Author Archives: Matt Jones

About Matt Jones

Software Engineer for a living. Fantasy writer for myself. I'm a writer, veteran, gamer, hacker, maker, astronomer, thinker, and altogether indescribable.

Myke Cole: Capturing that Military Feeling

Matthew Jones: At the last World Fantasy Conference, I had the privilege to meet a new author named Myke Cole. Just out of the blue, he showed up and asked if I wanted to play some first-person shooter (FPS) game with him and some friends. I’m pretty crappy at console FPS games, but I decided, sure, why not. Later, I saw him in his full Coast Guard uniform, and we started talking about our time in the military. I spent six years in the Air Force, one of those in Iraq. Thus, when I found out he had written a military fantasy novel, I was pretty excited to read the novel.

Since the convention, I’ve both read the novel and quite enjoyed it. His writing expertly blended the military life and culture I remembered with the fantasy I’ve enjoyed for so long. The foreign settings, combined with the quickness of the battle and the uncertainty that was always riding on your shoulders definitely reminded me of my time overseas. Add to that the emotions of a man who just had everything he has ever known taken away from him, surrounded by people who had the ability, and often the duty, to kill, adds to the tension.

As I read, I wondered about the Military feel and how he was able to achieve that forward operating base (FOB) feel. He agreed to do a guest post for us and answer this question. He does use a lot of military lingo in his response, so I tried to go through and add definitions to many of the terms. You can hover over the abbreviations for the full term, and I added a quick glossary after his post. Feel free to comment if you have any other questions.

Myke Cole: I think it’s true that there’s a certain “FOB Feel” that exists in military culture these days. There are jokes and catch words (remember calling someone who’d never been outside the wire a “Fobbit?” Heck, “outside the wire” is a term that evolved from our use of FOBs and COPs, right?). Inside jokes are always the first signs of an emerging culture, and there’s definitely a shift from cold war garrison life to the new reality of COIN ops on a FOB or COP where you have a PX that’s as big and well-stocked as any Walmart, but you’re also at risk of getting killed by indirect or a rogue contractor who was hired to take out the trash or serve your chow.

That FOB Feel was something I definitely tried hard to evoke in CONTROL POINT. I did this for a few reasons, the first was that it is the most authentic indicator of modern combat experience I can think of these days, and one that sets our generation of war-fighters apart from our fathers. Our dads (if they served) could probably draw parallels to Vietnam, but it lacks certain reference points. For me, many of these were visual. The concrete T-Wall and the enduring mud were two important ones. The T-Walls were always in my peripheral vision, providing eerie analogies to my current life in New York City (that same feeling of the sky being cut off, of walking the rainforest floor), and serving as a constant reminder that indirect was coming, and with it, the shrapnel those T-Walls had been built to stave off.

I also wanted to evoke the FOB Feel because, when I sat down and thought about it, it made the most sense for a US military presence in a magical universe. The US military does many things well, but self-sustaining logistics in a forward AOR is perhaps what we do best, and one of the reasons we’ve been so successful in our military history. The FOB/COP model was the logical one for an American unit unsure of resupply and confronted by an uncertain landscape populated by hostile unknowns. Like the Romans, we turtle up, trying to buy ourselves the time for intel to catch up to the environment and give us a good look at what we’re dealing with. There really wasn’t a lot of difference between goblin clans and the Jaysh al-Mehdi in this case. Both were totally alien to us. Both were potentially deadly.

I was also really impressed by the tight integration between uniformed personnel and military contractors (Mercenaries. My first two tours were as an employee of these firms). This is, of course, nothing new (The East India Company, the Hessians, heck, Balearic slingers), but the resurgence of the mercenary and the public’s willingness to accept them in the cloud of fear immediately post 9/11 was a phenomenon I wanted to capture. The resurgence of magic in the SHADOW OPS universe is every bit as frightening to the public as the towers coming down, and their reaction had to extrapolate realistically. Mercenaries were a logical piece of that, and so, Britton’s ultimate fate (and Marty’s as well) resulted.

