SPOILER ALERT. I strongly suggest you purchase, download, and read Divided We Fall before diving into this because this blog post will RUIN the story for you.
If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon or wherever you got it from. Every little bit helps.
There is trepidation in writing about the Dragoons. Wolf’s Dragoons lovers treat the regimental CO’s like saints in the Church of Jamie Wolf – I get that. Just saying “Misery” conjures up images of deep-seated emotional pain for them, even after all of these years. On top of that, when you write about Wolf’s Dragoons, it is always done in the shadow of Robert Charrette’s fantastic novels. As a writer, you have to admit that up-front. I always wanted to write about them, but was leery of doing so. After all, I am no Bob Charrette. The work he did with Jamie Wolf has stood the test of time. BattleTech fans can be pretty unforgiving (I know, big holy-shitballs revelation eh?) and the Dragoons were sacred ground for many of them. I knew whatever I wrote was going to be compared to Bob’s books and they were beloved. At the same time, I wanted to write this story.
I’m a gamer…and sometimes, you gotta roll the dice and pray for boxcars.
Some other “fans” warned me in advance about their feelings. They told me they feel that the Dragoons are a “Mary Sue” unit, toughened by ferro-fibrous plot armor, immune to things that “normal” units (as if there is such a thing) must deal with. I guess if you get nuked and survive the Mary Sue label comes with it. I never saw the Dragoons in this light. They are the big boys on the block though, and deserve the respect they have earned. I don’t see them as plot armored, and it will be reflected in upcoming works. They are not infallible. Some leaders have flaws that all leaders do. In other words: “Hold my beer…I’ve got this…”
And to you Mary-Sue whiners”: Who wants to read a story where the big unit gets its ass handed to it and everyone dies? You would bitch and moan if I wrote that story. So I might as well write the story that I would like to read. Note: This is my approach to writing anyways – write what I want to read.
I waited for years, biding my time for the right opportunity. Jason Schmetzer did some great work with the Dragoons a while back (Redemption Rift) and I knew he was paving the way for other writers like me. Besides, I wanted a really special story to write about around the Dragoons, and this is it.
After the Jihad era, I felt like the Dragoons were hard to distinguish from other big merc companies. Their luster was gone somewhat. The Jihad did that to the great mercenaries. Fu*king Jihad. Yes, they had a storied past, but in that post-Jihad era we didn’t have Jamie Wolf, Natasha Kerensky, or the other iconic characters that had made the unit pop back in the day. Sourcebooks simply don’t allow for that. In other words, the time was right to tell a new story, with new characters, to make the Dragoons sizzle and pop again.
I wanted to tap the roots of the Dragoons and give the fans a small unit that they could easily embrace. To do that, I had to go back to the original Black Widow Company. I hope I achieved this. It was my desire to make the Dragoons stand out again for what they were. To go forward, you have to look backwards sometimes.
The plot was important, but not nearly as important as the characters. The things people like reading about are the characters. I wanted to show the Dragoons, warts and all. The Dragoons are elite and when you have a bunch of elite characters, you end up with characters that start looking and sounding the same. This is me fighting that Mary Sue contingent of fans. Most of the characters have flaws, and their flaws define them. In their heart and core though, they are God Damn Wolf’s Dragoons. Unity!
That led to going to my shelves of source material. In doing this novella I broke out my first printing of Tales of the Black Widow Company as a starting point. Boy did that bring back some memories, since I was writing BattleTech back in those glory days. Admit it, you liked the rebellious nature of Kerensky’s band of misfits. Elite? Aff! Perfect? Neg. I realized that no matter what I did, I wanted to have some ties to that era. I wanted to recapture some of what made that company so awesome back in the day. For the grognard fans, the old guard, this will hopefully bring back some of that era for you.
I wanted an enemy/antagonist that was worthy the Dragoons. As it turns out, the best enemy for the Dragoons is the Dragoons. No one is the bad guy in this book, which makes it complex. They are all fighting for the right reasons.
I dove in on General Brubaker as a character. He is not Jamie Wolf. I hope that comes through in the story. He is not beholding to the history of the Dragoons, and that is a huge hindrance to him as a leader. We have all had that outside manager that came in as our boss who thought he kicked ass and took names later…only to fall short. Brubaker created his own problem with Crews. His response of leaving this people in a Combine jail tells you a lot about him. He does reflect on that in one line of the story, which also gives him a lot of depth. People think that Crews is the one that set things in motion – but in reality, it was Brubaker’s decisions that forced Nicholas Crews into a specific course of action.
