Thursday, November 2, 2017

Interview – Mike Duke – Author

AMES: Hey Mike, thanks for joining. Let me start off by saying I loved reading Low. Books about religion, man’s sins, our souls, and our struggle to find meaning in life really intrigue me, so this was a perfect book for me. If you don’t mind me asking, how much of your own inner struggle was part of this story?

Duke:  A good part. There is a lot of me in Officer Mark Adams, some directly and some metaphorically. I grew up in the church and had a very strong faith even into my adult life through some very trying times, potentially very bad medical diagnoses with our daughter, and a couple of separations over the course of 25 plus years of marriage. But there was something that finally tipped the scales, challenging both my faith and my wife’s eventually in the mid 2000’s, and, to be honest, my faith has never quite looked the same since. I never lost it, but I often felt like Job for a number of years, wrestling with God over what had happened, the whys and so forth and other things that continued to happen. In fact, a passage from Job has always stuck out to me ever since then that I’ve never seen any preachers really talk much about but it’s how I’ve felt at many times.  

Job 23:13-17 “But He is unique and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him. Therefore, I am terrified at His presence. When I consider this, I am afraid of Him. For God made my heart weak, and the Almighty terrifies me; because I was not cut off from the presence of darkness, and He did not hide deep darkness from my face.”

To speak more directly to the aspect of struggles with sin though, I grew up in a very fundamental type church that was Charismatic / Pentecostal but later changed over to a Reformed Presbyterian church after much personal study. Many people can be very judgmental of others who do not struggle with the same choice sins as their own. That’s something I’ve noticed. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re religious or not. It’s universal. Mercy is most often reserved for those most like us when it comes to violating right and wrong…until we start to see ourselves as sinners as well. As long as we hold onto some level of self-righteousness we are more likely to judge others more harshly and withhold compassion, mercy or understanding. Part of writing Low was to really depict the universality of sin from numerous angles and walks of life. We are all guilty in some way, on some level. The question really is, have we squared with it? I love the way the movie The Addiction speaks to this and its why I used a couple of quotes from that movie at the beginning of some sections.

AMES: While reading this book, I was amazed by your handle of police jargon, procedure, thought processes, and so on. I knew you had to have had experience as an officer. Do you think you would have been able to write this book, especially with such command, without this experience?

Duke:  Absolutely not. Write it? Sure. But as you say “with such command”, no. It’s funny how life goes. I wanted to be a writer in high school, was going to college to be a English Lit teacher with a minor in Journalism and then my wife and I got pregnant with our son Alex and I had to scramble for a job. I decided on law enforcement and applied. I made it through all the interviews and didn’t get hired right off but was number one on the waiting list. I worked a horrible job on a brake press for a company that made logging tractors for 9 months before I got the call and an offer for a job. But it was all those experiences over almost 12 years that really gave me insight into people and knowledge of police matters and various dealings on the street that gave me the “command” as you say to write LOW.

AMES: So you also write poetry, I read. May I ask if you would share a small piece of your work here with the readers?

Duke: Sure. Hmmm. Hard to choose, but lets see. I think I’ll share this poem I wrote almost 7 years ago when I lost my German Shepherd Zeus. He was my best buddy for 12 years after I rescued him from a shelter when he was 2 years old. It’s called…


There was a time
When limbs were strong and steady
Through wooded trails and snowy woods,
Swimming behind and
Dashing ahead
At every creature noise.

When “Walk?” was the word of release,
A prancing, dancing bull set in motion,
Whirling like some ecstatic
Dervish at the door,
Waiting for me to exit.

There was a time when his royal stature and
Menacing bark demanded respect,
A fierce protector by birth,
Announcing intimidation to all
Who passed his roadside kingdom.

Oh, how I long for his days of
Youthful zeal and diligent adventure,
Racing, tromping, stomping
To and fro, ever ready to
Explore with me,
Or relax by a fire on chilly nights,
Head in my lap, at peace,
The world, right as rain.
There was a time,
But it is gone.
The day is spent, the night has come,
The long anticipated dread become real.
The labor of loving the aged and
Withered frame at end,
The fight against frailty
At last, turned to futility.

And so I held him one long, last time,
His head in my lap,
His eyes full of happiness, and
I whispered my love and thankfulness
For all our years of closest friendship,
Whispered “Sweet boy” nothings
In his ear and finally said Goodbye.

There was a time his presence
Filled our lives day and night,
But now the memories fill the void,
Pile up like feathers and
Settle at the foot of my bed
As I cry myself to sleep…

In Loving Remembrance of Zeus
Love ya buddy…

AMES: I also learned how to tell stories and write through RPG’s and GM’ing / DM’ing. How much would you say that experience shaped your future in writing? What would you say to parents thinking of letting their kids play RPG's? Would you say it would be a good experience for them?

Duke:  I started playing D&D at age 16 and got into several other roleplaying games – Shadowrun, Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf, Mage, Cyberpunk, Rift, Battletech / Mechwarrior and some others. On one hand if you get to the point of being the DM or GM you learn how to shape and run a campaign / story or even write your own, so on that level it can be helpful. For me, I have an obsessive streak, and I found that the more I got into those games the more time and mental creative energy they consumed and for years I ended up stopping writing completely because of it. Everything went into the games. Now, that’s not to say it would be like that for everyone, that’s just my personal bent and experience. I saw something recently where they’re using D&D as a therapy / tool for Autistic kids because the area they’re weakest in, social skills, D&D essentially has templates built into character construction and gameplay that help develop those skills. In the end, I think parents need to know and read their kids. My son was very big into the Mechwarrior games growing up and got very obsessive over creating mechs (just like I did) and would spend a lot of time playing the computer game. We encouraged him to monitor and manage himself as much as possible and not let the obsessive tendencies take over. And when he didn’t succeed we’d step in and put limitations in place for a time and then give him back the reins. Ultimately, parents need to know their kids, but overall I think there are good qualities to D&D and Shadowrun and some others, but the World of Darkness games (Vampire, etc) are definitely aimed more at adults, in my opinion.

