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Interview: Kevin Ikenberry

If you’re a fan of the Four Horsemen Universe, and I bet many of you are, then you’ve had the pleasure of reading Kevin Ikenberry’s contributions to that universe. He’s a fantastic writer. He’s also a fun guy to chat with at conventions.

Interview: Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry

What is your quest?

To seek the…wait a minute. I’ve seen this movie! The whole writing thing came around fairly late in life for me. I’d been told I was a good writer in high school and college, but I never really did anything serious (trying to get published) until 2009. I’ve always been drawn to science fiction – as a young Army officer two different books found their way into my hands: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. They were two huge influences on me and I eagerly passed them on to cadets when I had the opportunity to teach ROTC about ten years ago. When I started writing, I wanted to write stories about human beings finding their place in the universe and fighting for the right to survive and explore. I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to do that with both The Protocol War series and especially the Peacemaker books in the Four Horsemen Universe. Working with Chris Kennedy, Mark Wandrey, Kacey Ezell, and Marisa Wolf has been an amazing experience and I’m honored to be a core author for the series.

What is your favorite color?

The thing that changed my writing career, in a very literal sense, was learning the key between story structure and character development. There are dozens of story structures out there, some following classic approaches like The Hero’s Journey and others following screenwriting theory (Save The Cat, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story). Those structures are great, but without very clearly defined characters and their goals, a structure can only get you so far. The difference in understanding that relationship and applying some screenwriting theory was that the very first book I ever wrote (now published as Runs In The Family) took me a year and a half to write and it was a mess. The second book I wrote (my debut novel Sleeper Protocol) took me seven weeks. Since then, I’ve been able to keep my first draft timeline to around three months from start to finish. It’s a tremendous process and something I teach often at writing conferences.

Granted, I do a lot of pre-writing (plotting, scheming, etc.) but when it’s time to sit down and write a book, I have a solid idea of where everything is going and that saves time and mental gymnastics in the middle of a manuscript when, as a writer, I think everything sucks. That light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train and when I get the draft out of my head I can do the next part – fix it. That’s much easier with a detailed plan.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

The biggest challenge I faced as a starting writer was staying positive. Rejections are part and parcel of this business, and there were several times that I wrote stories that were good stories in the eyes of my initial readers, contest judges, and my critique partners only to be rejected. The frustration wasn’t that I’d been rejected, there was frustration in understanding that just because one editor/magazine/market didn’t like the story didn’t mean it wouldn’t sell elsewhere. The first time that happened, I walked around in disbelief for a few hours. Now, a rejection doesn’t bother me. I package the story up, file it away in my virtual footlocker, and move on to the next project. One day, that story will find a home.

From a creative failure standpoint, I very stupidly tried to self-publish Runs In The Family in 2013 when neither the manuscript, nor myself, was ready. I had oodles of problems with creating the correct file types and I didn’t do the due diligence to really make that book what it should have been. It lasted online maybe a week before I took it down, which proved to be the best thing for it. It was picked up by a small press called Strigidae Publishing and when it released in 2016, it went gangbusters for eight months until the small press closed unexpectedly. Fortunately, Chris Kennedy’s Theogony Publishing Imprint picked up the book and re-released it in 2018 where it has continued to do well and even is now available on the Baen Book’s website. What I learned was that this publishing thing takes a team. I have a team of readers now. I have a website team. I have a marketing team. I have a creative team. I have a team that goes out for beers or whiskey. Don’t get me wrong, these are the same folks in many cases. I learned that we creators have to stick together. That’s another huge benefit of working in the Four Horsemen Universe. I have a band of brothers and sisters there that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

Writing in someone else’s universe is pretty challenging. I had the chance to write some licensed short fiction in the G.I.JOE: A Real American Hero universe on Kindle Worlds before it shuttered this year, and that was the first time I stepped into someone else’s playground. I found it challenging and a lot of fun. Little did I know that it prepared me to take the Four Horsemen Universe “bible” and write a short story for the anthology A Fistful of Credits that led to the Peacemaker novels. Granted, I don’t always get the details right and Mark/Chris edit and chastise me endlessly, but I’ve enjoyed getting to play in the 4HU and feel like I’ve made a solid impact on the overall storyline with Jessica’s story. I recently wrote a modern-day thriller with my friend Nick Thacker in his universe, too which was a fantastic learning experience.

