Interviews

{Interview} Mike Duke

 
 
CHHR: Please give a brief introduction here.
I was a cop for almost 12 years. Was a sergeant in charge of my own shift for over 5 years and was a member of our SWAT team for 3.5 years. I taught Defensive Tactics at the Police Academy and for our SWAT team. When I left law enforcement I went into the professional training field full time. For the last 12 years I’ve been teaching Hand to Hand Combatives as well as High Speed, Tactical and Off-Road Driving to military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens. It’s an absolute blast, though it can get rough on the body sometimes. I love the work I do though.
Outside of work, I spend a lot of time writing. I also enjoy video games, (Right now I’m addicted to an app game called War Robots.) movies, books, and martial arts training. I’ve been in martial arts of different types for 28 years, but I’ve been training a lot of Filipino Blade Arts for the last 8 years. I teach a group of people every Sunday that I don’t have to work.
CHHR: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
High school. Around 9th to 10th grade I started writing poetry and short stories. I decided then I wanted to be a writer. I was going to school to be an English Lit professor with a minor in Journalism when my wife and I got pregnant with our son and I had to drop out and get a full-time job. That’s when I ended up becoming a cop. Felt like the end of the dream back then, but now I have a wealth of life experiences that help give authority to my writing.
CHHR: What does your writing schedule look like? 
I cycle between every day and sporadic. Just depends on how busy work is and my physical health. For a long time I was struggling with migraines all the time. They make it tough to think straight enough to write. But since I had the cervical disc replacement and fusion surgery back in October things have been much better. So now, I try to hop on the computer most nights after work for a couple hours or more if I’ve got the energy and then on my days off I’ll often spend several hours at a shot writing.

 

CHHR: Do you have any interesting writing rituals? If so, what are they?
Music. Music is my ritual. I sit down, I put on my headphones and pull up a play list. What I choose to listen to depends, in large part, on my mood or the nature of what I’m writing. Could be heavy metal, rock, something laid back or a variety of other stuff. I’m pretty eclectic. But music helps me get in the zone and stay there.
Most of LOW was written to music by a band called Hurt. I’m also one of those people who can listen to one song over and over and over. If I’m listening to a list and something really strikes me and anchors me in the zone I’ll click it over to repeat and listen to just that song, sometimes for hours while I write.  Sometimes I need something really upbeat and high energy – Rob Zombie’s song “What?” is a good one for that or several songs by the Canadian band Billy Talent. Sometimes I want something laid back – “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “How the Gods Kill” by Danzig, “Eternal Idol” by Black Sabbath, or “The Order of Life” from the movie Hardware soundtrack are all good examples. Or maybe something heavy and methodical like “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” by A Perfect Circle or either “Tempest” or “Change” by the Deftones. Every now and then I like to hear something a bit more sassy and old school. The band Earl is really good for that. Whatever it is, it’s my way of getting in the zone and staying there. And it works for me.
In addition to music, I have my 8 year-old German Shepherd, Ziva. She’s my baby girl and is always there to keep me company. She’ll come over periodically to nip a hug and rub or bring a toy to throw for a bit. I’m never alone with her around.
  
