05-20-2011: MilSciFi.com interviews author Danielle Ackley-McPhail, contributor to the anthologies, By Other Means, and No Man's Land, in the Defending The Future series.
MilSciFi: "Welcome back. Please tell us about your story, and what was
the inspiration for it?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Well, I have two stories to talk about. The first is story
is True Colors, which appears in By Other Means (DTFIII). This is the
third story in a series of adventures centered around 142nd Infantry, better
known as Daire's Devils. The first in the series was Carbon Copy (Space Pirates,
Flying Pen Press) and it was never meant to be more than just the one story. I
had so much fun with the characters that I just couldn't stay away from them.
Basically they are an elite special forces unit combating space pirates who are
after an advanced flagship, and things just keep getting more and more
interesting. In True Colors their
company commander is taken hostage and it is up to the unit to get him back.
My second story is Ghosts on the Battlefield. Again, this is meant to be a standalone
story about The Morrigans, a flight of ace fighter pilots used to being on the
front line, suddenly relegated to babysitting duty. In this particular story
the front line comes to their commander, “Scarlet Jay” Corvidae. What you have
is a good, old-fashioned dogfight with supersonic craft and unmanned drones,
with just one green pilot and one veteran to stave off the enemy forces. The
story was a lot of fun to write. I started off with my keyboard on my lap and
the documentary series Dogs of War in the DVD player. Ironically enough, most
of the terms and such that I used came from the Vietnam episode, but as I still hear those phrases on modern
documentaries, I'm not concerned about sounding dated. Once again, it looks
like I've had so much fun with the set-up that I'm sure more stories will
MilSciFi: "Is it a part of a larger universe? Any plans to continue with
Ackley-McPhail: "I think the answer for both questions (and stories) has to
be yes. First off, both are set against the nominal backdrop of the Alliance
Archives role-playing universe created by my husband, but beyond that the
stories are so richly developed in terms of the characters and setting that I
just know they are going to want to come out to play at some point…It might be
years down the line--or it might not!--but we will see both the Devils and the
Morrigans again, I am sure."
MilSciFi: "Each story is accompanied by a unique icon, can you tell us
something about the relevance behind your own?"
Ackley-McPhail: "With True Colors,
since it is set in an established universe and I've described the unofficial
squad icon in the second story, it was merely a matter of coming up with a
style we liked. In this case just a stylized devil head against a backdrop of
flames, with the unit number and the squad's informal name printed below.
Ironically what took the longest was finding a devil I liked. Originally—or at
least in its incarnation as nose art in the story—the devil was supposed to be
green and riding a rocket. For the icon that morphed a bit because we couldn't
settle on a design that was simple and looked good as a patch using that
For the icon accompanying Ghosts on the Battlefield we drew on mythology. The unit comes to
be known as the Morrigans because they are an all-woman combat flight. The
Morrigan is a Celtic goddess of war, often represented by a crow because of
abundance of such birds on the field of battle. Many myth cycles have a war
goddess similar to the Morrigan right down to the crow familiar, and sometimes
with a similarity in the names as well. It seemed fitting to the story that the
patch represent a mantled crow atop a skull, with the Morrigans below. In the
background, since this is an AeroCom story (related to the Alliance Archives universe), there is an AeroCom star."
MilSciFi: "How did you become involved with the Defending the Future
Ackley-McPhail: "In the front of Breach the Hull there
is a dedication “To Bob – It's Your Fault”. I am “Bob” (those of you who watch
Black Adder should get the joke). Basically, way back in 2005 CJ Henderson
asked me for a series of anthology ideas to propose to one of his publishers. I
rattled off a few, several of which were liked and I heard nothing more for a
little while. About six months later while we were at Lunacon CJ and Patrick
Thomas asked if I wanted to edit Breach
the Hull, which was one of the ideas I had come up with. Being a bit
overloaded at the time I said no, but recommended that he ask my husband, Mike.
I then called up Mike and told him “The next person you talk to, say yes…” He's
been cursing me ever since ;) I have been fortunate to participate in the
shaping and growing of the DTF series, along with a lot of other people who
made it possible, not the least of which is the editor, Mike McPhail. It has
been an interesting process and I can't wait to see where the journey takes us."
MilSciFi: "What were your thoughts about the fact that this was a
collection featuring all-female authors?"
Ackley-McPhail: "There wasn't much thought involved. Mike came into the
office and said, “What do you think about an all-female book for the collection?
We could call it No Man's Land.” He came back a few moments later and I had
already invited half a dozen lady science fiction writers.
It is a fantastic idea that was long overdue.
