New Update November 2020 – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction

Imagine my surprise. So there I was, on the cusp of Hour of the Wolf, when a Tukayyid story dropped. Well, there is was and of course, I included some fans in the fiction. This list has been updated for The Burdens of Honor.   

There’s a staggering number of names involved with all of this and it has almost caused me an aneurism on more than one occasion. The character arcs, storylines, and other stuff is a massive thing to track. There are days I regret doing this service to the fan community, but they are few and far between. So while I bitch, piss, and moan – it is only because I like doing that.

I usually don’t put out fan names for stuff unless it has cleared edit. So don’t ask.  Some characters end up on the cutting room floor. 

Here is the updated list:

The Burdens of Honor

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine

Tai-sa David Vivas of the Draconis Combine.

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte, Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior

Mason Kortz, Roman Tseng, Ghost Bear Warrior

Eric Stockard, Christine Rosenfeld, ComStar ROM

Seth James, Malik Feff, ISF Agent

Lawrence Greenwood

Children of Kerensky

David Abzug

Agustin Sierio Barj

Elmer Lee Bechdoldt

Dennis Busse, for Kerek

Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq. (Yo Tex!)

Michael “Brent-Killer” Ciaravella

Xander Cosgrave

Olaf Dittmar

David “Dunny” Dunlap

James Doughty, for TacShadow

Adolfo Fernandez

Jason Gambrel

Adam Grimm

Oliver Haake

Claire Harpham

Hannes Hinterberger

Michael Hofacker

Jerry Hornick

Spencer Huff, for Khalus Pryde

Rylan Thane Ingram

Franz Jelinek

Ka’u Johnston-Kitazawa

Artem Kostyukov

Josh Koziura

Jean-Jacques Labbé

James Lee, for Jamie Hazen

Larry Leslie II

Kevin Markley

Marco Mazzoni

Tackett McClenny

Thomas “Dreacon” Miller

Todd More, for (Mike) Wallace

Shane Overstreet

Stephen Parac

Stephan “Warbear” Peter

Juergen Schneidemesser

Rowland Seckinger III

Jeremy Spurlock

Rob Watkins

Sharizal Zarie

The Bonds of Battle

Star Commander Cymril Tseng, Clan Ghost Bear

Adam Bear, (Kaningamu), contributed by Gregory Adam Cunningham, formerly of the Draconis Combine, now bondsman to Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

William James Hamblin, Chu-i Biru Hamblin of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Ayden Ryken, of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Carrie Shumar, of the Draconis Combine

Sho-ko Mateo Vaux, of the Draconis Combine

Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior

Kashira Jack ‘Reverend’ Benner, Sonkei-suru Benner of the Draconis Combine

Rock of the Republic

Eric Kraaier

Jean-Jacques Labbé

Ed Miller

Stanislav Shimuk

Travis Sumpter

Jakapan Thunpithayakul

Jonathan Warrington

The Flames of Idlewind (Shrapnel #1)

Marc de Villasante Lahoz

Euan James

Ronald Ledwon

Daniel Leskov

Matthias Pfaff

Benjamin Tang

Divided We Fall

Michael Barber

Timothy Byrne

Felipe Cintron

John “Doc” Crouch

Tony Deegan

Jared Donner

Wes Frenz

Jürgen Frey

John Gaisano III

Ed Hatchel

Matthew Hinks

Hannes Hinterberger

Robert BJ Horncastle

Cal Hornstien

Garry Jackson

Alex Kaempen

Kristopher Tyson Koniczek

Andrew Krull

Wayne Ledbetter

Brianne Elizabeth Lyons

Joseph McEachern

Joshua McHugh

Roderick van Noorloos

William C. Pelcham

Lon Porter

Corey Riordan

Nicholas Roche

Andrew Roy

Patrick J. Saul

Sebastian Schröder

Kevin Seibert

Richard Skelton

Andrew Sternglass

Jason Tuttle

Matt Valgardson

Derek Weese

Jason Weiser

Scott Whyte

The Anvil

Moses Obadiah

Nicholas Tockert

David DiFranco

Eric Belcher

Clifford McKinney

Jeff Sockwell

Daryl Noonan

Jonathon Scott Schofield

Cord Awtry

Ryan James Broadhead

Ben Myers

Troy Lee Cowell

Krzysztof Krecislaw

Chad Parish

Jack Lafreniere

Joshua Bressel

Marcus Odekirk

Robert Ostrowski

Mark Havener

George Tholburn

Erik Helgeson

Winter Guite

Jukka-Emil Vanaja

Christopher Turco

Juan Ochoa Jr.

Steven Molen

Broccán Mac Rónáin

Kenyon Burguess

Dave Alsager

Forever Faithful

Benjamin Starkey

Av Paredes

Adam Mckern

Brian Blaney

Trixter Phillips

Alexander JW De Santis

Jamie Rife

Brandon Fisher

Andrew Gardenhire

Todd Farnholtz

Clint Woodall

Clifford McKinney

Adam Thompson

Ray Arrista

James McHenry

Patrick Finnegan

Oliver Kraft

Camille Klein

Shane Jaskowiak

Shawn Bruno

Colin Duffy

James Eyers Mclean Miller

Nathan Pelchat

Josh Ellis

Craig Gulledge

Peter Farland

Eric Eny

James Bixby

Thomas Lagemann

Craig Reed

Mike Lubowitzki

Devin Ramsey

Dustin Ballard

‎Jose Alvarez‎

Aaron Gregory

Bradley Proffitt

Dean Manning

Brian Chiasson

David Shell

Keegan Reid

Sam Snell

Alex Clarke

Redemption and Malice

Derek King

Gerry S. Xydis

Jack Halloran

Rules of Engagement – Released for the Kickstarter

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

The Release of Burdens of Honor for BattleTech

Spoiler Alert: Go read the story before reading this.

When the Kickstarter was starting, I volunteered to do some writing for it.  The first piece was Rules of Engagement.  I had three criteria handed to me.  1.  It had to cover the Clan invasion.  2.  I was given some people’s names to include in the story.  3.  It had to be done before GenCon. 

I decided to write about the Ghost Bears because I love the Ghost Bears and they don’t get nearly enough time in the fiction.  I wanted to harken back to that era when the Clans were mysterious and strange invaders.  It was freebee fiction for the Kickstarter backers, but I knew I wanted to come back to the story.

I wanted some cool characters. I wanted an idealistic Ghost Bear that would take a bondsman, and eventually have that bondsman flip.  Why?  Because the concept of bondsmen is cool between Clans, but a tough-sell with the Inner Sphere.  Mike Stackpole did a great job with Phelen Kell/Ward, but it is hard to picture a lot of Inner Sphere warriors signing onto the alien concept long-term.  Of course, honor-bound House Kurita warriors might – which allowed for some fantastic character development. 

I wanted two friends that started together, but went on divergent paths, only to be brought together years later. We all experience that at one time or another, just not on this scale.

When working on the characters, I left a lot of ambiguity into their past – which opens some incredible doors for future work either by me or another author.  It was done deliberately to allow some expansion.  Not every character is a Morgan Kell or Victor Steiner-Davion – some are merely good men and women put in extraordinary circumstances. Over the years, I have come to feel these are the stories that are worth telling.  I have one coming soon in Shrapnel, called Waylon’s War, which goes down that rabbit hole. 

I was asked to write the fiction for the boxed set – a distinct honor I might add.  I wrote, at that time, Burdens of Honor.  It dealt with the same characters 2+ years later during the fight on Tukayyid.  The feedback I got was, “we love it, but we don’t want to cover Tukayyid in the boxed set.”  So it got shelved. 

Instead I wrote the middle piece, The Bonds of Battle, which took place right after Rules of Engagement with the same characters.  I enjoyed doing it because it allowed for some great character development on both the Clan and Inner Sphere perspectives.  Also, I rarely have written from the Draconis Combine perspective, so I had some fun with it. 