BEGIN SIDEBAR: Not to criticize those that went before me, but when the Black Widows became a battalion, and were no longer filled with reprobates, some of the luster of the unit was lost to me. I wanted to go back, if only just a little, to those heydays of the game. Small unit action is the core of BattleTech play. I like this book because you can play out the scenario for yourself – I did. END SIDEBAR
Of course, I am treading on sacred soil. There are some die-hard Dragoons fans out there who will light torches and grab their pitchforks when they read this book. By the same token, this is happening. You either get on the bus or get run over by it. All I know is that I am behind the wheel with my foot on the accelerator.
In the final rewrite John Helfers had some good suggestions; his best being the death of Doc Crouch. I loved that character and the thought of killing him bothered the hell out of me for an hour or so. I didn’t like the thought of Doc dying, by my hand. It wasn’t that it was hard to write, that only took twenty minutes to make the changes. My issue was that Doc was a neat character, not an off-the-shelf Dragoon. I figured that if it bothered me, it would play on the heartstrings of the fans too. Doc was a vital link between the Dragoons of old and Marotta Kerensky; he was a bridge. Removing him hits both me and the characters hard. So, I pulled the proverbial trigger. Seyla Doc! Trust me, this is just the start of the blood I have on my virtual hands.
To me, writing about characters means they have an arc, a larger story, that is compelling. Some start small, like Major Andrew Krull in this story. Seeds must be planted to grow. You will see him again (assuming he survives the Survivor-ish editing process) and when you do, well, it is awesome. Minor characters can have great story arcs. PS. It helps that I know Andrew and I know he will pee (just a little) when he sees where I am going with all of this.
Garry Jackson got his name in the story as a request from one of the European BattleTech communities for his contributions. Where I can, I try and be user-friendly with these groups. Yes, I can be an egotistical douchebag most of the time, but not always. I try like hell to support BattleTech everywhere.
What you need to know is that this short novel is part of a series of stories that leads to, well, the big show – the ilClan. That will be evident from the start. Each one stands alone, but they all are connected and interconnected. It is a massive thing you are starting with this story.
In the past, I was pretty casual with the paint schemes of BattleMechs. After hall, camouflage is pointless on a three story running 80 ton 96 kph war machine. Seriously, hot pink would be just as good as gray or green. I have changed that stand over the years. A lot of fans like painting a unit. As such, I spend some time on thinking this through. I really make a point of talking paint schemes now in the fiction.
My favorite character is Marotta Kerensky, of course. His character arc is much larger than this book. Much larger. He is a trueborn Clanner that has been given a nearly impossible task to accomplish in a difficult time line. I think Clan warriors are their most interesting when they are outside of their comfort zones. Marotta has to change as a character; learn or die. Unity!
Marotta can best be summed up with the fact that he painted the front of his BattleMech during his Bloodname Trial specifically to infuriate his enemy. Marotta is not your typical Wolf warrior. By the end of the book, he is a skilled diplomat too, and that is something rather unique. His arc, as a character, is very big. You are just seeing the start of the Marotta legend. Parts of that have already been written too, so be prepared.
About the scene on New Earth. You get it right? You know, that ancient Elemental, right? Aw, come on! So what’s going on with that? That Chapter 1 scene actually dovetails into another book that is forthcoming which will explain all. The links (Easter Eggs) in these novels and stories are many and cool. Some fans are going to say, how did he plan that out? Was that intentional? The answer is, aff! Note: There are at least two Easter Eggs that fans have not called out yet.
Other mysteries emerge. Where in the world was Garner Kerensky? Where is Anastasia going? What’s going on with the Fidelis? I mean, this opens on New Earth…oh, the intrigue! Is it possible that the Fidelis/Smoke Jaguars are fighting with Clan Wolf, or is something else in play?
Chance Vickers is introduced in Chapter 1 as well. She slid in during the final rewrite. She appears in two upcoming books in much greater detail and is one of the more interesting characters I’ve created in years. Chance is someone worth following, as you will eventually see. It was time for a female character to emerge who was not overly quirky or batshit-Malvina-Hazen crazy.
