Enfield author quietly celebrates success, gets noticed by George R.R. Martin

  • A former soldier, dockworker, and corporate IT administrator, Marko Kloos, of Enfield, N.H., now writes science fiction novels, photographed at the Powerhouse mall in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Aug, 6, 2019. His new novel, "Aftershocks," follows his bestselling "Frontlines" series. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Marko Kloos, of Enfield, N.H., grew up in Germany and now lives in the Upper Valley but still travels internationally to attend science fiction Comic-Con events, photographed in West Lebanon, N.H., on Aug.6, 2019. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Following the acclaim of his "Frontlines" series of military science fiction novels, Marko Kloos of Enfield, N.H., has recently started a new "Aftershocks" series that takes place on a post-war planet in the Gaia system, photographed in West Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 6, 2019. (Rick Russell photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2019 10:00:22 PM
Modified: 8/8/2019 10:00:12 PM

Sitting in an armchair in the upper level of the Powerhouse Mall in West Lebanon, surrounded by stacks of his books, Marko Kloos attracted no more than a glance from the few shoppers passing by Tuesday morning.

Had anyone ventured closer, they might have noticed Kloos’ name inside the flap of two books by George R.R. Martin, the mastermind behind the mega-hit HBO series Game of Thrones, or the symbols on the front of Kloos’ T-shirt, promoting the new Netflix series where a few of his short stories have suddenly landed.

In certain circles, Kloos, whose newest book, Aftershocks, came out last month, is a big deal. Here, he’s pretty much anonymous — which is just fine with him.

“I can turn on what I call the ‘selective extrovert,’ ” Kloos, 47, said in a soft-spoken voice faintly colored with the accent of his native Germany. “But afterward, I need to get back to the Upper Valley.”

In the years since making the Upper Valley his home, Kloos has found enormous success as a military science fiction writer whose intergalactic realms are peopled with ordinary characters fighting as many internal battles as external conflicts, as well as a creator of superheroes for Martin’s Wild Cards series.

The story of how he achieved his dream reads more dramatically, in some ways, than his plot lines.

Growing up in Westphalia, Germany — a place he describes as “like Kentucky without the whiskey” — Kloos developed a love for writing early in life. He remembers sending stories to school with his younger brother for him to read with his class.

After serving in the military for five years, Kloos landed in the United States, where he got married and found a good job in the tech industry. The marriage didn’t last, but the job did.

Kloos still dreamed of being a writer, however. He and his new wife, Robin, and their two children moved to Enfield from Tennessee in 2007, and shortly afterward, Kloos gave himself permission to pursue writing as a career. Right away, he was accepted to the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop in Martha’s Vineyard, where his first piece of military science fiction got a warm reception. Heartened, he developed the piece into a novel, then immediately followed it with a second one.

But after two years of shopping the first book around to agents, Kloos still hadn’t had a bite. One night, after responding to a call for authors of military science fiction and receiving a form-letter rejection, he’d had enough.

“I was at the point where I said, ‘Screw it. If I don’t put it out there myself, it’s not going to happen,’ ” Kloos said.

He decided to self-publish the first book, Terms of Enlistment, on Amazon.

Within a few weeks, “It started taking off,” Kloos recalled. In a month’s time, it had sold 20,000 copies.

“And all of a sudden, my phone started ringing,” he said.

One of those calls was from the first agency Kloos had queried. They struck a deal, and the book was published by Amazon imprint 47North in 2014.

Life changed overnight. Kloos remembers texting his wife, then a speech language pathologist for Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, practically every hour to update her on his sales.

“She goes, ‘this is exhausting. It’s like winning the lottery every day,’ ” said Kloos, who later hired his wife as his full-time assistant.

Kloos attributes his success to good timing and the wonders of Amazon analytics. But it’s clear his books — seven in total now — have filled a hole. While a lot of military science fiction focuses on the action of the battle, Kloos puts as much thought into his settings and characters as he does his plots.

His Frontlines series follows a young man as he goes off to war for the first time.

“It’s about the effects of war on the young people who are asked to go to war,” he said. “I wanted to make a statement about these endless wars that we fight.”

His new series, the Palladium Wars Series, follows an older soldier as he’s released from prison camp and returns to his defeated planet.

For inspiration, Kloos contemplated his own grandfather’s experiences fighting for Germany in World War II, experiences he had no choice in and never spoke about.

“How do you deal with a world where you lost the war; you were on the wrong side?” he said.

Kloos didn’t see combat himself during his time in the German military, from 1989 to 1993, but his training and experiences during the tail end of the Cold War color his writing.

“Everything changed. The Eastern Bloc collapsed,” he said. “We trained for a war that never came.”

That sense of obsolescence is a theme in Aftershocks, a book Kloos tried to fill with believable, three-dimensional characters — aging, flawed, trapped in their circumstances — rather than tapping into the pipeline of ultra-fit, sharp-witted, endlessly resourceful humans that inhabit much genre fiction.

And real people seem to relate. One of the most rewarding aspects of Kloos’ writing career is getting email from veterans, thanking him for describing war and its effects in realistic terms.

It’s this insistence on telling the truth as he sees it that — in a wild twist of events — clinched Kloos one of the most coveted gigs in the industry.

In 2015, Kloos’ novel Lines of Departure caught the attention of a right-leaning group of sci-fi writers called the Sad Puppies, who were heading up a campaign to wrest the Hugo science fiction awards away from what they perceived as a liberal stranglehold. Subsequently, the book ended up on a list associated with the far-right blogger Vox Day. The dual efforts to enlist fans to vote for Kloos’ book propelled it onto the list of finalists for the prestigious award.

Kloos refused the nomination.

“I cannot in good conscience accept an award nomination that I feel I may not have earned solely with the quality of the nominated work,” he told The Guardian after he and fellow sci-fi writer Annie Bellet both withdrew their work from consideration, a first in the history of the awards. “To put it bluntly: if this nomination gives even the appearance that Vox Day or anyone else had a hand in giving it to me because of my perceived political leanings, I don’t want it.”

Martin, who had publicly despaired over the effects of the “puppy” campaigns on the integrity of the awards, heard about Kloos’ decision. He ended up attending a party Kloos’ publisher was throwing for him to celebrate the Hugo nomination (in spite of his withdrawal from consideration for the award.) Kloos and Martin were seated next to each other at the party.

“We ended up talking about everything but Game of Thrones,” Kloos recalled.

At the party, Martin gave Kloos an invitation to a Hugo “loser party,” an event he’d popularized decades before as a penniless writer and then re-booted after hitting it big with Game of Thrones. Kloos attended, and Martin presented him with an “Alfie,” as he’d dubbed the awards, for “excellence and integrity.”

A few weeks later, Kloos got an email inviting him to be part of the consortium for his Wild Cards anthology, a long-running, widely acclaimed series of superhero stories.

“If George Martin emails you and asks you to be part of something, you say, ‘Yes,’ ” Kloos said.

Kloos has since contributed stories to the books Low Chicago and Knaves Over Queens and has joined Martin at book signings, interviews and dinners. A few weeks ago, Martin sent Kloos’ publisher a promotional blurb for Aftershocks.

“Military SF has became an increasingly popular subgenre in recent years, and there is nobody, but nobody, who does it better than Marko Kloos,” Martin wrote. “... With Aftershocks, Kloos has launched a new series that promises to be just as engrossing (as his last). New characters, new worlds, new conflicts, but the writing is just as lean and clean and tight, the action just as exciting, the science just as solid, the tension just as high.”

Kloos, who is just finishing the second novel in the Palladium series, is also part of a new collaboration, the Netflix animated series Love, Death and Robots. Co-creator Tim Miller invited Kloos to contribute short stories for the series and subsequently bought three stories that had just been sitting around on his hard drive. Shape Shifters tells the story of a werewolf serving in Afghanistan, and Lucky 13 tells the back story for one of the characters in his books. Since the stories debuted, Kloos has been inundated with fan mail from all over the world.

Because his books are published by Amazon, they’re not carried in a lot of bookstores, and he tends to shy away from book tours because they take him away from his work. Fans can catch him from time to time doing radio interviews. These he likes because he can call in from his home office, in his pajamas, with a pet dachshund or two on his lap.

Having witnessed the “swirling vortex” of fans that invariably orbit Martin and other big-name sci-fi writers, Kloos appreciates the scarcity of sci-fi fans in his own community.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

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