AMES: You once said that “people so often are willing to sink to the lowest depths to get what they want, or, the human condition.” So, do you believe greed is inherently human? You also believe in redemption, and your characters seemed to believe in redemption, but I won’t give anything away. Would you say redemption is a moral of the first story? Is this your legacy, your message, that all can be redeemed?

Duke: I believe self-deception and selfishness, manifested in many different ways, is the human condition. We all have our choice sins and weaknesses that call to us, based on our own personal bents, our heart’s desires and the way we were raised, both nature and nurture. And I do believe in redemption. Can all be redeemed? I don’t know if that’s the right question or way to look at it. I think a better observation after reading Low, is, people get what they want the most. They become the person they want to be the most. They choose the things in life they desire the most. And in the end, they’re stuck with that. Is it a tragedy or a comedy? Redemption or damnation? Depends.

On the flip side, redemption isn’t simple, sterile and pretty. There can be periods of sincere doubt and struggle, struggle with those choice sins in which one may fail at times and get up and struggle again. The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon from the 1800’s said “My agonizing death struggle with sin is proof enough that I am a child of God.”

So, do we want redemption or do we want something else? Redemption means admitting that there’s something wrong with us or something wrong that we’ve done or that we’re doing, and in our social climate today those are not popular concepts. In fact, redemption only makes sense, only seems glorious, if we recognize the depths of sin people, including ourselves, can sink to. And I can say with confidence I’ve done wrong, I do wrong, and I have a crooked soul that needs to be made straight. A collaborator in my own demise, I look to redemption as my saving grace. 

AMES: Your training in martial arts really shines through in a few sequences. You write with authority. As some writers believe, you should write what you know. Do you think we will be seeing more of Officer Adams? Will you write other cop stories?

Duke:  I’ve been doing martial arts of different kinds since 1989 and teaching since 1999. I started out in Shorin Ryu Okinawan karate and got my black belt in that. After going to the police academy I got into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing, Aikido, Wrestling, and Chin Na (form of kung fu heavy on joint locks). Several years later I got into JKD, Silat, Sayoc Kali (all blade tactics, apprentice instructor for almost 6 years), Atienza Kali (all blade, and long blade), Kuntao (Chris Derbaum) and AMOK (more Filipino martial arts). The last 11 years, since I got out of law enforcement, I’ve been teaching high speed, tactical and off road driving as well as hand to hand combatives to military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens.

I definitely believe in writing what you know and I will certainly write other stories that involve cops and martial arts related. I have a flare for adding action to my horror and for writing some thriller pieces as well with a horrific edge. And fans will see more of Officer Adams. I have plans for a sequel to LOW. But I’m hush hush on that right now. ;)

AMES: You said you love Neil Gaiman’s work. What’s your favorite Gaiman book? Any other author’s or works that significantly influenced you?

Duke: Tough pick between Neverwhere and American Gods. I loved them both greatly. But everything he writes is wonderful. As far as other influences, early on it was definitely Stephen King but when I started writing Low I had just plunged head long into H. P. Lovecraft and devoured a large portion of his work and felt it influenced me greatly in my imagery.

AMES: What kind of research did you do before and while writing this book? How important would you say research is to write a good novel?

Duke:  I did a lot of research on night terrors and the history of nightmares for this novel. I had already done significant reading years ago on the little known biblical stuff revealed later in the book. (no spoilers!) Other than that, I was good because I chose to write what I knew about. But yes, as a general rule, I do believe research is important to a good novel. Knowledge is key to achieving authenticity. So, if you don’t have the personal experience and knowledge then research is critical.

AMES:  Do you have a favorite scene from Low that you just enjoyed writing or feel proud of?

Duke:  Man, there’s so many. Especially from the all the different dream sequences, the descent to hell, and some of the police stories, but the one that has just stuck out that I enjoyed is a short scene where these three little hobgoblin-like critters from the shadow / dream realm crawl up under Chad’s hospital bed and are slithering their tongues up into his ear and arguing with each other. It’s darkly humorous and I had a really fun time writing that scene.

AMES: Thanks for joining today. I loved your book, Low. Good luck with the next novel.

A fighter, writer, teacher and lover of things both light and dark, especially shiny, sharp things I train others to stick in people more efficiently. Philosophical, spiritual, pragmatic and struggling with cynicism, yet never giving up on redemption. I find obsession the best way to pass the time.

Mike served his community as a police officer for almost 12 years, including time on the SWAT team, before entering the private training industry where he has spent the last 11 years teaching military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens, high speed, tactical and off road driving as well as hand to hand combatives and blade tactics.

LOW (back cover blurb)

Officer Mark Adams is fed up with God, his wife and the legal constraints of his job. He longs for a life he can enjoy and to see true justice meted out.

Chad Bigleby is a lawyer thrown into a deadly moral quagmire, forced to decide whether he will abide by man's laws or make his own.

Each man is being driven to the edge of his limits.

Both men are on a collision course.

All because something wicked has arrived in Pleasant Grove, something ancient and obsessed with vengeance, eager to punish the souls of men for their sins.

How LOW will they go to get what they desire most? And what will it cost them in the end?

Hell only knows...