Behind the Scenes

The Challenge of Clash

This was originally posted before the book was finished on my Patreon Site. If you haven’t read Spinward Fringe Broadcast 17: Clash, then you should stop here. There are some major spoilers ahead. You can find the Audiobook and EBook versions of the novel in this blog post. enjoy! Now let’s get on with the show!

Image courtesy of Adobestock. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

In this new series of posts, I’m going to give some patrons a peek behind the scenes. I wish I had the time to record these as podcasts, and that may come in the future, but I take way too long editing each one – about two hours for every hour of recording, so I won’t be getting back to that until I have more time.

Spinward Fringe reinvents itself every few books. The living situations and status of the characters have been evolving fairly quickly, and that’s been a good thing. That was, until about a year ago. A change in direction was needed, but it would have to stick this time. Let me explain.

There aren’t many series in any genre that has gone as long as Spinward Fringe, and as I was doing a re-read of the entire thing I started looking back at what was left behind as the characters moved forward. While I enjoy how the Alice story has unfolded, I started seeing that a feeling of disconnection was starting to set in. It felt like she was drifting too far away from some of the original main characters, and something that compounded that was how difficult it was becoming to write Jacob Valent.

When a character becomes too loaded or complex, it can be good to give them a rest, which usually means making them a secondary or even tertiary character who doesn’t come up as often for a while. It also seemed like he was struggling less. He would be justified in thinking that he’d found his place and that what he had to do next would be predictable.

Jake is in his thirties, slowly approaching the same age I was when I started writing this series. Back then I was definitely not where Jake was at the end of Broadcast 16. I felt like I’d barely earned my place in the world, and I had a lot to work for. My career prospects were narrowing while my employment situation was absolutely terrible. I’ve made great strides since then, but my situation is arguably more precarious in most ways.

That was why I couldn’t easily relate to Jake anymore. His struggle against the Order of Eden remained, and he was getting used to being part of an expanded family, but he seemed pretty secure in himself and sure of his path. Something had to change if I was going to write him as the main character again, and I definitely wanted him to be in the spotlight.

So there we have two big problems. Alice and her friends were disconnected from the original main characters of the series, removing a sense of familiarity from future books. Jake, a character I still enjoyed, was too uncomplicated in a bad way. He was in a situation I couldn’t relate to.

As I realized these problems had to be solved, I was fulfilling another promise to the very few people who read my fantasy novels. NEM: Awakening ends on a sort of cliffhanger, with the core group formed through trial and trouble, but looking to the future after a very rough encounter. When I released Awakening I promised that there would be a much more definitive ending coming soon, so I got to work on NEM: Crimson Shores soon after Broadcast 16 was finished. After that, I followed my muse to Psycho Electric, which was a space opera cyberpunk novel that I’d been piecing together for about ten years. A three-week or so fling with The Last Of The Bullet Chaserf followed as I frantically worked out what would happen to Jake at the beginning of Broadcast 17. I apologize to everyone who expected Broadcast 17 sooner. I had to take a side trip or two to clear my head, learn a few new things about writing, and expand the Spinward Fringe Universe with books that would invite new readers into the fold. I also had to prove something to myself as a writer, which I’ll talk more about in another episode.

The idea that Jake would be punished for unleashing an unrestrained artificial intelligence virus (again) came to me as I was doing my read-through of the entire Spinward Fringe series. I was also about a third of the way through writing Psycho Electric, and I realized that I had the thing that would give me everything I needed for my old main character.

This idea would also facilitate the return of the British Alliance along with Lorander and the Mergillians. More importantly, they could re-establish themselves as the good guys. There would be reparations made by the British Alliance for what the previous government did, but the three allies would demand something first. Haven Fleet would have to clean house in order to show that they were playing by the same rule book. Jake’s removal from the Fleet would bring Alice and all the other original main characters to his side, and he could make a deal that would ensure a good sense of familiarity going forward. He could get the Triton back.

I thought it was a pretty good way to go, so I wrote a few outlines with Jake on trial. The first thing I saw was that I would have a lot of research to do if I went in that direction. The second thing I realized was that, unless I could get John Grisham as a guest writer, it would be pretty boring. Trials are long, testimony is often drawn out, and truncated, abridged versions of them can seem fake. I put the outlines away for a week, then came back to them and realized that I overlooked one very important question: “What would Jake do?” The answer came right away. He’d make a deal. In my opinion, that fixed it. As long as I was clear about what Jake’s deal was, why he was being punished, and that I provided all the details by the end of the book, I could start Broadcast 17 at the end of the legal stuff. Alice wouldn’t know anything about it, that way readers could find out with her.

On to the next thing that big shift would bring in. Jake needed a way to continue fighting, a reason for him to take the Triton back.

