We got together this weekend in Seattle to map out where we are taking the BattleTech storyline. First off, it was mentally (and sometimes emotionally) exhausting. We started at 8am and went well into the night. I have to admit, I had fun despite the changes I need to do refine the work. The reason I had fun is that I think most of the changes are for the better…so that the fans of BattleTech will like it and so it can better feed future products. I appreciate your patience.
I had a lot of fun with Mike Stackpole getting caught up and brainstorming some very cool ideas that you will get to see at some point. It was fun to see Ray, John, and Brent too. Ray wore a different house or unit hat every day which, I have to admit, made me jealous and roused my competitive nature. Loren and Randall were in their element, though it was akin to herding cats. For some folks it was their first time in such an esteemed (albeit mad) gathering. For some of us old veterans, it was a trip down memory lane.
Our debates were lively, frustrating, and hilarious. I know you fans would love to see all of my notes – and that is never happening. Here’s the fun teasing stuff I feel safe sharing:
(At breakfast). Blaine: “Hey Randall, I see a press release that you guys are re-releasing the Succession Wars boxed set. Pretty aggressive given the Kickstarter isn’t it?” Randal: “What are you talking about?” Everyone went to their phones in unison…hilarity followed…
Two in-depth discussion and debates about technologies that do not exist. Loren: “We have to understand how it works so we never use it again.” Only in that room does that sentence have any real meaning.
“Life is cheap – BattleMechs aren’t.”
“Remember, we’re a little cash-strapped right now.” (Yes, the sarcasm was heavy in the meeting.) This was running joke #1.
“While you guys were having a sidebar, we added a few things to the list…” This actually qualifies as a running joke (see below).
Blaine: “As the only person in this room that has taught at a US military academy, twice, let me say…”
Brent breaking out the miniatures in the middle of our debate. I thought we were going to draw a Circle of Equals on the table and dice it out.
Blaine: “So we are setting in stone the list of novels, correct?” Everyone: “Yes.” Blaine: “Good, because I stuck on a Clan Wolverine novel on there and you just approved it.” (Followed with a shit-eating grin) Randall – with Sharpee in hand, “I can fix that!”
Loren: “So what do we call the new magazine?” Mike: “War Porn Quarterly.” John: “That will sell copies…”
(Everyone at one point or another) “Where is House Arano on the map?” Running joke #2. You needed to be there, but it was funny.
Blaine impersonating Edgar G. Robinson from a 20’s gangster film.
Randall: “Let’s face it, Katherine was our favorite person to hate.” A room of nods in unison followed.
Loren: “So, does X have any kids? They must have had kids, I mean the guy is like 45 now.” I cannot tell you the number of times we were reconstructing famous house genetic trees.
All (at one point or another): “WWJWD?”
The older guys, repeatedly, “Well, back in the FASA days…” We wore those words as a badge of honor with a dash of shame.
Randall: “I think I can make a ‘Mech summersault in terms of the physics, but I’m not sure we should have done it in fiction…”
Loren: “I think it would be great to capture one of these sessions entirely on film, but then I’m glad we don’t. No one really needs to see how the sausage is made.”
No one was killed during the session, though I will say we plotted the deaths and births of many characters. I can’t speak for the others, but we all seemed to have good time…I know I did. Please don’t press for more details. It is my job to simply be a tease…
The time has finally come to tell folks what my daughter Victoria Hester and I have been working on. Our next true crime book is about the Freeway Phantom serial killing spree, 1971-72. We have been working for over a year and a half on the book, gathering research materials, interviewing investigators, etc.
We have both been heads-down writing and are nearing the completion of the first draft.
For those of you not familiar with the Freeway Phantom, he struck in Washington DC’s Southeast neighborhoods (primarily) in the early 1970’s. Depending on the list you use, he killed between six and eight young girls, sexually assaulting then strangling them. On one, he had the victim write a note that was left with her body – taunting the authorities to “Catch me if you can.” The book title comes from a key word in the note he had his victim write.
Was the murderer cunning and crafty, or damned lucky? Why did he stop…or did he? Were there other victims? Who were the suspects, and why? We have been able to really pry this case wide open in some areas – providing more facts than the public has known before.
This book will be different than our last book, A Special Kind of Evil, in several ways. Our last book focused heavily on the victims and their stories. With Tantamount, we are focusing more on the investigation. Our efforts to contact the family members have, understandably, been either disregarded or in some cases, outright rejected. These folks have had nearly fifty years of reporters dredging their painful losses up – and we respect that. On top of that, the victims were very young, making it difficult to write a great deal about them.
It is a different style of book, as a result…a little grittier, with some real insights as to how and why the case became so cold.
My co-author/daughter Victoria and I have been immersed in this for a while now. Even how we split the book up is different this time around. I’m not sure which one of us had the harder job. There are nights when I am done that I feel physically and mentally exhausted. Serial murders are like that.
We are quite excited about the book. For us, it is a chance to thaw some cold cases…bring them to the light of day and expose new information, facts, and details that might bring in new tips for the authorities. Our books on cold cases have always succeeded in that in the past, and we’re confident this one will as well. Though with this one the solvability gets harder each passing day.
In some instances we have struggled to get information – where in other areas, we almost have too much data. I’ve corresponded with prisoners, which is interesting and weird at times. Victoria and I have been all over Washington DC meeting with former detectives who themselves are still on the case. From a local bar on Pennsylvania Ave to hours at the DC Superior Court, we’ve been finding information in the most interesting of places.
The book will present reams of new data about the cases that has never been made public before. We have learned a lot about not only the key suspects, but how the case went off the rails and has remained cold all of these decades. We have been stonewalled by the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department on numerous fronts. Still, I think we have prevailed and have been successful in crafting a meaningful story out of these murders.