I was holding onto Burdens of Honor for possible use in Shrapnel, but when I was asked if I wanted to do a Tukayyid-piece, I knew it had to be included.  I suggested to my editor that all three pieces be bundled into a novella at some point.  Hell, I’d be willing to add some stuff to it all.  Who knows?  There’s a ton of stuff that still has to be delivered from the Kickstarter in terms of fiction, so I’m sure it is low priority. 

Well, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. 

Things You Should Never Say to a Writer

Just a few snarky insights. Sadly, I have heard almost all of these at one point or another.

Is your book available in a bookstore or on Amazon?  Duh – it’s a book. You do know that you can do a search in Amazon to find out, right?

Some of your character dialogue isn’t good English.  Have you ever listened to people talking in real life?

A charity I am supporting is doing a fundraiser.  It would be great if you would donate some autographed books so we can auction them off.  Sure, you work as an accountant – it would be great if you could do my taxes for free.

Your book is good except for ______  Bite me

I found eight grammatical errors in your book.  Gee, my editor with an actual Master’s degree in English feels differently. It’s ‘cute’ that you believe you are so good at English.

Your book was good except for the parts you got totally wrong.  Did your mother have any children that lived?

I liked it, but I wish it was longer.  Is that what you said, or your wife?  The story was as long as it needed to be, period. Last time I checked it had a beginning, a middle, and an end.   

I started reading it but got bored.  It’s hard for my work to compete with Pornhub.

Writing sure sounds like an easy gig.  I mean, you work a couple of hours a day, at home…  You do get that this is work, right? It must be nice to have a normal job where you don’t struggle with the voices of your characters in your head. 

I always wanted to write a book.  You say that now, wait until you start.  And no, I don’t want to hear your pitch.

It reminded me of a book that ______ wrote.  Thanks for accusing me of plagiarism.  Want to go for murder?

There are parts of the book you repeated.  Yes, I thought they were important and that most readers need to see something more than once to have it sink in.

It was clear to me that you are paid by the word.  I have a word for you…

The main character didn’t seem realistic to me.  You do get this is science fiction, right? And, if this is on of my non-fiction books – you do get that this is a real person, right?

The ending felt rushed. Did it sneak up on you?

You should have referenced _____ to make your book better.  This would have been useful information before I wrote the book.  Or; I read that reference and it was false – so I didn’t waste time with it, asshat.  

This is exactly the story idea I came up with.  Somehow, I doubt it.

You don’t look like a writer.  Good, I’m disguised as a serial killer and they look like everyone else.

I gave it three out of five stars on Amazon because I had a hard time downloading it to my Kindle.  True story.  What a jackass. 

You should have made this a trilogy.  If it helps, you can tear the book into three parts.

I have an idea for a book.  Let me tell it to you and you can pretty it up.  I don’t ‘pretty up’ anything.

All of the good stories have already been told.  A part of me just died inside. If you believe that, never read a book again. 

I hope it comes out as an audio book soon.  I have no idea if it will.  No one tells writers about this kind of stuff. Since I hate hearing my words read out loud, I want to assure you, I don’t care!    

I wish I had the time on my hands so that I could write.  I love how you are implying I have time on my hands.  Yeah, all you need is time.   

I only read books that are hard-copy.  1.  I don’t care.  2.  Most books are.  3.  I don’t care. 

I hear most writers are alcoholics.  I am considering taking it up after this conversation. 

I got your last book from the used book store!  Hey, thanks for telling me that you are reading my book and I’m not getting a penny of royalty from it nor am I recording sales of the book.  I hate you.  All authors hate you. 

I only got halfway through your book, the plot was a little slow.  Perhaps you should learn to read faster. Perhaps you had to constantly pause to look up words you didn’t understand. 

Your book was ‘okay.’  Are we talking about my book, or the last time you had sex?

I was going to buy your book, but I didn’t like the cover.  (Facepalm) 

I just don’t have time to read.  Perhaps I can do the next one in crayons for you. 

Are any of your books good?  Only if you have brain cells. Something tells me you won’t like mine.   

I wish you’d hurry up with your next book.  Aw gee, I was just goofing around.  I’ll get on that right now.

My high school English teacher taught me that writers are always supposed to ___________.  I appreciate you are holding me to a standard of a high school English teacher who likely has never written a book in her entire life and has no idea what a writer is supposed to do.  Wait.  No, I don’t appreciate it.   

How’s the new book coming along?  One fucking word at a time…

I don’t think I’ve heard of you. I KNOW I’ve never heard of you. That’s what separates us.

Your book cover was misleading.  Oddly enough, I didn’t paint the book cover. 

Your book title was misleading. Or you didn’t get it.

It was an okay-read.  Maybe you weren’t trying hard enough?  Were some of the words hard for you to understand? 

Your lead character didn’t seem realistic.  You do understand it was set in the 32nd century and he pilots a three story war robot?  I didn’t realize you were such an expert on life then.   

Your story conflicts with (another book).  You do realize I wrote that other book? 

It would have been better if you had included a (insert BattleMech name).  So you judge books based on the hardware I write about?  THIS is how you evaluate the story?  Please, don’t read my books. 

Children of Kerensky Blog Post 3 – My favorite parts and the cutting room floor

A fan posted this and I stole it. LOVE it.

Obviously it goes without saying that there are spoilers below.  Go read Children of Kerensky.

What are my favorite moments of the novel? 

There are a lot of things I like personally in the novel. When you are telling a story, some scenes pop with you – they are fun to write either because of their complexity or flow. So here are a few of the ones that I enjoyed the most as the author – and why.    

The Jade Falcon portion of the Prologue. There was a lot of back and forth about whether we should explain Malvina at all, or even try to. The phrase, “A serial killer in a BattleMech,” got tossed around on several phone calls.  Arguments were made to not dive into how she ended up thinking the way she does, simply tell her perspective of the coming fight.  That never felt right to me.  From where I sat, she is a product of her genes and her environment.  I didn’t want her to be cardboard, with no real dimension. The prologue explains some of her reason for being and behaving the way she does.  Our world is made up of unintended consequences, and Malvina Hazen is one. She is a creature of decisions she was never even aware of and of a strange brew of genetics. I felt that had to be explored, even if it was just a half a chapter.  

The second one I came up with almost as an afterthought.  It was Ramiel and Chance sparring. It is less about them than it is about Alaric.  Alaric is not a cuddle buddy. Alaric can be vicious and is ruthless. He’s also one of the two or so best hopes against Malvina. He’s complicated and at times, cold. The sparring scene allows Chance to explain who Alaric is without Alaric showing it. It’s a different angle on a guy that would never open up on his own for the reader. I also like it because it explores the relationship of a bondsman which is a quirky part of Clan culture.  

I have two scenes that I love that are about Chance Vickers.  One is with Damon Ward where she threatens to kill him. The two parts to that scene which are cool is her pulling the pistol and the fact that Damon is unfazed by the gesture.  Let’s face it, these are warriors, they have weapons pulled on them their entire life. I love how she says she’s going to write his suicide note after killing him. Chance’s devotion to Alaric is a neat aspect of her character – and how deep that runs is fascinating. Another favorite moment for me is Chance meeting with Anastasia at the spaceport. Anastasia loves to punch everyone’s buttons but Chance gives as goods as she gets. Anastasia has been in Alaric’s mind.  Chance has been living there most of her life. I love that Chance threatened to kill Anastasia.  The dynamic of these two characters, even in this short scene, is cool (to me). If you believe Chance wouldn’t follow through on these threats, well, you are wrong.  

Alaric’s decision to invite the Jade Falcons to Terra stands out as well. Alaric is playing the long game here in terms of strategy. This is either brilliant, or the seeds for an epic failure. It puts Clan Wolf in the position of having to go all-in, no matter what happens on Terra. If you think of it in that light, Alaric is essentially gambling with the fate of the Inner Sphere. 

