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

Snippit1
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.

Part 1: Discussion of Divided We Fall – BattleTech Short Novel

snippet4
Seyla Doc! 

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. You will be devastated, upset, and may cry. Then again, the story may have the same effect.  Okay, it’s your call; consider yourself warned.

This short novel almost didn’t happen.  True story.

First and foremost, there is a lot of build-up to the ilClan novel. It’s a big event (and a large book) so there is some stage setting books that are coming.  This story is one of those tales. It is the first step on that journey which will include several short novels, two of which I wrote, and then the big book. There are other things I didn’t write that will come out as well – so be prepared!

You can’t imagine the immense relief and ever-present dread tied with this story coming out.  I’m excited because this is not exploding something that is already in a sourcebook.  This is fiction driving the fucking BattleTech universe again!  I think that was one reason people liked Forever Faithful, you didn’t know where it was going because it was new.  It was boldly going where we have gone before-ish. Divided We Fall is breaking new ground right off the bat. I have long missed the days when fiction called the shots in our universe.  Oh, I like sourcebooks, but in the end, give me a beefy novel first.

This all began years ago, literally.  We had a writer’s meeting in 2017 at GenCon and we talked about all of the big stuff coming.  It’s all very hush-hush, (okay, it was all about the ilClan.)  Jason Schmetzer and I were in the camp of, “The Dragoons have to be a part of this thing.”  Everyone loved the idea at the time. Jason and I felt that Clan Wolf would simply hire the Dragoons. Hey, they are mercs!  Like Larry, Darrel and Darrel; anything for a buck.  At the time, everyone agreed to that concept and that went into the first draft. In my copy I paid them in gold, since C-Bills are worthless thanks to Clan Loan Shark buying Space AT&T at a yard sale in the Duchy of Andurien.

The book underwent two big rewrites since then. I won’t bore you with the petty details, but there was one night when I almost pulled the plug on this book…it had gotten that frustrating.  You have to bear in mind, this was a period of time when we got the Game of Thrones final season (WTF?) and Avenger’s Endgame (yay!).  So as we approach the ilClan era, sensitivities are heightened about ending the Dark Ages and starting the ilClan period of the universe.  Add to that, everyone has their own sense of what they think the Dragoons are from a canon perspective. Everyone thinks they know the lore of people and units, especially the big ones.

My philosophy is simple on this subject: Don’t tell me I don’t know the lore – I AM THE LORE. I’ve been at this for 35 years so if you have a number of novels under your belt, I will gladly listen to your input. Beyond that…well…it gets graphic and involves hand gestures and comments about coupling with your mother.

But I am a professional author. (Interpretation:  A hot-steamy raging egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. All of which is well earned. I know I’m a raging self-centered asshat. I own that shit.) If the suggestions/changes people were shoving in front of me could be tweaked, I could make an even better book, well, suck it up buttercup. I’m your Huckleberry.

I also knew that if I walked away from it, another author would screw it up with idiotic changes.  Some of these characters I was deeply invested in and that thought bothered me.  Also, this book dovetails into the much bigger ilClan novel, tentatively titled XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX. Anyone else tampering with it could set off a chain reaction of stuff I would have to clean up later.

So I shelved my massive ego and ate a slice of humble pie and rewrote this bitch, almost from the ground up in many places. The final product was mine – not somebody offering their view of the Dragoons – it was mine. Most importantly, I am proud of the final product.

The original title of this book was Wolves’ Dragoons.  Jason Schmetzer had a great theory he shared in 2017. “The title should always tell you the end of the book.”  I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory but I went with this title because it was subtle and grabbed your attention.  Editor John Helfers asked me to change it in the last draft. I suggested, The Mutiny.  John liked that but in the end came up with a better title that accomplished the same thing.  As a joke, in the first draft, I had the subtitle of the book as:  The Enchanting Prelude to XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX.