Something else we will be doing differently with Tantamount is that we will be doing a podcast about the Freeway Phantom that will coincide with the book. We’ll be talking not only about the case, but about writing about the book as well. It will be an insider’s look into the Freeway Phantom cases and is likely to include some details we couldn’t confirm or include in the book. Think of this as a companion. We’re new to producing a podcast, so we ask you to be patient with us. Our goal is simple – get this right and get it with a high quality.
Don’t worry, we will still be talking to other podcasters out there too. The true crime community is tight knit. Several podcasters out there encouraged us to take this step to go out on our own.
Wild Blue Press is going to be the publisher. We liked what they did with A Special Kind of Evil and you tend to stick with a winning combination.
So there you have it…another serial killing case near our homes and hearts.
I really started playing MWO about seven months ago. It all started because of the BattleTech pods at Gen Con. I LOVE playing in the pods every year – so does my son and my grandson. I was hoping to recapture some of that experience at home on my PC.
Bear in mind, I’m 56 years old – so I don’t have that energy-drink-fueled set of reflexes that a young kid playing the game does. I also didn’t do a lot of research into MWO before jumping in – other than it looked like it might be a good way for me to get my BattleTech fix on.
The first few weeks were depressing. I seemed to be a magnet for long range missile indirect fire. When I wasn’t being blown apart by LRM’s fired by enemies I couldn’t see, I was having freaking Ravens and Fleas running laps around me, firing at me with pea shooters until my ‘Mech collapsed into a pile of smoking debris. God I hate Ravens!
Some fellow fans (the 13th Oriente Hussars who I now regularly fight alongside on Friday nights) took me under their wing. First off, I learned, that the stock ‘Mechs were, “less than freaking effective.” Customizing a ‘Mech isn’t quite intuitive but I got some help. Heat is a real issue, but a lot of it was how I configured the target interlock triggers – so I worked on that. Also, I wasn’t using skills at all. I was sent by my comrades some great YouTube videos that helped me figure that morass.
I still suck…but not nearly as much. Moreover, once I got over those hurdles, I found my groove with the game. Now it is a treat for me. When I finish writing a chapter or something, I log on and give myself three quick drops.
My callsign is…are you ready…Blaine Lee Pardoe. Yeah, I know, real creative. Well it is. At least once a week I hear somebody threaten me, “Hey man, if the real Blaine Pardoe finds out that you are using his name, he’s going to be pissed.” Efforts to explain to them the truth often fall on deaf ears. “Yeah – right, you’re really HIM.” Also, it can be stupid to have that callsign, because a few folks have killed me and really enjoyed that. “I killed the guy that wrote some of this stuff!” “Laugh it up pretty boy – I’m switching to my Atlas Kraken for the next drop.”
I am now using it for research…at least that is my excuse with my wife. I have picked up some wonderful slang for BattleMech names and such which I am incorporating into my fiction. Funny how that works isn’t it?
So if you see me online – yes it is me. Yes it is cool to ask me questions. No it is not cool to shoot me in the back. It is most cool if you see a Raven heading my way to kill it.
Last week, while working late, I received a phone call on my home office number. There was a barking dog at first. I assumed someone had butt-dialed me. I said, “Hello.” What I got back was, “You dead” though it sounded like, “deed.”
“Who is this?”
“Are you saying I’m dead?”
We did this at least one more time.
I hung up and went back to my writing. Hey, I was on a roll. Frankly, I didn’t appreciate the interruption. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up sweating thinking about it. I had been so focused on my writing, I had shuffled the threat aside. I had even forgot to tell my wife about it, but in the middle of the night it came roaring back at me.
It dawned on me that I write about cold cases and in many instances, my daughter and I out would-be killers or draw attention to cases that the murderers might like kept quiet. I rolled out of bed and *69’d the number and I wasn’t from an area code where we were doing interviews for our new book. So I contacted the appropriate authorities on the whim that maybe one of their suspects on one of these cases had placed the call. Who knows, that number may actually help law enforcement narrow their list of suspects?
In other words, it was a typical night in the life of a true crime author.
Chances are it was a creep, a drunk, someone upset over a typo…who knows? I upset BattleTech fans from time-to-time, but I doubt any of them would threaten me outside of social media.
I’ve had closer calls with suspected killers. I have had one murder suspect my daughter and I outed actually show up at a book signing. He didn’t confront us, but hovered around behind us. I had some well-placed family members that not only saw him, but photographed him as well. If you’re going to do that kind of stuff, you shouldn’t have your picture out on Facebook…I’m just sayin’. We were prepared – my daughter has a conceal and carry permit. Now I may be getting one as well.
I don’t intimidate easily. Some of that is raw, raging stupidity on my part. Another is that most killers are cowards at their core. That and the cases we research and write about are from the 1960’s thru the 1980’s which means that I’m more likely to be assaulted with a walker or a driveby on a Rascal scooter.
As a writer, I am a public figure of sorts, albeit a minor one. I cover cold cases with my daughter because we like to think we can make a difference. We expose new facts and details for public consumption. We generate tips for the authorities. In doing so, there is a minor element of risk associated with the job. This call reemphasized that for me.
Normally I don’t share this kind of stuff except at dinner with friends (it is also a great way to get people to stop talking to me at parties.) I understand it. Normal people don’t get death threats. I was not going to make this new threat public, but I started thinking about all of the people I know who are authors, bloggers, or podcasters. They too are stirring the pot on cold cases and crimes and may be putting themselves inadvertently in the sights of killers as well. So I offer this to them as a cautionary tale and encourage them to share it with their listeners.
It does make you pause and think for a moment.
And to the douchebag that called me – the authorities have your number…
Okay, week one of this final season we got all of the players on the board. Week two, we said our goodbyes and laid out the plan of battle. This is flowing very much like a chapter or two of a BattleTech novel in all honestly.
