My sister introduced me to Stephen King at age 13 and I was bitten by the horror bug. I then expanded from King to also reading Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. I also developed a love for Cyberpunk Scifi and William Gibson was the man with his Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive series. In my senior year, my English teacher was a mentor to me but after leaving school I didn’t have that anymore. I had a college teacher who helped me with my writing at a technical level, during Composition and English Lit survey classes as I wrote essay after essay. But that was it. Then there was a long period, several years in fact, where I didn’t write or read much, but when I started back up I discovered H. P. Lovecraft and devoured most of his work and felt inspired by it in my writing. Neil Gaiman is another favorite. Since starting up again, I can’t say that I have a real mentor yet, though it would be nice to have one. Any takers out there with a killer marketing edge? 😉
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
As far as newer authors, I’d say Adam Nevill, Brian Parker, William Holloway, Brett Talley, Sarah England, Israel Finn, Rich Hawkins and Mark Hodder are some of the ones that I enjoy reading the most. Brian Parker’s cyberpunk noir novel The Immorality Clause absolutely sucked me in. It was so good to read some really good cyberpunk lit again. As far as an all time favorite author, it has to be H. P. Lovecraft. His Cthulhu mythos is incredible in its creativity but also in its scope and vision, but plenty of this other stories strike such a creepy, archaic vibe that I love. Pickman’s Model is probably my favorite story ever.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
One? Ugh. Impossible. I would say it is a group of people who have beta read for me and given honest critical feedback that has helped me get better. The three who have contributed the most are Morgan Pearson, Lisa Swearengin, and Brandy Yassa.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. I’m in the early part time work stage but I want to continue to write and grow a fan base over the coming years and possibly get into screenplays as well.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not a damn thing. I’ve done three MAJOR rewrites as well as over ten smaller rewrites. I can see a word or phrase here and there I want to tweak every time I proofread but as far as the story elements themselves? Nope. I’m very happy.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Initially in expressing my teenage angst through poetry.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m currently working on multiple projects. Several different short stories for a possible anthology. A non-fiction memoir from my cop days called “Q, as in Cucumber: Memoirs of a Small Town Cop”. I’ve also completed part three in my Ashley’s Tale series and will be releasing all three with Stitched Smile Publications in a collected volume, both e-book and paperback hopefully by summer. Part three is right at 50,000 words, whereas parts one and two combined were only 36,000 words. I’ve got a couple of other novel ideas brewing as well that I may get started on this year and a screenplay for Ashley’s Tale to write.
Now, an excerpt from a short story that will be in one of the two forthcoming anthologies from Stitched Smile Publications this year entitled Monsters vs Zombies. My contribution is called ‘The Fall of St. Louis’. Here’s a sneak peek.
Holy fucking shit.
I have no words to describe what has transpired today; but I’m not crazy: I saw it, the General saw it. Hell, the fucking President even saw it by video conference call.
I repeat: I AM NOT FUCKING CRAZY!!!
The General and I were standing atop the St. Louis Arch, observing the wasteland, waiting for the infected to launch their final blitzkrieg…our inevitable end. And then I heard a man speak, despite the fact that the General and I were alone.
“Announcing his majesty, King Asmoday, Asmodeus, Asmodai, King of the Demons…”
The General spun and drew his sidearm, as did I.
“Who the fuck are you and how did you get up here?” the General challenged.
There were two men. One was short, probably just over 5’ tall but stout, extremely broad and immensely muscular. He wore the clothes of a circus strongman with little John Lennon sunglasses too small for his wide face. Well-groomed hair and an immaculate handlebar mustache curling up and over on itself adorned his rough features.
Behind him stood a tall figure, fit and lean-muscled. His suit and cloak were of the finest quality and resembled something worn by the London elite in the 1800’s. A monocle was pinched between cheek and eyebrow and a top hat sat perfectly angled upon his head. His face was sleek, charming and uncommonly handsome, with eyes that beckoned one to join him in some salacious, libertine enterprise that I felt powerless to answer no to if he had actually spoken an invitation. A long stick was gripped in each white gloved hand, their ends resting on the ground.
He seemed to be enjoying listening to the circus fellow’s announcements and waved at him to continue without a word to us.
“The worst of demons, Son of Agrat bat Mahlat and King David, ruler of the 72 legions, one of the seven Princes of Hell, the Prince of Lust, Prince of Revenge…”
The envoy paused momentarily before loudly declaring the last title.
“The Eternally Unchaste, Unclean, Remarkably Repugnant…Prince of Lechery.”
“Yes!” the man exclaimed. “I so love that one!”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Overall plot construction. I’m good with concepts and ideas and writing dialogue but it takes a lot more effort for me to create multiple character arcs and weave them all into a compelling plotline, especially an intricate plotline.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No. Not now. But it would be nice to need to. 🙂
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Lisa Vasquez and I did it together. We tossed ideas back and forth for some time, just not quite hitting the look I wanted. After a lot of effort, one day I found to pictures that I thought could work together to create an eye-catcher of a cover. I showed them to Lisa and then she went off and worked her magic and made something that was exponentially more badass than I had envisioned to begin with. She nailed it and we were both happy.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
All the big rewrites that involved huge portions being changed and then having to write little bridge sections to tie it all back together. Also, there’s a dream sequence that descends through various levels of hell. That took a lot of time and effort trying to depict my vision just right.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Listen to constructive criticism and be willing to kill your babies if they don’t advance the story.
Fiona: If any of your books were made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
My novella Ashley’s Tale is the main one I can see this happening with and the one I want to convert into a screenplay this year.
Ashley – I could see a few people playing her, either Alex Essoe, Lauren Ashley Carter, Chloe Moretz or Saoirse Ronan.
