Rescue at Waverly is now on Audible!

I am happy to announce that my first novel, Rescue at Waverly, is now available as an audiobook through Audible! This is my first ever audiobook, and is narrated and produced by myself.

Head over to to purchase it: I understand it’s supposed to be available on iTunes as well, but since I am not an Apple/iTunes user I can’t confirm this.

2022 Update: Audiobooks, Book 4 Progress, and Writer Updates

Hello readers! Been a while since I’ve posted, so here’s an update on how things are going.

Coming Soon: Audiobooks Through Audible

I’m joining Audible! This means my collection will eventually be available in audiobook format, narrated by myself. Rescue at Waverly is fully narrated and uploaded to Audible, and I’m waiting for some beta listener feedback before I click the publish button. It’s around 8 hours in length. In addition, I have about a third of Rebellion at Ailon recorded, but it (as well as most later titles) will be around 15 hours in length so I’m going to wait on feedback for Waverly before I do too much work on these.

Here I am, recording in my home studio.

Progress Update on Mercenary Ascent

To put it bluntly, I am way, way behind on my fourth novel, Mercenary Ascent. My existing manuscript had become a disorganized collection of short stories, and it wasn’t driving forward the story I need to tell. As a result, I’m doing a “do-over” of it. I came up with a new outline, I’m copying in old things from the manuscript that are still usable, and I’m trying to create a more focused, driven story.

One hard part is I’m dealing with a large amount of general burnout in almost everything, and it’s been difficult to find motivation to work on this project. I finally found an environment where I can be productive (sitting outside at one of my city’s lakes) but the “spring” weather has been so terrible (cold, rainy, and sometimes snowy) that that hasn’t been much of an option. I hope I can make significant progress this summer. As an aside, I know I’m not the only person dealing with burnout these days, and I’m finding just how important it is to change up your environment and surroundings in order to make yourself productive again.

My Writer Application Is Coming To Linux And Mac, Finally!

Lastly, I am finally taking efforts to make my writer application cross-platform, because I am primarily a Linux Mint user and I’d like this to work on that OS. Currently, it is Windows-only because it uses the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) as the UI toolkit. I have a branch in git where I am porting the project over to .NET 6 and a UI framework called Avalonia UI, which is supported on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Avalonia is extremely similar to WPF (still uses XAML and databinding, and the syntax is around 90% compatible), so most of my existing code is porting over with only minor changes. Performance has improved a lot, too! I really don’t know what the state of WPF/.NET on Windows is these days, but it seems to have some significant performance issues. Mostly the mouse hitches around a lot, there’s stuttering and microfreezes, and sometimes lost keystrokes. I thought it was a problem with my application, but I’ve noticed all WPF applications (including some versions of Microsoft Visual Studio) act this way on my Windows 10 machine, so there’s a deeper issue there.

Avalonia does not have that stuttering at all. So even if I didn’t care about cross-platform support, it would be worth the switch just to fix the performance issues and reduce frustration. In any case, it’ll help me migrate more fully into Linux as my primary OS, and in theory the application will also work on Macs although I will not be able to test or officially support Apple. Officially, this app will be supported on Windows 10 and Linux Mint. Unofficially, it should run on anything that supports .NET 6.0.

There is one big problem with Avalonia, however: it doesn’t have an implementation of FlowDocument or a rich text editor. My documents are completely based upon the FlowDocument type, so that part is still Windows-only. There are tickets and chatter on Avalonia’s GitHub page regarding this issue, so I believe they’ll have a solution eventually. So, my plan is to port as much of my application over to Avalonia as possible, which should be pretty much everything except the actual document editor. At that point I’ll have to re-evaluate things. Maybe by then Avalonia will have a rich text editor, and then the final porting will be easy.

There are other options, none of which I’m too enthused about. I could migrate my data to some other format and do something weird like embed a GTK or Qt rich text view into the app. I did look into AvaloniaEdit because a lot of people recommend it, and while it’s a cool project, it’s meant for coding and not document creation. It would take some significant hacking to make it fit my purposes, but I haven’t ruled it out yet. Lastly, I could do something completely custom, which I really don’t want to do. This app was only possible because the FlowDocument/RichTextEditor in WPF did all the document editing for me, allowing me to focus development efforts on all the supporting features outside of the document editor.

An early build of TJ Mott’s Writer running on Linux Mint. Progress!

Anyways, that’s all I have to share at the moment. Thanks for reading!

