Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Bennett R. Coles?
Thanks for having me on the site. Who am I? Well, for starters I’m a military SF author who’s been lucky enough to have a shot at the writing big leagues. I served fifteen years as an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy and got to do a whole bunch of cool things – driving ships, firing missiles, leading boarding parties – that served as rich inspiration for writing. I live in Victoria, Canada, with my wife and two sons, and when I’m not writing I run a small publishing house called Promontory Press.
Your next novel, Ghosts of War, was recently published by Titan. As the sequel to Virtues of War, how would you introduce it to a potential new reader? And what can fans of the first expect from the sequel?
Ghosts of War is a stand-alone novel that picks up the tale of our heroes from Virtues of War and primarily explores this question: what happens to young men and women when they come home from war for the first time? How do they reintegrate into “regular” society, and how do they deal with their own emotional trauma amongst people who can’t possibly understand? Ghosts of War is a character-driven story with a plot that is propelled forward primarily by drama and intrigue. It still has military action and loads of suspense, but fans of Virtues of War shouldn’t expect a carbon-copy repeat of the relentless pacing of Book I.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Ghosts of War was definitely inspired by my own experiences when I came home after back-to-back six months deployments to Syria and Lebanon. Ghosts was originally the first book in the series, but as I started developing it I realized that readers wouldn’t necessarily empathize with the characters unless they knew what the characters had been through in war. So what started as a prologue grew into a first section and then ultimately into a separate novel, Virtues of War. But it was Ghosts of War which was the seed of the entire story.
Certainly for this series I’ve drawn inspiration from my own time in uniform, but in general I draw inspiration from many aspects of life. Other art and literature can serve as a primer, but I read a lot of history and maintain a healthy, amateur interest in cutting edge physics.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I was four years old when Star Wars first hit theatres, so my entire world view is shaped by the idea that “everything is cooler if it’s in SPACE!” – but as a young reader I devoured books by Arthur C. Clarke and Tom Clancy, leading quite naturally, I think, to a desire to write military SF.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love being a writer. It’s one of my favourite things to do in the world and I’m always happy when the writing is going well. That was the case when I was just doing it for fun. Now that I’m a professional in the industry I have to write a lot more regularly and I’ve enjoyed the effort of training myself to write every day, whether I feel like it or not, whether my muse has shown up or not. It’s a profession and I treat it like one, but I still love doing it.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I definitely do my best writing in the morning, with coffee. But Ghosts of War was written when I still had a day job which required me to fly overseas frequently, and most of the book was written at 36,000 feet over the Pacific. This has resulted in a Pavlovian response in me that I can always write while in a plane. Otherwise, it really just comes down to discipline. It’s very easy for writing to get pre-empted by other activities and if I’m serious about it I have to ensure that it remains my top priority during my work hours – or in my leisure hours when I was still an amateur.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I wrote my first story when I was twelve. It was called The Little Men and the Roc (at the time I called my Lego people the Little Men) and the story was heavily inspired by a picture book called The Smurfs and the Howlibird. I enjoyed the creative process so much that I wrote six more stories in the Little Man series, then tried my hand at longer fiction. Those early stories were harmless fun and there are still copies in the vault.
I wrote as an amateur for many years, practising my craft and exercising my imagination, but it wasn’t until I sat down and started what became the Virtues of War trilogy that I really set my sights on becoming a professional author. Virtues of War was my first published work, but it had a solid 10,000 hours of practice behind it.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think science fiction is alive and well, and military SF has benefited not only from recent TV triumphs like Battlestar Galactica, but from the “militarization” of established franchises, such as the recent reboot of Star Trek. The audience for books is inevitably influenced by TV and movies and my writing is rather cinematic so I think it will find an appreciative audience both in hard-core book fans as well as more casual readers.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
With Book III of the Virtues of War trilogy now delivered to my publisher, I’m noodling around with an interesting concept for a space opera series.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I subscribe to the current affairs magazine The Economist and it’s a pretty dense read each week, so there’s always at least one edition on my night stand. But I’m also reading an advance reader copy of William C. Dietz’s new novel Into the Guns which tells the story of how American society survives (or doesn’t) after a meteor swarm causes massive destruction around the world.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Tough choice. But if I had to pick one, I’d recommend In Search of Sticks by Randy Kaneen. It’s a beautifully-written novel that deals with social justice and the plight of refugees. With parallel stories in Africa and North America, it shows that sometimes the greatest crime is not what’s done, but what is not done.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I played the bagpipes for a few years, back when I was at Military College. Kilts are cool.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I’m not going to lie to you – I’m pretty stoked for the release of Star Wars: Rogue One. It’s the first time the franchise has been de-shackled from the nine-episode arc on the big screen, which will hopefully give the writers and actors a great deal of freedom to really explore the Star Wars universe and present complex characters who are free to choose their own dramatic paths.
Bennett R. Coles‘s Ghosts of War and Virtues of War are published by Titan Books. For more on Coles’s writing and novels, be sure to check out the author’s website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.