Jake – Mads Mikkelson or Tom Hardy would be good candidates.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Find your own voice. Don’t try to be someone else. Educate yourself. Whether through books, classes or clubs, etc. But most importantly, choke your ego and burn it with fire, then seek out beta readers who will give you honest feedback and not pet any mediocrity.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope I entertain you. I hope I shock you at times. I hope I make you think beyond the surface of what you believe. I hope I surprise you, make you laugh, and mind fuck you at times. And if I do, please leave a review. 😉
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Juggling two, which isn’t a good idea cause I’m such a slow reader. Brian Parker’s ‘Tears of a Clone’, sequel to ‘The Immorality Clause’, and Sarah England’s ‘Tanners Dell’, sequel to her incredible novel ‘Father of Lies’. Plus trying to read some short stories by some other author friends.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
When I was in second grade I went to the library and checked out two books that were not in the “kid” book section. One was on Dinosaurs and the other on Vikings. I remember being so proud when I got done reading them.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Lots of things make me laugh. A good stand-up comic who is smart and doesn’t just rely on a bunch of vulgar shock and awe. Mitch Hedberg always cracks me up. He died way too young. And Jim Breuer is another really good one. Epic fail videos, particularly those where people suffer greatly for doing stupid things. Horror comedies are probably my fav for laughs overall. The dark irony and twisted subject matter these types of movies often work off of makes for some of the most hilarious scenes. I love them. Oh, and a couple of tv shows are my go to choices when I need a laugh. A BBC tv series that ran for four years called ‘Coupling’ and the animated ‘The Tick’ series. My wife and I can watch these over and over and keep laughing like it’s the first time.
What makes me cry? Not much. Lion King when Mufasa’s spirit tells Simba that he’s more than what he’s become and to remember who he is. Another animated movie called Balto, when Balto the half wolf / half dog, who isn’t accepted by the regular dogs, steps in a wolf print and his paw fits it perfectly and then he’s filled with confidence and howls to the moon. Yup. Those two make me cry, every damn time I watch them.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
The writers of the constitution and get them to create an addendum that clearly explains exactly what they meant when they wrote it in no unclear terms and then ask them how they would apply it to our society today.
Or maybe St. Augustine or Athanasius and pick their brains for a while on Christianity, philosophy and culture.
People involved in the highest levels of Artificial Intelligence research; first for sheer curiosity sake and then to see if I could get someone to bite on an application idea and make a crap load of money.
I would love to train with a guy named Rick Hernandez, a high ranking instructor in Kuntao, an Indonesian martial art that has lots of varying styles.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Ah. That’s easy. I wrote my own epitaph several years ago. “His soul has fled this fleshly temple, Bid Death farewell, Flown to Glory.” When its time, don’t weep for me. I plan on flying to the Promise Land. I’m not perfect by a long shot but I haven’t stopped struggling yet. I’ll go out fighting the dragon like Beowulf.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Oh yeah. I’ve been big into martial arts of various types for 27 years and I teach self defense classes as well. I especially enjoy training blade tactics in the Filipino martial arts. Nothing quite as fun as getting together with your friends and stabbing the shit out of each other. 🙂 I’ve also played the drums on and off over the years when I had access to a drum kit. I greatly enjoy music, reading books and comic books and watching movies too.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Some of my favorite current TV shows are Westworld, Lucifer, Channel Zero: Candle Cove, Stranger Things, and Exorcist. I love horror, particularly psychological horror, and science fiction movies most. And if it’s horror and scifi combined, that is the pinnacle. The Thing (1982). Best. Movie. Ever. Plus Alien, Aliens, Event Horizon and Infini.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food? Fried Oysters. Like when you go to a seafood restaurant and get a make your own combo dish with three choices and mine is Fried Oysters, Fried Oysters, Fried Oysters. Steak is a close second. Ribeye or Filet Mignon, Rare. Colors? Black, Olive Drab and a deep, dark purple. Music? Man, I vary a lot, but I probably listen to more Heavy Metal than anything else. That’s what I really grew up on in the 80’s. Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Pantera, Sanctuary, Dio, Iron Maiden, Voivod, etc. Some newer metal bands that I like are Bobaflex, The Agonist, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold and Godsmack – Bobaflex being my favorite. I also love Pretty Reckless and Halestorm. And then there are numerous songs that don’t fit any particular nich that I have come across and love. Growing up though I always enjoyed some easier rock and classic rock, as well as alternative, some jazz and blues, and pop. Classic country was alright. I liked Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Juice Newton but the country today I can’t much stand. Not a rap person either unless it’s a metal or hard rock / rap hybrid. If I had to pick one song as my all time favorite it would be Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry’. Favorite album would be way more difficult but I might have to go with Megadeth’s Peace Sells but Who’s Buying?, Testament’s The New Order, Anthrax’s Among the Living, Metallica’s Master of Puppets or Voivod’s Dimension Haitros. It really pressed, probably Voivod’s Dimension Haitros but the winning margin would be miniscule.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Been gifted with the ability to draw and paint all the things I imagine, or to learn how to play piano and guitar as well as drums and write my own music. Also, I have a desire to run a wolf preserve and a German Shepherd Rescue. I want to bond with a pack of wolves and being able to play with them daily.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Facebook author profile: https://www.facebook.com/mike.duke.author
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Duke/e/B01ICGNKNW/
Wattpad page: https://www.wattpad.com/user/MikeDuke44 (free poems and stories)
Prose page: https://theprose.com/MikeDuke44 (free poems and stories)
Semi-active blog: https://thefriendlypsychopath.wordpress.com/