From Soldier to Author By Micky Neilson

Acclaimed for its immersive gameplay and thrilling storylines, Call of Duty® has captivated millions of players worldwide since the release of its first game in 2003. Call of Duty®: WWII: Field Manual is an engrossing collector’s item for fans of the series and a companion piece to the exhilarating Call of Duty: WWII. Presented as an official combat-issued handbook owned by Private Ronald “Red” Daniels, the book pairs stunning original illustrations with an engaging narrative that showcases the statistics and history of the essential units, vehicles, weapons, and battlegrounds.

By Micky Neilson

I didn’t have a lot of info to go on at first.

The email, from Insight Editions’ Associate Publisher Vanessa Lopez, informed me of a “publishing opportunity.” Having recently left my job of 22 years at Blizzard Entertainment to pursue a freelance writing career, I of course replied that I would love to hear more.

One e-introduction later, I received a message from Senior Editor Amanda Ng. It was an exciting reveal: the “publishing opportunity” was connected to the latest Call of Duty®. It would be a WWII in-world “field manual,” with handwritten soldier’s notes in the margins. My name would be in the running with a few other authors. Was I interested?


Hell yes, I was interested! Sign me up!


Believe me, I’m not normally one to count my chickens before they hatch (for one thing, I don’t own chickens), but there was a reason I had a good feeling about my chances of being chosen. Well, a couple reasons: first off, Call of Duty® is made by Activision, and Activision just happens to be partnered with Blizzard. Second, I spent my final years at Blizzard as the publishing lead, during which time I oversaw publication of a certain StarCraft book…


A field manual.

With soldier’s notes in the margins.


In fact, the reference sample Amanda sent in her first email was from that same StarCraft Field Manual. I told her as much and waited anxiously for a reply. A few excruciating days later I received confirmation: I was hired! There was, however, a catch. I had a limited window of time to get the majority of the work done. Roughly three weeks.


Now if you’ll allow me a slight digression, I’ll confess that in my earlier years—specifically my teens—I wasn’t the most responsible kid around. Okay, full disclosure: I was highly irresponsible. Parties, girls, drinking, comic books, Jean-Claude Van Damme action movies (yes, I grew up in the 80s) … the distractions were many; the focus and self-discipline needed to excel in the work force, not so much.

That’s the backstory. Fast forward several years and here I am happily married, with one child, living in a home rather than an apartment (no offense to folks living in apartments—I did it for years) and driving a vehicle that’s paid for. Sounds fairly responsible, right?


So what made the difference? Well, I’ll tell you. When I was eighteen and homeless, I had one of the crappiest jobs imaginable: selling roses door-to-door. One day I walked into the Army Recruiting Office in Orange, California and tried to sell the recruiter a dozen roses. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Come into the back room, I’ve got a video I want to show you…”

As you’ve probably guessed, it was a recruitment video. With action! Guns and tanks and helicopters and rappelling—the kind of stuff I saw in those Van Damme movies. Was I interested? Hell yes, I was interested! Sign me up!

A very short time later I was in the army and on my way to basic training. Not long after that, I was in Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

During my time in the war I was exposed to a lot of grim realities. I saw the devastating effects of war first-hand. It wasn’t fun and games and it wasn’t an action movie. There were heart-pounding moments of terror and adrenaline and there were long stretches of inactivity and uncertainty and silence. Two things above all carried me through: self-discipline and routine.   

Self-discipline and routine keep your weapon in good working condition, keep your motor vehicle operational (I was a truck driver), and keep you feeling human in conditions where it’s all too easy to let humanity take a backseat. Most importantly, in a time of war, self-discipline and routine can save your life.

Let’s get back to present day, to that publishing opportunity. Not only did my real-life military experience inform my writing (especially the soldier’s letters home), but, when it came time to knuckle down, I applied those very same principles that had served me while I served my country—self-discipline and routine—to get the job done.

I estimated how much time it would take to write one entry, including research, and projected how many entries would need to be completed each day in order for me to reach my goal. Once that was done it was time for good ol’ routine and self-discipline to take over.

Did I wake up at 5 am? Hell, no. But I did create a schedule and stick to it. I locked myself away in my bedroom for hours upon hours. I sacrificed family time, I set other projects aside, I wrote until my tendonitis acted up. I did what it took to complete the task. And I’m incredibly proud of the result.


So, there you have it. Next time an opportunity arrives in your life, and uncertainty rears its ugly head, remember those principles of self-discipline and routine. And when the question, “Are you interested?” comes up, just say, “Hell yes, I’m interested! Sign me up!”