I violated my long-standing self-imposed rule and created a new BattleMech – stats provided in the back of this novella. She’s called the Dominator.  Originally I wanted to go with Dominatrix but that opened up a whole bunch of kinky issues and frankly, I did not want to stat out the ‘Mech sized cat of nine tails. I miss the old days when we put art in the back of the novels.  In this case, I figured, let’s do the full tech write-up and stats.  Brent Evans took my design and tweaked it.  I identified the other new ‘Mechs – like the Goliath C.  Brent worked out the stats on those and some other new ones that are forthcoming, and hired a great artist to work on the tech drawings.  Will they be coming out soon?  Time will tell.

About the story itself; this was always a story about Dragoons facing-off against other Dragoons.  Why?  Like it or not, they are the best at what they do.  Hence the reference to their “Tip of the Spear” clause.  The Dragoons want to be at the front, leading the battle.  They are not garrison forces by nature.  Who else would be a worthy foe, if not themselves?  I didn’t want this to be pitched fight for control of the Dragoons – and it isn’t.

Yes, a Dragoon civil war has been done before, but that was for control of the Dragoons. This is not that story.  This is not a civil war.  It is nowhere near that. It is a mutiny. I actually watched Mutiny on the Bounty the weekend of the rewrite to set my frame of mind. Crews and Kerensky are not vying to control the Dragoons.

Having watched Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen, I knew I wanted to write about bad boys and girls. This story definitely has ties to The Dirty Dozen in that these are prisoners, elite soldiers that have run afoul of the law.  We have never seen this side of the Dragoons outside of sourcebook material for the Black Widow Company…35 years ago.  God, I feel old.

Divided We Fall is also a story with no bad guys, which is tricky as hell to write. In other words, it is complex and very human.  Everyone is doing what they think is right for the right reasons.  These are the best kinds of stories I think because it is closer to what we see in the real world.  Black and white characters and scenes are good sometimes – but we live in a world of shades of gray.  If you mentally side with Brubaker, that’s fine, he’s right.  If you fall in with Crews, well, that’s fine too, because he is right as well.  Both have valid arguments and reasons for their actions. Both are passionate professionals. Given the choice to influence the history of the Inner Sphere, what would you do?  Where would you throw your loyalty?

BEGIN SIDEBAR:  In this book you see the Dragoons and they are not cookie-cutter elite warriors. I know pundits will say, “The Dragoons would not tolerate that shit in their ranks.”  Well, you are dead wrong.  Boys will be boys.  I have met some special-forces types, best of the best, elite dudes, who are the hardest to control and the first to break with order and introduce chaos into the mix because they thrive on mayhem. END SIDEBAR

So, needless to say, the journey of doing this book was long, painful, frustrating, and in the end, highly rewarding and almost fun. I love the final product.  I am proud of this novella. Not because of the last minute fact-checker shenanigans, but because I made it into a freaking good core story and wonderful characters that will live on far beyond this book. A new era is coming…sound the alarm.

A few questions have arisen, so I will address the ones I keep getting asked despite my Threat Level Four Bob Warnings.