In terms of the story, Deborah “Debacle” Sheridan is one of my favorites as well. We are talking ties directly back to the Black Widow Company. She has to struggle with where her loyalties are – to a person, her past, or the Dragoons as a whole. How we interpret honor and loyalty is a subtheme of this story. Also, her Bloodhouse is not a Wolf one, which leads to some interesting questions about the origins of the original Dragoons. That will be further poked at in an upcoming story about Snord’s Irregulars that I have written.
The end of this book is a beginning of sorts. Sheridan’s new command is awesome and a tribute to the Black Widow Company of old. Will we see them in action sometime soon? (Yes, but don’t tell anyone. It will be our little secret.)
Byrne is a neat character too. We see so little of the lower castes in fiction – it is interesting to see a merchant playing such an important role, that of a mentor to a warrior. I could have omitted that chapter but it also tells us about Marotta – he is amazingly self-aware for a warrior and knows he does not have what it takes. He needs Byrne’s experience. Byrne is just freaking awesome because he is a teacher.
Another subtext of this story is the nature of Wolf’s Dragoons. Are they just a mercenary unit, or do they have a higher calling? What would Jamie Wolf Do…WWJWD…is important. His ghost haunts the Dragoons, not literally, but metaphorically. PPS. I will be disappointed if I don’t see T-shirts at the next Gen Con with WWJWD? on them. That, I’m afraid, will have to wait until 2021. Unity!
One of my favorite moments of the book is a simple line. The last time a Kerensky fought for the Dragoons it was Natasha – the Black Widow. Let that sink in and it makes those of us who have followed the unit from its origins smile. That, my friends, is a moment in BattleTech history rekindled to a roaring flame.
Another favorite line is: “My apologies, Colonel,” Marotta replied. “It is my first prison break.” Marotta has a quirky humor.
Should this have been a larger book? Not really. I was slated to do about 32k in words and went over because that is what I do. Divided clocked in at over 42k words. Old school BattleTech novels were 65k words or more. It would have been interesting to draw out some parts of the story, but I think the pacing here is critical. The pacing of the story mirrors the time constraints that Marotta is facing. Tick-tock! Yes, I do think at that level. Pacing is everything, and I wanted readers to experience that tension. The first draft came in at around 33k words. When I read it, I realized that we wouldn’t have a ‘Mech battle until the end of the story, which can make it a hard read for some fans. People like the ‘Mech battles. So I added in Marotta’s Bloodname trial. It tells you a lot about him.
Yes, I included fans in this book as I have been doing for the last few years. Two are Kickstarter backers – the rest are volunteers chosen because I like the sounds of their names. I love incorporating fans in the fiction because it gives them a sense of ownership. One is mentioned, Aaron Krull, but I didn’t put him in the acknowledgements. He actually challenged me on Facebook to put something in about his canon character and, as it turns out, you can’t toss down that gauntlet casually. I was including fans in the fiction long before the Kickstarter and will continue to do so. Please don’t ask me to include you. If I need names, I will post it in Facebook. You don’t use Facebook? Aw, too bad for you…
So, some douchebaggery to consider:
- How will Alaric use the Dragoons? Just the word of that question has a lot of potential.
- What happens to those Dragoon units that were not heading for Terra? Imagine how pissed the DCMS is going to be that a massive part of the Dragoons have packed up and left without notice.
- Will they arrive in time on Terra, early, or late? What are the implications of that? Imagine a scenario where the Dragoons arrive after Clan Wolf and Jade Falcon slug it out. Oh, intrigue…
- Will any of the other Dragoon officers learn of the mutiny? How will that impact Brubaker and the others?
- Is Alaric playing the Dragoons as Brubaker insinuated? If so, will the Dragoons flip it back on him?
- Can Brubaker retain command after all of this? He’s had a regimental CO mutiny, one he took an active part in lying about. That lie can and should come back at some point to bit his ass. Given this is BattleTech, it should happen at the worst possible time for Brubaker.
- When all of the smoke clears, what is the fate of the Dragoons? I can feel your angst with that question.
- Marotta has been successful, but at what ultimate cost to the Dragoons? This is a Wolf who has now fought with his dream team as a Dragoon. How far can we stretch his loyalties and what will be the result?
For a short novel, there’s a lot of possibilities opened in just a few short words.
I have had the honor of writing about some fairly historic mercenary units in BattleTech fiction: The Northwind Highlanders, Snord’s Irregulars, the Eridani Light Horse, and now I get to add The Wolves Dragoons to that list.
So – enjoy – savor what is here and start to anticipate what is to come.