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Battle Plans

I have spent an inordinate amount of time writing Chapters 2-4, which deal with a fairly large battle sequence. There was something wrong that I couldn’t put my finger on. I kept scrolling back to reread and make sure my characters were all doing what they were supposed to do, were in the correct location, and moving through time in a linear fashion. Not that I have a beef with time-travel, I just don’t think I could handle future perfect tense.

A few weeks of that and I was completely lost, ready to scrap the whole thing and throw a massive tantrum. I ignored it for a few days, until I was doodling while in a meeting. It hit me like a wet sponge: startling, cold, and a slowly sliding opportunity to realize I should have seen it coming. I had the enemy attacking from two different places. One of which didn’t exist. Another of which was on top of a location that I had said was well defended. My lack of spacial reasoning had foiled me once again. What I needed – nay, required – was a map.

Behold, in all of it’s office-supply drawn glory: the Battle of Navi-2.

Click to see full image.

It helped me to keep everything moving along in non-space/time defying ways. And while hopefully you don’t need it to follow the action, it can’t hurt. Who says that you can’t learn marketable skills from D&D? To those skeptics I say, pshaw. I feel certain this will be marketable. Eventually.

Or maybe I’ll switch careers. Anyone know of any openings for apprentice cartographer?

Part III

The final chapter of Barghest, Part II posted last week and I’m already working on Part III. As I did between I and II, I’ll take a few weeks off while I flesh out the next installment of Barghest and get things ready for you.  I’ll also be working on fine edits for I and II, in preparation for publication through Kindle Serials. Amazon has been the right fit for me so far for e-publishing, and I am excited to see how will work for serials.  In the meantime, catch up on Barghest (recap below) – or if you already have, reread both parts to find a few hidden secrets that will continue to play out. If you see anything that makes you question the future, please let me know. I love your comments, messages, and tweets!

Spoilers for Barghest below.

In Barghest, Part I, Clara Maker saw combat for the first time and faced humanity’s enemy: Cullers. The aliens have bony, armor plated bodies and lethal serrated scythes on their forearms. Their intent is nothing short of extinction for the human race – although the reason for their crusade is unknown. Maker barely lives through the experience, but the psychological toll will remain with her long after the scars heal. A brief encounter with a mysterious leader of a special operations team saves her life, but only leaves her position within the ranks of the Coalition more uncomfortable. She is left with the certain knowledge that while her government may require her to serve in the military for a short time, she is not meant to be a soldier. Larger political moves cut her planned return to Earth short, and she makes the heavy decision to re-enlist in order to preserve her family’s livelihood.

Part I also details how the Sol Coaltion, through a top secret project run by the Ministry of Science and Research, has invested in a weapon to end the Culler War. A legion of genetically engineered super soldiers – human DNA blended with that of an alien predator – psychologically programmed to protect humanity and kill the enemy. Malak is the leader of the Keres Legion, his pack. Although he excels at his mission, he is torn between what he was created to do, and what his instincts and logic tell him he should do.  For the time being, following orders keeps his people fed, clothed, armed, and doing what they do best. The moment the objectives of the Sol Coalition no longer align with his, there will be a reckoning.

Political machinations unfold slowly in the background of Maker and Malak’s action. The Prime Minister, Helen Maker and Clara’s grandmother, has been manipulating the government and it’s servants toward an end that only she seems to understand. Whatever goal she is reaching for, her calculations do not exclude even her own blood.

In Part II, Maker has come into her own as a highly qualified translator and communications officer. Unfortunately, her training and skill cannot keep her out of danger. She falls into one terrible situation after another, and only survives by the barest margin through luck and determination. Between the vindictive superior officer dogging her steps and the constant fear that she may face the enemy – and come up lacking, Maker begins to realize that there may be more to her unlikely and narrow escapes than she previously thought. The Cullers seem to have targeted her specifically, and after a far too close encounter she has to wonder if there is a serious flaw in her genetic code. She believes she may be able to communicate on a para-sensory level, and she is absolutely certain that she does not want anyone to know about it.