  1. So what is a White Raven? Up until the last minute, Marotta was piloting a totally rebuilt Black Python in his Bloodright Trial.  Ray apparently suggested a White Raven and I told my editor John, ultimately it didn’t matter to me as the writer since Marotta had stripped and rebuilt the BattleMech. To me, as the author, it didn’t matter because the ‘Mech was not the story, Marotta was. I stand by that and since I’m right, your whining means nothing to me. So at the last minute, the White Raven appeared. Not one of mine, so I had no idea what it is supposed to be carrying. One word: shenanigans. Two words:  Editorial shitfuckery.
  2. When do we get the rest of the story? Has it been written?  Okay, let me break this down for you.  I have written two additional prequel novellas and the ilClan novel.  They are done.  This story is continued (mostly) in the big honking novel, though honestly, it will go much farther.  Divided We Fall sets things in motion for the Dragoons. There are a number of other authors writing material that needs to come out before the big novel as well. No, I do not have timing or the schedule.  I have seen some artwork and stuff for the upcoming stuff, so I know it is in the mythical pipeline.  In other words you will get it whenever CGL determines you will get it.  Suck it up, buttercup. Welcome to my world.
  3. When do we get all of the new ‘Mech stats and stuff? Ray assures me that is forthcoming.  There are quite a few, some tied in with the other novellas and the big novel. I trust that Ray is in contact with IWM on the mini’s too – but that is for him to address.  Remember, I’m just a tiny cog in the vast CGL machine.  I write stories. Some don’t suck.
  4. Will we see Marotta, Crews, and Sheridan again? Yes.  You have to understand, John Helfers is orchestrating a rather complicated sequencing of the stories/books.  Each one lays a foundation, a building block, leading to the big show in the ilClan novel.  Beyond that I have sketched out a further arcs for those that survive what is coming – which is awesome. I can’t promise you that they will all make it.
  5. Where is Anastasia Kerensky going? Sorry, that is classified by the Wolf Watch – though I did write her orders personally in 2017. No, a Trial of Grievance will not solve the issue.  I am not talking.  For some of you it will be a surprise, for others not.
  6. Is that Paul Moon in Chapter 1? Duh.  Of course it is.  Ancient Elemental…New Earth.  Come on!  That entire chapter dovetails into a chapter of one of the novella’s that is a prequel.  That story will explain the whole Fidelis thing once and for all…well, until the big novel comes out.
  7. Why did you stop? Why not tell the rest of the story?  Simply put, the arc for the Dragoons and these characters is big. This novella is not the entire story, it was never intended to be.  It is the first step on a journey.

I know at the end some of you are befuddled…you are wondering what all of the implications are to this.  What happens if word of this mutiny gets out the rest of the Dragoons?  What happens if they don’t arrive on time to Terra?  What if there is a romantic scene with Marotta and Debacle? What is the reckoning that Crews will ultimately face? Is this the end of Wolf’s Dragoons as a unit, or is this going to go a whole different direction?  When will this pandemic lockdown BS be over?  Well, you will have to wait.  Think of this as the BattleTech equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back or Avengers Infinity War.  You got to the end and are left hanging, wondering, speculating…

Yes, I am that evil.

In my next blog post – other stuff, my favorite characters and why, and me being a douchebag with theories, etc.

One of my BattleTech Treasures

IMG_0552
The Rules – Only Cooler

My wife and I are building a new house and we have sold ours (after five hours on the market – screw you Covid-19!).  As such I am packing.  I have a set of shelves filled with the stuff I wrote as well as mementos.

One I have is one I contributed to – this little gem.

IMG_0553
I haven’t seen these up on Ebay before.  

What I REALLY like about this is that it was personally made with my name on the cover and it was a limited print run.  For me, it’s a BattleTech treasure.

I have been pushing John Helfers, my editor at Catalyst, that we ought to do a special print run of the ilClan novel when it finally comes out along the same lines as this book.  I said, “Some fans would pay big bucks for a hard cover elite printing.”  I’m sure it won’t happen…but if you like the idea, please nag the powers that be.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this with you all just for grins.  Enjoy

Updated – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction

IMG_0292
He’s right behind me, isn’t he?

Everyone keeps asking me the same things, over and over:  “When is the Wolf’s Dragoons novel coming out?  When is that big book “you promised” last year coming out?  (I ‘promised’ nothing you filthy surats!) “Is my character still in book X or did I die in an editing accident?”  This is usually followed with questions about will the books be in hard copy, audio books, translation to foreign languages, and inquiries about the Kickstarter.

Hopefully this post will stop the inquiries.  Oh, who am I kidding?

First off, this is all my mistake.  I own it.  I shouldn’t have been so open with the fan community in the first place. I should have just included fans covertly, under the table. I also should never have presumed that things would have released when they were supposed to. My bad. It won’t happen going forward.  If you ask me the dates on when anything I have written will be coming out I will refuse to answer and likely be snippy with you in the process. I AM TALKING TO YOU BOB.