There have been other women warrior books (at least two, one from TOR and one
from Daw) but those books were non-genre specific and only one of them was all
women authors as well. No Man's Land
is the first we have been able to find that is all women authors writing about
women in war/conflict situations, completely in the military science fiction
genre—a venue traditionally considered a male playground, though there are a
few women playing there already. This book came about because for the first
three books in the Defending The Future
series, I am the only gal among the guys. We wanted to rectify that and are
looking forward to recruiting some of the No
Man's Land authors for future volumes just to mix things up."
MilSciFi: "What tips would you given an aspiring military science
fiction author, female or otherwise?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Do your research. There are so many military service men
and women out there, I'm certain everyone knows at least one. Talk to them,
learn the language, training, and procedure that makes up the military mindset.
If you don't have someone you can talk to, watch documentaries or pick up some
old military manuals at the army/navy store or online. Hit the landmarks of
military service and deportment, even if you are working with a fictitious
military group. Some things are universal because it is the only way such
systems can work without falling into anarchy."
MilSciFi: "Is military accuracy important to you, or can one simply
Ackley-McPhail: "I am not in the military. I have never been in the
military, though technically I am a Navy brat. That puts me at something of a
disadvantage since I was never really around military personnel until I was
older. However, I did have something of an initiation that helps me to write
military science fiction with something of the proper voice. When I met my
husband, (editor Mike McPhail), he was very active in role playing games, to
the point of having created his own: The Alliance Archives Martial Role-Playing
Game. For many, many years I would play this game with him and his friends, all
of whom were previously in the military, though none of them (at the time) were
in active service. Between interacting with them and playing a military-based
game I got a feel for the terminology, the mindset, and the lingo. That has
added a true voice to my work, but at the same time I know there are a lot of
gaps in my knowledge. I have to say that I do fake it, but I fake it with some
understanding, reinforced by research. Take, for instance, Ghosts on the Battlefield; this is a good, old-fashioned dogfight.
That means Air Force personnel and technical lingo and some understanding of
the mechanics of flight. I don't have any of that. Fortunately, Mike is a
documentary junkie. I was able to do my research and lift the language I needed
from interviews with actual combat pilots recounting their experiences in war.
I was as accurate as I could be, but give that it is science fiction, there is
some latitude for using a military organization that is not based on the US or other national military services active today."
MilSciFi: "Have you been involved with any similar projects?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Nothing all-female, but I have definitely been featured in
a number of other science fiction series or books. My story Building Blocks was published by Padwolf
Publishing in the anthology Barbarians at
the Jumpgate and I have three stories in the Full Throttle Fiction series, produced by Flying Pen Press: Carbon Copy is in Space Pirates (#1) and Last
Man Standing is in Space Horrors
(#4), both edited by David Lee Summers, and Travellin'
Show has just been accepted by editor Jennifer Brozek for publication in
book five in the series, Space Tramps."
MilSciFi: "With your growing success as an author, do you plan to
continue writing for the Defending the Future series?"
Ackley-McPhail: "As long as they will have me! I love writing military
science fiction and have established several storylines that I haven't found an
end to yet. What is more gratifying, I have established somewhat of a following
for those storylines. I would write them regardless, but the Defending the Future series is a popular
series with great authors involved and I am proud to be among them. The series
has the added benefit of forcing me to sit down and write about these
characters, regardless of what else I have to do, because I have a deadline to
meet. Otherwise I am afraid my schedule would derail my efforts."
MilSciFi: "Are there any upcoming projects you would like to tell us
Ackley-McPhail: "I always have something going on. In the next few weeks
Dark Quest Books will be publishing In An Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk.
After that I go full bore into working on Eternal Flame (Book 2 in the Legends
of a New Age series) and Bad-Ass Faeries 4: It's Elemental. I have novels and
writing guides I'm working on, but those are quite a ways down the road. One of
the most exciting projects I'd like to tell the readers about, though, is the
Alliance Archives Martial Role-Playing Game, which will be coming out from Dark
Quest Games later this year. To learn more--eventually--visit
www.alliancearchives.net. There isn't much there at the moment, but watch it
closely for updates!"
MilSciFi: "And what events do you have in the months ahead?"
Ackley-McPhail: "I'm actually winding down for the summer. Other than
Balticon (www.balticon.org) where we are launching By Other Means and No Man's
Land, I currently only have two events before Fall. One is the Market Street
Book Fair in Wilmington, Delaware, and that is July 9th, and the other is a Dark Quest
Book Launch event to be held at Between Books, an independent book store in Claymont, Delaware.
Other than that, we're playing things by ear."
MilSciFi: "How can our readers find out more about your work?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Oh, goodness…okay, here we go… My websites are: www.sidhenadaire.com, www.literaryhandyman.com, www.badassfaeries.com.I can
also be found on LiveJournal (damcphail, badassfaeries, darkquestbooks,
lit_handyman), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail).
Other than that, a websearch on my name will turn up loads of stuff!"
MilSciFi: "Thank you for your time."