Across the Dark and hundreds of light-years from Maker’s Earth, Malak has grown frustrated with his position within the Coalition hierarchy – or, rather, outside it. Although he is their most effective tool, at every turn he finds himself strangled by the regulations of a human organization and their paradoxical disregard for the value of human lives. The death of one of his own only makes him question his purpose more. Fighting to save a species that is not his own will eventually get everyone he protects killed. A mission years in the planning is nearly compromised, and he is left with a decision. He has the authority and duty to eliminate any threat to the Sol Confederation – and anyone with knowledge of his mission or his team. In this instance, he would not even have to pull the trigger. Walk away, and fulfill his mission objectives. Walk away, and agree that no one human life was worth his time, his effort. A human that had no place on the battlefield – was more hindrance that help in his eyes – and yet still fought tenaciously for her comrades. Malak saves Maker’s life, but it only leaves him in turmoil.

The former Prime Minister still works behind the scenes to set pieces in place for a game that few others even know exists. She had coerced vast budget allocations for weapons, ships, and a particular research project which concerns only humans that can speak Culler. One which causes symptoms very similar to what Maker endures: headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds that worsen over time. When a new, independent and powerfully popular president is elected to lead the Sol Confederation, Helen reveals to him that not only is she aware of the location of the Culler homeworld, she may very well know why they attacked Earth and started a century-long war. Informing the President of the existence of Malak and Keres Legion is a footnote in comparison.

The Important Things

In the last two weeks, in no particular order, I:

  1. Was elected to public office. Whether or not this was a good idea is still undetermined.
  2. Nearly finished a house. Barn. Barn-house. Whatever. Despite my complete lack of carpentry skills I am so close to no longer crashing with my in-laws I can taste it. Mmmm. Tastes like sawdust.
  3. Aged.
  4. Nearly had a nervous breakdown after leaving my child under the temporary supervision of a man named Ishmael. He did not ask me to call him that. Missed opportunity.

This is not an insurmountable number of things. Not even an interesting number for many of you who are probably all like, “Yes, but did you recycle?” (I did, in fact, recycle, but not as much as I should have. Shhh. Don’t tell the Sierra Club.) One fortnight gone by, and despite all of this other activity, in the forefront of my mind – my forebrain, if you will – was Barghest. This week I posted Chapter 18: Timing, and I spent much longer than I intended working on it. I deliberated on adding, changing, cutting and just starting over on the whole thing. It was Malak’s turn to tell the story of Barghest, and Malak can be tough to nail down. As a character, he has a backstory that is about as far from my personal experience as can be. In addition he is fiercely loyal, immensely deadly, taciturn, and currently in the grips of a fundamentally important internal struggle.

Is humanity worth saving?

We learned something about that struggle in Chapters 13 & 16. The Legion was created to save humanity by killing Cullers. And while the Coalition has no qualms about sacrificing their own to reach that objective, Malak has displayed a feral aversion to losing even a single Legionnaire to his enemies. If the opportunity presented itself – if he had to make a choice between one of his own and a human – would it be simple for him? What grey area can exist for the genetic experiment of a desperate government? Chapter 18 explores that dilemma further and brings Malak closer to a judgement that could change not just the course of a war – but the future of a species.

Enjoy Chapter 18: Timing, and excuse me while I get some water to wash out the taste of construction and missed deadlines.

I’m Back Baby

So, there’s been a bit of a break. I take full responsibility and apologize for my inaction. The first step is admitting there is a problem.

*Spoilers for Barghest, Part II*

Maker has accomplished step one. There is definitely a problem. One that seems to occur every time she goes on a mission. Namely, people die. And while that shouldn’t be too surprising given the billions of humans that have been killed as part of the Culler War, she has difficultly not feeling personally responsible. Things were looking up for her with her transfer to the Kahlid, where her friends are stationed, and a promotion to middle management. Although no one has ever, in the history of one person assigning work to another, said, “Gee middle management is where I want to be” it has its upsides. Maker won’t be ultimately responsible for soldiers on the front line, and she gets her own room. Not bad compared to the alternatives.