It’s funny. I never really thought of writing CONTROL POINT as all that . . . cathartic, but I am realizing in writing this guest post that it was a way to at least consider what I had experienced, if not to reconcile it in some way. If vets like you see their own experience reflected in the story, then I am enormously gratified.


Forward Operating Base. A secure military base that is within a hostile territory.
Combat Outpost. A well prepared, armored outpost designed to confront enemy forces.
Post Exchange. Think of this as the Walmart of military bases.
Area of Responsibility. The area that a command has authority to operate in.
Guest Writer Bio:As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill.All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.Myke is the author of Shadow Ops #1: Control Point.

You can find Myke online at, or on Facebook, or Twitter.


Programmers, Hackers, and Technology

As a Software Engineer and Security Analyst, one of the things that always bothers me in modern media is how programmers and hackers are portrayed. There seems to be a common belief that they have almost magical powers to pull usernames and passwords out of the air or complete complex tasks in seconds. I know my complaint is common and that anyone in a specialized profession can share my angst, but I thought I would write a little bit on how it actually works. In order to maintain the tempo of your novel, you may be inclined to skip all my advice and use HollywoodOS (the fake Hollywood systems) but at least you’ll be more informed. I’ll try to talk about where we are and where I believe we’re going in the future.

Starting with programmers, we’re a group very similar to writers. All of our work is creative in one way or another. Most of us are given (or help create) a specification that defines what the finished project will be like. Consider this your outline that talks about each chapter and how the characters move around in it. And much like writing the pages of the novel takes time, writing a full application takes a while to code. This is changing even in our lifetimes, however. Frameworks exist that give the developer the ability to create fully functional applications in a short time. Consider this like having a library of plot snippets that you can freely take and insert into your novel. All that is left is to customize the look and flow between the parts. As this advances, I can easily see a future where “programmers’ just tell a system what they want, how they want it to look, and the resulting application is built for them.

Next we have the hackers. I will say that the term “hacker’ has many connotations and many of them are negative when they shouldn’t be. The word hacker itself is used to describe a group that enjoys the challenge of building new things. This can be that kid down the road that turned his wagon and lawnmower into an awesome go-cart, or even you as a writer. It also commonly talks about people who break software or computer security. Technically, this group should be called a cracker, but since using the term hacker to refer to this group is so common, I’ll bear it and follow suit.

Hackers have many different subsets and it’s hard to classify them as a group. I’ll touch on a couple of the subsets here, but I can’t touch on all of them. First, I’ll talk about the lower class members commonly (and usually derogatorily) called script kiddies. This group attacks using software or scripts obtained from various sources. While their methods are effective, they often do not understand the full mechanics of the attacks they are carrying out. They are quick to take advantage of systems that are out of date and not very well maintained, but are unable to penetrate well maintained systems that may not have any vulnerability already exploited. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a well organized group that gathered and used these scripts as a form of cyber-warfare.

The other side of that coin, and in my eyes the elite group, are the security experts. These are the members who write the code and find the exploits that the other groups use. This group looks the systems and start prodding them to try to figure out how they work. The simple way of looking at this group is like a spy attempting to enter an enemy’s base. They first scout it to determine how it’s configured and look at all the entrances. With enough information they can pretend to be someone else and walk through the front door, or learn the weak points and attack there. Most commonly, unlike the movies would have you believe, this process does not involve the user sitting at the login screen trying to guess the password. They involve lots of surveillance, analysis, and a great deal of luck.

There is one final group that should probably be included and that’s the social engineer. This is probably the most common type of hacker in television and tv. The social engineer doesn’t look at exploiting the computers, but rather the people who work on them. A social engineer attempts to deceive the users to give them information that can then be used to access the system. This information can be usernames, passwords, secret information concerning the infrastructure, or even just access to the secure systems themselves.

While this only briefly touches on these technological roles, I hope you find them useful in building your characters and perhaps making them a little more realistic. If you have any questions or comments, please ask them below!

Fictional Holidays

Christmas tree
Christmas Tree

With the holiday season passing us, I think it is a good time to look around us and figure out how we can put this in a fiction world. Looking at our own holidays is a great way to help world-build and create believable celebrations in your own world. A well designed world that includes holidays may also provide a look into the history and cultures that exist in the world.

