Michael Mammay is joining us today to talk about his novel Planetside. Here is the publisher’s description:
A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…
War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.
The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…
What’s Michael’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of PLANETSIDE is a scene that cracked open the story for me. This might come as a shock (or not), but sometimes authors start writing novels without really knowing where they’re going. Or is that just me? I’m going to pretend that it’s a lot of us, so that I can continue to function, okay? Thanks. So there I was, cranking along and not completely sure where I was going with the story, and I sent the protagonist, Colonel Carl Butler, to meet with the commander of the hospital, Colonel Mary Elliot. Going into the scene, my intent was that Butler would go in, pull some macho BS, roll over the medical person and get the next piece of information he needed to continue his investigation.
A funny thing happened when I put them in a room together. Elliot wouldn’t have it. As the person who created her, nobody was more surprised than me.
Here’s how that imaginary conversation went:
Me: Okay, Elliot, Butler’s going to show up, you’re going to give him some trouble, then you’re going to give him a key piece of information about his investigation. Okay?
Elliot: It’s Doctor Elliot.
Elliot: You should refer to me as Doctor. Or Colonel, if you prefer.
Me: Yeah, sure. So about the scene…
Dr. Elliot: Yeah. About that. I don’t think so.
Dr. Elliot: I didn’t spend 25 years working my butt off to reach the highest levels of my profession just so that some asshole grunt could come in and push me around.
Me: But he needs that information…
Dr. Elliot: Guess he’s got a problem, then.
Me: Wait a damned minute. This is my book. I make the decisions.
Dr. Elliot: Do you?
Me: Okay. I hear you. What if you put him in his place, dress him down, and once he understands that it’s your scene, you give him the information?
Dr. Elliot: Counteroffer. What if I put him in his place, dress him down, and throw him out of my hospital?
And that’s what she did. She was supposed to be a bit character with one or two scenes, and instead she became a key piece of the story, all because she refused to be run over. The thing is, it made the story better, because it made things harder on Butler. Instead of giving him the information he needed, she thwarted him, and he had to search for another way. Any time you can make things harder on the protagonist, you’re probably making the story better.
But it had impact beyond just Butler. It informed the entire plot, because while I didn’t know it at the time, once she refused to give answers, she had to have a reason for not giving those answers. Clearly she had to be hiding something. Or not. But her confrontational manner certainly made it possible that she had something she wasn’t sharing. Or maybe she just didn’t care for Butler and his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. It didn’t really matter. Instead of closing her role with her passing information, it kept it open for future scenes. For me, the scenes with Butler and Elliot are some of my favorite in the book, and they never would have happened if she’d just done what I initially wanted her to do.
One of the most exciting parts about writing a book is when I figure out something about the plot that I didn’t know. At the time that scene happened, I really had no idea why Elliot was doing what she was doing. It just didn’t fit her character to roll over, so when I started writing the dialogue, she didn’t. I did figure it out later, and when I did, it changed the book into what it is today. If it sounds like I’m being a bit vague, that’s intentional. PLANETSIDE is a twisty book, and I don’t want to give too much away. I might have already told you too much!
Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a masters degree in military history, and he is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his family in Georgia, where he teaches English to high school boys, which is at least as challenging as combat.