Hey all, Jack Wylder here. With Larry pushing hard to get Monster Hunter Siege out the door by Christmas he hasn’t had a whole lot of time to blog here lately so I figured the time was right to start a new thing- writer interviews!
This week we’re talking with Mike Kupari- author of Her Brother’s Keeper and co-author of the Dead Six Series with Larry. Questions in bold, responses in italics.
To start with, how should Kupari be pronounced?
What inspired the Dead Six series in the first place?
From 2004 to 2005, I worked as a security contractor at a US base in the Gulf Emirate of Qatar. I lived there for a year, and I actually lived in the city of Doha, not on base. It was a unique experience, and taught me a great deal about how the Middle East actually is vs. what you hear about in American media. Being over there got the creative juices flowing (it’s not as gross as it sounds), even though, at the time, I had no aspirations of being a novelist.
For those who don’t know, how did Larry get involved?
Way back in 2003 or so, I wrote a story on an internet gun board called The High Road. In 2006, having just moved to Utah, I wrote a sequel to it set in the Middle East. I didn’t have a plan or anything; I’d write a chapter, then write the next a day or so later, making it up as I went along. At the time, I didn’t really know Larry, though I’d transferred a handgun through his gun store.
Also at the time, Larry wasn’t the International Lord of anything. He was another aspiring wannabe with big dreams and a stack of rejection letters. He’d had absolutely no luck selling Monster Hunter to anyone, but wasn’t giving up.
Well, he was reading my story, and messaged me and asked if he could write scenes from the perspective of another character. That was how Lorenzo was born. The back-and-forth shtick, with two competing first person narratives, became the signature of the series. It’s still fairly unique, I think. I don’t know of a whole lot of other novels that have used this technique.
During this time, though, Larry self-published MHI, and heavily self-promoted it. He eventually got it accepted by Baen, it became a runaway success, and the rest is old news. After MHI, he was looking for another book to publish. We’d been planning a sequel to my last story online, and he did one of his binge-writing sessions and cranked out something like ninety thousand words (that was eventually mostly incorporated into Swords of Exodus). Not wanting it to go to waste, he started bugging me to agree to clean up the story we’d written together and submit it to a publisher.
This was 2008 or so. At first I told him no way. I thought it wasn’t fit to publish, and given that the POV character was originally intended for a not-at-all-serious first-person story, I was worried people would think the story was some kind of self-aggrandizement (TV Tropes didn’t exist back then, and “Mary Sue” wasn’t in widespread usage). Plus, I’d just enlisted in the Air Force and was beginning my career as an EOD Technician.
You know what finally convinced me? Larry read me a passage from a novel from a huge, big-name thriller author. I mean, this guy has books in airport bookstores and gets interviewed on TV. Larry read it, and I was like, “seriously? I can do better than that.”
Turns out, even the most successful guys in the industry don’t churn out Pulitzer material every time. Sometimes you just need a good story to tell. Besides, I told myself, writing seemed to be my only real innate talent. I seemed a shame to let it go to waste. Eight years later, here I am.
I owe Larry a great deal for talking me into pursuing this. But, to be fair, I paid him back by giving him the idea for Grimnoir and Tom Stranger. YOU’RE ALL WELCOME.
What was the most challenging part of writing it?
The hardest part of writing Dead Six for me was my own inexperience. Writing a novel can be an intensely frustrating endeavor, and often you’re your own harshest critic and worst enemy. At the same time, from June 2009 on, I was down at Eglin AFB, Florida, attending NAVSCOLEOD (Naval School, Explosive Ordnance Disposal). I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that EOD School was the most challenging and stressful thing I’ve ever done. It really put a damper on my productivity, and I’m pretty slow to begin with.
Working with friends can be difficult; did you and Larry have any problems working together and if so, how did you handle them?
Larry and I operate on pretty much the same creative wavelength. We had very few real creative differences along the way. The biggest frustration for him, I think, was waiting for me to catch up. Larry writes fast. I mean, he writes fast even amongst professional writers, and I write slow. Being in the middle of the hardest thing I’ve ever done, while working on Dead Six, certainly didn’t help matters any.
My life had its share of ups and downs over the next few years, while working on the sequels, and turmoil in real life really tends to stymie my creative process. I was gone a lot, too, for the Air Force, and was kept quite busy.
I’m fairly certain Larry has wanted to choke me sometimes. He’s even swore at me (it was adorable, I wanted to hug him). For my part, he’s so optimistic and happy that sometimes I want to punch him. I didn’t, because he’s way bigger than me, and really, he’s impossible to stay mad at. For all of the accusations of him being angry, hateful, judgmental, spiteful, or mean, he’s really one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.
He is also a very patient man, all things considered. One of the hardest parts of being a writer, the thing that discourages most people, is not believing in yourself. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Most people who have the inclination to be a writer don’t try because, like me, they assume they’re no good. It’s a balancing act, of course; you can’t get so up your own ass that you can’t take advice or criticism, because even the best can churn out a dud. That said, you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try. Throughout the whole process, Larry was very encouraging, and helped me along when if, on my own, I might’ve given up.