Alaric visiting Stephanie Chistu. For the low cost of burning a few frequent flyer miles, Alaric was able to drive Malvina into a hissy-fit and threaten to kill one of her best military leaders.  That scene with Alaric and Stephanie, while short, tells you a LOT about Malvina Hazen.  Read it carefully.  Chistu’s response to Alaric asking what Malvina would do is perfect.  Chistu understands Hazen almost as much as Malvina does. 

Garner’s meeting with Niels Carns was created in the final rewrite. Garner needed to emerge more as a character. He is a bad-ass in his own right with that little section.  Garner wants to win the fight for Terra. Yes, he challenges Alaric, but in the end, he wants in the big game.  Oh – and watch out for Carns…  

Finally, it is the end of the book.  Pew, pew, pew – bang! Until the last minute, the final bits of space battle were actually in Hour of the Wolf.  There was a lot of resistance to even including that chapter, period, so we had to resolve that first. I came with footnotes to a meeting, true story.  An editor (Phil Lee) suggested ending with the jump of the McKenna’s Pride.  I REALLY liked that idea of ending with Clan Wolf jumping to Terra – besides, Hour is huge.  As a result, this became a full-fledged novel in length complete with the start of a cool space battle.  I say the start, because Children ends with the jump of the Wolf fleet. 

Space battles in BattleTech are rare and open to a myriad of debates about jump point sizes, weapons ranges and effects. Yes, these are real-life arguments. Fiction sometimes goes past the rules. We don’t break the rules, but we are not limited to them as authors.  Just because we don’t have a rule for it, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. These kinds of discussions are good, helpful, irritating, and ultimately make for a better book. I can say that now. At the moment, it is often like a duel of BattleTech trivia.  “I’ll take jump point mathematics and hyperspace mechanics for $200 Alex…”  

I have caught some flak for not showing the Capellans in all of this.  Well, read the title of the novel. If you want Cappies, you will have to wait. 

The Chopping Block

The original cut of Hour of the Wolf included many pieces of Children of Kerensky – and more.  A few chapters were cut.  Not because they were not good, but because of changes we implemented to the plot and to make the book flow better. 

The original intent was to show how Alaric and Malvina became the warriors that they became by the time of Hour of the Wolf. So you would see Malvina come up with her prize ‘Mech (which is in Children still), where “Black Rose” came from, where she developed her reaction to ‘bellycrawlers,’ and her willingness to kill her own forces to achieve victory.  You’d get the same development with Alaric.  John and I spoke and decided that the fans might not want to get all of that background – they would want more action close to the ‘big event.’  So we restructured the book. 

I had written in the first draft a number of sections about Alaric and Chance refining their invasion plans, how he arrived at a broad-front strategy, etc. They were good, but it bogged down the story. 

Originally someone wanted me to have Anastasia not only recruit the Wolves in Exile but the Kell Hounds. It was one of those things that sounded good, but complicated things.  Not only that, it limited what we can do with the Kell Hounds right now – so that was removed.   

In the first draft it was still a viable idea so we had a chapter showing the first real encounter between the Jade Falcons and Colonel Evan Kell’s Hounds. It was an awesome chapter, pure Malvina…oozing with Kell Hounds goodness. Obviously that ended up on the cutting room floor, but may come back as a standalone short story since it does not impact (immediately) the events on Terra.

I had also crafted a really cool chapter where Katherine tells Alaric his true genetic origins. Talk about messing with the mind of a small kid. I really thought that it filled in a neat gap in explaining Alaric’s personality. Am I really trueborn, or tainted in some way? At the same time, it didn’t move the story along.  As such, it too fell to the axe.

Malvina’s relationship with her Falconer is a little creepy and potentially inappropriate. I was going to hint that it was even more so in one draft, but backed away from that. No point in layering on even more batshit crazy to that character. It is hard to picture Malvina wearing a “Me Too!” t-shirt too. 

In the original draft, there was a chapter where Malvina and Aleks are fighting food rioters and she witnesses the death of her sibko instructor. It is the first time she has that moment of Malvina rage and starts wasting the rioters. It was good, a bit long, but solid. Unfortunately it did not advance the story for the reader – so it disappeared along the editing road.  The event happened and is referenced in Children, but the description of it died a glorious editing death.

The Ghost Knight chapter was originally longer and far too revealing as to who the Ghost Knight is. The problem was it was Mission Impossible level stuff in terms of complexity and introduced too much about the character in question.  John had me trim it and it is much faster.

There is, also, the infamous cat chapter.  I had a chapter with Malvina at the age of seven protecting a pet cat (Rose) from other members of her sibko. Without going into detail, it elicits a response from readers. Loren insisted that we keep it in Children or Hour, but we couldn’t find a place for it without bogging down the story. John made the call to cut it. It was nasty, I get it, but still, it was fascinating and revealing. Who knows, it may yet make the light of day. 

Some Easter Eggs you may have missed

I put some things in very deliberately. This is not a complete list. Sometimes these things are just fun, especially when people catch them.    

“This is damned peculiar…”  Admiral Kirk from Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

The 18 minute gap in the surveillance system.  Akin to the missing 18 minutes of the Nixon Watergate tapes. There’s another Nixon reference in here too. Malvina’s list of enemies and targets.  Nixon did that. Anytime you can drop Nixon references is a good day. 

Alaric had his Watch prepare a report on Clan Wolverine. Say what…?

Paul Moon married Inanna from Forever Faithful. Their babies are likely large, smart, and able to use Tarot cards and crystals. 

The broad front strategy – go read The Longest Day

There is a Midway reference for you historians as well. Right at the end, Clan Wolf hopes to catch the Republic fighters in the middle of rearming. 

Ramiel is the bloodkin of Angela Bekker from Roar of Honor.  That alone should tell you what a bad-ass this guy is.

November 6th is my birthday – and the day that Clan Wolf penetrate Fortress Republic. I gave myself a present – Terra.  It’s the perfect size and the right color!

“Set condition one…”  Battlestar Galactica. 

Mercury – this is a reference to a project I worked on in my former day job.  We used code names for all sorts of stupid stuff. 

Task Force Ostend refers to the raid on Zeebrugge and Ostend in WWI. Google it and you will get the reference. 

Alaric saying he will draw a circle around Anastasia’s body in her blood.  This happened once before in BattleTech.  Anyone remember this reference?

So where does this leave us?

Allow me to lay it out for you.  In Divided We Fall, we know the Dragoons are coming to the party, but we don’t know if they will make it on time?  In Rock of the Republic, we know the defenses of Terra and the kind of war Devlin Stone hopes to wage. In Icons of War, we get the McKenna’s Pride. In this novel, we know who is coming from the Clans at the onslaught and what their strategies are. Clan Wolf has pried open a jump point, but will that be enough? And…Malvina is coming… We know the Cappies are out there, and the rest of the Clans and Houses – but no one knows for sure how they will react to what is coming.  (Well, I do…)

The arena has been reserved, the seats are filled, and the parties are entering the ring in a three-way (if not more) cage match for the fate of the Inner Sphere. The three greatest (arguably) warriors of two eras – Stone, Hazen and Ward, stand ready to fight a no-holds-barred battle to the end. This is the payoff, the big show, the ultimate contest. This is the match of the century. Tukayyid? Bah! That was the pre-game show. This is the big one, over a hundred years in the making.

Children of Kerensky Blog Post 2 – So Many Questions

The face only his mother could love

If you haven’t read the novel, stop now and read it first. Needless to say, there is a lot happening in Children of Kerensky.  We see the stark differences between the two clans in their approach to Terra through the lead characters.  Characters step onto the stage that are important, potentially, down the road.  Like I said in my last post, this book was not about a perfectly crafted plot, but about the characters. It is, in many respects, this is a set of origin stories.  

John and I went back and forth over the last few years about exploring Malvina.  I think the prologue does it well. Her character is fascinating.  We see how she arrived at some of her doctrine principles. My favorite pure “Malvina Moment” is with Andrea when she asks her which child is her favorite. You don’t have to see the killing (or worse) to know that it happens. Her logic is fascinating – as you see during the POW scene on Sargasso.

