I just finished the first draft of a novella for BattleTech this week. You can’t hear the audible sigh of relief, but it was uttered. This one involves Wolf’s Dragoons, which is always thin ice with the fans. Oh, they love the Dragoons, because of the outstanding work done by other authors (especially Robert Charrette). I can only tell the story, lay the foundation for stuff to come, and hope that the fans will be forgiving.
Some questions came in from fans, so I thought I would answer them in a blog post. They are random, just like my thinking.
1. Do you fight the battles out using BattleTech rules before you write them? Well, sort of. Bear in mind, the fiction doesn’t always match up with rules play. For example: I had a scene where I had a Warrior provide cover with his ‘Mech for another ‘Mech. When you look at the scale of the hex in the game and the actual size of the ‘Mech…that would be tricky. In fiction, I was able to make it work easily. Yes, there are rules for this stuff, but I don’t let the rules govern a good story.
I do not put ‘Mechs on a map, fight a battle, then document it. Why? Because I believe that the characters, not the battle, need to drive the story. BattleTech is all about cool characters in desperate situations.
I DO track damage, I even print out damage sheets, but bear in mind, in real life, shots don’t hit cleanly like they do in the game. You can have a laser hit an upper thigh and torso in “real life” but in the game, the shot is allocated to a specific location. I don’t feel really bound by all of that. I do make sure I don’t dump 50 points of damage into a Stinger’s leg and he walks it off. That was some of what I hated back in the early stages of the Dark Ages novels. I am aware of the rules and apply them, as appropriate.
2. How much freedom do you have with the story? A lot, but it has to fit in the universe. In this case, the novella will need to come out next year. Why? I can’t spill the beans early on where the universe is going, but this novella fits into that perfectly…mostly because I have sat in on the meetings where we have mapped out the next phases of “stuff.”
In this case, I pitched this idea a while ago. I became a bit obsessed with it…I have to admit. It was something we have never seen before and it fits into the bigger picture of where things are going.
The universe is changing, all for the better. There’s a big story arc in play (one I have had the honor of helping put together.) We have a lot of cool meetings to document what is coming, what order things happen, etc. This is the second or third time I’ve gotten to do this for the BattleTech universe, and I love it. Lots of twists and turns. Even in the upcoming novella, The Anvil, there are some seeds planted that will have huge impacts downstream in the timeline.
While I have a lot of leeway, the editor and the BattleTech gods all weigh in and provide healthy feedback to the story, the flow, and even some hints at the battles. I don’t always agree with them, but it IS a shared universe. I don’t own it, I just get to play there.
3. So what is with the inclusion of names of fans in the fiction? I started this with Forever Faithful. It seemed like a cool thing to do, include fans of the game in the universe as characters or places. When I wrote The Anvil, I did it again, mining the BattleTech International fan page on Facebook. For this book, (Title: I won’t reveal because it gives away a lot) I put up a post and got 600+ volunteers to have their names included.
Now, I don’t do special requests. In fact, I usually don’t use those folks because they are already too big a pain. “My character pilots an Awesome, and has a scar on the side of his right cheek, and has red hair and has the call sign ‘Gimpy’ so please include all of that in your book…” Um, no. Hell no. I’m looking for names, not your half-baked character. This is my dance laddies, and I will call the tunes.
I used to have to search phone books for good names or browse the web. For the time being, I’m inviting the fans to be a part of BattleTech. Don’t email me anything – that’s a fast track to being excluded. Follow the Facebook group and watch for my posts. You can follow me on Facebook as well. Easy-peasy.
I temper this with the following: Just because you are in a novel doesn’t mean you are an awesome heroic character. You could be a douchebag, or a street, or a river, or a throw-away character that gets a freaking head shot with a gauss rifle at the start of the battle and becomes a gooey paste. Be careful what you ask for.
If I don’t pick you, don’t be pissed. Not every name pops with me as a good fit. It might not seem fair, but such is life. PS. Whining about not being chosen is a quick way to never being chosen.
Someone actually accused me of doing this to sell books. Think about that. These are BattleTech fans. They will buy the stuff anyway. I don’t need to encourage them. Duh.
4. Why is The Anvil coming out before Forever Faithful? One, I don’t set production schedules. Two, John has some good reasons, which I’m not allowed to talk about, for sequencing the stuff. He’s the editor and my role is to obey. Third, there are other factors in play. Forever Faithful was written over a year ago and has long been out of edit, so there’s nothing wrong with the book. I have the stunning artwork from the cover as a wallpaper on my PC.
5. What’s next from you? I am working on a true crime book with my daughter and a BattleTech novel of immense proportion that is due next year. I like writing BattleTech but that’s not my primary area of focus in recent years. True crime, especially my work on cold cases, now that’s a passion. I have to admit though, I am enjoying climbing back in the cockpit again though…