CHHR: Do you like writing short stories or novels?
Novels are awesome. When you finish there’s this immense sense of accomplishment. Short stories are fun though and give you a shot of satisfaction with a quicker turn around. But me, personally, my short stories tend to grow as I write them. I think novellas are my comfort spot unless I intentionally plot out a more involved, longer story. 15,000 -30,000 words or so. 
CHHR: How is the horror scene where you live?
We have the Scares that Care convention every summer in Williamsburg, VA. I attended last year and had a table in a side room on the top floor. Minimal traffic. This year, my publisher and I both bought tables on the first floor in the main area. We’ll be side by side looking to draw some attention!
There’s also lots of big haunted forests, houses, etc. during the Halloween season, here. I know we have a few indie horror authors in the area, but nothing really organized as far as that goes, that I’ve seen. I need to research a bit more though.
CHHR: Do you use outlines or do you go with the flow?
Bit of both. I like to establish the idea / concept in my head with a written sketch of the basics. Next, I’ll do a rough plotline of what I foresee happening. But it’s pretty loose and I always leave myself the option to alter things midstream if I feel the story shift in another direction or I have a better idea. I like a basic strategy but maintain my flexibility to adapt and flow.
CHHR: How did publishing your first book or short story change your writing process?
I don’t think it changed my writing process so much as my editing process. It made me more aware of the types of things I want to work at cleaning up. So, when I edit, I do it in stages. First, I go through and take care of the glaring grammatical stuff. Then I go back through and search for “ly”, “and”, “but” and any other words I personally tend to use too much. (For example: “till” is probably my main one. Maybe its just dialect, but I rarely say the word until. So, I’ll leave “till” in dialogue but I remove it from any narration.) Then, I’ll go back and look at any places I can create more details, change portions of narration into character thoughts, or adjust phrasing in general to tighten things up or give it more punch. Then I read it through again and change anything else I notice that could use improvement and look for any inconsistencies or contradictions I might have missed before. After that, I’ll send it to my editor or submit it to an open call.

 

CHHR: What do you think makes a good horror story? 
I enjoy stories with strong characters where the stakes are high and the dangers are real. Whether paranormal, supernatural, cosmic horror, or the wicked deeds of evil men, I want to feel invested in the characters (whether rooting for their survival or demise, depending on what they’re like, of course), disturbed, terrified, or totally creeped out by what happens to them because I can empathize with their pain and plight, thrust into a story that makes me feel like the horrific scenario I’m reading could plausibly happen to me as well, or one which simply amazes me at the weird, dark path I’ve just been dragged along on.
Ultimately, it’s not the level of gore, etc. that makes something horrifying to me (that stuff either elevates the level of potential disgust or how disturbing it is) but without a connection, without feeling the humanity of your characters, their fears, their attachments, without buying into the stakes and feeling the weight of pending doom as something threatens life and everything important to them as we are dragged into the emotional turmoil of their desperation as they struggle to avoid the terror that pursues them, waits for them; without these things gore just doesn’t make a story. They’re the more important qualities in making horror I think.
Another thing that impacts the success of your horror story is how immersive the experience is and whether you can make people question what they believe to be true. For instance, many people don’t believe in the supernatural or sin and hell for that matter. Can you make them doubt their feelings of assurance? In our current social / cultural climate you can’t write supernatural stuff and just assume people will buy it. You have to make it so real you create doubt; make ‘em trip over those doubts, stumble and step on a crack then question whether they just might have broken their mother’s back. 
CHHR: What are you currently working on?
Dude. Whoo. A whole lot!
I’ve been editing out of the wazoo. I just finished doing rewrites on my first two Ashley’s Tale novellas as well as completing the major edits for my third, and new, Ashley’s Tale installment, which is novel length. Due out in August. I also just finished doing a couple of editing passes on a cosmic horror novel coming out in October entitled Where the Gods Sleep. Collaborated with Francois Vallaincourt and have my cover art completed for that one also. Going to do a cover reveal at the Scares that Care horror convention in Williamsburg, VA on August 4th. I’ve bought a table on the first floor in the main convention area where all the action is, and my publisher Lisa Vasquez from Stitched Smile Publications is going to be there with a table right next to mine.
I’ve written a few short stories, edited some older ones and submitted several. I’ve been accepted to a few so far that are coming out later this year – Shadows and Teeth Vol. 4, Collected Christmas Horror Shorts Vol. 2, The Ever Growing Horror Anthology, and Dark Faces, Evil Places Vol. 2. The last one will put me in the same book as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell and Jack Ketchum. I’ve also been invited to submit to a story to a Jack Ketchum tribute anthology from Hellbound books. That one is chock full of big names. I’m also waiting to hear back from a couple of other anthology submissions that could be pretty big. We’ll see, but just with what I know is a go, I’m super excited for the exposure this year is going to bring.   
In the meantime, I’ve got a sequel to Where the Gods Sleep already rolling and 10,000 words into it. I also have a sequel to LOW pretty much plotted out and 10,000 words written. I have numerous short story ideas that I’ve scribbled down. I just need more time in the day! Not enough time to write everything I want to right now.