Looking at Christmas, we can see different elements coming from different cultures with different priorities, the two that jump to the front being religion and harvest. Religion has been with us since the first cognizant person witnessed the first lightning storm or felt his first earthquake. To their primitive culture, such acts could only be accomplished via a supreme being. It’s not surprising then that many of the holidays surround the worship or appeasement of a god. Even the name holidays comes from Holy Days.

The date is centered around the Winter Solstace, or December 21st. The Norse celebrated Yule, which focused on the return of the sun. If you watched the sun in the sky, each day it would drop lower and lower as the days got shorter. On solstice, the sun would stop its movement and start rising as the days got longer. To celebrate, they would get large logs and light them on fire and feast until the flames went out. The Norse believed that each spark from these Yule logs, which could burn for around 12 days, symbolized a new life that would be born in the forthcoming year.

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of Agriculture. Since farming and agriculture paused for the passing of winter, it provided time for celebration and feasts. Saturnalia also centered on the rebirth of the sun and the hopes of a good new year. One big part of the celebration was the day of Gift-giving on December 23rd. On this day, people gathered to give gifts to friends, family, and patrons.

Finally, with the coming of Christianity, many of these celebrations were converted in an effort to bring more people into the religion. As society progressed and became industrialized, the rebirth of the sun and the worry about growing crops for the next year subsided. Despite this, the history and concerns of our people in the past is still evident in how we celebrate now.

Looking back at fiction, you can put these same ideas into your holidays. If the people of your world never had to worry about food or the loss of the sun, then having them celebrate a Christmas like celebration wouldn’t make sense. Also, in a world where Gods are not only worshiped but actively walk and affect the lives of their followers, certain requirements may be demanded upon them. Think of how these requirements would change through the years. Perhaps a past god required one thing and was replaced with the current god who actively protested the celebrations. How would this effect the world and those living in it?

Even if you don’t tell the world of all the history, it can help give ideas and really give color to the world. If nothing else, it will give you, the author, a deeper understanding of your world and the people who live there. And that can only help improve a novel.

NaNoWriMo: Writing for the goal.

Following in the line of writers who are giving encouragement to the millions who are taking part in National Novel Writing Month, I would like to throw my encouragement at you.  I understand the rigors of life are time consuming, even on the best days, but the greater the challenge the sweeter the reward, right?  Take a moment to envision this:  You’ve given up time to play the new epic video games that were released this month.  You’ve ignored the new Brandon Sanderson novel that everyone is raving about.  You woke up early on thanksgiving to write before succumbing to the food induced coma.  You apologized profusely to friends and family for ignoring or flat out hiding from them.  But the end is near.  On that last day, you find a secluded place and write.  You’re focused on the scene, not even looking at the word count.  All the hints and threads you wove throughout the book are coming together to form an awesome conclusion.  The battle rages and the protagonist, against all odds, succeeds!  You look at your word count and, like a second victory, it’s over 50,000 words!  Success is yours!

It may seem far away, but it’s within your grasp.  The friends and family you abandoned will welcome you back and will be proud of you.  Most will probably be jealous at your ability to do something so amazing as writing your own novel.  It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t even have to be coherent, it just has to be 50,000 words.  Simple as that.  Once you reach that goal, the rest will be easy.  It’s the proof that you have it within you to write.  Afterwards you can edit or even start on your next project.  You’ll be able to take your time and make a masterpiece.

For those of you who are finding they’re behind, look at this as an opportunity.  I’ve talked to people who went on mad rushes to finish before the deadline.  They start writing down anything that comes into their mind.  Random scenes.  Conversations that they’re half hearing around them.  Anything at all.  In these moments, they seem to tap into their inner muse and pure magic flows out of them.  I’ve heard a few say that during the last mad rush, some of the scenes they wrote became their favorite pieces they’ve ever written.  A couple say that the scenes written during that last week were what made their novel great.

Just remember that you have it within you to be great!  Just being one of our readers guarantees that. 🙂

Best of luck and I’ll see you at the finish line!