This week comes the battle.
No plan survives contact with the enemy and that is the case with this battle. We did not see the Night King on the field of battle – either eluding to a grand entrance on a dragon, or something more sinister. So far, he has not displayed a great deal of strategy. He uses his army like a blunt object to pummel his foe with overwhelming numbers. He has to be a credible threat though, so I would count on strategy. He will whip up a blizzard to obscure his armies. Fear is his greatest weapon. He will not necessarily fight on Jon’s terms.
I surmise the following:
Those crypts under Winterfell are going to be a kill zone. Everyone keeps saying that the crypts are safe. We are putting the innocents and weak there. We see the crypts in the opening sequence. Everyone keeps going down there to chat. They built those sets for a reason! These are red flags. As a D&D player, let me assure you, they are full of dead Starks and the Night King can raise the dead. See where I’m going with this? Those people are locking themselves in with a potential slaughter machine. Even if we don’t get to see headless Ned rambling about, all he has to do is get a few of his troops in there and those poor people will die.
We all expect people to die. If I was one of the writers, I’d kill someone right off the bat, just to throw the audience off.
Jon will ride a dragon in battle. He’s had his training, that was deliberate. Now comes the time to fly and burn.
Bran has a bigger role than just bait. You would have thought someone would have asked him, “How did they defeat the Night King the last time around?” Seems like some pretty useful information.
Arya is the best killing machine Jon has. And she has had a special weapon made. This is no small coincidence. Is it her destiny to take out the Night King, his wights, or perhaps the undead dragon? I can’t fathom that she had the weapon made to knock apart some level one skeletons.
I am hoping Bronn shows up for the big dance.
There will be a moment when the battle will appear lost. We saw it at the Battle of Castle Black and at the Battle of the Bastards. You have to have that moment when the good guys are on the verge of defeat. Otherwise victory is meaningless.
We have only seen a few of the Night’s Watch. I am counting on the rest of the brothers in black to arrive at some point.
Who knows, we may end on a cliff-hanger this week – I can easily picture that. No matter what, we are at the big dance and the music has started. Game on!
There is no secret sauce that will make you a successful writer. The definitions of success as an author vary from person-to-person. I am asked often, “What tips do you have for someone starting out?” My snarky response is, “Seriously consider a different hobby or profession.” Writing is not easy. It is not for the faint at heart or the thin-skinned. It is a profession where you essentially carry on conversations with people that don’t exist, or wonder if that dude you just passed is a serial killer. It is a festering storm inside your head that when it comes out, is a jumble of emotions, words, blood and tears. It often is a hot-mess that only you, as the author, understand. Yet it gives you warmth and comfort.
I’ve heard it said everyone has a novel in them. That isn’t the same as, “They should write that novel.”
No one helped me be an author, so I have no problems answering direct questions from would-be authors. No, I won’t read your stuff, don’t bother to ask. It hit me though, there are some pretty basic tips that could help fiction and non-fiction authors. So here’s my list of unsolicited advice…
Write every day. Keep a journal; write a blog; pen a column for the local newspaper – just write something! In fact, the more varied your writing, the better. I have done science fiction, true crime, military history, business leadership, computer books, a wide range of genres. I have written for newsletters, trade journals, magazines; you name it. Even this blog is a writing exercise for me, forcing me to compile posts weekly.
Writing requires discipline. It is easy to come up with excuses to not write. You need to have the discipline to apply yourself to get the next paragraph done. I have always been surprised talking to new writers who will carve out time to watch a TV show every week but refused to do the same with time dedicated to writing. Schedule yourself…make it happen.
Set your ego aside. I am shocked that some authors ask for feedback then say, “I’m not changing it.” Look Hemmingway, you’re not that good. Editors, publishers, (even agents) usually have some good insights as to why you should make changes. Listen carefully and don’t dig your heels in on the premise you are some sort of artist. The only exception I allow myself to this is my sense of pride about the entire body of my work.
Have a place where you write. You need a place where you can do your work – preferably different than where you do other work. For me, I move my chair three feet to a different desk to do my writing.
Write stuff you would like to read. You need to be a fan of your own stuff. There are scenes I write in fiction that I actually get excited reading. In non-fiction, I make sure I capture the right tone and feel that I like reading.
Everyone thinks they are an English major. Be prepared for people to tell you that you don’t follow some bizarre rule their 3rd grade teacher told them about the English language. They will comment that you are not using appropriate grammar, your use of English is poor, your editors all sucked, etc. Some of my editors have master’s degrees in English, but some moron on the internet knows more than they do…or so they will insinuate. Look, part of being a writer is to push the limits of our language to create illusions and characters that don’t exist. Don’t let these idiots wear you down.
You need thick skin. The internet sucks and so do people. There are people that feel compelled to give you negative feedback. This is not about you, but about their own insecurities. If you want to write, there are always going to be those that try and tear you down. On top of that is our society thinks that every opinion needs to be posted and is somehow valid. Ignore these negative people. Remember this, they will never write something as good as what you did.
Plot is important – not as important as characters. When I started doing novels, I put most of my effort on the plot. As I have matured, I have come to learn that what is remembered is not the plot points, but the characters you write about. People want to identify characters, not storyline. Create real and compelling characters, and the plot will really pop.
In non-fiction stick to the facts and let others arrive at their own conclusions.It is tempting to say, “Here’s what I think,” in writing non-fiction. Assume your reader is smart and they will come to their own opinions and perspectives. Your role becomes presenting those facts in an engaging manner.