Allow me to introduce you to some realities as an author:

  • I do not know if anything will be in hard copy. Complaining to me does you zero good. Telling me you want to hold a physical book is not necessary. What you do with your hands is between you and your hands.  I just write this stuff.
  • I don’t know anything about audio books. I can’t stress enough on this point – I really don’t care about audio books. I have a raging ego, but even mine isn’t big enough for me to want to listen to someone read my books out loud.
  • I do not have dates when anything is coming out. I have projected dates but I will not share them.  Don’t ask. Sometimes even my editor is surprised when stuff comes out.
  • I am not affiliated with the Kickstarter. Don’t ask me questions about it.  I don’t know. I like not knowing. I have no idea if Kickstarter exclusives will be available to non-Kickstarter people, but I think the word “exclusive” is a pretty big clue.
  • No, I will not tell you if you appear in the fiction as a Khan, First Lord, Custos of the Fidelis, a MechWarrior, a member of Clan Wolverine, a salty tech, a cook, a drunk, a swamp, a city, some ruins, or anything else. Yes I know, no I will not share. NOT EVEN TO YOU BOB.

So here’s what happened in the last few months.

The books got written and went through edit reviews early last year.  Ta Da!  The Powers That Be realized that the sheer scope of these things in the books was staggering.  So some decisions were made at the writer’s summit last fall about the best way to approach this.  First, we had some changes suggested to the Wolf’s Dragoons novella – which became a short novel.  (Don’t’ ask me to explain the difference, it has to do with word counts, magic, and stuff.)

The big novel I wrote, got broken up into two short novels and the big book (which got bigger), working title, XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX (oh, and by the way, that isn’t the real title, I am just messing with you.)  Those are just the parts I had to write.  There are other novellas by some great writers that tie into all of this too. Let’s just say, we took something big and made it massive.  Some chapters simply are gone, tossed out.  Shit happens. A lot of new material got added, and many things got changed.  The result is a much better product which I think makes up for the wait. 

Before you ask, you do not have to read all of the prequel material to XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX, but it will help your overall entertainment experience.  AND, BOB, BEFORE YOU ASK, I DON’T KNOW IF THEY WILL BE SOLD IN HARD COPY.

In the middle of all of this came the Kickstarter and people purchasing canon characters.  Where practical, I needed to use them.  I am not deliberately pushing fans out of the book to put in canon characters, I AM using whatever constitutes the best character for the story.  For the record, the list of canon characters is a huge blessing for me…though there are some “challenges.” The net result, in XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX there will be my usual cadre of fans and a lot of canon characters from the Kickstarter, some of which are downright awesome!

On top of this, I also volunteered to write stuff for the Kickstarter before the canon characters survey got distributed. That added a layer of complication but in the end, it’s all cool.

You may be wanting to say, “This sounds like a hot mess,” but you would be wrong.  It’s only a hot mess to me (which everyone seems oddly comfortable with.)  Most of the stuff actually makes the books better, and cooler, and there is more there. Honestly, it is a nightmare for me to keep it all straight, but I am (so far).

On top of this, during this “process” John Helfers and I have discussed shortening the character arcs for a few characters.  That’s my way of saying, “We decided to kill off some characters.”  I did get John to agree that some of the chopped chapters (and fan characters) could be published in the magazine sometime down the road.  If he fails to live up to that, they will go in my blog as “The Missing Chapters!”

I am not making a big concerted effort to find homes for characters that got cut. My job is to write a good story with great characters – not turn this into a hodge-podge of fan fiction wet dreams.
On the Wolf’s Dragoons stuff, it is done and through edit.  I have seen and offered comments on the cover art concept.  NO BOB, I DO NOT KNOW WHEN IT WILL BE RELEASED. I have finished the prequel short novels, in draft, but hey, a lot can happen in editing.

All of this is good in the end, more fiction, more fan community involvement and engagement, more BattleTech.

PS. Don’t be Bob.

