Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Day 13: AMONG THE STACKS: Mike Duke


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, Mike.  Welcome to The Gal's 62 Days of Horror.  You are creepy day number 13 - can't beat that.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mike Duke:
I'm an enigma, as one friend put it.  Or "not easily categorized or referenced" to quote Mulder on the X-Files.  A man of intellect who enjoys the thrill of action.  Able to discuss ethics while training someone how to stab more proficiently in Filipino martial arts, or how to break necks and other joints.  An avid student of theology while being a cop for almost 12 years, and teaching military, LE, bodyguards and private citizens High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving as well as hand to hand Combatives and blade tactics over the last ten years.
            A writer of horror and fiction in my spare time.  I enjoy movies, especially those in the horror genre, but I love discussing how movies and stories, in general, can communicate world views, what redemption looks like and other philosophical beliefs that we all identify with, even if subconsciously.  I'm kind and will help almost anyone who needs it if I have the means to do so.  I love animals more than I like most humans, especially my German Shepherd, Ziva.
            I'm a nice guy with a hidden edge... metaphorically in addition to the knife in my pocket.  Despite being 6'4" and 300lbs, I am quite nondescript at an outward glance, unassuming and disarming.  And that's the way I like it.  Recently, I took one of those Facebook tests that tell you what two movie characters make up who you are.  My results were Forrest Gump and Batman.  My close friends all agree that couldn't be more spot on despite the contradictions. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Mike Duke:
  1. I never fit in growing up (and still struggle with it today in some ways).  Always been a Lone Wolf.
  2. I was a metal head in high school with really long hair.
  3. I was originally going to college to be an English Lit professor with a minor in Journalism before my wife and I got pregnant with my son and I had to get a job, which ended up being law enforcement after 9 months working in a Logging Tractor Manufacturing facility on a Brake Press (worst freaking manual labor job I ever had, but it taught me to take care of my family even when I hated my job with a passion).
  4. I was an avid comic book collector and played role playing games like crazy up until I was probably 25 years old.  (And I miss it but don't have the money or time for it anymore, especially Magic The Gathering.  That crap was addictive!!!)
  5. I have a hard time engaging in social situations with people I don't know.  Thank God my wife is good at it.
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Mike Duke:
It was two at the same time that I checked out from the library.  Both were non-fiction.  One was on Vikings and the other on Dinosaurs.  I was a big fan of both.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Mike Duke:
Been trying to knock out some novellas and short stories of some writer friends.  I just finished reading Phillip Fracassi's Mother.  Currently I'm jumping back and forth between A.J. Brown's A Stitch in Madness, Israel Finn's Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs, and Stitched Smile Publications' anthology Unleashing the Voices Within.  I also want to slip in Rich Hawkins' latest short novella Scavengers and Paul M. Feeney's novella Kids.  I'm antsy to finish these and tackle Sarah England's sequel to her incredible novel Father of Lies, entitled Tanners Dell.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Mike Duke:
Well, in high school, I didn't think I would like it, but I actually loved the classic Wuthering Heights.  Not my normal taste, but I really enjoyed it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Mike Duke:
I'm not sure exactly when it first started.  The first thing I clearly remember was around 9th grade.  I was reading a lot of fantasy literature and Stephen King.  That set off the writing drive bomb I think.  I started writing poetry in 9th grade and some short stories in 10th grade.  A couple of years after graduation it tapered off when I hit the real world, had a kid and started working my ass off.  Several years later when my Grandmother passed I wrote a poem to read at her funeral and it was like taking off the cover on a well.  There was plenty of creative thoughts lurking inside and they started to flow. I began writing poetry again and then in 2009 I wrote a novella that ended up becoming my novel Low.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Mike Duke:
I have a little nook off the living room with my computer facing the wall.  That's it.  Nothing fancy.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Mike Duke:
Nothing too strange.  I usually get ideas while I'm driving and type down the basic concept in my phone then come back to it later when I have time to give it further thought.  When plotting I will try to get a basic concept and plot down and know where it's probably going to go but I always leave room for inspiration in the middle of writing.  I pretty much never write without my headphones and music playing.  It helps me focus.  I pick different types of music depending on what I'm writing and my mood.  Sometimes I'll even put one song on repeat and let it go for hours.  Whatever gets me in the zone and keeps me there.  Probably the last half of my novel Low was written to the band Hurt.  I also have a great companion that hangs out with me and keeps my spirits up while writing.  My German Shepherd, Ziva.  She's my best buddy.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Mike Duke:
The plotting process and establishing what the character arc is going to be.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Mike Duke:
That's a hard decision.  It's a toss up between two works.  First, Low, my novel that was just picked up by Stitched Smile Publications.  I have work on that thing for years.  Submitting, getting rejected, taking the feedback, doing a rewrite and summiting again.  I've done so many revisions and spent so much time polishing it I can't help but be so stinking proud of it now that it was finally picked up.  But there's also a short novella I wrote called Ashley's Tale that I self-published last October.  I currently have 55 reviews on Amazon with a 4.8/5 star rating.  I originally intended it to be a stand-alone story, but it got such a great response from people that read it and numerous moments that they wished I would write more that I expanded it.  I've written and self-published a prequel to it (that should be read second and not first) that deals with the antagonist, Jake, after so many people expressed interest in knowing more about him.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Mike Duke:
As a kid, I loved many a book that dealt with animals.  Gentle BenFlight of the White WolfWhite Fang and The Call of the Wild to name a few.  The works of Jack London were particularly a big influence early on.  Around 13 it was Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.  Shortly thereafter, my sister introduced me to Stephen King and I was bitten by the horror bug.  Brian Lumley's Necroscope books were another favorite in the horror genre.  I also got hooked into the cyberpunk genre.  William Gibson's Neuromancer books was a favorite.  I love his sharp, snappy prose that often seemed to break the rules.  I think his writing and poetry in generally really influenced my writing style in big ways.
            Some of the classics really spoke to me as well.  1984Brave New World, Jonathan Swift's A Modest ProposalAll the King's Men, and Heart of Darkness in particular.  In recent years, H.P. Lovecraft became my influence as I devoured most everything he has written.  Neil Gaiman would be a close runner up.  The other big ones, though, would probably be Laird BarronAdam Nevill and Gillian Flynn.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Mike Duke:
Cool and unique ideas, great characters with an emotional arc and engaging conflict.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Mike Duke:
I want a character to be authentic.  I want their motivation and struggles to be genuine and discernible.  I want the writer to give me ample reason to care for them.  These are the things I strive for in my characterization.  Above all, authenticity.  That means real weaknesses as well as strengths. Intense struggles, internally as well as externally.  I try to use interactive dialogue as a means to convey powerful emotions, reveal inner thoughts and move the story forward by showing, not just telling, the character's developmental arc.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Mike Duke:
Hmmm.  I think I'm a combination of a couple of them.  Mostly I would say Mark Adams, my protagonist in Low, but Mr. Phailees in Low, and Jake in Ashley's Tale have their places as well and Adams struggles with them at times to see who will come out on top.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Mike Duke:
Not entirely.  If the back cover blurb is interesting enough I will still check it out.  But the cover combined with the title definitely plays into grabbing that initial attention.  I made the covers for Ashley's Tale and The Awakening by using stock photos I purchased and running them through some filters on Snapseed.  On Ashley's Tale: Making Jake I got Alex Ledante to do the cover.  The design was my idea but he brought it to life wonderfully.  I've had an idea for the cover of my book Low for years, so we'll see how t hat goes when I get to that stage with Stitched Smile Publications in the very near future.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Mike Duke:
Advertising.  Getting your work in front of people who will be interested is the most challenging part.  There may be thousands of people out there willing to give you a shot but you have to get it to pop up in their feed somewhere to have a chance first.  And then you have to market yourself effectively to increase the chance of them giving it a shot and spending time and money on it.  Social media is huge and I still have a great deal to learn.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Mike Duke:
There's two that probably tie.  One is in Low.  It is a descent into hell, down to the Ninth Circle and I describe in my own ideas what some of those levels might look like.  It is extremely dark and graphic and fairly lengthy.  I ended up having to break it up at places with other things happening elsewhere at the same time in the story to prevent it from potentially overwhelming the reader with doom and gloom.
            Most recently, my final big scene in Ashley's Tale: The Initiation took a lot of reworking because there were numerous characters involved when the action broke out and I had to really juggle details vs. story flow to keep it moving but portray the action taking place clearly.  It took several rewrites and input from a few people to make sure I stuck the landing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Mike Duke:
Well, when it comes to Low and my Ashley's Tale series, I think there's a few unique things I bring to the table.  First,  having been a cop for 12 years, when it comes to dealing with human sin, weakness and violence I have a first-hand perspective and knowledge that gives my voice authority and how I write characters in those areas has a powerful authenticity.  Second, from all my years of martial arts and teaching, I'm capable of writing some really good action sequences that are realistic in their content and yet not weighed down with too much detail.  I know my anatomy and how the body reacts to injuries and what kind of attacks it takes to cause certain types of serious bodily harm or death, so my fight scenes stay realistic and gritty.  Third, I've been a student of body language since I became a cop and include that in my descriptions of characters and their actions to add to the authenticity of their emotions and intent.  Fourth, I try to make my readers think.  I am a philosophical guy, especially in the area of ethics, and I like to write stories that bring certain moral opinions/dilemmas into question through concrete stories and not just abstract discussions.  Lastly, I have been told that I do an excellent job of creating authentic characters and delivering convincing and engaging dialogue.  Not to say that nobody else out there does, cause there are many who do.  But I appear to be good at doing it, even within a short story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Mike Duke:
I think naming things appropriately is very important.  Names carry meaning and mystery and can firmly grab someone's fancy or not at all.  I haven't had much trouble picking titles so far.  Often a title comes to me very early on, sometimes even before I start writing.  It defines what I want it to be.
            Ashley's Tale took some thought but in the end after floating several other ideas I kept it straight forward.  That story is about Ashley.  She is front and center at every moment.  It is totally her tale, so I decided to emphasize that in the title.
            And when I wrote the prequel that goes into how Jake, the antagonist in Ashley's Tale, came to be who he was, Ashley's Tale: Making Jake seemed a good choice.  I liked the ring of Making Jake and the meaning it conveyed.
            The Awakening definitely has meaning to what transpires and carries a double entendre meaning.  First, the story opens with the main character Scarlett waking up to a scene of chaotic horror.   The second, I can't say because it would give crucial info away.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Mike Duke:
I think a novel or at least a novella length work is more satisfying overall.  Short stories are quite satisfying, too, and it's easy to get quicker, short hits of feeling accomplished more often.  But the novel is the big high, so to say.  When you get that done, the sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment is HUGE and you ride it for a long time.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Mike Duke:
I haven't boxed myself into one target audience at this time.  I have supernatural horror with crime thriller elements in Low.  I have Ashley's Tale which hits that cross over point where horror and thriller meet.  I have weird fiction/cosmic horror, and one story that's horror with a sci-fi edge.  I want my stories to make people think, to engage them beyond just surface entertainment.  I want to shine a light on certain lines of philosophical thought or potential concerns our society may face and make people go "hmmm?", all while still entertaining them and twisting their guts into knots whenever possible.  I want to create characters that embody the themes I write about.  I want them to be concrete expressions of authentic emotions, struggles, violence and love.  Whether hero or villain they should breathe from the page their genuine thoughts, actions and beliefs... and sometimes spit it right in the reader's face.  My characters are real, not just the hero side but their nitty gritty underbelly and all.  How do they succeed?  How do they struggle?  What are their weaknesses?  Their strongest temptations?  What happens when they fall?  How can they gain Redemption?  What does that Redemption look like and why?  I want people to become invested in the outcome, or with some characters, just hate them and hope they end badly.
            When a reader is done with my work I want them to stop and ponder and reassess what they know and maybe even shake their heads and question how they're feeling about what they just read.  Hopefully they will give serious consideration as to why they agree or disagree with the various character's points of view that are presented and think about it after the last page is turned and the book closed.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Mike Duke:
In my novel Low I had four or five scenes that I completely took out.  They all gave a good look at the protagonist, Officer Adams, on the job and how he worked, what he was capable of and a candid and gritty look at some of the pieces of shit that police have to deal with at times.  They were all based off of actual events that I was involved in.  They were good action scenes but ultimately didn't advance the story and there were other scenes that gave similar insight but did move the story forward, so when I was chopping words from what was already a long novel, they had to go.  They totaled a little over 7,000 words.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Mike Duke:
I've been sitting on an idea for a memoir since I left police work 10 years ago.  I wrote several small snippets of stuff that happened on the street and had ideas for lots more.  I was going to call it "Q as in Cucumber: Memoirs of a Small Town Cop" and let it be a mixture of material - serious, tragic, comic and action.  I've also been messing around with ideas for a book on Avoiding Violence.  I've written curriculum for work and some lectures that I do as a side hustle, but want to put it all together into a book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Mike Duke:
In the immediate future you can expect to see my novel Low published by Stitched Smile Publications, hopefully by early next year.  there will be more of Ashley's Tale coming.  I'm planning on taking the third installment, Ashley's Tale: The Initiation, and instead of publishing it separately as an ebook I want to combine it with the first two and print a collection in both paperback and ebook.  The initiation is right at 50,000 words by itself, so between the three of them it will be around 85,000 words.  I also have ideas for some possible "extras" that might be included in with the collection.  I've started blogging and just began a series of blogs entitled Villains and Violence that both authors and readers may find interesting.  I'm going to be communicating a lot of information about the Criminal Mindset and how it can be applied to character creation and providing greater depth to villains in particular but to other characters as well.  In addition, I have several short story ideas that I want to work on but just haven't had the time for.  I'm even considering expanding on my story The Awakening and picking up where the story left off to run with the world further.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
It was awesome having you here today, Mike.  I love learning more about authors, especially through great answers, which you have definitely given us.  I plan to review Ashley's Tale before the end of the month and look forward to reading more from you in the future.
            One more thing before you go: Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