Like Alaric, she thinks differently than most Clan characters. Even though the Clan warriors are, essentially, cookie-cutter – they shouldn’t be. Far too often in the fiction we stereotype them. John and I wanted to get away from that kind of thinking.

Here’s the thing about Malvina, she is right. Of course there are multiple right answers, but her answer to the Inner Sphere is correct from her perspective.  Her, “you have to tear it all down to the foundation and rebuild it from the ground up,” is a viable solution. Malvina is the hero of her own story – most people are (especially villains). She is shouldering the entire burden of the Jade Falcon invasion on her own shoulders. Malvina wants the same thing as Alaric, but is willing to go about it ruthlessly and relentlessly. She is not burdened with second-thoughts about her actions either. She is the hero that the Jade Falcons want, and some might say, deserve.

Alaric’s approach is entirely different.  He has his flaws too. The scene of him and Chance in the recreated Hall of the Archons, where he killed Katherine (Bonfire of Worlds), is interesting because it tells us a little of what Alaric thinks will happen if Clan Wolf wins. Alaric’s trials are far from perfect, but he wins. He almost overplayed his hand with the Trial of Possession of Ramiel Bekker…it was close.  I actually fought that Trial out with minis by the way, at least for damage tracking.

Alaric is not a lovable character, just more tolerable than Malvina. That is tough as a writer.  He is difficult to get all fired up about as a reader.  It is that way with his fellow warriors too.  Eventually they come to recognize his greatness. 

Key things you may have missed or questions that need to be asked as a reader:

  • What is it that makes Alaric tick?  Is he a good guy, or is he merely a different shade of Malvina? Whose genes prevail…Katherine’s, Victor’s, or Vlad’s? Bear in mind, you can have more than one genefather contribute to your makeup.  At times he is one of the three, but will that serve him well?  Is he more Warden or Crusader…or is it situational?  
  • Who gave the Wolves the keys to Fortress Republic?  Who was a traitor to the Republic?  Who is behind leaving the Keys to the Kingdom?  What about the other packages?  Who’s getting those and what is in them? Consider that for a few minutes.  There is a lot of potential answers here. ComStar? Perhaps some other Clan? What if it is a Not-Named Clan?  You did catch that Easter Egg, right?
  • What is the real role of the Sea Foxes in all of this? Never underestimate the Ferengi of the Clans.   
  • No plan survives contact with the enemy…so how will that play out?
  • The Smoke Jaguars.  When will Alaric cut that bondscord and what will it mean?  Will he ever be able to restore the Smoke Jaguars – and if so, what would they look like?  What happens to those elements that remain as Fidelis?  What secrets of Terra’s defenses did Paul Moon share with Alaric? 
  • Alaric has stepped on some toes with other Clans in his possession of Ramiel and Haake. Will there be repercussions?  How will those possibly manifest themselves?  We still have not seen the perspective of the Hell’s Horses.
  • How far from “The way of the Clans” will Malvina and/or Alaric wander to acheive victory? What are the reprecussions of that, if any?
  • Will Anastasia be successful with her mission – in time?  Imagine missing out on the invasion of Terra.  What would the role of the Wolves in Exile be, if any? What will she have to give them to come?   
  • Stephanie Chistu is on thin ice with the Chingis Khan, more now than ever.  Can she survive, or will Malvina take out one of her best assets out of paranoia?  Is that what Alaric intended to set in motion?  Is there more in play here?  Alaric plays the long game…so what was his true intentions with Chistu?
  • Has Alaric made the ultimate mistake in inviting in the Jade Falcons to Terra?  Let’s face it, that’s the big question everyone has. The odds have never been this high for either Clan or The Republic. How will he engage with the Falcons once they drop? Will Malvina turn on him, and if so, when?  Has he doomed the Inner Sphere by inviting the Jade Falcons to the party? Was it one of the classic blunders, right up there with getting involved in a land war in Asia?
  • When are we going to see the specs on those new BattleMechs mentioned? Short answer – ask Ray.  Brent designed all of the ‘Mechs and the artwork has been done on them. True.  They have been done for a long time. I would guess around the time that HotW releases.
  • Both Clans are coming in with everything they have. I always felt that the Clans were willing to tie one hand behind their back with their notions of honor. In reality, they would have learned lessons from Tukayyid. A number of people reading the early drafts went nuts with that plot point (going all-in) but I hung firm.  Taking Terra is all that really matters to any Clan. Both Malvina and Alaric understand the stakes and are essentially risking it all.  This opens the door for some wonderful stories to come. What will it cost them in the long term? 
  • The cover.  I deliberately wanted that scene for the cover so that fans would see a Ghost Bear emblem on the cover and want to see what that was about.  I refuse to apologize for screwing with you GB fans. 

There are a lot of Easter Eggs hidden in this book. Two Richard Nixon ones, two Star Trek II ones, a LOT of others.  I don’t maintain a list of all of them because they bubble up organically when I’m writing.  I will reveal that the date the Fortress is penetrated is my birthday, November 6. So some of these are just for me. 

The next blog post – things I liked writing for this book and why.

Children of Kerensky Blog Post 1: Who are all these people?

Hey, you got muck all over my new ‘Mech!

This is full of spoiler-stuff.  If you haven’t read Children of Kerensky yet, don’t read this.  Or, read it, but don’t bitch about it.  We cool? Also, if you HAVE read the book, please post an online review on Amazon or wherever you bought it.

Ah, where to begin? This book leverages some characters that appear in numerous BattleTech works. To list them all would be folly and in some cases, very self-serving. I want to thank those that went before me and ask your indulgence as we inch closer to a new era.

This is a book about a boy and a girl who share a common dream.  Sure that dream is the conquest of Earth and the formation of a stellar empire that will impact the lives of hundreds of billions of people with war, chaos, turmoil and mayhem. But hey, it’s still a dream. Everyone should have goals. It doesn’t seem like they are asking for much.     

When I began writing BattleTech stories, some 35 years ago, my stories were primarily plot driven, as opposed to character driven. Both have their place in the BattleTech universe. I see myself now, more than at any time, as a character-based writer. Divided We Fall is about fantastic and strong characters. It is short, so character development is limited, but it is a story about the key characters and the ones that are there, pop and sizzle. Forever Faithful has a big plot but it is the story of a handful of Clan warriors – that is its essence. Same with Rock of the Republic. That book reintroduced Devlin Stone as a full-blown character in the universe and gave us a glimpse into Damien Redburn far beyond a snippet of text in a sourcebook. 

Children of Kerensky is all about characters. In this case, the plot is a thin-veil the wraps the characters and keeps them together. This is about how outstanding characters in extraordinary situations.  This story is about two of the greatest warriors of their era and their markedly different styles to striving for the ultimate success – to become the ilClan.     

This story began its life as the first third of the original draft of Hour of the Wolf. At the writer’s summit, we decided to split it off as its own book with some significant modifications and additions. The intent was simple – have Children take us up to the start of Hour of the Wolf, right to the edge, tell the story of the Clans rushing to Terra (at least the ones the reader knows about.)  This book can/should (in my opinion) be read just before you hop into Hour of the Wolf.  It is all about the characters, giving the reader the perspective of the two major Clans Khans and their approach to cracking the nut of Terra. It is the counterbalance to Rock of the Republic which dealt with the Republic perspective of the coming conflict.    

This author’s problem was complicated. Both of these characters have been established in bits and pieces in other novels that remain out of print. Each is not a character that readers are going to easily bond with. They are hard to like.  Alaric is aloof, cocky, sometimes vicious, and at times feeling like he has some plot armor under that uniform (which I had to surgically remove.) And with Katherine Steiner-Davion-Wolf as a mother – well, you feel sorry for him, but don’t want to hang with the guy. Malvina, well, she is vicious, cunning, ruthless, vicious, relentless, vicious and lacks any moral compass. Did I mention vicious?  Even some seasoned BattleTech writers chalk her up as crazy and walk away. I don’t see her as that.  Regardless, as a writer, if I wrote a book from just their perspectives alone, I feared I might turn off readers.   