So, here is the updated list:

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

 

The Short Story – Redemption and Malice – Which, to my surprise, is coming out to the Kickstarter backers any day now: 

Derek King

Gerry S. Xydis

Jack Halloran

 

Rules of Engagement – Released for the Kickstarter

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

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

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

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

 

The Bonds of Battle (To Be Released in the Clan Boxed Set)

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

 

The Upcoming Wolf’s Dragoons Short Novel (I am not releasing the title because it may contain a spoiler)

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

 

Honor and Glory Short Novel – An Eagle Among Falcons

NO COMMENT OR COMMITMENT AT THIS TIME

 

UPCOMING NOVELLAS AND XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX 

NO COMMENT OR COMMITMENT AT THIS TIME

 

Tips – One of the Chief Reasons I Write True Crime

Scooby
I am not a police officer nor do I play one on TV.

People ask why I write about cold cases.  The last few weeks brought the issue to the forefront and I thought I’d share.

In the last few weeks I have had two tips come in on two different serial murder cases I have written about.  I get tips at least monthly, if not more often.  They seem to come in batches, which begs some sort of scientific study.  When I get tips I pass them onto the authorities.  I do this because I’m not one of the Scooby Doo Gang out solving mysteries.  The crimes get solved and go to trial when the authorities do their job and investigate.

I don’t share names or even what the tips are with the public so please, don’t ask.  Again, that’s for the investigators to do. You have to remember that with some of these tips, people feel their lives might be in danger. They may be right, it is difficult to say.  While most of the cases my daughter and I write about are old, that doesn’t mean that the killer(s) want it resolved. I protect my sources, but at the same time, if you call me, I will pass on the info to the police.

One tip, I finally heard from, was a dead end.  It is pretty rare that the authorities tell me if it is a good tip or a dud.  It was very nice that they followed up with me.   I think for the person that reached out to me, and her family, it was welcome news.

The other person with a tip not only contacted me but the authorities and it sounded promising…very promising.  Time will tell.

Someone asked if I ever felt I was putting my life at risk.  The short answer is yes.  I am sure that most murderers don’t want attention drawn to their cases…and that’s what we do as writers.  My daughter/co-author and I do take photos of the crowds at our speaking events because there’s a chance that the killer is sitting in the audience.  I’ve even shared some with law enforcement, because you never know…   I have had one person we outted as a suspect show up at a book signing once, though he didn’t have the nerve to come up to us and confront us.  I recently had someone threaten me over the phone.

Remember though, we tend to write about crimes from the 1960’s-1980’s.  That means that a 25+ year old killer then would be in his 60’s now.  So while there are times I am reminded that I could be in danger, I am picturing someone trying to chase me down driving a Rascal or with a walker.

There have been times when cars have parked in front of our house for hours at a time, only to speed off when I approach them.  There have also been some plain white-panel vans with government plates that have parked out there…so I presume the good guys are nearby.

People that cover true crime; authors, podcasters, bloggers, reporters, we all take a calculated risk when we start poking into cases.  It’s not glamorous by a long shot.  Still, we do it because we can help the authorities with new tips and leads that might lead to a conviction.

Totally Biased Review of BattleTech: Kell Hounds Ascendant by Michael Stackpole

Kell

I know it’s hard to believe, but I am not just a writer of BattleTech, I’m a fan.  So when these three novellas came out in a compendium, I got a copy.  I wasn’t disappointed.  These are tales of the Kell brothers in the formation of the infamous Kell Hounds mercenary unit.

This takes place during the Third Succession War, back when we could conquer a planet with a company of BattleMechs.  Boy, those were the days. Rumors of lostech prevail, pirate raids are a reality, and you had to make every missile count.  ‘Mechs were patched and cobbled together with binder-twine and a prayer.  Politics was less about what the Archon or Chancellor were thinking, but what happened on a local planet-level.  I miss a lot of that era as a fan because it was so simple and fun.  Mike has done an outstanding job of taking us back to those heady days of yesteryear with these stories.  It is as if he adopted a writing style he used back-in-the-day.  The pacing is brisk with subtle twists and turns.