However, things never pan out exactly as they should where Maker is involved. In Part II, Chapter 15: Prevailing Winds, Maker’s service to the Sol Coalition takes another turn for the worst. In another star system, at about the same time and not so far away, Malak is doing his damnedest to protect Alnitak and the Coalition soldiers headed there but he has to jeopardize his own mission to do so.

But that is a story for a new chapter.

Here’s to a soldier and a brave one.

A knife and a sharp one.

An enemy and a dead one.

A quick death and an easy one.

Holiday Schedule

For those of you in the States, this Monday was Labor Day. Taking a mandatory day off from my regular gig as a grant writer was nice, but it also threw my entire week out of wack. That is no excuse for a late chapter in Barghest, Part II – I know. But, I hope you will still enjoy Chapter 12: Character Assassination.

It took me a while to work him into a scene, but Rodriguez finally makes an all too brief reappearance. There is something about an over-sexed, hair-gelled, pretty boy that I just love. Maybe it’s the potential for one liners. Maybe it’s the potential for awkward and uncomfortable silences. I like both. In any case, Chapter 12 brings Maker’s gang back together and that is always the start of something amazing. And, as we learned in Part I: Siege Engine, usually destructive. And bloody. And probably some of the worst workers’ compensation claims ever. Spines don’t regrow themselves, you know.

Aside from publishing another chapter in my sci-fi serial, I spent the greater portion of the early part of this week developing a routine for social media and making this. If you are interested in updates on posts, new chapters, and reading recommendations, you can follow me @susanamund . If you are interested in how far Keres Base is from Earth, check out the map.  Here’s hoping that next week is more on schedule.

How did you spend your holiday?

Getting the Word Out

Chapter 9: Lame Duck, of Barghest Part II has posted. Although I realize not all of my readers like the chapters that aren’t action packed, I enjoy writing them just as much. They can be harder to block out and rough edit – it is difficult to know sometimes (especially for me) when I have said too much, over-explained, or dragged out a description. I do love a good description. However, these chapters are where I lay the foundations for future reveals. Writing a chapter like Lame Duck, or previous chapters like Unexpected Results or Smoke Filled Room, are challenging because they are based on dialogue rather than action. But when I get them right I can’t help but rub my hands together like a Bond villain and laugh manically. I can hardly contain myself as I wait for readers to realize that they knew, all along, what was going to happen. They had the clues. The antagonist told them – right there – what was going to happen.  I love that moment when I am reading books by other authors, and to create that for someone else is an amazing rush.

As I continue to work on Barghest, I am always trying to find new ways to let potential readers know about it. I like this story, I love some of the characters, and I want to share it with as many people as I can. I want their feedback, and yours, so that this story, this universe, can be the best possible version of itself. To that end, I ask that if you enjoy Barghest, share it with your friends. Follow me on Twitter @susanamund , subscribe to my blog and leave comments. And if you have a moment, visit Top Web Fiction and vote for Barghest. Every time someone has the opportunity to see my work is fantastic.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy Lame Duck!

That Nagging Feeling

Last week’s post was late. Really late. Like Sunday-which-is-actually-the-start-of-a-new-week late. Sorry.

The problem was that I wasn’t happy with Chapter 7, which made me hold onto Chapter 8.  I was thinking that I needed to change something, and worried that it would impact future chapters going forward. I sat on the latest installment all day Tuesday, hoping that what was actually wrong with the previous chapter would come to me. It didn’t. The week went on by and I still wasn’t satisfied with what I had posted, but I could not figure out why.  I had a couple of readers let me know what they liked about Chapter 7, which gave me the incentive to go ahead with Chapter 8: Shoot and Scoot.

I like Chapter 8; I’m glad I am back on schedule, but I still have that nagging feeling that something is wrong. If you felt there was a missing component, or there was something that just didn’t sound right in the last chapter, please let me know. I want to correct it. I want to give you the best possible version of Barghest. And for the love of Pete, I want to stop worrying about what I did wrong. I’m probably asking for trouble putting this out there, but please: tell me what I screwed up.