Mike Duke:


About the author:
I'm 44, married 25 years, and have a son and daughter who are both grown and out of the house (pretty much).  I was a cop for 12 years (and even spent a few years on the SWAT team) before getting into the training industry.  I've been working full time the last 10 years teaching military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving and Hand to Hand Combatives.  I also did a few bodyguard gigs, one for three weeks in multiple South African countries, one in Jamaica, and three for the Ultra Music Festival owner - twice in Miami and once in Sao Paolo.  Had some incredible experiences, especially in Africa.
            I've self-published three works thus far.  Two short novellas - Ashley's Tale and Ashley's Tale: Making Jake.  One short story - The Awakening.  I recently was picked up by Stitched Smile Publications and they are going to be publishing my full length novel Low in the not too distant future.

About the books:
Ashley, a young college girl with a horrific past, is immediately thrust into a living hell when she is kidnapped one night.  In the lair of her captor she will be forced to choose between submission and defiance, between folding beneath his punishment or finding the strength to endure and seize an opportunity to ill the man and escape.  But Ashley will also have to face the horrors of her past in this twisted game he was prepared for her.  Can she prevail against the demons that have made her frail and weak as well as the sadist before her?  And if so, what may she become in the process?


If you haven't read Ashley's Tale, go buy it and read it BEFORE reading Making Jake!  Making Jake has spoilers that will reduce the impact of the twists in Ashley's Tale.

Because the fans of Ashley's Tale demanded it, Making Jake will give you the backstory of how an unpredictable killer was made.

As a child, Jack saw the violent abuse his mother suffered and, himself, experienced the heavy hands of abuse.  Barely a teen, Jack lashed out at his mother's current abuser, spawning a ripple effect that would follow him into adulthood.  Now, Jack's actions that day are culminating with a plan to abolish abuse in the life of his best friend, and unrequited love interest, April.  April, who cycles from one despicable boyfriend to another, who won't say no when abused and won't stand up for herself.  Jack means to conduct a brutal intervention.  But can he navigate the obstacles and pull it off without going to jail?  And, more importantly, can we navigate the psychological obstacles that April clings to so dearly an bring about lasting change?  Jack is all in, but this course of action will change him as much as April.  The darkness he embraces will mold him, transform him and, eventually, make him into the nihilistic adversary of weakness named Jake.


Scarlett awakes to chaos unable to recall the last hour of her life.  Naked, injured, bloody and laying on a familiar bed, she finds the exquisite apartment around her in disarray... and then she notices the bodies.
            As Scarlett surveys the carnage her brain begins to fill in how she arrived here.  
            What she remembers is horrifying and disturbingly shameful... however, her perspective on everything has suddenly changed.
            She feels hope.
            She has awakened from a life of emotional slavery and freedom... but can she hold onto it... or will it be taken from her?

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