Eating Authors: Myke Cole

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Myke Cole

Welcome back to another installment of asking authors about their favorite meals. This feature was inspired by my protagonist, the Amazing Conroy, who in addition to being a stage hypnotist is also very much a foodie. This week, we hear from Myke Cole, an author I’ve shared a number of meals with over the years. I first met Myke way back when he was a member of my local writers’ workshop, not long after he’d snagged third place in the 2003 Writers of the Future competition.

He’s bounced around a bit since then, and I kind of lost track of him as he went off and had adventures as a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer. After three tours in Iraq and lending a hand with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Myke is back to going full force on his writing career. His first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point, is due out tomorrow (though I’m told people have been snatching up copies since last week). This will befollowed by, Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, and Shadow Ops: Breach Zone in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

LMS: Myke, you’ve been bouncing around the globe these last few years, some of that food must have made an impact, right?

MC: It wasn’t so much the food as the company. I grew sour on our mission in Iraq pretty quickly, but that didn’t stop me from going. My focus shifted from strategic to tactical. I couldn’t divert our misplaced war effort, but I could save individual lives. That became my drive through the second and third tours.

But there are things they drill into you. The first is not to trust the Iraqis. You never knew when the Shi’a were Sadrist operators, or the Sunni were secretly al-Qa’ida, or the Christians were just plain fed up with you mucking about in their country. You didn’t want them on your six. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you’d be fine, but we all knew guys who won that particular lottery.

They were dead.

That conflict ate me alive. On the one hand, I wanted to know the Iraqis, I wanted them to understand that I agreed with them, that I knew we shouldn’t be there, that I was sorry for all we had done, that I was there trying to help in what small ways I could. On the other hand, I had been trained and trained until my head rested on a swivel. I never let them get behind me, I worked overtime to shred letters that came from home, lest somebody local learn where my family lived. That hyper-alertness never fades. It forms the core of what most people call PTSD.

Shadow Ops: Control Point
Writers of the Future: Volume XIX

Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I like to think that some of them got it, that they could feel and see what was going on in so many of us. But it finally came across during one of the times I linked up with Iraqi National Guardsmen (INGs) near the US Embassy compound. There were three of them, chatting with one of our interpreters and a couple of local contractors. They were gathered around a huge plate of Quzi, which is a pale imitation of the Jordanian dish called Mansaf. For these guys, it was essentially a huge pile of rice dusted with some suspect looking brown spice, shot through with sliced nuts and raisins. Buried in the middle was a chunk of lamb roughly the consistency of a tire. But they asked me to join them, and that was something. I was terrified, and furious at myself for being terrified. I was unarmed, and there were six of them, and even our ‘terps weren’t one hundred percent. It was in a motor pool and there was nobody else around.

But these were the people I was supposedly there to protect, and I was able to remind myself of that and bite down on my issues for a little while. And I experienced what I already knew: that they were warm and funny, and as curious about me as I was about them. We spoke broken English and Arabic and teased one another about both. The Quzi was nasty and screwed up my stomach for days, but it was the best meal I’ve ever had, because it was one of the closest things to “good” that came out of my time over there.

Thank you, Myke, both for the reminder that a meal doesn’t have to taste good to have a positive impact, and moreover thanks for your service.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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