So their story has to be told through the perspectives of those around them.  In a weird way, you learn a lot about Alaric and Malvina through the other characters that are introduced in this book. Malvina and Alaric are complicated and complex. Also, when the smoke settles, we will be in a new age, the era of the ilClan.  That means we need a suite of new characters for fans to bond with.

Let’s dive into some of the new characters in Children:

To begin, let’s talk Chance Vickers.  Hands-down one of my favorite characters ever. Chance is dedicated to Alaric, committed 100%.  Chance is a true-believer, and they are the most dangerous characters of all.  She is a secret weapon for Alaric to employ.  Devoid of ambition, she is the epitome of the Clan breeding system in some respects.  She is focused on the ultimate prize and what it will take to get there.  What inspired her was General DeChavilier and his relationship with Aleksandr Kerensky.  Alaric needed that.  On his own, as a character, he can be overpowering, so much larger than life.  Chance makes him human.  She asks the questions we all have of him, because she’s the only one that can.  She is one of the few that can challenge him intellectually, but most of that comes from her being inside his head to begin with.   

Her arc of development is big, complicated, and challenging as a writer and I’m sure as a reader. Wait until Hour of the Wolf.  She is based on a number of real people and other characters from other sci-fi series (Honor Harrington). As a person Chance is simple, almost binary in her thinking. Loyalty is what she is about, unwavering devotion to a cause and a man, Alaric.

Underestimate Chance at your own risk. She is as much an architect of the plan to take Terra as Alaric.  Chance is playing to win, all out win. Alaric acknowledges that with her rank and role in the fight that is coming.

Ramiel Bekker.  It ain’t a party unless there’s a Ghost Bear in the house! Woot woot! You cannot ignore the Ghost Bears so I decided to honor them, at least in this book, with the character of the Warbear – Ramiel Bekker. There will be more Ghost Bear hijinks in Hour of the Wolf.   

This idea for Ramiel came from a fan, believe it or not.  I asked for volunteers for their names to be used in the book.  Stephen Peter submitted his name and a callsign “Warbear” to be included in the novel.  I liked the sound of that. Not his name, but the Callsign/nickname.  That got me thinking, how could I incorporate a Ghost Bear into this complex story? The Ghost Bears could not be ignored, they are a persistent bunch with deeply devoted fans. It had to be done in a way to honor the Ghost Bear fans out there, but still be organic to the characters and the story. I loved the concept I arrived at but it took some time to decide who Ramiel Bekker really was as a character. Ramiel is the eternal skeptic…bitter about being ripped from the Ghost Bears. Everyone acts like being a bondsman is a simple transition. Personally I struggle with the concept, as you will see in Hour of the Wolf.  Bekker shows it is heart-wrenching and conflicted. When he comes around you realize just how important Alaric is to Clan Wolf.   

Ramiel is a tactical genius beyond compare.  Putting him in his Trial of Possession against Alaric, a strategic genius, offers some wonderful contrast.  What is better to have, superior strategy or tactics? 

That led me to flesh out his background.  Having him come from Angela Bekker’s gene pool (Roar of Honor) was a nod to the fan community as well. A lot of fans love that book, a few rabidly. Ramiel is a sequel to Angela Bekker. Ramiel has a big role to play in Hour of the Wolf, so a lot of this is foundational character building in this book. Ramiel Bekker is not just a former Ghost Bear, he was their best Ghost Bear. 

Haake Sukhanov. I had always planned on Alaric bringing in a Snow Raven ristar into his fold. I have always felt that the Snow Ravens were short-changed in terms of fiction. Haake’s character was there from the beginning of my thinking, going right back to the first brainstorming session at GenCon in 2017. The Wolves are good, but Alaric knows that to win, you need a dream team of sorts. He does so going far beyond Clan Wolf, which is remarkable all on its own. That separates him from Malvina…she is all about herself.  If you are going to fight in space, get the best of the Snow Ravens to help you do it. Even in his relative youth, Alaric is planning Terra’s conquest. The fact that he does not delude himself into thinking he can do it alone is remarkable when you contrast it against Malvina or Devlin Stone.  Perhaps he did not inherit that from his mother?   

Haake is a great character in that Alaric seduces him with the ultimate temptation – to go to Terra and take it.  Alaric plans on a zero-g fight but is stunned to have to fight Haake in a ‘Mech.  Alaric makes mistakes.  Haake quickly becomes a true believer along with Chance.  He has a great moment or two coming up in Hour that you are going to love. The time for the Snow Raven’s to shine has come, under the auspices of Clan Wolf!  

Paul Moon.  The arc of the Fidelis/Smoke Jaguars is complicated and cool. Paul shares a lot in relatively few words. For folks that read Divided We Fall and Rock of the Republic, you finally get one more vital piece of that story. The time has come for the Smoke Jaguars to prowl the stars once more!  Moon strikes a bargain, one with a heavy price.  Some of his people will remain Fidelis.  Others will start a new road, back to becoming a full Clan again.  Paul Moon as a unique perspective of his people’s place in history and how they got there…betrayed by everyone. He harbors no ill will, which says a great deal about him as a man. Moon tells Alaric all about the defenses of Terra and that Devlin Stone has returned. Moreover, he lays the foundation for the possible return of the Smoke Jaguars. Moon’s saga is coming to an end, as we saw in Surrender Your Dreams.  Sidebar:  No one will give credit to the fact that I got the year right for the downfall of the Republic in Surrender Your Dreams.    

Anastasia Kerensky. As a writer, Anastasia is a hard character to write about. Some of her early appearances, she is erratic and difficult to follow. She mellowed under the pen of KevinKilliany in the Wolf Hunters.  Steven Mohan Jr. and Loren Coleman has his own interpretation of her, as do other authors. Some of these characterizations conflict. I’m not criticizing the other authors, but the most consistent thing about her is that she is one of the best warriors of this generation. 

So, how did I handle her as a character? I took the best of all of these great writers and carved out my own path with her.  Anastasia is core to some of the best scenes in his book.  Her and Chance at the spaceport, and her getting her orders from Alaric. Both know Alaric differently.  Anastasia tries to punch Chance’s buttons and succeeds.  Was that wise?  

My underlying thought was simple:  When you have a precision instrument of war, you need to use her just right.  Anastasia is not a blunt object.  And we see in this book, she has a mission of her own that is as important as Marotta Kerensky’s…going to attempt to lure back the Wolves in Exile…or what is left of them. 

Spurlock Conners. The Watch never gets the light of day in fiction. Alaric uses his intelligence service in a way that no other Clansman has done before. He wages a war of counterintelligence. Alaric manipulates his enemies, feeds them misinformation.  Compare that to Malvina who uses it to spy on her own people.  We all love good spy commanders, and Spurlock is a great.  He will move and operate in ways that no one can anticipate. 

Garner Kerensky.  So, here’s the deal.  Prior to this novel, Garner just ups and disappears in a sourcebook, with Anastasia taking his place. No explanation – just sourcebook speculation.  I hate that shit sometimes in our universe. So I decided not to have him die off, but go on a secret mission. That was the plan from day one.  I came up with the idea for the plan in 2017 – he was going after the McKenna’s Pride and General Kerensky. Then I was told the Pride was still in the homeworlds.  So, I said, “Let’s go get it!”  That became Icons of War, which dovetails into this story.      

Garner as a character is a lot of fun.  He’s older that Alaric.  He’s old school Clan Wolf, while Alaric is more hip and groovy.  Garner is not quite that old guy, yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, but you could see that in his future. What I like about Garner is that he wants to win the battle for Terra and is willing to change how he thinks to achieve that goal.   