Surprise Release! Two Short Stories!

Good morning readers, today I just released two short stories that function as prequels to the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles. Early last week, Amazon emailed me about the Pen To Publish 2019 contest for short stories. I’ve always had some ideas on how to go back before Rescue at Waverly, but there’s just not enough there to fill out an entire novel. But short stories less than 10,000 words? That’s the perfect opportunity to examine some of the backstory of my two main characters!

So here they are, available on Amazon in ebook form for $0.99 each. If you ever wanted to see a young, naïve Thaddeus Marcell, or wondered how Amanda Poulsen became so angry and toughened, here you go.

Thaddeus Marcell: The Terran Engineer

Amanda Poulsen: The Hyberian Raider

I don’t plan to publish these as standalone paperbacks because they’re way too short for that. But I will add “The Terran Engineer” as a bonus section to the paperback edition of “Mercenary Ascent” and “The Hyberian Raider” to “Mercenary Justice,” so if you’re a paperback-only reader, you’ll have to be patient.


On Having An Unlikable Character

The first three novels in The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles are finished, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. I’m making progress on the fourth entry, Mercenary Ascent, and thought I’d do a little mid-series analysis. Don’t worry, there are no serious spoilers here, though I do vaguely outline the future direction of the series.

Is Thad An Unlikable Main Character?

There’s one piece of criticism that I consistently receive on my first novel, Rescue at Waverly. Main character Thaddeus Marcell is an unlikable character.

I don’t let reader criticism work me up too much. Sometimes it’s valid, sometimes it isn’t, and I don’t set out to confront negative readers. But whenever I hear this one, my initial thought is, “Well, yeah, that’s the point! In that novel, Thad Marcell is supposed to be an unlikable character! Morally-speaking, the series starts with Thad at his lowest point.”

Making him unlikable was unexpected to some readers. And the book’s ending is also a bit sour, but I still think it was necessary for the overall story arc. However, when I hear that some readers never advance beyond the first book for these reasons, it tells me my execution could have been better. They see who Thad Marcell is at this early stage, and they think the rest of the series will be the same. If you don’t like the main character, why would you read the sequels? Maybe the first novel doesn’t adequately answer that question. I tried to address that by including a preview of Rebellion at Ailon, but was that enough?

In hindsight, I’d say my approach to Rescue at Waverly was experimental with mixed results. But it was also my first novel, and a writer’s first novel almost always stands out as different.

A New Beginning, Not a Baseline

Book 1 is just the starting point. It’s not meant to set the norms for its sequels, it’s there to bring about significant change. It establishes who Thad was, then it violently shakes him up and changes his status quo. He begins to change, and by the end of the series he’s a very different character. His plotline over these six books is more-or-less about redemption. If not redemption, at least transformation.

So it’s my intention for the reader to feel somewhat conflicted by him, at least during the first two books. There’s both good and bad in him. There’s satisfaction at seeing him change his ways and become a better person. But I also don’t let him get away with his old evils because that feels unjust, so there’s a thread of tragedy as a result of things he’s done–the worst of which occurs in the second book, Rebellion at Ailon. Yes, he’s changing into a better person, but his past will always haunt him.

A Sequence of Themes

If I intentionally started my hero as an unlikable character, where does he end? I think literary critics (and especially teachers) put way too much emphasis on themes in fiction and often read things the author never intended. I hesitate to go there because I’m just trying to write something entertaining and I don’t really have any serious theme or purpose to this. But if I look hard enough, I can see some themes in this series, and as the writer I guess I have final say in that matter.

This six-book arc can be broken up into three sections, each with two books that have a common theme. I think I can describe this without serious spoilers.

Books 1 and 2: Self-Awareness and Introspection

In the first two books, Rescue at Waverly and Rebellion at Ailon, Thad finally realizes that he cannot continue operating as he does. He must change his ways, and as the writer I’m incredibly hard on him to force this change. As a result, there really are no strong antagonists here because it’s all about inner conflict. Sure, he faces a variety of enemies, but the important thing is that Thad must overcome himself.

These two books are by far the most tragic in the series. But there’s some light in that you clearly see the beginnings of Thad’s transformation during the second book. The first book might make you hate him, but hopefully the second book makes you feel for him.

Books 3 and 4: Changes and Growth

In the second section, The Prince’s Revenge and Mercenary Ascent, Thad is clearly changing. His goals are different. His priorities are different. The way he runs his mercenary company is different. And there are lines he refuses to cross now. Many of his men have backgrounds as outlaws, pirates, and other nefarious types, and they’re starting to worry because their boss isn’t really one of them anymore!

There’s less introspection and inner conflict at this point. There’s no need for it anymore. Thad is overcoming himself, so I let the conflict turn outward. Now he faces powerful external antagonists, which is a stark contrast to the sequence of mishaps in the first novel and the mostly-faceless Avennian overlords of the second novel.

Books 5 and 6: A Hero with Honor and Integrity

Thad’s transformation is completed in the third section, Mercenary Justice and Conspiracy at Earth. I can’t say much about these two novels yet, not without spoiling the plotline, but at this point Thad is a very different person. If the Rescue at Waverly-era Thad is unstable, self-obsessed, and unlikable, willing to run over anyone or anything that gets between himself and his own selfish goals, the Conspiracy at Earth-era Thad is strong, reliable, and wields his power to do what’s right and help others. They’re practically two different characters!

As you can guess from Book 6’s title, this one involves finding Earth. Had the Rescue at Waverly-era Thad found Earth, it would have ended in disaster. He was too selfish and too much of a loose cannon. But the Conspiracy at Earth-era Thad is able to deal with the situation honorably. It just took six books to change him into the right person for that!

Lessons Learned: So What About Future Series?

The readers who quit after the first novel have a valid point about Thad Marcell being an unlikable main character. That was the story I came up with, and that was the story I wrote, and I don’t think I could have done it any differently without invalidating the entire series. But it’s an experiment I do not plan to repeat. The sequel series to The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, titled Secrets of Earth, is more straightforward. It follows a new main character on a wild adventure that serves to tie up loose ends I just wasn’t able to solve in the first series. I expect it to stand fairly well on its own, though a few details will be clearer if you also read the first series.

This time, I don’t expect the reader to feel as conflicted about the main character. He’s one of Thad Marcell’s sons, and he’s unambiguously a good guy, free of the dark past and baggage that weighs down his father. So despite the tragedies and battles in this story, it’s far easier to feel sympathetic towards the main characters and the tone is usually more lighthearted.


I guess my point is that if you read Rescue at Waverly and thought Thad Marcell was an unlikable, unredeemable character, this was intentional. Yes, the first two books are dark, but it gets better if you’re willing to keep reading. And if you don’t like The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, maybe you’ll like the upcoming Secrets of Earth because the tone and approach are very different.

And if not, that’s okay. As with any writer, my work isn’t for everyone. I write the story I want to write. Some people will like it and some will not. That decision rests with the reader, not me.

The Prince’s Revenge released!

The third novel in the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, The Prince’s Revenge, has been released in Kindle ebook and paperback editions! This entry brings back an old enemy, High Prince Saar, the absolute leader of the Tor Regency who, many years ago, hired Thad Marcell to protect his empire during the Tor-Dravon War. At the end of that war, Saar made a costly mistake, one that cost the lives of millions, and one that he blames Marcell for. Now, no price is too high and no collateral damage too great in Saar’s quest for vengeance, and Thad and his Organization must stop him before it’s too late.

The Prince’s Revenge Purchase Links

The Prince’s Revenge on – $2.99 Ebook and free for Kindle Unlimited

The Prince’s Revenge on – $11.99 paperback edition

The Prince's Revenge cover art

Closing in on “The Prince’s Revenge”

I just received my first paperback proof copy of the third entry in the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, The Prince’s Revenge. I need to do one final readthrough and editing pass (and fix up one short subplot that I think really falls flat on its face in its current form), and then I’ll finally release the Kindle ebook and paperback editions for sale over on

It’s a big book–nearly 500 pages! Unfortunately, I need to raise the price of the paperback edition compared to previous entries due to printing costs. It will most likely cost $11.99. The Kindle ebook edition will be $2.99 just like the previous stories.

Some Trivia, and an Update on Book 3’s Progress

Trivia Time

I don’t want to let this blog go stale while I’m hard at work between releases, so I thought I’d explain a few background tidbits on stuff in my first two titles. It’s all trivia-level stuff, nothing I’d consider spoilers and nothing that’s too important in the final works, but perhaps interesting nonetheless. There are a lot of little details that have unusual origins or have changed in interesting ways. Sometimes those are fun to look at. Read ahead for some of this trivia, as well as a small update on my next work, The Prince’s Revenge.