Rewriting is part of writing. Every good author has to rewrite. Some comes from the publisher, some from the editor, some from your own gut instinct that there is a better way. Resisting this is the path to arrogance. Some chapters I will rewrite three times before anyone even sees them. I have had editors that ask for additional scenes, changes, tweaks. You do them because ultimately it makes you a better writer. Listen to them and learn.
In fiction – use all of your characters senses in a scene. My most seasoned BattleTech editor told me once that I was describing what people saw – but not using all of the senses. What did the characters smell? What did the air feel like? I found that advice useful and have leveraged it where appropriate ever since. It made me a better writer.
Internet facts are not facts. Oddly enough this applies to fiction and non-fiction. Go to source material, not what you read on some web site. It takes more time, but it is worth it in the long run.
Understand the industry. Traditional bookstores are dying. The age of agents and big publishing houses is waning. I had one would-be author tell me that he had to go with a major publisher rather than KDP because, “You’re only a real author if your book is in a bookstore.” Sorry kid, it’s not the 1980’s. With print on demand (POD) and Kindle Direct Publishing, anyone with talent can publish their book. Easily 50-65% of book sales are digital. Bookstores can stock your POD book. Get to know the business.
Critically read other authors. One of those uh-duh tips – I get it. It isn’t enough to read other authors, you have to stop and ask yourself, “What is it about this part of the book I really like?” Pull apart one of your favorite books to see why you loved it and you will learn a great deal about what you should be incorporating into your own books.
Promoting your work is part of writing. Make yourself available for podcasts, interviews, etc. I don’t enjoy this aspect of the work personally, but it is part of being an author. We all have spent that humiliating time sitting at a lonely table at a Borders books as people walk by. (Yes, I am dating myself there.)
Talk to other authors. Don’t ask them read your stuff…God I hate that. Network with other writers so that you can get advice about the industry, tips, stuff like that.
Anyone charging you money to help you get published is ripping you off. I have never seen this work out for the author.
You have to start somewhere. Too many authors presume you should start at the top. True story. I had someone reach out to me wanting to write a BattleTech novel about two months ago. He’d never had anything published professionally, had no background in writing in the universe, but wanted one of the prime assignments you can get – a novel. Some authors bust their ass for years to get a shot at a novel, but you want one handed to you because, and I quote from this individual, “I have an idea no one has ever seen for a book.” I suggested that he reach out and see if he can get a gig doing some fiction for sourcebooks or tech readouts, to prove himself. “That sounds like it will take a long time. I don’t want to do that – can you just send me the editor’s email?” The reality is you can’t just show up the Olympics without qualifying, and expect to run in an event. It is lazy and arrogant of anyone to think they can just jump in with their first work as a book. Oh it does happen now and then, but these are flukes or genius authors. In the real world, you need to develop your skills, learned to work with editors, earn your stripes…you have to put in the work.
Smell that? That is the smell of new BattleTech fiction. Ah…
One thing I wanted to capture with this book was that sense we all had when new BattleTech fiction came out years ago. It is that sense of excitement, those gasps at some of the things in the book when they are revealed, that tension we all had as readers back in the day. I wanted to be 20 or 30 again and feel that awesomeness as I learned more about this shared universe we all are a part of. Yes, even as writers, we thrilled when other authors put out new books.
From what I am seeing on social media, the fans are getting those sensations. Freaking sweet!
Going back to characters from Exodus Road was risky. We have had a lot of characters killed in BattleTech to only see them return. I knew that would be a challenge, but I also knew it was going to be worth it. We had to see the story arcs of these characters go to full fruition. The crushing defeat of the Smoke Jaguars left so many unanswered questions, I knew I had fertile ground to work with. For the record we never saw Trent’ death on screen, only word that he had died. That was true – he died several times after the battle, revived each time. The Nova Cats told the truth, but withheld the important parts because, well, they are Nova Cats.
And now it is out there, in the public. There will be detractors, the troll community. I don’t give a shit. BattleTech is back! You got boxed sets, new fiction, awesome new maps too. If you want to whine about it, well go ahead. The rest of us are going to have some fun instead. When was the last time that the community as a whole was devouring fiction? It has been years. Even with Betrayal of Ideals, it had already appeared in BattleCorps. This was new and fresh and touched on characters and eras when we all were heavily engaged in BattleTech.
The things I liked the most is the interplay between Trent and Paul Moon as characters. These two characters have been at each other’s throats for years. Having them be fighting together took a lot of character development work. Duty and honor trumps hatred in this case. They no longer have competing ideologies, but share something in common. Their shared vision is what saves the Smoke Jaguars from extinction.
Inanna is important. At one point (very early on) I wondered if I should make her a figment of Trent’s imagination – a fill-in for Judith. Then I realized I needed her to be much more.
The Second Star League is important as a character as well, though most people won’t see it that way. It was cocky, “liberating” Huntress and essentially throwing it into chaos. How many times have we seen nations win the wars and lose the peace? If it feels like the Star League did not have a plan for what to do with Huntress after they won it is because they really didn’t. How do you liberate a people that do not want liberation? The parallels, even contemporary, are many and sad.
I also loved dinging the armor of Victor Steiner-Davion. Like all humans, he is flawed. Forcing him to face those flaws was fun. Mistakes were made, but it took him decades to realize and acknowledge them. Even then, he hit the delete key. In that moment when he hits the delete key in the end is critical. Ego and arrogance overpowers the truth for Victor, even though he knows that there will come a time of reckoning.
The little scenes make it for me. Stealing the Remembrance from Master’s office – priceless. The whole Smoke Jaguar exodus was fun and dark and neat. Russou Howell was useful to be the alternative for the Jaguars.
There’s a lot to process in this novel, I will grant you that. The biggest one is, “Where does this leave us?” Well, the Smoke Jaguars are there, hidden in plain sight during the Dark Ages. We knew that already – but there are several clues near the end of the book as to what is possibly coming next, if you can spot them. (Evil laugh mode engaged – Mwah ha ha hah!)