Stephanie Chistu. If you want to understand the dichotomy of the Jade Falcons, you need to look at Chistu and Malvina. Malvina hates Stephanie because Stephanie refuses to drink from the Mongol Doctrine ceremonial beer mug.  Stephanie understands her precarious position but dances on the fine edge of that blade perfectly. Chistu dances to her own tune. She knows just how far she can press Malvina – which is remarkable on its own.

Alaric reaching out to her – and then providing her with the way to penetrate Fortress Republic is fun on a bun.  Alaric wants to get inside the head of Malvina and does so masterfully. He pits Malvina against one of her best Galaxy Commanders with nothing more than a short conversation. She gives us a great view into Malvina Hazen that is the most accurate of all.  

Khalus Pryde.  A strong Pryde character is needed…hell, required. During the summit where we changed the original cut of this book, Loren insisted on a neat Pryde character that would be in the Jade Falcons.  Like Stephanie Chistu, Khalus is that character and so much more.  He has far too much of Aiden Pryde in him, and against Malvina, that is dangerous.  He walks a risky path, just like Stephanie, but a different one. Where Stephanie weighs political implications, he does not. His arc is fascinating as well, though less-so in this book. 

The McKenna’s Pride.  Believe it or not, ships are characters.  Look at Star Trek and the USS Enterprise.  Garner brought back the McKenna’s Pride and General Aleksandr Kerensky.  That is a glorious quest worthy of any Clan character and certainly a saKhan.  We don’t see much of that ship in this story, but her mere presence is as important as any human character.  The Pride is a precious icon as most major battleships are (Examples:  HMS Victory, the USS New Jersey).  It has played a part in the BattleTech universe for a long time. The last time I used the ship was in Betrayal of Ideals.  Craig Reed’s excellent book dives deeper into how that ship came back. Trust me, the old girl as a few tricks up her skirt still.

Given the wealth of stuff written about Alaric and Malvina, you might think it hard to bring up these characters in the past.  After all, we have never heard of Chance, Haake, or Ramiel before this book.  It is not retcon. It is new information. They were there the whole time, working on a secret invasion plan.  You never heard of them before because they didn’t factor in the preceding novels. Alaric, in particular, has been planning this his entire life…just in secret. He is not your typical Clan leader, especially given his DNA. We needed some outstanding characters for the new era too, so introducing them now was important. All I have done is fill in the space between the lines, played in the areas that were not covered elsewhere. 

In my next blog post, I will explore a few of the things you may have missed. Stay tuned!  Post your comments.     

New Update October 2020 – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction

I find this so damn funny.

We are inching closer on the ‘main event,’ Hour of the Wolf.  This list includes the updated people included in the fiction for Children of Kerensky. Many of those that appear in Rock, Divided, and Children will reunite in Hour of the Wolf.  Well, the ones that survive.  It ain’t easy getting to Terra.

Also popping this week was the Kickstarter which included the Bonds of Battle.  This continued the story started during the Kickstarter with Rules of Engagement. The final segment of that story has been written and will appear…soon!

There’s a staggering number of names involved with all of this and it has almost caused me an aneurism on more than one occasion. The character arcs, storylines, and other stuff is a massive thing to track. There are days I regret doing this service to the fan community, but they are few and far between. So while I bitch, piss, and moan – it is only because I like doing that.

I usually don’t put out fan names for stuff unless it has cleared edit. So don’t ask.  Some characters end up on the cutting room floor. 

So, here is the updated list:

Children of Kerensky

David Abzug

Agustin Sierio Barj

Elmer Lee Bechdoldt

Dennis Busse, for Kerek

Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq. (Yo Tex!)

Michael “Brent-Killer” Ciaravella

Xander Cosgrave

Olaf Dittmar

David “Dunny” Dunlap

James Doughty, for TacShadow

Adolfo Fernandez

Jason Gambrel

Adam Grimm

Oliver Haake

Claire Harpham

Hannes Hinterberger

Michael Hofacker

Jerry Hornick

Spencer Huff, for Khalus Pryde

Rylan Thane Ingram

Franz Jelinek

Ka’u Johnston-Kitazawa

Artem Kostyukov

Josh Koziura

Jean-Jacques Labbé

James Lee, for Jamie Hazen

Larry Leslie II

Kevin Markley

Marco Mazzoni

Tackett McClenny

Thomas “Dreacon” Miller

Todd More, for (Mike) Wallace

Shane Overstreet

Stephen Parac

Stephan “Warbear” Peter

Juergen Schneidemesser

Rowland Seckinger III

Jeremy Spurlock

Rob Watkins

Sharizal Zarie

The Bonds of Battle

Star Commander Cymril Tseng, Clan Ghost Bear

Adam Bear, (Kaningamu), contributed by Gregory Adam Cunningham, formerly of the Draconis Combine, now bondsman to Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

William James Hamblin, Chu-i Biru Hamblin of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Ayden Ryken, of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Carrie Shumar, of the Draconis Combine

Sho-ko Mateo Vaux, of the Draconis Combine

Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior

Kashira Jack ‘Reverend’ Benner, Sonkei-suru Benner of the Draconis Combine

Rock of the Republic

Eric Kraaier

Jean-Jacques Labbé

Ed Miller

Stanislav Shimuk

Travis Sumpter

Jakapan Thunpithayakul

Jonathan Warrington

The Flames of Idlewind (Shrapnel #1)

Marc de Villasante Lahoz

Euan James

Ronald Ledwon

Daniel Leskov

Matthias Pfaff

Benjamin Tang

Divided We Fall

Michael Barber

Timothy Byrne

Felipe Cintron

John “Doc” Crouch

Tony Deegan

Jared Donner

Wes Frenz

Jürgen Frey

John Gaisano III

Ed Hatchel

Matthew Hinks

Hannes Hinterberger

Robert BJ Horncastle

Cal Hornstien

Garry Jackson

Alex Kaempen

Kristopher Tyson Koniczek

Andrew Krull

Wayne Ledbetter

Brianne Elizabeth Lyons

Joseph McEachern

Joshua McHugh

Roderick van Noorloos

William C. Pelcham

Lon Porter

Corey Riordan

Nicholas Roche

Andrew Roy

Patrick J. Saul

Sebastian Schröder

Kevin Seibert

Richard Skelton

Andrew Sternglass

Jason Tuttle

Matt Valgardson

Derek Weese

Jason Weiser

Scott Whyte

The Anvil

Moses Obadiah

Nicholas Tockert

David DiFranco

Eric Belcher

Clifford McKinney

Jeff Sockwell

Daryl Noonan

Jonathon Scott Schofield

Cord Awtry

Ryan James Broadhead

Ben Myers

Troy Lee Cowell

Krzysztof Krecislaw

Chad Parish

Jack Lafreniere

Joshua Bressel

Marcus Odekirk

Robert Ostrowski

Mark Havener

George Tholburn

Erik Helgeson

Winter Guite

Jukka-Emil Vanaja

Christopher Turco

Juan Ochoa Jr.

Steven Molen

Broccán Mac Rónáin

Kenyon Burguess

Dave Alsager

Forever Faithful

Benjamin Starkey

Av Paredes

Adam Mckern

Brian Blaney

Trixter Phillips

Alexander JW De Santis

Jamie Rife

Brandon Fisher

Andrew Gardenhire

Todd Farnholtz

Clint Woodall

Clifford McKinney

Adam Thompson

Ray Arrista

James McHenry

Patrick Finnegan

Oliver Kraft

Camille Klein

Shane Jaskowiak

Shawn Bruno

Colin Duffy

James Eyers Mclean Miller

Nathan Pelchat

Josh Ellis

Craig Gulledge

Peter Farland

Eric Eny

James Bixby

Thomas Lagemann

Craig Reed

Mike Lubowitzki

Devin Ramsey

Dustin Ballard

‎Jose Alvarez‎

Aaron Gregory

Bradley Proffitt

Dean Manning

Brian Chiasson

David Shell

Keegan Reid

Sam Snell

Alex Clarke

Redemption and Malice

Derek King

Gerry S. Xydis

Jack Halloran

Rules of Engagement – Released for the Kickstarter

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

Retirement – Year One

A year ago last week, I retired from working in the world of the Corporate Overlords (early retirement – I’m only 57). My departure letter is still epic and makes me smile. Farewell Letter. I learned a lot about retirement and thought I’d share some tid bits for those of you that might be considering it. 