We do have very different personalities, though, and I think I make a good foil for him. Between his excessive optimism and my dreary cynicism, between us we make a fairly well-rounded individual.
What part are you most proud of?
My time as an EOD tech. Getting my Crab pinned on me was the proudest day of my life. I got to do some really cool stuff over the next few years, too: I traveled all over, I blew a lot of things up, I rode around in helicopters, and I shot all kinds of guns. I went through some of the best and worst days of my life with some of the finest, bravest men and women I’ve ever known.
My own EOD career was fairly short, and I only deployed once. Even still, I got to work with people I consider heroes, people who are among the very best in the world at what they do. Not to diminish how amazing and humbling being a writer has been, but being part of a community like that has been hard to top.
Oh, you meant of the books? I knew that. Um…I like how different the Dead Six series is compared to other novels in the genre. Valentine and Lorenzo aren’t your typical cookie-cutter, almost interchangeable action hero archetypes. Both of their story arcs are tales of redemption, albeit in different ways, and both of them grow as people throughout the trilogy.
For me, Valentine was partially an exploration of loss, depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. He’s been through hell and has lost almost everyone he cares about. Some readers have said that he comes across as mopey or whiny, and this was (mostly) intentional. (I think some readers are just being a little harsh on a guy who’s seen that much death.) He’s a reluctant, unlikely hero. He doubts himself. He fails. He makes mistakes. He has regrets. He has to move on with his life, unable to change the past, and having to live with all of that. He also had to come to grips with the fact that he’s an innately talented killer.
Lorenzo is a man on the edge of the abyss, and he gets pushed and pushed while trying to in some way be a good person. He was raised by Mormons and has worked for some of the worst people in the world, doing terrible things, usually rationalizing it to himself. That dichotomy, the conflict of impulses, the struggle with the monster he knows he can be, is central to his character. Eventually, he figures out who he really is.
Both of the walk difficult paths, and both of them suffer mightily along the way. But they also grow, adapt, and evolve, learning to deal with what they can’t change and working through the violence and chaos around them. Despite the dark tone of the stories, I think there’s a positive message in there, and I’m proud of that, too.
If they made a movie of this, who would you cast?
Oh hell, I’m so bad at this. When I first created her, I imagined Ling as resembling a young Lucy Liu, or Gong Li from the Miami Vice movie, but I don’t know of any actresses that match her age and character now, in 2016. Idris Elba, Larry’s unabashed man-crush, should play Antoine. He’d be perfect for the role, in terms of demeanor, screen presence, and physical appearance. I imagine Lorenzo as having the voice of the guy that did Roger Smith and Spike Spiegel, but I couldn’t pick an actor to play him.
I don’t think Dead Six should be a movie. I think it should be one of those violent anime series, where they pay close attention to all the technical details of the guns and gear. Larry and I could fly to Japan to be advisors (hint hint, Funimation). The original soundtrack would have to be in English, though, and possibly dubbed into Japanese.
Dead Six would also make a great first person shooter, in my opinion. License the Frostbite engine they use in the Battlefield series, but make the campaign missions more open-ended. Let the player try different strategies for completing the mission vs. making the whole thing a rail shooter like most Call of Duty games. Plus, having a left-handed FPS protagonist (Valentine) would make me happy.
What’s something most people don’t know about Larry?
He’s not an animal person. I don’t get it, either, but if I had to guess? He grew up on a dairy farm. I think having animals that you don’t eat is just weird to him. He thinks it’s crazy and dumb that I go on road trips with my dog and my bird. I say he doesn’t know how hilarious it is to pull up to a toll booth and have a Conure shout “hello!” to the attendant. (A Colorado county sheriff’s deputy didn’t think it was so funny one time, though.)
A lot of his detractors would probably be shocked to learn just how charitable he is, too. I’m not going to get into any specifics, but he really pays it forward. He’s personally helped friends, family, and fans alike when they fell on hard times, sometimes in big ways. It’s easy to talk about helping your fellow man when your idea of “charity” is voting for politicians who will raise taxes or vote for social spending. It’s another thing altogether to pony up your own money, take a chunk out of your own budget, and use your success to help another human being.
The petty, jealous, small assholes who tear him down in virtual effigy probably don’t see it that way, but they’re probably all terrible people, too.
With this trilogy finished, what’s next for you?
In the works is the sequel to Her Brother’s Keeper, tentatively titled Heirs of Ithaca. I’m under contract for more books after that, including story of a father-son team of post-apocalyptic bounty hunters who pursue mutant collaborators of a failed alien invasion, and something I can only describe as retro-futuristic, noir adventure inspired by the look and feel of Alien, Blade Runner, and Cowboy BeBop. I also have a short story in the upcoming Monster Hunter anthology.