Hour of the Wolf Part II – What Got Chopped?

I wonder if there is Chance of turning this around?

Needless to say, we are into spoiler territory. 

With two major rewrites, there were some alterations to the story and characters – some major, most quite small but important. John Helfers is a master at working with writers on a project this big to make the story sizzle. 

So what got changed over time?  Tracking all of the changes would be exhausting.  Some of the things that changed from the beginning to the end:

  • Originally, the plan was that the Kell Hounds were coming to Terra as well to fight the Jade Falcons.  Anastasia’s mission was going to be not only to find the Wolves in Exile, but the surviving Kell Hounds.  1.  It made some things more complicated to do that.  2.  Mike made a good case for them not coming at the Writer’s Summit.  In the end, removing them was the right thing to do because it would have been too busy and they wouldn’t have gotten a proper amount of air time.  There is a small bit of fiction I wrote of Calamity Kell coming out of the DropShips that ended up on the cutting room floor. I am hoping some other author picks up on the Anastasia-mission and does that story at some point because I foresee some neat stuff there.   

Because it will never see the light of day otherwise, here it is, unedited: 

Eight Kilometers Away…

Callandre “Calamity” Kell had been in battles before, but nothing like this.  The air was alive with lasers, missiles and flashes from PPC – as far and eye could see.  Copses of pine trees roared with flames, their smoke mingling with the carnage of battle.  The air rumbled, like a thunderstorm, continuous, shaking her SM1 tank destroyer.

She had come to Terra because Anastasia Kerensky had made her an offer she could not refuse.  The Kell Hounds that followed her were a thin shadow of their former selves.  One lone company was all that was left, nearly obliterated by Jade Falcons. I could be the last Kell to lead the unit into battle if I am not careful. 

Now, on Terra, was long overdue payback to the Falcons that had decimated her once illustrious unit. And salvage rights…a chance to rebuild the unit.

An artillery round went off in front of her SM1, throwing dirt on her cockpit as she spotted a target – a fast moving Shrike.  This one was different, the warbook display painted it as a -44a modification.  Two type-9 Ultra-Autocannons and LRM’s! It rose into the air, coming down in front of Thomas Owen’s Wolfhound.  (Before Brent has a seizure, this is the variant from the MechWarrior Click-game – pilot Ichiba Pryde.  I thought it appropriate to include another tip of the hat to the Dark Ages characters.) 

“Cowboy!” she called as she brought the massive ultra autocannon targeting reticle onto the landing Shrike.  It was too late though.  Owen squeezed off a blast with his ER large laser, but the pilot of the Shrike came down right beside him, landing a devastating punch with its sharp-clawed right arm. Owen’s Wolfhound staggered back and she could see where the punch had cratered in the armor just below the cockpit. 

Calamity heard the weapons lock tone and fired. The ultra autocannon roared next to her cockpit as the shells blew off one of the wing-like projections that rose from the back of the Shrike, while the shells cratered the already damaged BattleMech’s torso.  As she rushed at it she could see it was a patchwork of armor and those plates not-replaced were burned or battered.  The hits did the trick, the Shrike broke off from the Kilted Cowboy Owen and turned towards her. 

She anticipated the incoming missiles and autocannon rounds, but there were none.  Instead there was a blast with the Shrike’s two medium extended range lasers, both of which hit her SM1, melting ugly gashes on the front and side.  Banking hard to get to its rear, the Jade Falcon followed her move keeping itself locked on. 

As her autocannon reload cycle completed it fired again, missing with one shot, hitting her left side with a laser that tore off armor she knew she was going to need, especially on a day like this. Calamity halted her arc and bore straight in on the Shrike – her ultra autocannon thundering in her ears.  The shots hit the already damaged right hip and opened up the actuator there, spraying lubricant and green coolant from a blasted line along the leg of the ‘Mech.  It started to topple and tried to avoid the fall with a blast of its jump jets.

The Jade Falcon rose into the air and skirted towards her, coming down right in her path. The ultra autocannon hadn’t reloaded, but her machineguns were and she blazed away.  Flashes from dozens of tiny hit peppered the cockpit canopy and upper torso of the ‘Mech.  The damaged leg on the Shrike was barely holding on as it tried to shift position. Juking hard to the right, Kell sought to put some distance between them, then swing around for another attack.  For three seconds she lost sight of her foe as she felt the SM1 toss her hard against the restraining straps. 

As she came around the Jade Falcon warrior fired its lasers again, both missing her as her autocannon reload finished. She raced the targeting reticle over the enemy but the war-weary Shrike suddenly seemed to rattle and quake, hit from behind.  It fell over on its side, hard, gouging the soft black soil.  She fired another burst into it as it lay on the ground, savaging its torso even more. Her sensors told her its reactor went off-line. Angling her SM1 next to the Shrike, she could see on battered and charred armor plate with the stenciled words, “Shark Hunter” barely visible.  Not any more… 

Through the haze of the battle she was the Kilted Cowboy standing behind the fallen Jade Falcon.  “Nice shooting Cowboy,” she said as she angled close to the fallen ‘Mech. 

“It was a cheap shot,” Owen replied.  “But hard to pass up. He didn’t fire his autocannon or missiles.  Did you notice?”

“Out of ammo I guess,” she replied.  Maybe they have supply issues…

“I hope the rest of them are out too,” Owen said, turning toward the battle to the south.  Other Kell Hound ‘Mechs and vehicles were starting to converge on their position. 

“Roger that,” she said.  “Kell Hounds, form up on me.  We are heading west and hopefully the rear of the Jade Falcon lines!”

For the first time in over a year…Calamity Kell felt good. 

  • In the early drafts, we were going to pump Stone up on drugs and have him fight Alaric in some Circle of Equals near the end. Stone was going to die but Alaric was going to honor him, blah, blah, blah.  Apparently this was something that got batted around a while ago before my involvement with the project. I hated the idea, but wrote the scene, loathing every moment of it. To me, if you are ending the Dark Ages, you needed to end the Republic – not drag it out.  Also, Stone had to die, for a LOT of reasons.  Stone did not deserve a glorious death or worse, a battlefield victory of any sort.  I never felt him to be a character worthy of that.  John and I spent a lot of time discussing Stone, defining his real role in matters. When I was asked at the summit what I would like to change, this was it.  I wasn’t going to put a 106 year old fossil in a ‘Mech cockpit. Killing that whole scene felt great.      
  • In draft one, I had Haake having a strategy of having the ‘Mechs deploy on the hulls of their DropShips and WarShips for additional close range support and dropping on the hull of Republic WarShips to blow shit up. There were ‘reviewers’ who said that made no sense and argued against it because we have never done it before (apparently ignoring Impetus of War).  I have a wealth of material and justification to validate that tactic, including game mechanics. It was argued that they wouldn’t risk their precious ‘Mech resources in such a manner.  I believed they would.  “Better to die shooting than in the hold of your DropShip.” I was fully prepared like a lawyer going to court to argue against this.  John and others pointed out that it was too much like the horrible scenes from the Rise of Skywalker.  That was the proverbial trump card.  It was hard to argue about doing something that was in that horrible film.  While I had written it before that film, but it was too damn close.  I told John, “I’m not prepared to die on that hill.”  So we changed it to Elementals on the hulls instead.  Huzzah to Parac Shaw!   
  • John asked that I kill Chance in revision two.  Note: We need to explore John’s desire to kill characters sometime.  He wanted to hurt Alaric badly.  The problem was everyone liked her character and I have plans for her in the years to come (her arc is incredible.)  So I argued we kill the WarBear.  The Ghost Bear fans now wish to lynch me but it was my call and a damn good one. 
  • Rowland – from Children of Kerensky, had a larger role in the first cut of HotW.  Rowland was Alaric and Chance’s sibko instructor. In the first draft, it was he, not Ramiel Bekker, that saves Alaric’s life in the Nighthawk attack, barely surviving.   He became the ultimate bodyguard after that.  I wanted to show him as a solhama done-good.  As it is, Rowland now has, at best, a cameo role, saving Manning after his fighter crashes.  What he DOES accomplish is giving us some infantry action.  In the end, my editor guided me to the right choice I think. 
  • Cut from the text was a line I loved.  When the Exarch is wondering why they landed in Australia, Tucker said the following:  “What, haven’t you ever played Risk?”  Phil Lee came up with that.  I put it in the text, but John swung his mighty edit axe.  We actually debated if Risk would still be around in the 32nd century…if you can believe that. 
  • Garner Kerensky’s death.  It was written out, but for some reason, we cut it. I get it, there was a lot of dying going on in that chapter.  I have the text and may send it at some point to Shrapnel. 
  • A much bigger faceoff with the Hell’s Horses was originally planned.  In the first draft, it’s not just an exchange of words with Clan Hell’s Horse and Alaric.  They challenge him.  He bids the SLDF.  They fight in the arctic in a trial where you have the Ghost Bears, Smoke Jags, some Dragoons, Jade Falcons, and Wolves slugging it out.  They devastate the Horses, both Khans KIA, thanks to Stephanie Chistu. Okay, that part was a lot of fun. The Hell’s Horses were going to kill General Brubaker in the trial.  We later decided that the Horses deserved more story, so that conflict will have to wait…but it IS cool.  Brubaker was kept alive because it would make for a much more awesome follow-up story after, well, you know. 

I toyed with Shimmer being on the battlefield and opening up a comms like with Brubaker and Devlin Stone.  Stone tries to get the Dragoons to turn on Clan Wolf.  “General, you will never get a better chance. As soon as the Jade Falcons are finished, you can turn on Clan Wolf and hit them when they are at their weakest.  You can destroy two Clans and save Terra from Clan rule!”  It was a neat idea, pure Stone-shit, but I thought it might be an unnecessary distraction to an already busy book. The logistics of how he would contact them or even know how the battle was unfolding made the idea implausible.  It also would have been an unnecessary distraction at the wrong time for the reader. 

There were some positive things in the rewrite that got added.  I used it as an opportunity to bring back the Falcon Guard and the Seventh Kommando of Wolf’s Dragoons.  I was never a big Aiden Pryde fan, but I liked the Guard. I decided to make them awesome – saving Malvina’s life.  It puts the reader in a weird spot.  You like them, you admire them, but they are saving Malvina Hazen! The Kommando came about because Aaron Krull put on his Kickstarter that he wanted to be in Wolf’s Dragoons, Special Operations.  Well duh, that had to be the Kommando.  It wasn’t in the early drafts, but in the last draft, I wanted to give the Dragoons some additional loving.  

Next, I will explore my favorite parts. 

Hour of the Wolf Part I – How in the Hell Did We Get Here?

Don’t take a Chance that we will have these in stock…order now!

Man, I have a lot of blood on my hands! 

It’s been a week since the release, so we are entering the whole “spoilers below” zone.  You have been warned.  I will also begin by saying I make zero apologies for anything in the novel.  I don’t work for the fan base and what they want.  You being loud on the internet means nothing to me.  I write books that I would like to read.  I happen to be a fan myself.  As it turns out, a lot of people like the same stuff I do.  Some don’t.  I went into the project knowing full-well that no matter what I wrote after typing the title, some 3-10% of the fan base would be ‘appalled.’  I am 100% comfortable with that because this is not fan fiction – it is real writing. It would be impossible to satisfy everyone – so why bother trying? An attitude? Yup!  

Hour of the Wolf was spawned at GenCon 2017 in a relatively disheveled hotel room at the Marriott.  A number of the authors assembled to start the process of crafting out closing off the Clan invasion, namely, the taking of Terra 1-2-3 and setting up the new era.   

Ending the Dark Ages was not an easy task.  First, there were a variety opinions of how we got into this situation with the Republic, the blackout, Fortress Republic, Devlin Stone’s identity, etc, that had never been addressed.  Not a lot of narratives made sense because, brace yourselves, they never really thought them through to begin with.  Some characters had contradictory info in different novels, which was a hoot and a half to sort through. One solution was to not answer the questions at all, keep the fans in the dark. I hate that crap. Tell the fans the truth (or at least a version of it) so we can move on.

Another key topic was dealing with the Republic of the Sphere.  The Republic was the Dark Ages to many fans.  There was at least one voice that wanted to keep a handful of worlds Republic.  I was against this.  It never catches on.  Remember the Chaos March?  Not a lot of fans wearing Chaos March t-shirts at GenCon. The Republic had to die in order for us to move forward. I know that sounds heartless, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play in that era.    

In the back of my mind I had a few things I kept thinking about.  One was Surrender Your Dreams, and making that mesh in seamlessly.  The Fidelis had to be addressed in some way.  I always knew what their eventual arc was going to be, but implementing it was tricky.        

The GenCon meeting was just the jumping off point.  Jason and I agreed on one front – Wolf’s Dragoons needed to be a part of this.  It would serve as a basis for some good stories. Their betrayal was mapped out from the beginning. Alaric was destined to turn on them.     

We all agreed that the Jade Falcons were going to try and mess things up for Clan Wolf, but I came up with the idiotic idea of bringing them into the fight against the Republic directly.  There were military reasons for this – namely I couldn’t envision Alaric beating the Republic and still being strong enough to beat the Falcons.  He was smarter than that.  Let Malvina do some of the bleeding for him…that was my thinking.   

This launched weekly phone calls where we started to hash out the details.  John Helfers approached me and said, “We think you’re the guy to write this.”  I thought, wow, how cool is that?  John told me the title at that time. To me, it was too revealing, but what the hell. I was going to write a major spine novel in BattleTech.  

We wrote up where the Houses and Clans were and where we saw them going after Hour.  The goal was to have good storylines with what followed. 

For me, Hour (and the preceding novellas and novels) had a singular undercurrent.  “Don’t make the Clans look stupid.” The Clans historically have let their honor trip them up, robbing them of a lot of victories.  I never felt that was fair.  They would have studied Tukayyid.  They would know the flaws of their rede of honor and found ways to avoid having honor used against them.  They would not be ‘tricked’ into defeat after defeat.  At the same time they would not be infallible nor undefeatable. After a century in the Inner Sphere, the Clans were not morons. In fact, this learning would make them even more deadly.

I also wanted this to define the differences between the Wolves and the Jade Falcons.  They have distinct views of the future and values.  They are not cookie cutter either – there are people in the respective Clans that don’t support the direction their khans are going. There are undercurrents to today’s politics woven in there too.  I’d be shocked if you missed them. 

Being a historian, I incorporated interesting parallels where I thought appropriate.  Stone in the bunker, is like Hitler – only he’s waiting for Julian Davion not General Steiner.  Stone promoting people to knighthood while the rest of the world burns…pure Hitler.  Kalidessa Kerensky repainting her unit to fool the Republic – that was from the Battle of Yorktown during the American Civil War.  That big flanking maneuver with Alaric…that was Chancellorsville.  Being students of history, both Clans had a lot to leverage. Just because I use history, that doesn’t make me a ‘Confederate apologist’ or a ‘Nazi’ as one ‘fan’ has tried to paint me.  It makes me a good historian. If you are going to label me, get it right.    

From the start this book also had to be about the characters.  Alaric is hard to do.  Look at his mother.  Holy shitballs – Katrina Steiner-Davion.  Alaric was forged for this purpose, to go to Terra.  He was crafted to be a tool of war.  As a character, that makes him a bit arrogant, cocky, and not easy to coddle up to.  Malvina is the same thing, though with a much sharper edge, being batshit crazy and all.  Malvina wins, which makes her dangerous.  Stone is…well, Stone (I will get to that in a later blog post).  Say what you will, but he led the alliance to take down the Word of Blake, so he is no slouch.  So here you have three masters of war, none of which the fans are going to love. Welcome to the real world. If anything, you warm to Alaric because he’s the best defense against Malvina, but you end up liking him then for all the wrong reasons. That or you support Stone, and all of the baggage he carries.  As a writer, it makes things challenging.   

So the secondary characters were more critical. I arrived at that conclusion early on. They would be easier to identify with. Readers, I knew, would have more of a bond with the secondary characters than the big ones…and that is okay. I wanted a strong female focus.  I was tempted to use Anastasia Kerensky, but she came with a boatload of baggage in terms of the Dark Ages novels; complete with a myriad of inconsistencies, trying to explain Steel Wolves from Wolf Hunters, etc.  Anastasia was cool, but she is a loaded gun you need for a specific mission. 

So Chance Vickers emerged.  Many of the other strong characters, like Kalidessa Kerensky, have their own strong personalities.  One thing I loved about Mike Stackpole’s early Clan books was that he had Elementals and Aerospace pilots as points of view. I wanted that too. 

The tankers, Hawkins and DuJordan, were there from the very start, snarky to the bitter end. I spoke to an actual tanker for that idea. By and large, they are my favorite characters ever.  We don’t see tank crews ever, let alone Clan tankers.  So these guys had to stand out.  John, as an editor, actually asked me for more scenes with them, and I greedily complied. 

I put together the first outline and everyone said, “Looks good.”  Then I wrote Hour of the Wolf.  I finished the last chapter in Michigan right after my mom’s death while I was handling her estate.  Not exactly my best point in life, but oddly fitting for the book.  It was a dramatically different book.  There was no prequel novellas planed then, so everything got crammed into one big book.  At that time, John restricted my word count, which complicated matters too.  A lot of scenes, I felt, got short-changed. It was akin to pouring five gallons of water into a one gallon bucket. I was counting on a rewrite (a safe bet) to resolve a lot of my gut feelings. 

Then nothing happened for a while because editorial was busy as shit.  During this period two key events took place.  One, the last season of Game of Thrones – and Avenger’s Endgame.  One sucked, one was brilliant.  It made everyone gun-shy at CGL. It raised the scrutiny levels on Hour of the Wolf to epic proportions.  Everyone it seemed at CGL wanted to look at HotW and add their version of polish to it.  Everyone wanted to contribute in some way.  Trust me, five authors cannot write a novel, not a good one.    

John finally said, “We think we need a writer’s summit to map out the future, then retool the book after that.”  Cool beans. I enjoy the summits…usually. 

The High Lords of BattleTech met in Seattle.  For me, it was quasi-brutal.  It was a room of authors I respected dissecting my storyline, some of them never having read the novel.  Think of stripping naked in front of a hot girl and her pointing and laughing – that’s how it felt at times. Not that I have ever experienced this.  I’ve heard about it from one of my fraternity brothers though.  I don’t get nearly enough credit for not killing anyone in the room, seriously. There were plans. Lots of opinions were thrown against the wall.  It was fun at times, but it took a lot of self-control for me to not get defensive. You have to remember, this is not MY universe, it is Topps and CGL’s.  I just get to drive the car every now and then.  I’m only quasi-thick-skinned about this stuff. 

So we decided to change things up on the novel.  We agreed that the first third of the book needed to be pulled out as its own book.  (That became Children of Kerensky – ish.)  We came up with a cool new ending for HotW.  I went back to the drawing board and put together a new outline, using the shell of the first draft.  John and company agreed to it. 

We spent hours going through each faction, each Clan, and determining two things:  1. Their reaction to what was happening.  2.  Where they would be going story-arc-wise in the future.  This is Loren, Randall, Mike, Jason, Phil, John, Brent, Ray, and me, in a room, hammering out how factions would react to the events on Terra. For the fans out there that say, “My Clan never would behave that way…” well, you are wrong.  When you look at the experience in the room writing and working in this universe, compared to your petty little thoughts of what you wanted to see. Sorry, you are the one who brought a knife to a ‘Mech brawl. 

That led to round two of the book.  I wrote up the revised version.  I had to include Kickstarter backers.  That wasn’t really a problem.  I used to struggle for names, now I had a list of them – but frankly, in the beginning, that list was a hot steamy mess. To the fans out there that thought I wrote such a large book to specifically include the Kickstarter backers, you couldn’t be more wrong.  This story needed a lot of characters to impress on the reader the scope of this conflict.  Some characters just die too, and we wanted to have plenty to choose from.  We also needed to seed the ilClan era with new characters and storied units.  The Blackened Wolves (out of the Cauldron), the Black Wolves (the Dragoons), the Second Wolf Assault Cluster (The Howling Furies), the goddamn Falcon Guard…these units play roles going forward.     

In the middle of the big rewrite, John said, “We need the Republic perspective more, like a whole novella more,” so Rock of the Republic came into being.  So, in the middle of working on a big book, I wrote a novella. Not the act of a sane person.  I never laid claim to sanity as my high ground.   

John kept telling me he had a “few” changes to the second draft of the book after he read it.  When I got it they were pretty significant. I had delivered what was in the outline, but John wanted more.  In fact, some of the stuff he wanted was stuff we tossed out of the first draft…so I was semi-elated about those elements.  

Part of this problem was me – okay, it was more like 100%.  Hey, I own my shit.  I wanted to tell the story from a lot of different character perspectives. As it turns out, John counted and there were initially 28 different perspectives.  Ok, even I will admit that’s a lot. My intent at the time was centered around chaos and immersion of the reader.  I wanted readers to feel some of the same confusion the characters did in the battle.  At the same time these perspectives were knit together.  John wanted that streamlined down to a handful of perspectives, which was good, but complicated. He suggested centering on one unit.  So several battles were rewritten from a different point of view.  A lot of focus went to Kalidessa Kerensky’s unit, which I loved. We upped the Republic counterattack…which opened the door to getting some Republic perspectives, namely the Ares Crew under Jack Traver.

Out of that madness – legends were born.  

John also wanted some characters explored more deeply, which I love doing.  Some other stuff was expanding the book overall.  The first draft I was limited to 125k words.  I slammed into that limit and passed it.  John told me this time around, “Don’t worry about the word count.”  Lock and load!  It clocked out at 169k + words.  Just so you know, the old FASA/ROC novel word ‘limit’ was around 65k words.  In other words this was 2.5 times the size and scope of a traditional BattleTech novel.  Somehow streamlining made the book bigger.   

From a writing perspective, the length of some of the chapters is deliberately long.  I wanted the reader to feel what the characters were experiencing in the battle itself, total immersion.  I wanted the reader to have mental exhaustion mixed with an equal part of, ‘I need to go on and see what is going to happen!’ I wanted the readers to be in the fight with the characters.

The end of the book was tricky.  At the summit, we agreed the first blow to the readers was the betrayal of the Dragoons.  The intent was to lull them into thinking, “Wow, I just read the big surprise in this book.”  Honestly, we telegraphed Alaric’s intent in other novels…but no one could foresee 30 pieces of silver.  Once readers got their breath and let their guard down, we hit with the last bit in the book, the bigger sucker punch, the blow to Alaric and his character.  Yes, I set you up.  “You’re welcome!” Somewhere out there is a video of all of the people at the summit saying that phrase together, we recorded it.

Big rewrites are difficult. As I said before, there are a lot of threads in this book that are intertwined in other novellas and novels. On top of that, we had to set up things that would be happening in the new era. There are huge and awesome stories to come, and HotW sets the stage for those. This book is a carefully woven tapestry.  Pull one thread wrong and the whole thing falls apart. 

So, here’s the deal.  John and I actually work well together.  Some of his ideas are brilliant. I won’t tell him that, but they are.  He is willing to listen and change his position.  Every rewrite we have done on every other project, we have made the characters pop and sizzle.  It almost always leads to a better book.  So, this was a chance to do that on a monumental scale. We both knew that the bones of this book were solid and that we were onto something neat with the secondary characters.  

Truth be told, the actual invasion of Terra, the battles and timeline, really didn’t change much from the first draft.  What changed was who was telling the story.   

It took four weeks, working seven days a week, 10+ hours a day.  So yes, it was an overhaul.  I was writing in my sleep, true story.  At 4am I would start having dialogue and scenes play out in my head. I would roll out of bed and jot them down.  In the rewrite the actual story itself did not functionally change. The invasion and the final trial was essentially the same.  Hard to believe, right?  It’s true.  

Then, in December, John asked for a few little clarifications and tweaks.  Some actually came in Christmas Eve! Honestly, we made some tweaks right up to the time of publishing, mostly around Stone’s last chapter dialogue. There is a lot in that last chapter with Stone, some very subtle hints of things to come. 

So, that is how we got here. 

Next time – what got chopped…

New Update December 2020 – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction – Including Hour of the Wolf

Diplomacy – Clan-Style! Malvina shouldn’t have dared to refuse Anastasia’s batchall

This is the update everyone has been waiting for – the one that includes the final list of those that appear in Hour of the Wolf.  Keeping all of these names straight was, dare I say, challenging. With the Kickstarter backers included, the list for this book alone is 84 members of BattleTech canon, some from previous books (like Divided We Fall, Rock of the Republic, and Children of Kerensky.)  Some characters you haven’t seen since those earlier books are finally back on the stage for the big show. 

I don’t know of any intellectual property that includes the fans the way we do in BattleTech.  Some roles are cameo, others are significant characters that drive the story.  All are important to me.

Congrats to all of the new folks that are being canonized. “You’re welcome!” and it was an honor.  I hope you enjoy where your characters have gone.

Hour of the Wolf

(KS) Robin Apel

(KS) William (Will) Arnold

(KS) Ian Butler—Brigadier Graham Badinov

(KS) Andreas Büttner—Druss Ward

(KS) Colby Cram

(KS) Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq.

(KS) Craig Evans—Pharaoh

(KS) Kevin Markley

(KS) Eris Griffon

(KS) Raymond Guethler

(KS) Justin Hall

(KS) John Healy—Physician Hobgood

(KS) Spencer Huff—Khalus Pryde

(KS) Aleksey Kopysov—Kaor

(KS) Chris Kornfeld

(KS) Aaron Krull

(KS) Andrew Krull

(KS) Jason Mayberry – Kai Nihari

(KS) Brendan (Bren) Mayhugh

(KS) Jason Mischke—Stroud

(KS) Daniel Nichols—Janus

(KS) Matthias Pfaff—Amanda McKenna

(KS) Shawn Rains—Colton Mcleod

(KS) Marvin Sims—Marv Roshak

(KS) Aaron Tarr—Star Colonel Kalidessa Kerensky

(KS) Jakapan Thunpithayakul

(KS) Christopher Toh—Merlin Buhallin

(KS) John Traver—Jack Traver

(KS) Jathniel Velazquez—Jathniel Kerensky

(KS) John Watson

(KS) Michael Mahoney—Sorsha

(KS) Lyle Wojciechowski—Star Colonel Havi Bekker

David Abzug

David Baker

Agustin Sierio Barj

Matthew Behrens

Ted Burger

Billy J. Caldwell

Kim Chapman

John “Fratricide” Craig

Paco Cubillo

Amy Delaney

Benno deJong

Stephen Dukes

David DuJordan

Adolfo Fernandez

William Fife

Noran Ghall

Oliver Haake

Thomas Heath

James “Tanker” Herring

Dirk “Derek” Kobler

Jean-Jacques Labbé

Jeff Lamm

Chew Hwee Leong

Joshua Adam Lonbom

Brianne Elizabeth Lyons

Dean Manning

John McNary

Jared Micks

Ed Miller

Joe Mooney

Rolf Peter

Max Prohaska

Andrew Quay

Krzysztof Strato Raczyński

Keith Richmond

Jamie Rife

Andrew Roy

Sebastian Schröder

Rowland Seckinger III

Volkmar Seifert

David Skinner

Jeremy Spurlock

Travis Sumpter

Lonnie Tapscott

Paul Tomaszewski

Cory Vigdal

Josh Waltz

Powers Wartman

Ben Weingart

Shawn “Gorilla” Willett

Ludvig Yabar

Sharizal Zarie

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

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 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.     

The Behind the Scenes Story of Rock of the Republic

The Devlin Stone you thought you’d get, and what the reality is.  “Welcome to the Rock!”  

Before I dive deep into this novella – allow me to say that these books are group efforts.  I like to think I’m a decent writer with good ideas.  My editor, John Helfers, makes me better.  I believe John and I make a good team. There are other people like Phil Lee who offer useful insight and input to the process. Together, we create a story with solid character that is impactful.  So as much as praise is thrown to me as the author, there is a team behind the scenes that is immensely important and helpful.

After the super-secret writer’s summit in September of 2019, we decided to break up the big book of the ilClan into parts.  The original intent was to have a storyline that was already in the ilClan novel kind of stand on its own, then the big battle.   My esteemed editor John Helfers reached out to me and said, “Hey, we ought to do another story before all of this, showing the Republic getting ready for all of its uninvited guests.  Are you interested?”

“Hell yeah!” Actually I used the F word here.  You get the idea.

Now, let’s be clear about a few things, the Republic of the Sphere is a tricky faction to write about.  It is a faction that has been getting its butt kicked and kicked hard for years. The Republic was supposed to bring about peace – in a game that has the name ‘Battle’ in its title, go figure.  Pacification led to the Industrial ‘Mechs and while that offered a new definition of “getting drilled,” it otherwise suffered the slings and arrows of the grognard’s of the fan community.  Even to this day, some fans still can’t get passed the WizKids Clix-Mech stuff without trying to start some sort of fight.  Let it go people – it brought in a lot of new players!  The Dark Ages, which ushered in the Republic, was hard for seasoned fans to enjoy because there were new factions, a lot of missing characters and units, and a bitter post-Jihad aftertaste left in their collective mouths. The early years of fiction were a mixed lot.  Toss in the Magic Space Shield (Fortress Republic) and you get a faction that is more tolerated than loved. That makes writing about them tricky.

Still, there are die hard Republic fans out there so you have to be very respectful of their faction. The Republic has been the Inner Sphere’s punching bag for some time in the Dark Ages, and sometimes people confuse being a victim with being a hero. Personally, I like a good underdog as much as the next person.  I wanted to avoid all of that craziness with this novella.  At the same time everyone needs to realize that the Republic is a more than credible threat to the aggressors that are on its doorsteps.  After all, it is led by Devlin Stone, arguably one of the greatest military strategists of his time. Don’t believe me?  Ask the Word of Blake.  Oh wait, you can’t!  See?

So I started with a simple question – what parts of the Republic do I like as a writer?  Knights Errant—check.  The Fidelis – double-check.  The secrets of the Republic we’ve never shared – check.  Give the readers a glimpse at Devlin Stone – check.

In going over Shattered Fortress I saw a story that intrigued me – that of the Remnant and Damien Redburn.  It had some interesting possibilities and it had the Fidelis. That served as the backdrop of the plot I would write, but there is a LOT crammed in this tale. It goes far beyond the Remnant and Redburn.  This is the story of the Republic preparing to face a coming threat.  Rarely in BattleTech do the characters know such a huge battle is looming.

There was a single rewrite of this material and perhaps the biggest thing we (Editor John and me) struggled with was Damien’s character.  I initially leaned more for an Apocalypse Now kind of person, let to fend for himself, frustrated and angry, whacked.  We settled for something a little more subtle. He’s not entirely crazy, but damned close to it at times.  Anger consumes him. He has been abandoned outside of the Fortress walls, left to fend for himself.  He’s had some luck, but such isolation, on top of watching your dreams be crushed, well, that hurts.  Redburn is not insane, but he is someone pushed to the breaking point, where his decision making is clouded, and that is a cool place to start with a character.

Also, there was some stuff in the sourcebook that, as we discussed it, really didn’t make sense – so we were going to need to explain it or justify it.  Example:  Why would Redburn fire on Jonah Levin?  There had to be a reason, a justification.  We did what writers and editors do, we argued, talked things through, brainstormed, and compromised.  The result – I understand Damien Redburn well now – and I hope you will too. His role in future events are interesting and fitting. In the end, his character, I hope, is quasi-sympathetic. We have all been pushed too far at some point – been stressed out to the point where rational thought is paper-thin.

John had me rewrite the ending.  I had it with Damien having a mental breakdown when he faces Stone. My thought was break him down completely so he could be built up again as a new man.  John’s idea was better, as much as I hate to admit it.  Have him angry at Stone, pissed off.  I ended up liking that idea better because it would reflect what the readers were feeling.  It was all about the characters.

This is not a story about sympathetic characters though.

That leaves us to talk about Devlin Stone. Amazingly not a lot about Stone as a character has been written fiction-wise.  It is hard to believe that someone so pivotal in the BattleTech universe has gotten relatively little air-time.  For me, that left a lot of open ground for me to determine his true personality.

It was VERY tempting to make him lovable, endearing, a Victor-like character that fans would get cuddly with.  That didn’t feel right, not at all. The more John and I spoke about him, the more I realized he needed to be more human – egotistical and arrogant.

Stone, as a character, always has a plot or two in play; that is the basis of who he is.  He’s a lot like Littlefinger in some respects, just older and more wrinkly. His plots have plots.  He sees himself as a master schemer – my wording here is careful – wink, wink.  You, as the reader, want to like Stone, you want to back his horse in the coming contest, but there is an arrogance about him that makes that difficult. I played off of that. I didn’t give you the leader you wanted, I gave you the leader you deserved.

In many respects, Stone’s thinking is what the Republic needs and has been lacking; strategic plans for the coming storm. Stone is proud of his deviousness, even when it goes to shit. You will get a taste of that in this story – the HPG outage, Fortress Republic, etc.  If you read between the lines you will understand what has transpired. That is balanced by the fact that Stone is, in some respects, the best Inner Sphere defense against Clan Jade Falcon and what Malvina represents.

So you, as a reader, are a little torn with him – hating the egotism, but secretly hoping he crushes the invading armies.  Just when you think you can cope with that, you come to realize that the Republic doesn’t exactly have clean hands in all of this and much of that blood is on his palms. You want to like Stone, but there’s a lot there that makes that hard to do.  That is what makes him an interesting character, in my opinion. Embrace the suck.

I know some folks are not going to like Stone. They will loathe his ego.  Well, you don’t pull off the defeat of the Word of Blake without having a big ego.  He DOES see the Republic as his personal plaything.  He did create it.  He did bring about peace in the Inner Sphere.  He has good reasons for having an ego.

This book is not about a story as much as it is about characters.  These are not cardboard people. They are people, and in many cases, they are flawed individuals. There’s a lot of complexity in this story. Tucker Harwell, who I created, is a good example.  Harwell is the antithesis of Stone, his foil, one of the few people that is even willing to challenge him.  He says the things that the readers have in their minds. Tucker is not devout, he hasn’t consumed Stone’s patented brand of KoolAid.  He sees him for who he really is. Tucker’s life has been defined by betrayals.  It isn’t enough to be a Wesley Crusher-esque character.  He has a long character arc that goes far beyond this short novel.

Some of the Republic’s secrets are exposed or, at least, confirmed. Of course, for every one closed, more questions arise.  That’s how the real-world works.

Make no mistake about it, this story is the Republic’s prelude to the ilClan novel, Hour of the Wolf (HotW).  It sets the table for the Republic, the defense of Terra, etc.  If I were you, I would not write them off too quickly.  They have had years behind the Fortress walls to prepare for what is coming – be in Capellan, Wolf, or Jade Falcon. They have had 15 years behind Fortress Republic to arm, build new units, create defenses, even build new technologies.  They have the Superheavy BattleMechs. Many units are fanatics and nothing can be more dangerous than a true believer in a BattleMech.   The main event is looming, the storm clouds are rolling in.  Fans should want the Republic to win, especially against the Jade Falcons.  I mean seriously, Malvina is cunning, ruthless, and wantonly reckless.  Worse than that, Malvina wins, she is victorious all of the time leading up to this. If she wins the fight for Terra, well…it’s game over-ish. Which, in my opinion, could lead to some fantastic stories.

Onto the Fidelis.  Yes, we will see the Custos in action again, but with some background behind what transpires in Shattered Fortress.  This short novella will tell you more about the character of Paul Moon, the man.  It is weird that when you read Shattered Fortress, some of the showdown where he fights just lacks the motivation for his character to do the actions, which I get to address.  Much like The Anvil; what you read in the sourcebook is just the Cliff Notes version of what actually went down. The Custos and the Fidelis are surprisingly simple people whose arc is inspiring by the end of HotW.  The Fidelis are cool and you will get some hints of what is to come in the next prequel novel. I have seen a lot of rumors and theories about their role.  Trust me, it is awesome and unexpected.

So what is my favorite scene?  It is Paul Moon in the jail talking to the prisoners.  Laurentis talking with Synd is a great conversation but Moon talking to both of them is great.  The Custos has a quirky sense of humor that sneaks in now and then. I also love the scenes with Tucker Harwell and Stone, especially about the HPG blackout. Tucker learns the truth and Stone explains to him that there’s not a lot he can do with it. There’s a lot you can get out of those scenes.

There are a LOT of Easter Eggs here too.  One being the return to Lady Synd from Surrender Your Dreams. She has a neat character arc that goes beyond this novella into HotW as well.  Surrender was an important book on a lot of fronts and going back to it was critical.  Synd is more cynical in Rock of the Republic. She has seen some shit go down.  She has seen the Republic at its best and worst.  She is like Redburn but more stable, more in-control. Her scene at the end of all of this is fun.

Other Easter Eggs are pretty hidden…good luck in finding them.  The biggest one is at the very end of Rock.  You get the title for the next novella, a long one, The Children of Kerensky.  Other Easter Eggs are pretty well buried.

In some respects, the stage is set for the Republic at the end of this story.  There is a tension as invading armies – Cappie, Wolf, and Green Birdie, all eye the Republic as a fresh carcass to fight over.  The Republic is defiant, led by a brilliant leader.  The Wall is still up…but how long can it hold?

About the length.  It is a novella.  I have had some fans say, “Make those short novels full novel-size.”  No.  They are as long as they need to be, no more or less.  I’m not going to take a story and extend it, fill it with worthless fluff, just so you can get a thicker product.  That’s stupid.  Worse, it’s bad story telling.  Adding in characters and subplots just for a weightier book is wrong.  Deal with some reality…some stories are long, some are short.  I don’t focus on the word count or page length, I focus on the characters as the story I’m telling.  If you want more, buy two copies. So while this clocks in at around 31k words, Children came in around 55k, just around 10k from the old ROC novel lengths.  As I am fond of telling my wife, size doesn’t matter.

After this, as far as stuff I have written, comes Children of KerenskyIcons of War will pop around that time…then the big enchilada – Hour of the Wolf. You’ll love Icons by Craig Reed.


Twenty Year Anniversary – Measure of a Hero – Let’s Talk Archer Christifori

Damn, that was a long time ago

Someone asked me for some details of units in Measure of a Hero last week and I realized that it released in July of 2000, making this month its 20th anniversary. So I thought this might be a good time to reflect back on Archer Christifori a little.

This novel was one of the first where I really spent time on the character. Plot driven novels are great in the BattleTech universe, but this one started with the character. In looking at BattleTech at the time, most of the characters were larger than life young people. I thought it would be fun to have a main character that was older, retired. He had served, but was more of a face in the crowd…a quasi-success (he won the Star League Medal of Honor) but otherwise he was a footnote in a history book at best.  This was someone that wanted to step away from military life, unlike so many characters in our universe. He was going to be content running his family business. He commanded the Thorin militia but it was more of a part-time commitment.

That was not meant to be. Circumstances, in the form of his sister’s death, compelled him to once more pick up the sword. This was not the same officer that served in the 10th Lyran Guard however. He was filled with a mighty resolve, one that Katherine Steiner-Davion would come to regret.

A lot of fans like Archer and I am pleased. I like to think that he represents us all. We are all living our lives, trying to stay out of trouble (well, not me, but the rest of you) and just doing what we need to get by. Archer is like Dick Winters from Band of Brothers, he wants to go home to a quiet place and settle down. We all like to think that if pressed, we could summon that inner hero, step up to the plate, and be a great leader. That’s a big part of his appeal. Archer is the epitome of what happens when you push the wrong person into action against you, when you make someone take up arms.

The story of Measure of a Hero was an afterthought. I knew I had this idea for a hero, and I wanted him to have the right circumstance to evolve. The backdrop of the FedCom Civil War was a requirement from the Line Manager at the time, so I crafted a tale that would let Archer emerge.

His ‘Mech was one I designed, the Penetrator. I’m still a big fan of that ‘Mech.

Did he have a romantic interest with his XO Katya Chaffee?  I really wanted to explore that in some detail. I rarely cover romance in BattleTech and thought it was only natural that he would hook up with her at some point – I just never took the time to dive into that. Besides, it was not central to who his character was.

To me the real antagonist in the story is not Blucher as much as it is Katherine Steiner-Davion. Blucher was a tool. Heroes are defined by their adversaries in many books, and Archer had been wronged by Katherine more than anyone else…the most hated bitch we ever forged into a leader short of The Master. He was less fighting for Victor as he was fighting against Katherine. It was deep and personal.

Archer Meme1

Archer was supposed to be a one-off character – appearing in one book. Taking two planets was not a big deal overall in the civil war. The problem was the fans loved him and the book sold a shitload of copies. Archer and I became the victims of our own success. The powers that be wanted a follow-up book. So I wrote Call of Duty. I wanted to extend Archer’s character arc in that book. I wanted him to be known for something, other than a military leader. One night I was reading about Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign and thought, “wow, we rarely do things like this in BattleTech. This could be the kind of leader and the kind of war that Archer is known for.”

Yes, I know a number of you will whine that I am a ‘Confederate sympathizer,’ or a ‘Closet-Confederate.’  You are wrong, dead wrong. I am a military historian and recognize great leaders and don’t color my preferences based on what is politically correct at the time. That is sloppy history, cherry-picking the parts you like and book-burning the rest. The comparison of Archer’s campaigns and those of Stonewall Jackson remain legitimate.

In Call of Duty, I got to fictionally introduce a unit I forged, Snord’s Irregulars and Rhonda Snord in particular. That was fun on a bun. It surprised the fans to see the Irregulars in action.

When my next novel assignment came up it was dealing with those pesky Jade Falcons launching an offensive. I was told I needed to use Adam Steiner too. Talk about a challenge. The cartoon series was, well, interesting. I didn’t have to use Archer at all, I was given free-rein to come up with any characters I wanted to. In thinking about Adam’s character though, I thought it would be fun to make him have to work with someone that was fighting on the other side of his cause…which led me to Archer once more. I thought the tension between the two characters and their distinct personalities was fun to play with. Again, it was all about the characters. Adam was headstrong, arrogant, always wanting information for ammunition. Archer was seasoned, cool-thinking. Putting them together made for some fun challenges in writing.

Archer and the Avengers were going to be done after that. There was only one thing I wanted, and that was for him to face down Katherine Steiner-Davion. I didn’t see it as a novel, but I totally played it out in my head. I was asked by BattleCorps to do an Avengers story and saw my opening. I wrote The Longest Road, where Archer is the person that takes Katherine prisoner. Her total indifference towards him was great. For him, it finished his arc as a character. The war was over…he could return home to a quiet place and settle in again, having done his bit for king and country.

Archer died during the Jihad – death by sourcebook. It was idiotic, wiping out characters we had spent years building, with a mere paragraph in a book. It was a disservice to the fan community and an insult to the authors. I dislike the Jihad period for a lot of reasons. When I heard that Archer had been summarily killed without the benefit of a good death scene, well, let’s just say that it tainted my views of certain people. I get it. BattleTech fiction was not a thing during that period. Still, it demonstrated a remarkable lack of respect to just kill off Christifori without so much as asking for some input. He deserved better than he got, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It is hard to believe that all of this started two decades ago for the fans (I had written the book months before its release obviously). I still have fans reaching out to me about Archer, wondering if I will write more on him. Anything is possible, but I think we have gone as far as we need to with his character. We are approaching a new era, that of the ilClan. That means new characters, new stories, new directions!  Archer is a character that is near and dear to me, we are good friends he and I.

Okay – The Cat is Out of the Bag Rock of the Republic, an Unnamed novel, and Hour of the Wolf!

Strike the pipes Craig Gulledge!  It’s time for the Highlanders to wade into battle! 

I have been silent and deliberately misleading about the ilClan book for a long time.  But this announcement:  The Big News!  allows me a chance to finally say two titles out loud – Rock of the Republic and Hour of the Wolf.

There’s another prequel coming out that is not on the list.  I think it simply got overlooked.  Shit happens.  More on that as soon as I find out what is happening with it. I’m confident it will come out at the same time as HotW (Hour of the Wolf) or before since it lays some pretty critical foundation for the events of ilClan.

So, for over a year now I have used XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX for Hour of the Wolf in my social media posts. We were worried about the title getting out because people make assumptions – usually incorrectly.  Technically, to throw people off, this fake title could have been deciphered to: Hour of the Jade Falcon.  So all of you codebreakers out there, you didn’t count on me being a total douchebag and deliberately using the wrong number of X’s.  Bad call on your part. Welcome to the Thunderdome!

Key thing here…don’t let the title fool you.  As with everything in the BattleTech universe, nothing is black and white.  Personally, I think it is a fantastic book with some fairly significant twists and turns.  Then again, I wrote it.  We shall see when the editor comes back with final “tweaks.” I seriously doubt we will be changing the winner(s) in this coming struggle.

You don’t have to read the prequels that come out – but honestly, they all layer together to tell a massive universe-changing story.  The story stands alone for new fans that want to jump into BattleTech with both feet – but for the experienced fans, I recommend devouring all of the fiction leading to the big show.

Rock’s rewrite was finished last weekend, so it is going to happen soon.  This story will set the stage for Devlin Stone’s defense of Terra – with a dash of Fidelis goodness tossed in.  I haven’t seen the cover for it, but I know it’s being worked on.  Usually, around the time I see the cover, that’s when I know it’s going to pop.  The unmentioned book will set the stage for Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon.  Throw in Icons of War and some Northwind Highlander shenanigans, and what you’ve already read in Divided We Fall,  and everything leads up to Hour of the Wolf!

I only wish we could have done the release in August at GenCon – as planned. Then again, fans can’t strangle me if I’m not there…so there’s that.

Buried in the announcement is the Spotlight on Snord’s Irregulars…which dovetails into another fiction piece on that iconic unit.  The boys are back with a vengence!

So, finally, the title is out. People will read into the announcement summaries and see in them whatever they will.  Some of you can cook up schemes and plots better than I can.  All I can say at this time is we are building up to a huge fight, sweeping politics, and the deviousness of key characters that BattleTech is known for.  Which Wolf am I referring to?  What of the Dragoons?  Is there are reason that there are Northwind Highlander books coming out too?  What other new ‘Mechs are coming?  Will The Republic of the Sphere be triumphant?  What about the other Clans?  What is Julian Davion wearing to the fall formal?  How do you pronounce Alaric again?  Where is Terra on the map?  Where in the hell are the Wolverines?  He mentioned Snord’s Irregulars, what’s the deal with that?  Why does he mess with us so?

Stay tuned.  “Same bat-time – same bat-channel…”

Part 2: Discussion of Divided We Fall – BattleTech Short Novel

Aw, they scuffed up the new paint job!

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.

Other Stuff

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.