You need something to do.  Me; I am one of the owners of a small game company and a writer.  Retiring meant that I could focus on doing what I love, writing.  I am cranking the books out as a result and loving it. In many respects, I’m working longer hours now but I only answer to myself.  Our little company, Creative Juggernaut, launched a successful Kickstarter and delivered on it already. 

 A lot of people that retire don’t have something to fill their lives and that is a lot more challenging.  For those folks it is easy to get sucked into watching TV.  You need to dive deep into your hobbies and interests…don’t be a couch potato. It doesn’t matter if it is model trains, playing games, visiting national parks, or working on a book – you need some things to do.   

Time becomes fuzzy.  When you worked, the weekends had meaning.  When you are retired, every day is Saturday.  There are a lot of times I don’t even know what day of the week it is – let alone what number on the calendar.  Most importantly, I don’t care about what day of the week it is.    

Don’t make an unachievable honey-do list.  I had a friend that retired and had a goal of cleaning out his garage.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Look, when you set a big goal, it is easy to blow it off.  You need to have small, achievable goals for home improvement projects.  Break a big task into small ones.  Don’t say you’ll get the whole garage/basement done, settle for one wall or one room.  Make the goals achievable. Do that, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done.  

Continuous learning is important.  When I was at work they made us take classes and I resented most of them.  When you force someone to take a class, it usually is because of some management failure or legal issue.  Outside of work, there were a lot of things I wanted to learn how to do.  So I went to our community college and took a welding class.  I wanted to make some furniture for our new house and wanted that industrial look. It took a while, thanks to Covid, but I finally finished the class.  I found there are discounts if you are over the age of 55 in some instances for classes, so make sure you ask.  I am always looking to keep my mind working by forcing it to learn new things.   

Exercise.  Look, your whole life you said that you simply didn’t have time to work out.  Well, now you can.  Get up and get at it.  I have found that now that I don’t have to fit it into my schedule, I work out longer at the gym and go more often. I feel like I am the only person to come through COVID in better shape than when I started.   

You need some sort of routine.  Humans are creatures of pattern and behavior.  So come up with some sort of schedule for your life, even if it is very basic.  It gives you a reason to get up and some sort of way to measure time.  I have found that even a very basic routine gives my life the structure I was missing from when I was ‘working for the man.’

Spend time with your loved ones.  My wife and I are building a new house.  So, temporarily, we are in an apartment.  It is pretty cramped and you’d think we’d be at each other’s throats, but we are actually having a lot of fun.  We have identified some 20 different restaurants we have never eaten at and are slowly working our way through the list.  Every meal is date-night.  Additionally, thanks to COVID, we watch our grandson every other week while he does virtual schooling.  I have seen more of him and my daughter in the last three months alone than I did in the previous two years.  My grandson and I play Fortnight and have fun together.  (PS.  I recommend video games – they help with concentration, hand-eye coordination, and are a lot of fun.)

I also take the time to call my other relatives. I always felt rushed before retirement, having to squeeze in time for other people.  Not any longer!  I try and connect every few weeks and it is a meaningful discussion.

You won’t miss your friends from work as much as you think. I keep in contact with four people from work, two of which are still imprisoned (working) there. I had to cut off a few ‘friends’ entirely because they posted terrible political posts that I could not tolerate. (I find that I don’t have the need to engage with people about idiotic political stuff like I used to.) I don’t miss work in the least. There are only two people that can tell me what to do, my wife and my dog. When I hear about stuff happening back at work, I find myself satisfied that I made the right decision at the right time. Keep in touch with your real friends from work.

 Feel free to share this with people who are considering retirement.

Transcript of our podcast, Tantamount – Episode 8 – The Phantom of St. E’s

Episode 8

St. Elizabeths – 2019

The following is the transcript of our latest episode on the Freeway Phantom

Hello, this is Blaine Pardoe.  Welcome back to our podcast.  I’m joined, as usual, with my daughter and co-author, Victoria Hester.

Welcome back everyone.  We hope you are all enjoying the Tantamount Podcast.  We certainly are having fun pulling them together.  With this episode is an important one for this case.  We call it the Phantom of St. E’s, but the real meat of what we are going to cover is around the topic of geographic profiling. 

I have to admit, when we started working on the book about the Freeway Phantom, I really only had a bit of surface knowledge about geographic profiling.  I’m not an expert now, but I have read a fantastic textbook on the subject. 

We really didn’t have a choice.  One of our confidential police informants gave us a copy of the geographic profile done of the murders in 2005.  That forced the issue because it was very revealing about potential suspects. Geography plays a key role in these murders.  The killer operated in a relatively small number of neighborhoods.  The roads were important to him and that was where he dumped the remains of his victims. If you analyze the geography, it can really focus on what was important to him, what was his tie to the communities.  And in this case, the geographic profile puts you right on ground zero. 

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  Let’s talk about how geographic profiling works. When I started this I thought it was a matter of drawing circles around the crime scenes and seeing where they interlock.  There is a lot more to it than that.  This is some pretty serious math in play here.  Geographic profiling looks at where the victims resided, where they were last seen – which is where they had contact with their killer, and where their bodies get dumped.  These then factor in along with a variety of other factors including road systems, traffic patterns and volumes at the time of day.  They look at things like the time travel to the crime scene and other criminal theories such as rational choice. 

Geographic profiling is not intended to tell you where the killer lives or works – but that can be a result.  What it does is zero in on what are called Anchor Points. These are places where the serial killer has a special connection of some sort.  Now, in some cases, that can be their home.  Likewise it may be where they work. Many times it is neither.  An Anchor Point is merely a place where the murderer has a high degree of familiarity.  They frequent these spots.  These are often the places where they are most comfortable being. It may not even be where they have ties now, but where they had a strong connection in the past. 

The person that did the Freeway Phantom geographic profile was D. Kim Rossmo, out of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation, at the Texas State University. He was invited to pull it together by Detective Jim Trainum of the Washington DC Metropolitan Police.  It was a technique that was not available to the original investigators in the 1970’s and Trainum hoped that the use of this tool might help him as he reopened the Freeway Phantom murders.

Geospatial intelligence originated out of the research done at Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology in British Columbia, Canada, in 1989.  Dr. Rossmo is a pioneer in this field.  It has helped investigators narrow their search for killers in active investigations.  What I found interesting is that they really refined the formula and the techniques by looking at serial killings that had already been solved.  In the case of the Night Stalker in California, they were able to retro-fit the analysis and it showed the very block that Richard Ramirez lived at when he had been committing the crimes.  Rossmo has also applied this to a number of cold cases. 

I liked the analysis done of Jack the Ripper’s murders. It is so cool to see a technique like this applied to these high-profile unsolved cases. 

I agree!  That was pretty neat.

What is also interesting is that Geographic profiling can’t be used in every case.  You really need a string of connected murders for it to be effective.  Also, you need a certain kind of serial killer.  You need a killer who is not a rover.  If you have a serial killer that, for example, travels the country and kills in a wide spread of geographies over time, the tool’s effectiveness diminishes because that kind of killer does not have relevant anchor point. 

Well, in the case of the Freeway Phantom, we know he operated in a fairly tight area, concentrated on the southeast neighborhoods of DC and just inside Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

True.  I found Dr. Rossmo’s textbook on profiling fascinating to me.  A lot more interesting than the textbooks I read in college.  Not so much the math, but the thinking behind how serial killers operate.

Why don’t you go into that for a minute?  I’m sure the listeners would like it.

Sure.  A serial killer is often a hunter.  There are multiple varieties of how they hunt.  Some lure their victims to their place and kill them there. 