 

CHHR: What is in your TBR pile?
Hmm. Way too big, especially considering I’m a slow-ass reader, unfortunately. I have so many titles on my Kindle phone app it’s ridiculous, but I compulsively buy books I’d like to read even if I can’t realistically get to them anytime soon. But, that being said, here are some of the ones at the top of my TBR pile.
Blood Standard by Laird Barron
Imago Sequence by Laird Barron
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron
Occultation by Laird Barron
Swift to Chase by Laird Barron
Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw
Tears of a Clone by Brian Parker
Exorcist Falls by Jonathan Janz
Unclean Spirits by Chuck Wendig
The Father of Flesh by Nicholas Paschall
Those Who Follow by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason
Where the Dead Go to Die by Mark Allan Gunnells
Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill
Apartment 16 b Adam Nevill
Beneath by Kristi DeMeester
Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke
The Sleepless by Nuzo Onoh
The Dread Owba Coo-Coo by M. C. Morris
The Nameless Dark by T. E. Grau
Harbinger Part 1: Deliver Us to Evil by Duncan Ralston
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin Kiernan
Eden by Phil Rossi
The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument by Brett J. Talley
The Fisherman by John Langan
Vyrmin by Gene Lazuta
Altar by Phil Fracassi
The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Tanner’s Dell by Sarah England
The Cipher by Kathe Koja
Wasteland Gods by Jonathan Woodrow
Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps
King Carrion by Rich Hawkins
Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder
The Devil’s Trill by Rhoads Brazos
Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
Reanimatrix by Pete Rawlik
The Occult Detectives of C. J. Henderson
Zombie Road: Convoy of Carnage by David A. Simpson
Mummy Knows Best edited by Theresa Derwin
The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Cabals of Blood: Tales of Cosmic Horror by Richard Klu
So many incredible books, so little time. It pains me so.
  
