U.S. Navy Petty Officer Mark McMichael Not Only Launched His College Career with UMGC, But Also Started Writing Fantasy Novels Aimed at Young Teens Based on His Love of Dungeons and Dragons
Life could get a bit tedious during the pandemic, even in the U.S. Navy. So Petty Officer Mark McMichael not only launched his college career with University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), but also started writing fantasy novels aimed at young teens based on his love of Dungeons and Dragons.
Five novels later, as he is pushing his way toward an associate’s degree, he was awarded the University System of Maryland Regents Student Excellence Award for Innovation and Creativity Activity.
The award is given to a student in the university system who has accomplished great things in the creative and performing arts outside of school work or internship requitements or a job. It must be something that the student excels at on their own time for their own pleasure.
That certainly defines McMichael’s work, as he is well into a 100,000-word fantasy novel that builds on the previous five, all since 2020 while stationed first on the USS Ronald Reagan and now on Okinawa.
“I used to write stuff as a kid, so it’s always been there,” he said. “Sometimes you lose sight of stuff you like to do, and then it comes back. When I was on the ship, I had a lot of time on my hands, and writing helps to keep me grounded and creative.”
McMichael grew up in Mechanicsville, Pa. He graduated with honors from high school in 2009, but he decided he had enough of school. Instead of heading to college, he followed a family tradition by enlisting in the Navy.
In testing, the Navy determined he had an aptitude for intelligence work. As he worked his way up the ranks and passing ever-more stringent tests, he counted as one of his accomplishments tracking pirates off Somalia by combining satellite imagery with other intelligence sources. He said he was able to aid in the rescue a husband and wife from the United Kingdom whose yacht had been captured.
More recently, while on Okinawa, he and his team found a security problem in the sensitive networks of the Navy’s logistical chain, bringing it to the attention of superiors. For that, each of them will receive Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
His books are based on his love of Dungeons and Dragons, which he started playing as a teen with his father and continues to this day.
“I just started writing it,” he said. “I didn't think it was actually going to publish because I had never published before. But someone told me, you can publish on Amazon. It’s pretty easy. I thought there’s no way that could be true. But then I looked it up. Anyone can do it.”
The five novels he has published since 2020 are The Chronicles of Vargo: The Mystery of the Stone Maiden; The Chronicles of Vargo II: The Phantom Lord; Frostborn; The Legend of Aramil: Sun’s Champion; and The Order of the Acorn.
He’s focused on teen fiction as he helps raise his three children – a 12-year-old son, a ten-year-old daughter, and a newborn daughter – and sees they are coming of age to read these books. It’s also the age when he became immersed in Dungeons and Dragons. Helping to care for the newborn has slowed him down a bit, as has his academic work with UMGC. But his new book, The Chronicles of Vargo III: Rise of the Dark Knight, will be much longer – it’s already more than 100,000 words, he said, and he’s only about 85 percent finished.
On the side, he has been writing short stories about cats that are part of an anthology titled “Purranormal Tails: A Fantastical Cat Anthology.” All of the proceeds from that will go to cat rescue organizations in the United States and Australia.
And, if that’s not enough, he has started a fantasy series on Kindle Vella aimed at adults that explores issues for veterans such as depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, following a character called Maverick Kreeg.
McMichael said he was drawn to UMGC courses on Okinawa because a college degree is required if he wants to be promoted again. And, he was staring retirement in the face. He is eligible in five years and its mandatory in seven unless he gets a promotion, he said. What would he be qualified to do without a college degree? The writing is fun, but it won’t support his family.
“I have no college, and that was a mistake,” he said. “I sat down with Kara Nesle, a UMGC counselor. She literally hand-held me through the process, and that was exactly what I needed.”
He is aiming for an associate’s degree in general education that he hopes will be followed by a bachelor’s degree in English. The 32 credits he got from his military experience gets him halfway to the AA.
After he retires, he may head to Washington DC to use the college degree and his knowledge of intelligence work to find a job with a federal agency, he said. In the meantime, he will be transferred to Jacksonville, Fla., where he can continue his UMGC studies and his writing, writing, writing.