Like Jeffrey Dahlmer. 

Exactly.  Other killers stalk their prey and kill them either where they make contact with them, or take them somewhere else after gaining control of them, then kill them there. 

Then they must dispose of their victims.  Some do that locally, burying them at their house.  Most try and put some distance between the victims and where they were slain.  As you know, some killers use dump sites to dispose of multiple victims, while others spread out where they leave their victims. 

Well, that’s the Freeway Phantom.  We know he took seized his victims, took them somewhere, most likely his house, killed them, then drove their bodies to where he left them.  He started doing a dump site initially.  Carol Spinks and Darlenia Johnson were found in a very small area, less than 15 feet apart.  His other victims were left all Southeast DC and Maryland. 

Right.  Now some of the theories that I found in Dr. Rossmo’s book was that there are zones where a serial killer will and won’t operate.  Think of these as concentric rings and imagine his home or place of work in the center.  The neighborhood around that anchor point is well known to the killer.  He knows the roads, the side streets, traffic, everything.  The problem is he is known there too.  So if he tries to pick up a victim, the people in that center ring may very well know who he is and make him easier to capture.  So a killer is less likely, in most cases, to operate in that center ring around their anchor point. 

The next ring out is where the real hunting for victims takes place.  These are neighborhoods and streets that the serial killer knows very well.  At the same time, he is not known there.  For the most part he’s as stranger there. 

The familiarity with the streets is pretty important.  The killer has to be able to navigate with the victim to wherever he intends to kill them.  To me, it feels like these are the areas where he has spent a lot of time looking for potential victims.  He’s probably even made some trial runs from there back to where he kills them.  If he’s smart, he knows something about the police patrols there too. 

Exactly.  The final outermost circle is huge.  This represents geography were the killer is not likely to operate.  He isn’t familiar with the area, there isn’t that comfort he has.  It’s not his turf.  This area is where the killer is uncomfortable that he can pull off his crime and not get caught. 

I like to think of these as hunting zones.  They factor into the calculations for geographic profiling as well. So as you can see, it’s not as easy as pulling up Google Maps and drawing circles on it.  There’s a lot you have to consider with this kind of profiling. 

For me, as an author, going to some of these neighborhoods some 40 plus years later, it is surreal.  You can cruise the same streets, see the same thing that the killer did.  Sure the cars are smaller and the apartments and homes are different, some better, some worse…but you get a vibe of what it was like for the Phantom roaming, looking for prey. 

Detective Trainum didn’t mess around when he wanted his geographic profiling done.  He had Dr. Rossmo do it.  And while it was done in 2005, the results still should stand as valid.  

I would like to point out that the geographic profile done for the Freeway Phantom cases did NOT include Teara Ann Bryant.  We know that the FBI considered her as part of the Freeway Phantom killings because she is part of their profile of the killer.  When the Washington MPD asked for their geographic profile, they didn’t include her.  Even so, I doubt it would have affected the results greatly.  The location where she disappeared and where her body was found is, as I like to call it, ‘in the zone’ of where the Phantom operated. 

By now you probably want us to cut to the chase, so I will.  Where did the geographic profile say the anchor point for this serial killer was?  St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. 

St. Elizabeth, or St. E’s as a lot of locals call it, is not your typical psychiatric facility in the 1970’s.  It was built around the time of the Civil War. It was huge, a campus really, consisting of many buildings, gardens, etc. Even today, as they tear it down for new homes, it has a creepy-factor about it.  The windows all are barred, the doors and stairs have industrial screening. For decades, this hospital was where the government sent their criminals and citizens that suffered the worst mental conditions. They used shock treatments and experimental medications there.  Those bars on the windows, they are not to keep people out, but keep patients in. 

When we were down there, I have to admit, it gave me an ooky feeling.  I mean this was an anchor point for the killer, a place that he had a special connection to.  When you looked through the chain link fencing that now surrounds the site, it is easy to picture patients peering out of the windows.  Every door has flat faded green mesh or bars.  It was like a prison, but far worse. I would hate to be there at night.  Not because of any fear in the neighborhood, but you can stand there and imagine the sounds that came from those buildings, the muffled screams from padded cells – the cries of the mad in the night.  It really is a place right out of a Hollywood horror film.  

Remember, the first two victims, Spinks and Johnson, they were left on I-295 on the shoulder.  Some 20 feet away was the perimeter fence for St. E’s.  That’s how much this facility was tied to the killer.  You have to wonder, did he wander the grounds there at some point and scope out where he was going to leave his victims years later? 

For me – this profile brings us back to looking at the suspects.  From what we were able to gather through our research and reviewing court records, none of the Green Vega Gang had a significant tie to St. Elizabeths prior to their arrests.  One was sent there after he was arrested for an evaluation, but before, none of them worked there or had been patients there.  That doesn’t rule them out entirely. But the profile essentially is telling us that whoever the killer is, he had a tight bond with that location – and these guys just don’t show that. 

That makes me turn to my favorite suspect, Robert Askins. 

I knew you were going to go there! 

Duh.  The guy spent decades in St. E’s as a patient. That was where he was sentenced after his first murder conviction. Look, there’s a number of suspects that the police looked at, but only one had any connection to St. Elizabeths, and that was Robert Ellwood Askins.    

I felt the same thing when I read the report. However, being impartial, I have to point out that there were thousands of patients that had been in and out of St. E’s.  It is entirely possible that it was a doctor or a worker there.  Remember, that hospital is an anchor point for the killer.  He has some connection there.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a patient.  It could be he had a relative that was a patient and spent a lot of time there visiting.  There’s a lot of scenarios that can be concocted that could link people to St. E’s.

But what do you think?

To me, it’s another nail in the Robert Askins coffin.  It points to him.  However, we are looking at it from the lens of the police and who they had as suspects.  If that is your sample, then it is Askins.  If, however, it was someone that the police didn’t have as a suspect, well, it means it could be thousands of potential individuals. 

Our book presented the information on the geographic profile to the public for the first time. It is an important bit of information.  I only wish the police had released this information earlier themselves.  It may have generated some tips, got people thinking about friends or relatives that had links to St. E’s. 

It still can.  Remember, this is a cold case.  There’s information at the end of each episode if you have any information that might assist authorities in closing these cases.  This little nugget of information might just trigger a thought or memory that can close these cases.

In the next episode of Tantamount – serial killers rarely contact the authorities.  The Freeway Phantom did.  He had one of his victims write a note, a grizzly message that he left on her body.  The note is important because it is the killer speaking directly to the public, and to the authorities.  Please join us for Episode 9, The Voice of the Killer.

The Cuban Missile Crisis – Map of Guantanamo Bay During the Crisis

Gitmo – 1962

I am an author primarily in three genres:  Science Fiction, True Crime, and Military History.  Military History is the fun one since, in many respects, it bleeds into my science fiction writing so heavily.  October always stirs memories for me as a writer.  Some go to the first of the Colonial Park Murders, other thoughts go to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Both tug at me differently, emotionally and otherwise.  A few years ago I wrote a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis – The Fires of October

My approach was different than previous books on the subject.  It focused on the planned invasion of Cuba – Operation Scabbards (Op Plan 316-1-62).  No one had really done a book on the invasion that never happened, so I did break some new ground.  I got a lot of material declassified for the book and found some real surprises in my research. There is little doubt in my mind that if we had invaded Cuba with conventional forces it would have been very costly for the US military. We would have had our own little Vietnam experience in 1962, 90 miles off the Florida Coast. 

The attached map was one we didn’t use fully in the book, but I thought historians out there might like it.  It was drawn up in November of 1962, right on the heels of the crisis, showing Guantanamo Bay.   It is one of the best maps I found of the Bay from the time period.  The letters marked key marshaling points and staging areas.  During the invasion, there would have been a push out from Guantanamo Bay, but the main thrust of the invasion would have been on the north shores of the island. 

As we cross another anniversary of the crisis, I thought folks might enjoy this little graphic tid-bit.