Aside from my books, I’m most proud of three short stories in three different anthologies because they were three unique experiences. In Extreme Planets, I wrote a story called “Maelstrom” in two days over my lunch hour because I had an old idea (guy jumping into a tornado in one of those “flying squirrel” suits) merge with the concept of exploring an exoplanet. For the anthology Dragon Writers, I took the theme to an extreme and did a re-telling of Puff The Magic Dragon where Puff was an exospheric EB-77 Dragon bomber with a callsign of Puff Zero Alpha. I didn’t think “Salvation, On Painted Wings” had a chance until the editor called. Finally, for the recent anthology Avatar Dreams, I was sitting with my friend and mentor Kevin J. Anderson when he looked at me and said he needed a story in two weeks. Could I do it? I gave him “That Others May Live” in a week and he loved it. All my crazy ideas eventually come to fruition and some push the boundaries – and I know now that I can do them quickly if I need to – that’s a huge confidence boost.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy. Extra Crunchy if you please.
  • Favorite Sports Team? College: Mississippi State (Rob’s Note: Moe Cowbell!!!!) / Professional: I still pull for the Cubs and the Braves – my mom would be proud.
  • Cake or Pie? Pie
  • Lime or Lemon? Limon? Wasn’t that a thing in the 80s?
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Guacamole
  • Wet or Dry? Wet
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Jeremy Kay
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey – I’m from Tennessee, you know.
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man
  • Steak Temperature? Medium Rare
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? CHiPs, Dukes of Hazzard, Emergency
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall – I miss fall in East Tennessee particularly.
  • Favorite Pet?  My dog when I was growing up. We named him Shandy. He was an American Spitz that never met a dog he didn’t know he could whoop. I miss that feisty little bastard.
  • Best Game Ever? Cards Against Humanity. I’ve never made it through a game without my stomach hurting from laughing. I’m fairly certain there’s a handbasket with my name on it.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee, with a touch of creamer. No sugar.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Science Fiction

What question(s) would you like to ask me? 

What technique (process or practice) have you learned that has influence your own writing the most, and why?

Rob’s Answer: Hmmm. One that you mentioned above is important, and that’s the creation of a team. The analogy I use is a race car driver. At the end of the race, the winner gets photos, prizes, and all that sort of thing. However, he doesn’t get there without good mechanics, pit crew, and all the people involved in a race. My team is good, and getting better all the time.

Another important thing is keeping track of what’s working and what’s not. I often say, “There’s one true way of writing and it’s what gets words on the page.” If you are not productive at some point, change something. Anything. Your music. Your chair. Where you write at. For me, that will increase my productivity and then I have to change it up. Writers will always have slow periods, I think. Just keep plugging away.

One specific technique that I’ve added to my process is to read it out loud from a printed copy. Toni Weisskopf said in a panel once that editing from printed copies is much more effective than on the screen and she had studies to prove it, as well of course as experience at Baen. I also find that if I read something out loud the clumsy writing jumps at me because it will not roll off the tongue. It will feel clunky. Yes, that’s tedious. It took me four 12-plus hour days to do this with Brief Is My Flame, yet it was dramatically better because of it.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

My website is www.kevinikenberry.com. We’re headed for a major site overhaul soon, maybe in time for SphinxCon, but there’s information there on how to sign up for my reader’s group – The Reaction Squad – and a bunch of other stuff. There will be goodies (a free short story namely) when the new site goes live.

I’m on Facebook with an author page and my Twitter handle is @TheWriterIke. That’s about it for social media right now.

And where can we find you?

  • MileHiCon 50 (October, 2018)
  • SphinxCon (November, 2018)
  • Superstars Writing Seminar (February, 2019)
  • PensaCon (February, 2019)
  • FantaSci (March, 2019)
  • Phoenix Fan Fusion (May, 2019)
  • LibertyCon 31 (May, 2019)
  • DragonCon (August, 2019)

Do you have a creator biography?

Kevin Ikenberry is a life-long space geek and retired Army officer.  A former manager of the world-renowned U.S. Space Camp program and a space operations officer, Kevin has a broad background in space and space science education.  His 2016 debut science fiction novel Sleeper Protocol was a Finalist for the Colorado Book Award and was heralded as “an emotionally powerful debut” by Publisher’s Weekly. Kevin is the author of the military science novels Runs In The Family, Vendetta Protocol, Peacemaker, Honor The Threat, and Stand Or Fall. He is an Active Member of SFWA, International Thriller Writers, and an alumnus of the Superstars Writing Seminar.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

You should have asked what’s next for me. Well, at DragonCon we announced that I’m writing a Tales of the Four Horsemen Universe book with my good friend and amazing author Quincy J. Allen. The novel will follow an Oogar Peacemaker named Hr’ent (from the pages of STAND OR FALL) and should be out in mid-late 2019. It’s going to be a hell of a ride!


Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell