Meet Author—Mike Duke

Talk about yourself—Who are you? Where are you located?

I’m a straight forward guy whose tastes run weird. I still wear Cthulhu and Godzilla T-shirts at age 49, or other horror themed shirts with skulls, werewolves, etc. I read and collect a number of comic books and graphic novels. I love Xbox and other games. I spend way too much time playing Star Wars Battlefront II, Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries and an app game called War Robots. I was a cop for almost 12 years. I’ve been into martial arts for over 30 years now. I believe in the right to self-defense and I’ve trained with and taught scores of people over the years. The last 15 years I’ve been teaching High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving to military and bodyguards full time along with Hand to Hand Combatives off and on. I love to teach. I also studied theology for several years and read huge amounts of work on different topics within the field. I’m a Christian, but I can piss people off on both sides of the political and philosophical / theological spectrum.

What are you currently writing and what inspired it?

I’m currently writing a four book Space Horror series called AMALGAM. I’m currently close to finishing the rough draft on book three and will start on book four right away. Book one will be releasing this summer. My inspiration was my love for sci-fi movies like The Thing (1982), Alien and Aliens, and The Blob. It’s going to be a wild, pedal to the floor, rollercoaster ride of space horror monster thrills.

What genre do you write?

Horror and Horror / Thriller. I also write some Cosmic Horror and Sci-fi Horror within the genre. I have a lot of variety and have not pigeon holed myself into one sub-genre. 

Have you been published/are you working towards being published?

I have five books published with Stitched Smiles Publications, short stories in over ten different anthologies, and I’ve self-published five different novellas. I have another novel that has been picked up by Silver Shamrock Publications and will be coming out next year. I’ll be self publishing my four book space horror series AMALGAM starting this summer.

What author inspires you the most?

If I had to pick just one, I’d say H. P. Lovecraft, though Stephen King, in my youth, first lit my desire to write.

What books are your favorite and what would you recommend for others?

Stephen King’s The Long Walk is one of my all-time favorites. Many of H. P. Lovecraft’s works – At the Mountains of Madness, The Call of Cthulhu, Pickman’s Model, Rats in the Wall, The Picture in the House, Dagon, and The Horror at Red Hook are some of my favs by him. In the last ten years, my favorite books have been Last Days by Adam Nevill, Song of the Death God by William Holloway, The City by S. C. Mendes, Mannequin Man and the Plastic Bitch by Tim Lebbon, Baba Lenka by Sarah England, The Fisherman by John Langan, The Thing Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley, and The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Hone your craft. Be open to criticism and advice. Growth doesn’t happen overnight. I wrote poetry and a few short stories in my youth and then spent six years writing and rewriting my novel LOW (after a few rejections) before it got picked up and I started working on writing some novellas and self-publishing. Find a few people who will beta read for you and give honest feedback. Once you feel like you are putting out quality work then don’t be afraid to self-publish, but get an editor. However, don’t go for the first expensive one you see. Find someone you can afford. They’re out there, just look around. Don’t just use programs like Grammarly or ProWriting Aid. They’re good tools but can’t do it all. Get an editor. Also, get a quality cover for the best price you can afford. Covers are crucial in grabbing attention along with a compelling back cover synopsis. Lastly, don’t be afraid to self-promote but try to be modest and never overdo it or spam people. And don’t be a Blue Falcon (Buddy F#cker). Promote others as well as yourself. If I see a post where someone is asking for recommendations in a group for a particular sub-genre of horror, I will generally list off multiple other books that fit the bill first and then afterwards I’ll offer what I have that fits. Build others up while you put your own stuff out there. I think other authors as well as readers will respect you more for it, and maintaining a positive reputation with readers is everything for an Indie author.

What is your perfect setting for writing?

In my office, headphones on, music playing that helps put me in the zone and keep me there, with my German Shepherd Ziva laying by my side. And plenty of caffeine within hands reach.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Mostly a plotter. My writing approach is very similar to much of the fighting tactics I’ve taught for years. I believe in having a basic entry strategy but once you initiate that you have to know what the typical responses are to your type of attack and then be ready to employ follow up counters to get inside and finish your opponent.

Similarly, I tend to sketch out a general outline of my story idea – characters, external and internal conflicts / goals, and where I envision the story going in general. After that I will take that rough framework and start adding ideas for scenes that will move the story along. Then I start writing. It gives me a solid path to follow but also leaves a high level of flexibility to adjust according to inspiration and where I feel the story should go in the moment. For example, I may realize while writing that something I just introduced is going to force a reaction and a need to write in additional scenes etc. to maintain internal consistency within the story. Basically, in my opinion, have a basic plan (or plot) but be flexible enough to adapt on the fly and not smother inspiration. 

What is your favorite written piece and if it’s published, where can one find it?