For those of you that followed it, I tied in elements from Impetus of War (Wayside) and Exodus Road and Surrender Your Dreams. That should be a hint all on its own. I am a big fan of connecting the books in the BattleTech universe. To me, connecting the stories is part of what makes BattleTech cool. In other words, go back and start re-reading some of the older fiction!
Next up is the Wolves Dragoons novella for me (no I don’t know when it will be released or if it will be in paperback — geez I’m just a hack writer.) There’s a lot crammed into a small package with that fiction too. I can’t share the title with you because that alone will stir passions and frothing hilarity.
So, there you have it. The game is afoot. I can’t wait until GenCon. Bring your books to be signed and brace yourselves…something huge and exciting is about the happen.
Note: I will brush with spoiler territory with this post – but not cross that line. You proceed at your own peril.
Here is the original draft of the back cover text for Forever Faithful…
Clan Smoke Jaguar was targeted by the Star League to be obliterated. The other warring Clans turned their back on them, leaving them to die. Everyone presumed they had been completely crushed…and that was their mistake!
Four Warriors are determined to save the remnants of the Jaguars if they don’t kill each other first. One is the traitor that brought the enemy to their doorstep: one is the Smoke Jaguar who was tasked with rallying them and failed; one is a Nova Cat Warrior with a vision of their true role in history; and the other is from Clan Goliath Scorpion who wants to harvest their remnants as museum exhibits. These four are on a collision course that stretches from Huntress to the Inner Sphere. What the Smoke Jaguars become impacts The Republic of the Sphere and far beyond. When it comes to the vision of Nicholas Kerensky, the Smoke Jaguars are Forever Faithful!
Note: I can see why my editor, John Helfers, changed it. Still, parts of it ring very true to me.
I just received word that Forever Faithful is finally available for pre-order. In fairness, this is not a great entry book to the BattleTech universe. You need to know the events of the Twilight of the Clans series to really appreciate it.
I have to admit, there is a special place in the dark recesses of my mind for this book.
You see, it all began with Surrender Your Dreams. When I was offered that novel, the parameters were pretty vague. “Write 2-3 short stories about what was happening in the Republic after Fortress Republic went up.” I am no fan of analogies and writing three short stories just seemed cheesy. If you can pick one word to describe me it is, “Doesn’t follow rules well.” Get it? Moving on. So I altered the format of the book, jumbling the chapters’ ala Pulp Fiction. I also introduced something cool in the form of a new unit, the Fidelis.
The Fidelis were mysterious. I thought that the Republic needed something unique and enigmatic. Their unit formations were seemingly un-Clanlike or Inner Sphere. They were Special Forces, elite to the extreme. They also made sure when one of them died that they left no usable DNA behind. Clearly they wanted to hide their origins – but for the reader, it posed the question of “why?” As it turned out, they had a LOT to hide.
From the get-go, I knew they were going to be the Smoke Jaguars. I had heard some alleged-powers-that-be claim they were dead and never coming back – which made it all the sweeter to try. Randall said, “Write up how they came to be and let me look at it.” I did. A page or so of content. Randall approved it and I knew I had something ultra-awesome for the book.
Revealing the Fidelis as the Smoke Jaguars was a blast. It always nagged at me though. I never told the Fidelis origin story, I simply introduced them with a hint of mystery as to how they got there.
The fans loved the reveal at the end of Surrender, igniting an internet-troll-war of full-bore-hemorrhaging-level six-nerdgasms as to whether they were “really” the Smoke Jaguars. Some argued they were the Wolverines. No. Hell no. Then came the, “Well, they really aren’t Clan…so even if they are were Jags, they aren’t now.” It amazes me to this day how passionate and ditzy the fan community can be – and how many of them know more about the Jaguars than I do (according to them.) I bowed out of those online battles, because most trolls are douchebags and we all know it…begging for attention, even negative attention. Besides, I knew their origins, I knew the truth. Heck, I created it. And the truth was awesome.
You can take the warrior out of a Clan but you can’t take the Clan out of the warrior. Breeding will always dominate such a people. Yes, they were the Fidelis, but if you assumed that they had shed (or fled) all of their heritage you would be mistaken. Readers saw the public face of the Fidelis in Surrender Your Dreams, not who they were in their hearts. New Earth holds many dark and twisted secrets…
When John Helfers asked what I wanted to write first as a new novel, I originally proposed an all-encompassing Jihad novel that would explain the entire Jihad from an insider’s point of view. It was a neat idea, but frankly, I am no fan of the Jihad era. Too many dead mercs killed in less-than-glorious manners. John liked the Jihad idea but wanted another option…so I pulled out my original Fidelis document and thought, “Wow, this is a chance to fill in a neat piece of BattleTech history.” Even after their military defeat on Huntress, I didn’t feel the Jags had really reached the bottom. To do that, you had to have the Inner Sphere attempt to inflict their morals and values on them. This book allowed me that opportunity. Moreover, this book allowed me to set a few things right.
What things am I referring to? Trent. I didn’t like his demise in the Twilight of the Clans series; no offense to Mike Stackpole. It felt out of character for Trent. I raised the issue back in the day but nothing changed during the edit process. We spent a lot of time and effort to build up Trent and his death was an off-screen event that just felt empty. I hated that. Trent was never about revenge on the Smoke Jaguars. His callsign was honor, which he felt his people had wandered away from. Trent was what the Smoke Jaguars were meant to be, in my mind anyway.
Additionally, there were some stories that simply had to be told. What happened on Huntress after the Star League victory? Bits and pieces made it into sourcebooks, but no one said what happened with the remnants of the Smoke Jaguars after the faux-Star League departed. What happens to a warrior people that are crushed? What happens in a rigid caste society where the leading caste has been devastated? Did the Star League win the war and lose the peace on Huntress? What became of all that was left of the Jaguars?
The novel gave me the opportunity to write about some other Clans as well, one in particular that never really got much air time in fiction – the Goliath Scorpions. There’s some Nova Cat stuff in here too, back when the Nova Cats were all mystical and exotic. If that wasn’t enough, I also got to write about the Eridani Light Horse, which was special. Anytime you can write about such a storied unit, it is fun.
But in the end, this is the story of powerful characters and the change they have to go through. It is the story of what Victor Steiner-Davion put into motion with the destruction of the Smoke Jaguars – and how that spiraled out of his control decades later. I got a chance to introduce new characters and rekindle some fascinating old ones from a bygone BattleTech era.
I was allowed to determine what went on the cover which is a change under the new regime that is welcome. I knew the battle intimately and the artist did a stunning job of capturing it, right down to the lightning. I think it pops and sizzles. Moreover, notice that the Timber Wolf is standing on a crushed Goliath Scorpion ‘Mech? Pretty awesome eh?
This is a book about characters who are suddenly faced with the realization that everything they lived their lives for has changed. What they thought were their goals has been crushed. They must redefine themselves and their relationships to each other.
This book does not necessarily stand alone. Wink, wink. In fact, you may want to dust off other Classic BattleTech novels I have written to help you. If you think this story is over by the end or with the events in Surrender Your Dreams, you are delusional or on drugs. I was given a broad tapestry to work with and took full advantage of it. This story does not necessarily end with this novel. Even my evil plans have their own evil plans. Those of you that know me well know all of this stuff is stitched together into a pretty intriguing tapestry.
This was my first novel where I incorporated some fans into the fiction as well. Seyla y’all!
There are some killer scenes in this novel (pun intended). Without spoiling them, I will relay this funny story. During the edits, one editor wrote, “I wish he’s just punch Victor in the face!” That was when I knew I had written that scene right. Let’s face it, we ALL have thought about punching Victor at one time or another. The final scene with Trent is a very critical one as well.
Sidebar: At GenCon last year they inadvertently showed the cover of the novel on another book. I have to admit, I was surprised by that. Still, they didn’t show ALL of it…so the reveal is still pretty awesome.
To those defiant souls that think the Fidelis are not the Smoke Jaguars at their core – well, you couldn’t be more wrong. And in a few months’ time, I will prove it to you. Detractors, prepare yourselves for battle and to suffer the agony of defeat. (Engage Evil Laugh Mode for five seconds)
In the meantime, I encourage you guys to order the novel and get ready for a bumpy ride. This is not your daddy’s Jihad, this is Clan BattleTech action – where honor and pride matter. This is about Jaguars old and new, mystical Nova Cats, driven Goliath Scorpions, (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) Dust off your Twilight of the Clans series…because this starts where that ends.
Additionally, if you want more BattleTech fiction to be published, you have to order the books – it really is that simple. Catalyst is watching the novel sales carefully. Yes, there is a hardcopy of the book that will be available around the release date from Amazon.
Amazon.com is fantastic. It has changed the way we buy almost everything – especially books. What sucks about it is the review capability. Basically anyone who purchases your book, can post a review of it. At first that seems benign, but in reality, it gives every troll on the internet the capability to voice their opinion – no matter how crazy. Worse yet, it is nearly impossible to get reviews removed from a book…trust me, I’ve tried. Reddit is even worse…it is the freshman dormitory for internet trolldom.
While merely my opinion, I strongly believe that the internet turns normal idiots into connected idiots who proffer their pointless opinions to the world with the same credibility as geniuses. Feel free to use this quote on Twitter. I think it would make a swell t-shirt.
Not every negative comment is the result of a troll. Some people have issues with my writing style or structure of the book. Unfortunately, just because you don’t like the style, doesn’t mean that others won’t love it.
Amazon does let writers respond to comments, but I have found this only feeds the narcissistic needs of the trolls that post the negative comments. I don’t have the time or inclination to get into a pissing match with some stranger. At the risk of sounding egotistical (which I am); it is beneath my dignity and a waste of my time.
Bear in mind I write in a number of genres, business management, military history, science fiction, and of course, true crime.
I understand (now) that being a successful writer means you are a public figure of sorts. That means you are open to critique, good and bad. I had no idea when I began this journey back at Central Michigan University in 1980 that I would find myself being reviewed by total strangers. I wonder if it would have changed some of my decisions?
I get far more positive reviews over bad ones, but still, I read them all. Every time I tell myself it is the last. Here’s some of the more insipid comments I’ve seen and my rebuttal to them:
“This book could have used an editor.” “This book is poorly edited…” I’ve seen this one with a variety of books from different publishers. To be upfront, I am not perfect (my wife will love this.) Let me say this, I have and utilize editors. They often have master’s degrees in English. They edit the books carefully, meticulously, and with precision. The real problem is people who think they know the English language better than those that edit books for a living. Trust me, if my editors sucked, they would be out of a job. Most, however, are very talented. Often time’s my books are read 3-5 times, by different people/editors, checking and rechecking. It is a labor-intensive process done by skilled professionals. I don’t always agree with my editors and I love to torment them; but they are thorough and do a good job. Just because you don’t agree with my/their decisions, does not make them or me wrong. The English language is not a law etched in stone, it is not formulaic in nature. It is a guide that sometimes is stretched to its limits by creative people. Just because your second grade teacher told you something, doesn’t make you an expert. Sidebar: I deliberately violated several rules of English in this rebuttal, just to give you self-appointed editors cerebral aneurisms.
“This book is repetitive in parts.” The insinuation is that my restating of something is a mistake. It is not. I repeat some elements solely to make a point. Where not appropriate, the editor will point it out to me; see above douchebag. On my new books, we will be introducing something in the introduction, then explaining it in great nauseating detail in its own chapter later in the book. That’s not repetitive, it is deliberate and planned. Also, other writers do this all of the time – Ann Rule did in several of her works. Oh, I get it, if Ann did it, it’s okay…
“This book is almost too perfect…” I actually saw this on a three-star review recently. Three stars? What a pompous asshat. In other words, I wrote a great book, so they had to rake it over the coals.
“There’s nothing new in this book that I haven’t seen before.” Just to be clear, the individuals that post this stuff are either lying or wrong. Every non-fiction book I have ever written has introduced new material that has never been made public before. I pride myself on that as does my daughter. Anyone writing this is really trying to say, “Look at me, I know more than the person that spent over a year researching this.”
“The author(s) overlook obvious suspects.” Let’s be clear, there are people out there with agendas of their own. I know of one woman that has posted two reviews of my book under alias’s she has created. Her purpose is nefarious – she has someone she wants to link to some murders to draw attention to her own suspect/research in a non-related crime. It is bat-shit crazy, but there are people out there that are so focused on their own twisted agendas that they load up reviews and post things on various blogs and web sites to further their plans. Sad, yet sick.
“The author doesn’t know the BattleTech universe well.”“This story is a retcon of established BattleTech history…” These came up years ago and made me laugh pretty hard. It still does from time-to-time. It’s the damned Clan Wolverine haters. Like a dog with a bone they will not let it go.
I wrote a lot of the early BattleTech history. Here’s my bibliography: Bibliography Also, anything I have ever written had to be approved by the powers-that-be to become canon in the universe. So, to be concise, if I wrote it and it was published, it IS canon, dillweed. I make stuff up, but I always get my work approved by seasoned veterans of the intellectual property. I won’t go into the whole Wolverine-thing in detail, but since I created that Clan and wrote the only bio information on Nicholas Kerensky, I feel pretty safe in what I did with them. I have been writing BattleTech since 1986. Don’t tell me that I don’t know the universe well. I am fu*king proud of my body of work.
“Reads Like a High School Term Paper.” This review was on a book that was a New York Times Bestseller my daughter and I wrote. I do understand that the presentation of facts can be burdensome. When you are writing a true crime about a cold case, you don’t want to get too flowery in the text or present a great deal of speculation. Nonfiction books tend to be a presentation of facts. I’m probably more offended with the “high school” part more than the actual review. Seriously? I have a master’s degree and have completed about 1/3 of a doctorate program. Bite me.
“This was a good story but no closure.” Many of the cases I write about are cold cases. Some authors do this and claim they have “solved” the cases. I tend to lean away from those books. If you solved the case, then where is the prosecution or the announcement from authorities that they consider the case closed? With cold cases, I maintain that the writers need to present the facts and let the readers arrive at their own conclusions. People need to form their own opinions – not have the author craft the facts around their pet-theory. Almost always, I make sure in the introduction that we tell readers that the case is unresolved. Let me be clear, if you are reading a book about a cold case I have written, you will not get that closure at the end…BECAUSE IT IS A COLD CASE.
“True crime books are supposed to end in a trial.” Most of my books in this genre are on cold cases. I appreciate the vote of confidence from the reviewer…that somehow we might solve the crime and inflict overdue justice. This is the real-world. I am a writer. Our books generate tips for the authorities, but we do not solve the case on our own.
“His fiction does not reflect gameplay.” Okay, this is a BattleTech one. My response is, “good, because I was writing fiction, not documenting a game of BattleTech.” I follow the rules, but in the fictionalizing of a battle, things happen that rules do not exist for. If I merely played out a battle and wrote about it, it would be dull and boring. I strive to adhere to the rules, but at the same time, I feel empowered to push the limits with battles.
Personal attacks. These come in a number of nasty comments, so let me focus on one in particular. I have been accused of be a Confederate sympathizer in one review. WTF? Not true. First, I am a historian. Second, I have incorporated the Civil War into many of my military sci-fi novels just for parallels. I respect Southern military leader’s prowess without lamenting about the Confederacy’s fate. Third, I am against tearing down historic statues and renaming things out of idiotic fits of political correctness or someone having hurt feelings. I have voiced my opinion on that because I believe it is wrong to destroy or obscure history. I also believe that you do not have a right to not be offended in this country. In fact, one things Americans excel at is offending people. Grow a pair and stop whining and labeling.
I am not a Confederate or Lost Cause sympathizer. In my entire writing career I wrote three whole pages about the Lost Cause and then only in non-fiction, in the story of Bert Hall in my biography, The Bad Boy. In other words, no big deal. None of this makes me a Confederate sympathizer. I empower none of you to slap a label on me without my consent. Calling me a Confederate Sympathizer; that simply makes me want to be one. People that run around labeling people to attempt to damage their reputation are low forms of life. You can take your social justice-self-anointed sense of empowerment and shove it high-and-hard.
Ahh…that felt great. If I have offended anyone who gave me negative feedback; good.
I have had a lot of requests for this lately – so here we go.
How did all of this start? I began including fans in my fiction with Forever Faithful, which ironically hasn’t been released yet. More on that later. The public version of this is that my thinking was, “Wouldn’t it be cool for some fans to appear as canon in the BattleTech universe?” In reality, I used to have to flip through a phone book for cool names and this is a hell of a lot easier and more fun for all parties involved. So, the short version, laziness proved to be a powerful motivator.
For Forever Faithful I chose those names randomly from the BattleTech Facebook pages. People seemed to like the concept. When I wrote The Anvil and the upcoming Dragoons novella, I did the same – though I did casually ask for volunteers.