One of my favourite unpursued storylines was the Privateering idea, and since Jake would have access to a share of resources and wealth from the Haven System, he could afford to hire a crew and a fighter squadron. The Defence Minister would allow him to hire out of his old unit to prevent a split in the military. To many, Jake is seen as one of the founders of the whole thing, so Oz’s hope was to prevent a massive crisis using this strategy. There’s more to it, but that will come later on.

The Triton makes a perfect mobile base. It truly is a character in this series, and there’s room for new friends as Alice’s story starts to merge with her father’s and we get to see what the honeymoon phase of her relationship with Noah looks like. That is until they have their first real fight, which had to happen in this novel. A relationship without stress isn’t worth reading about, and they had some unresolved issues. They still don’t have a perfect relationship, which is good.

So, Jake is the owner of the Triton again, but he’s free to do as he likes because he has Stephanie Vega in the captain’s seat. I regret that I haven’t been able to feature Frost on the Gunnery Deck in this book, but that’s coming. I brought Ayan aboard, but that’s temporary since we can’t leave Little Laura without her mum for too long.

The next book in the series, which I’ll be starting right after Broadcast 17, is called Samurai Squadron, so it was important to establish Minh-Chu, Ashley, Cooper, and a few others as important characters on the Triton. That group of characters will have a lot more time on the page since Samurai Squadron launches the first real trilogy in the series since Fracture, Fragments and Framework. The Squadron is at the core of the main story in each book.

There was still something missing.

The best Spinward Fringe novels arguably have one thing in common aside from characters we want to spend time with. New ideas. Whether it’s the proposal of new technologies, deadly trade-offs, or cunning enemies, I think new ideas are important in science fiction. They can challenge characters and sometimes make us think. The concept of the lost colony isn’t new, but it presents a massive challenge for Jake and his crew, especially since they’re freshly disassociated from the military.

To keep the story small so Broadcast 17 wouldn’t be 300,000 words long, I decided to focus on two brothers. Wish fulfilment and science fiction go well together, so the concept of Orner being disabled came in right at the beginning along with Moxa and Eve using him as an example for the miracles they could bring to the people of Tiy. The struggle was in keeping that story from overwhelming the book since it would seem so unfamiliar at a 1920’s technology level. Too much of a new thing can be bad too.

Now we’ve come to things that I haven’t released yet, so I have to stop talking about story. That is, other than to say that the end will lean right into Spinward Fringe Broadcast 18: Samurai Squadron in a way that I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. It’ll be the Twenty-First book in the Spinward Fringe Series, including full-length .5 editions like The Expendable Few and Carnie’s Tale. I may have to take a two or three-week break to make sure that Broadcast 17’s editing is properly wrapped up, but I’m already looking forward to posting chapters from 18 here.

Having said that, I should address the first point I raised in this rambling piece. Things changed in Spinward Fringe again. The shift is drastic, bringing some old ideas back with new character dynamics aboard, and one of those ideas looks as far back as Broadcast Two. Now we’re ready for the next phase, where the Triton will be at the very centre. I actually hope that doesn’t change for a long time, perhaps for the rest of the series. That is if the Triton survives what’s coming.

ADDENDUM: One More Thing…

When I wrote that there were still a number of unwritten chapters and the edit wasn’t locked in. There was even a proof reader who was yet to come on board, and she whacked over eighty typos while providing some good input. I hadn’t decided on a few important things either, and the ending was rewritten twice. Once on the whiteboards, once as it was released on Patreon, and then again for the final edit. Even then the final draft wasn’t locked. I looked back at the very beginning and realized I had a problem.

There was a Prologue that explained how the Haven Government had sent many Nodes into the galaxy that used new technology that made communication over many light years as good as instant. This came up in Psycho Electric and enabled a whole chunk of that book’s story. It would also come up later in the Spinward Fringe Series, but I realized that explaining its existence and significance in a prologue wasn’t only boring, but unnecessary. I also explained that Jake had been sort of missing for two weeks and that Alice had been assigned to the Cefa System for a little over three months.

I wonder if you’re thinking what I was after going over the book for the third time. “Wait. Why am I explaining all that in a prologue when we get to discover what happened to Jake along with Alice while she’s standing in the middle of a Palacial Garden? A place she’s been relocated to in order to use her empathic ability for a job that she didn’t choose or enjoy? Wouldn’t it be more effective and entertaining if we let her show us what was going on?”

The prologue served its purpose when I was still writing the book. It set up the starting point, but it wasn’t required anymore, so after talking to a couple of people who were involved with the final edit, I cut it. Now I know it was the right decision. If you want to see it, you can check it out here on Patreon, where it’ll exist in a rough form.

I’m starting work on Spinward Fringe Broadcast 18: Samurai Squadron this week. Years of work have gone into it. I’ll share more about it later on.

For now, I’d like to hear about the direction the series is taking. Don’t worry about spoilers since only people who have read or listened to the book should participate. So, what do you think of their new course?