Hard to pick just one. My Ashley’s Tale trilogy, particularly book three The Initiation would probably be my choice in a pinch. I think The Initiation might be my best piece of work so far. But LOW holds a special place in my heart because I spent so many years working on it and there’s a lot of me in there. However, I’m SUPER excited about my AMALGAM series.

Everything is available on Amazon except for AMALGAM, which will be out this summer.

As an author of horror, I need to know, why do you write horror?

I feel horror is the only genre that truly looks at human nature with an honest eye. It shows the depths of depravity that people can descend to but can display redemptive themes as well. Horror doesn’t veer away from reality. There aren’t always happy endings and things often get messy before they get better. As I said above, I am a Christian. I considered early on writing Christian horror fiction, but that subgenre sterilizes and white washes human nature and sin so as not to offend or expose the readers to something too unclean. I don’t believe in that. I don’t want to just pontificate about sin and evil in comfortable philosophical narratives. I want to show people concrete examples of what’s horrible about human nature and the monsters we hide inside as well as those we create around us. The way we inflate ourselves with pride and selfishness so that we will gladly devour others to feed our greed and lust, or punish them as an outlet for our wrath. Christian fiction doesn’t allow for that. So, here I am. Keeping it real. lol

What was your first experience with horror growing up? Something had to spark your interest.

My favorite stories are about the day someone got exposed to a scary movie.

My earliest experiences were monster movies on Saturday afternoons watching Dr. Madblood. He would show an old monster movie every week with little humorous skits or commentary (much like Joe Bob Briggs The Last Drive In). I begged my parents to let me see Alien when it came out. I was seven and they said no. At age nine I saw the last story in Creepshow. The one with the roaches exploding out of the guy at the end. That gave me nightmares for a month. When I was thirteen I saw Aliens in the theater and then Alien on VHS at home. And everything else went from there.

What is the scariest thing you’ve read or seen?

Hmmm. As far as what I’ve read, when I was a teenager, Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman creeped me out! For months, I made sure my closet door did not stay open, not even a crack! The last 100-150 pages of Adam Nevill’s book Last Days is some of the creepiest stuff I’ve ever read. Also, Sarah England’s books Baba Lenka and Father of Lies deal with occult stuff and possessions and are scary as hell. I believe in the supernatural. Sarah does too and it shows. There’s just a difference in the presentation of the material, I think, when the author is a true believer and takes the subject matter dead serious. That’s Sarah for sure. I also find some of H. P. Lovecraft’s works unsettling. Pickman’s Model, Rats in the Wall, and The Picture in the House are all seriously creepy in their own way. Call of Cthulhu does it for me as well. It’s the connecting of dots and the massive scale of what’s happening that leaves the reader feeling helpless and as if they have stepped into a realization that will uproot every belief they hold and swallow them whole in a black pit of cosmic dread.

Scariest thing I’ve seen? Probably two incidents with my kids when they were under five years old. My son did a flip on the bed and landed on his head, folding his chin to his chest. He popped up and suddenly realized he couldn’t breathe. All I could think was that he had damaged his trachea and wouldn’t be able to breathe without a tracheotomy. Scared the shit out of me but I told my wife to call 911 and I sat him down and rubbed his chest and talked to him and within about fifteen seconds or so he was able to start taking shallow breaths and within a minute or so was breathing normally. Then, when my daughter was around three years old she was standing behind a golf cart when her cousin, who was only about seven at the time, pushed the gas when it was in reverse. It would have run her right over but her chin got hooked under a protruding piece in the center of the rear end. It drug her for ten to twenty feet until my mom could get the golf cart stopped. By the grace of God, she was only scratched up some. But man, it was terrifying. Personally I think feelings of powerlessness to protect loved ones or friends is probably the most terrifying thing to face. 

Have you written about a personal experience and turned it into a horror story?

Yes. LOW actually contains several scenes and characters that are based on my experiences as a police officer. Other than that, there are a few short stories that grew out experiences of mine as the base inspiration for the story concept.

Favorite horror movies (books too if you haven’t stated those yet or have more horror specific)

The Thing (1982). BEST MOVIE EVER. Alien and Aliens. The Addiction (with Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken). Event Horizon. Curse of the Demon. Beast from 20,000 Phantoms. Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Blob (original and remake). They. Pitch Black. Pumpkinhead. Species. Poltergeist. Sinister. The Conspiracy. Wicker Man. Underwater. Cloverfield. Bad Moon. Dog Soldiers. The Cave. Fourth Kind. Fallen. Frailty.

I also LOVE horror comedies. Grabbers, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Cabin in the Woods, Dance of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Eight Legged Freaks, Mummy (with Brendan Frasier), Gremlins, Rare Exports, The Babysitter 1 & 2, Happy Death Day, Burying the Ex, Love Sick Love, and many more.