When I was at the writer’s meeting two months ago I spoke with him about the stories and told him what I really liked best was the dialogue between Morgan and Patrick Kell.  The quips, the intricately crafted barbs, they were fun to read.  Mike pointed out to me that before these novellas, fans had never really seen and heard the brothers together.  For long-time fans, it is a special treat.

Each story stands alone and I won’t spoil any plots here.  I love the characters we get air-time with…Prince Ian Davion, Archon Katrina Steiner…and some of the foundational characters in the Kell Hounds.   It’s the little bits I enjoyed, like baby Melissa Steiner crying in the background of a scene.  These materials are perfect if you are going to run the new MechWarrior RPG because they give you some of the intrigue and challenges of starting up a mercenary unit from scratch.

Personally, I liked the first and third stories the best.  The second one deals with religion, and while masterfully done, I always lean away from religion in BattleTech.  Too many years of ComStar do that to you. Too much, “Hocus Pocus HPG Focus…” makes you shy away from true religious-based stories – though Mike does a great job with his.

This is not one of the spine novels, something universe shattering.  Instead these fill wonderful and entertaining gaps in BattleTech history.  They become more important with some of the events yet to come – so go out and buy this compendium!

Tantamount – The Pursuit of the Freeway Phantom Serial Killer, is now available

Phantom Poster

There is a strange sense of relief for an author when a new book is released.  This book is no different.  There will be pundits and critics, there always are.  I’m also fairly sure that the Washington Metropolitan Police and the Prince George’s County Police are not going to be elated.  We are releasing a lot of new information on this string of serial murders.  I anticipate them complaining about the book (if they say anything at all.)  We tried to work with them, to speak with investigators, to confirm sources, to let them know what material we had…but were stonewalled or outright ignored. The Washington MPD and mayor’s office spent more resources telling us why they refused to work with us than it would have taken them to actually cooperate.  They have good reasons to cover things up, which we will present in detail in the book.  There may be cries that this muddies their ability to investigate and prosecute the cases.

To which, I cry, “Bullshit.”

The Freeway Phantom cases have been open since 1971.  Trust me when I say our book does not impede the speedy investigation of these cases.  For almost 600 days the Freeway Phantom struck at the nation’s capital, stalking, kidnapping, raping, and murdering young girls aged between 10 and 18 years old.  He taunted authorities working the cases.  As mysteriously as he started, the Phantom stopped.

Or did he?

There’s some serious questions about other cases that occurred in the same neighborhoods that may be linked to the Freeway Phantom.  It is one of the things we pry open in Tantamount.  Some other items you will find made public for the first time:

  • A detailed exploration of the Green Vega Gang, some of whose members confessed to these crimes.
  • Dissecting key suspects never made public before, including an in-depth investigation of one of the prime suspects, Robert Askins.
  • Details about the crimes that have never been made public before, including a bizarre pattern of how the killer bathed his victims.
  • A listing of other possible related victims – including those that might have gotten away from the killer.
  • The confidential FBI profile of the killer.
  • New analysis by renowned FBI expert on linguistic forensics, Jim Fitzgerald, of Unabomber fame, of the note left by the killer on one of his victims.

We look forward to you joining us on this journey as we delve into the Freeway Phantom crimes.  Who knows, maybe one of you holds the secret to identifying this mysterious killer.

TANTAMOUNT-1

BattleTech Storyline Meeting

IMG_0357
Jason is embarassed to be sitting with us.  Totally understandable.

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.

IMG_0360
Randall:  “We only took this much off his leg at the knee…” 

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.

IMG_0358
Brent:  “Peace of Blake Be With You.” 

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.”

    IMG_0366
    Randall:  “So, for the Succession Wars Boxed Set Re-Release, we are going to need some new art…”  

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…

Our next book – Tantamount – The Washington DC Freeway Phantom Serial Killer

Phantom Poster

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.

Yes, I Do Play MechWarrior Online

MWarrior

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.