For the upcoming novel, XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX. I put up a big post on BattleTech International on Facebook for “volunteers.” The results…almost a thousand names that were submitted. I couldn’t use them all. I wanted to give some fans a treat; a chance to be part of BattleTech canon. Some are very likely to go on as major recurring characters. In fact, there are some characters from other novellas that get appearances in XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX too. It is all part of being in a shared universe.
I am now using Facebook exclusively for obtaining names. I had people complain they don’t use Facebook and wanted to email me and I declined. Some whined in general. Others told me what to do, “You should have posted it on Reddit.” I am not known for following orders, especially when I’m just trying to be generous. It is hard enough to manage an operation on this scale without having a half dozen sources for names. If you don’t like Facebook or don’t use it, you don’t get to take part. It really is that simple. I’m not promoting Facebook (It is run by the Word of Zuckerburg, a precursor to The Word of Blake, after all), it simply is a medium that I find most comfortable for gathering names. I never claimed this process was fair.
I cannot promise your name appears in the form of a glorious and honored warrior. Some are cannon-fodder (or in this case canon-fodder…get it?). Others are cities, streets, mountains, forests, any place I needed a proper noun. I know everyone wants to be that cool MechWarrior – but it doesn’t work that way.
How do I pick who gets in and who doesn’t? Well, the name has to click with me. It is totally subjective. Many names sound futuristic as is. Some get used for terrain features or cities. I have “reaved” the list to compile some obvious winners – names that pop to me immediately. It is hard to picture a Clan warrior named “Bob” or “Doug.” (Sorry guys, but no one wants to die hearing, “My name – Warrior Bob – will be written into the Remembrance for this glorious victory.”) It is easy to pick a name like “Hasara” because it has a cool sound to it. (Note: This is just an example – don’t read anything into it Andrew). Bottom line: I tend to pick names that would sound cool for whatever the need is (be it a mountain range, a city, or a character.) You would be surprised at how many proper nouns find their way into a book. Some thought goes into it on my part.
Some names get used more than once – implying they are more common in the 32nd century. Others are cameo appearances from other books.
Were there some special exceptions to the subjective selection process? Yes. What is life without whimsy? I did automatically put in the guys who waxed my ass at Masters and Minions at GenCon 2018. Did I use this opportunity for revenge? Am I that petty? Yes, absolutely! This should inspire others to take me on this year at GenCon. You play me, you run a pretty good chance at getting used in fiction.
Brent Evans and I also came up with a few special fans we both knew and added them into the pool as well because we are benevolent gods. I also included some names of folks that are just cool people or who are Catalyst Demo agents that I like. I was going to include all of the Demo agents but it proved impossible to get that list through official channels. It would be easier to get a list of nuclear launch codes than the names of the demo agents apparently. Sidebar: This level of secrecy makes me wonder what they are up to. Hmm…
For the record, I am bribable. I don’t want money though. One fan asked that I include a BattleTech convention organizer in a book and I did in exchange for a t-shirt from the con. See how shallow I am?
A lot of people gave me names of other people, but generally I don’t use those. I hadn’t planned on using callsigns but there were some neat ones provided that are going to be included. I don’t use character names for pilots – “I asked for your name, not your character’s name.”
I don’t use people who suggest/insist they be part of specific units, pilot certain ‘Mechs, demand custom paint schemes; along with their name. That is a quick way to get on a list and NEVER get used. I have some rules in the casting call post, please just follow them. I am not crowdsourcing the writing of a novel. I write for my own sense of creativity – not yours.
Please bear in mind I am a raging thin-skinned egomaniac with delusions of grandeur in my choices. I read some douchebag’s comment that I was doing this only to get people to buy my books. My response to that was simple, “Asshat!” Seriously, these are fans that would buy the book no matter what anyway. They don’t need encouragement to purchase BattleTech product. What a moron. You try and do something nice and some dillweed internet troll tries to ruin it.
Please do not ask me about the formats, release dates, or crap like that. I do not know if the book will be translated into Italian, when/if it will be made into an audio book, what day it will release in the UK, how to download it to your Nook (you bought a Nook, that’s hilarious! Can I interest you in a Zune?), why isn’t it out there as a PDF, is it on RPG Fiction’s site, why Barnes and Noble doesn’t have it up on their site, why it isn’t a hardcover, when the boxed set of the game will come out, I’d like to do the voice work for the audio book, or how to be a Catalyst Demo Agent? By the way, these are actual things people have asked or told me. I am prone, when I get these questions, to make shit up. Consider yourself warned.
I am toying with us having a special book signing/beer drinking at GenCon 2019 when the book XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX is released just for the guys and gals that are in the books/novellas I have written. Not sure if that is logistically sound or feasible yet, but heads-up, I’m getting creative.
So what is next? Right now I have to weather the editing of the new book and the Dragoons novella before I start something new.
So, onto the honored fans!
The Anvil (Published)
Jonathon Scott Schofield
Ryan James Broadhead
Troy Lee Cowell
Juan Ochoa Jr.
Broccán Mac Rónáin
Forever Faithful (Coming VERY soon. John won’t let me say when, but I heard an actual date recently – so it is on the horizon.)
Alexander JW De Santis
James Eyers Mclean Miller
The Dragoons Novella(Coming Near GenCon) I can’t tell you the title because it gives away some stuff.
Kristopher Tyson Koniczek
Brianne Elizabeth Lyons
Patrick J Saul
John “Doc” Crouch
Robert BJ Horncastle
Roderick van Noorloos
John Gaisano III
William C. Pelcham
The BIG Universe Altering Novel XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX (GenCon 2019 release!) Again, I can’t tell you the title! (Note: I am not responsible if the editors cut you from the book.)