CHHR: What is the last book that scared you?
Man. That’s hard to say. Father of Lies by Sarah England definitely was disturbing, but scared me? Probably Last Days by Adam Nevill. The last hundred pages or so of that book is some of the creepiest stuff I’ve ever read. Incredible!
CHHR: What is your favorite horror book?
That’s tough. If I’m gonna stay nostalgic, I’d have to say The Long Walk by Stephen King with The Stand a close second, and Brian Lumley’s Necroscope pulling up third. But there’s been some really outstanding novels the last several years. Last Days by Adam Nevill may just be the one now. But I loved Laird Barron’s The Croning. And last year The City by S. C. Mendes and Song of the Death God by William Holloway both blew me away.
CHHR: What is your favorite horror film?
Now this one is easier. The Thing (1982) by John Carpenter. BEST. MOVIE. EVER. Hands down. There is none higher. Lol. I’ve watched that movie over a hundred times, easy. Never gets old to me. Great story. Incredible FX. Superb acting. Plus it has two of the all time greatest terrifying scenes in a horror movie. First, when the doc’s hands go through the guys chest and all hell breaks loose. And then the greatest horror scene, in my opinion, when they test the blood and find out who the thing is. That scene is phenomenal.
However, I have a close runner up I cannot fail to mention as well. The Addiction by Abel Ferrara (1995) This movie is such an incredibly intelligent horror movie with its philosophy, theology and astute insights into morality, addiction and the universal human condition. Throw in the Christopher Walken appearance along with Lili Taylor’s brilliant performance and you have absolute gold that will keep you thinking every time you watch it.
CHHR: What type of music do you listen to? What’s your favorite album?
I’m a very eclectic music person, except for modern country music and rap. But my love lies with heavy metal and rock. Once again, picking just one is hard. But if I had to, I’d say Dimension Hatros by Voivod from back at the end of the 80’s. It’s an amazing scifi / horror told over the course of the album, each album moving it forward. I still listen to it and love it, and most of the time I listen to it in its entirety. Coming in a very close second, though, would be Megadeth’s Peace Sells but Who’s Buying. Every song on that album is a beast but my favorites are The Conjuring and Bad Omen.
CHHR: What is your spirit animal?
Hmmm… A Viking Wolf / Bear hybrid with long arms and big paws. The better to reach out and swat you with. Or pull you in for a good mauling. 😉
CHHR: What is your favorite beer?
Dare I say it, but I can’t stand beer. At least I haven’t found one I like yet, though I’ve tried many. I like mixed drinks. Some version of vodka and juice with or without some other stuff thrown in for extra flavoring. Bourbon or Rum and coke or Bourbon and Mt. Dew is fine. I’ll mix vodka with a cherry or acai flavored energy drink in a heartbeat as well.
CHHR: If you could have a beer with one author, who would it be?
If I could bring him back from the dead, H. P. Lovecraft. He’s my favorite. Living today, Laird Barron, I think. Not only is his writing superb but he’s lived a right interesting life it sounds like. He’d be cool to sit down with and talk.
Amazon Author Page
Multiplatform E-book Link for LOW
Facebook Author Profile
Facebook Page for my novel LOW
Twitter Account
Instagram Account
Mike Duke – Author Bio
Mike was a cop for almost 12 years, but the last 12 years he’s been teaching Military, Law Enforcement and Bodyguards high speed, tactical and off-road driving as well as hand to hand Combatives. He enjoys martial arts and has been a practitioner since 1989 of various styles. Filipino blade arts are his current favorite. Since he was a teenager he’s loved reading, writing, and watching movies, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genre. He’s also been a prolific reader of theology and studied quite extensively for a layman. He has a beautiful wife who is very supportive and a son and daughter her are both graduated. His babies now are a German Shepherd named Ziva, a Daddy’s girl who loves to play… even when he’s writing, and a Border Collie mix named Joey “The Bandit” who will steal anything and everything he can, even the toys right out of Ziva’s mouth. Mike is a lover of music as well and it is an integral part of his writing ritual.
Mike writes an eclectic mix of horror stories. He explores dark supernatural entities, cosmic terrors, and natural monstrosities. However, the wicked deeds the human heart can conceive and inflict on others as well as our capacity to act against such things pervades much of his work. According to Chris Hall, at DLS Reviews, Mike is “a master of utterly uncompromising hardboiled revenge-thrillers.” He has a way of provoking a significant response from his readers – whether shock, terror, dread, an uneasy sense of empathy, Heebie Jeebie crawlies or surprise at unexpected twists. Mike will make you feel while you read his words. Afterwards, the potential horrors of twisted moral visions, the deplorable nature of humanity’s vices and weaknesses, the possibility of unearthly and supernatural threats and the plausibility of the hideous within the normal; all these things will consciously disturb and haunt you, attempting to take root in your mind and make you question what you know and believe. For how long? Take a read and find out.
His latest works are the novel LOW from Stitched Smiles Publications and the novella ‘Warm, Dark Places are Best’, which he self-published. His most well-known work thus far is his first, a novella entitled Ashley’s Tale. Stitched Smiles Publications is picking up the two Ashley’s Tale novellas that were self-published and combining them into a collected edition with the new Ashley’s Tale novel Duke has written, Ashley’s Tale: The Initiation. The collected edition will be out in August 2018. He also has a cosmic horror novel due out in October 2018 through Stitched Smiles Publications entitled Where the Gods Sleep as well as five short stories in various anthologies slated for release by the end of 2018.

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