Self-employed

Being self-employed is great – the dream, right? You work on what you want to, when you want to. When your assignment is done, you can play. No need to waste time on busy work waiting for the clock to hit five. You can wear what you want and no one complains if you have raw onions in your salad at lunch. You are accountable to no one but yourself.

Then again, you’re accountable to no one but yourself. Missed that deadline? Well, you set it, so either you are lazy or unrealistic. Either way it’s your fault. The project not working for you? Well, you assigned it, so again, still your fault. Unable to focus on anything but the raw onions you had for lunch – maybe you need to set some guidelines for the break room (i.e. your kitchen).  I was late posting Barghest, Part II, Chapter 6 this week. It is a day late, but I have no one to blame but myself. I didn’t get to it as soon as I should have, and when something else came up that I couldn’t avoid there was no one to bail me out. Hopeful you will enjoy it nonetheless, and hopefully I’ll be more on the ball next week.

Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think.

High School: Spoiler Alert

I like to think that there are certain constants in every world. Because writers are people too, and we all have to draw from our own experiences at some point in order to make what we write believable. That is not to say that my personal experience includes hand-to-hand combat with alien soldiers. Or aliens in any situation, combative or otherwise. It does mean, however, that there are certain truths that I think transcend genre. A good mystery novel may set the detective in a scene with the worlds slowest moving government paper pusher – maybe even the DMV – and that puts the reader firmly in the correct mindset. Because we have all been there, right? A romance novel might have that awkward moment where one person announces their feelings only to be met with strained silence, or that horribly apologetic, “Thank you?”. Ugh, a reader can’t help but feel for that character. And a sci-fi political action, or whatever the appropriate genre is for Barghest, has high school.

It doesn’t matter if it is a century and a half into the future and humanity has figured out faster-than-light travel, achieved world peace through interspecies war and oppressive government oversight, and figured out a way to make tofu into something that tastes like food instead of mushy cardboard. High school is a constant. It is a weird, uncomfortable, and at least 60% of the time is trying to figure out who you are and how to move your body without looking like a muppet that lost out on a Dark Crystal casting call. Even genetically superior beautiful people of the future still have bullies, nerds, and regrets. At that age, events that will be looked back on as insignificant, or the starting point of something great, seem to be the END OF ALL THINGS. Clara Maker wasn’t always Sargent Maker of the Sol Coalition: saver of allies, infiltrator of enemy lines, and terrible poker player. She went to high school too. Some of those experiences shaped her future. Some of it made for funny stories that she could laugh about when she got older and wiser and gained a little perspective. Some of it just sucked.

That sounds familiar.

Read Barghest, Part II, Chapter 4: Unexpected Results and let me know what you think, I’d love to hear from you. Also, if high school was awkward for you too, imagine me giving you a fist bump. If not, then me neither. I was totally cool. Really.

Busy Bee

Last week was a very long week, followed by a long weekend. Three day holiday should translate to plenty of time to write and relax, but alas, that was not the case. I was down to the wire to get my #tuesdayserial post for Barghest out, but I did it. Part II, Chapter 3: Fish in a Barrel is up. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please let me know. If not, I would love to know what you would have liked to see different.

I also had another two non-fiction articles published this week, one about home construction the other my hobby for ballroom dancing. (FYI – I do not practice both at the same time.) I had hoped that articles would help bridge that financial gap between a day job and writing full-time, but although I feel proud of the little snippets I have written, I don’t think they are going to me any more monetizable than my fiction. At least not in the near future. Perhaps even less so. And I didn’t like writing them so much that I want to take time away from Barghest or Nordic Diner to work on them.

It was a nice experiment, however, and I should make the effort to try at least a few other publications and mediums before I give up on that as a revenue stream. Still, fiction is my passion, so I don’t think I’ll be giving it up any time soon. Thank you for reading!