Thaddeus Marcell’s Name

My main character, Thaddeus, is actually named after one of the Twelve Apostles, Judas Thaddaeus. I selected the name because I think of Thad as sort of a betrayer. He isn’t a betrayer of someone else, but a betrayer of himself, of his own ideals and morals. By the time of Rescue at Waverly, he’s become so obsessed with his search for Earth that he’s abandoned almost every moral value he’s ever held, and the entire purpose of that novel is to awaken him to that fact. But I didn’t want to outright call him Judas because that’s too obvious, so I chose Thaddeus instead, accidentally conflating Judas Thaddaeus with Judas Iscariot. Oops. Thaddeus also has the advantage of being a somewhat unusual and memorable name.

Despite my “mistake,” it worked out well for a different symbolic reason. According to Wikipedia, the Roman Catholic Church views Judas Thaddaeus as the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. I actually did not know that when I chose the name, but it fits my character very well, especially given the thread of tragedy weaved into his story.

As for his last name of Marcell, the truth is a bit silly. If you’re looking for symbolism here, too bad. For a long time he simply had no last name. At some point I decided I needed something and I just started looking around the room. I had a Marshall electric guitar amplifier sitting nearby, so I gave Thad the surname of “Marshall”. Later on, I corrupted the name into the similar word “Marcell” just for uniqueness’ sake.

Thad’s flagship was originally called Wolverine

Rescue at Waverly mostly takes place aboard Thad’s personal flagship, a frigate called the Caracal. Long ago, I’d decided to name his Blue Fleet warships after predators. Originally, this ship was titled the Wolverine, after the vicious bear-like animal that is far more dangerous than its small size suggests. I thought it was the perfect metaphor, given how Thad and his fleet of small-but-effective warships operated.

However, I took a very long time to draft and complete this novel. So long, in fact, that a whole bunch of X-Men movies were released during this time. Before then, I vaguely knew of Wolverine as a comic book superhero, but I never even considered the X-Men when naming this starship. And thanks to the movies, the word “wolverine” quickly lost its identity as anything apart from the X-Men. During final editing, I changed it so I wouldn’t distract my readers with unintended references to other franchises. I ended up studying lists of predators and stumbled into the caracal, sort of a funny-eared wildcat. It was an odd, memorable, and unique name, and all three of those are very important qualities when writing fiction.

Thad’s Alias’s Namesake

In Rebellion at Ailon, Thad operates under an alias, Chad Messier. This is because he was partially responsible for Ailon’s enslavement and he needed to remain anonymous while he was there. As an astronomy and physics nerd, I decided to call him Charles Messier, in honor of the famous French astronomer by that name. Later on, I changed his first name to Chad for the practical reason that it was very similar to Thad, making it easier for him to adjust to the alias.

Culper’s Spy Ring

In Rebellion at Ailon, there’s a member of the Ailon Rebel Council named Culper who controls the rebels’ intelligence networks. This was a not-so-subtle reference to the Culper Ring, although you might not know this unless you’ve done some serious study on the American Revolution.

Amanda Poulsen Was Originally a Throw-Away Character

In the earliest drafts of Rescue at Waverly, the Caracal‘s chief pilot and navigator, Lieutenant Amanda Poulsen, was just a minor throw-away character who wasn’t going to survive the book. But during my first rewrite of that book (a LOT of stuff changed after the first draft), I examined her brief appearances and decided she might be too interesting to kill off. I took a meaningless filler comment about the “Hyberian Raiders” and developed it into a mythos, re-wrote her into a survivor from that group, and then gave her a much larger role in the later drafts. (Incidentally, some readers have commented that she’s a bit like Honor Harrington. This is completely coincidental; I’ve never read anything from the “Honorverse”.)

As should be fairly obvious by Rebellion at Ailon, she’s now basically the second main character for this series. I use her point of view to provide insight into the more mercenary-like sections of Thad’s organization, since Thad himself is far more concerned with finding Earth than he is with personally fulfilling merc contracts.

The Norma Empire’s Namesake

I used to play a lot of “Elite: Dangerous”. In fact, I was among the first thousand players to make the journey to the center of the galaxy and visit the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. That was a huge (and perhaps wasteful) time commitment, and I spent a lot of time studying the game’s fairly-plausible map of our Milky Way galaxy. One of the regions I had to cross on that journey is called the Norma Arm. While wrapping up my first novel, I still didn’t have the setting figured out so I tentatively chose this region (although the Norma Empire only gets a few minor mentions in the first book). It’s far enough from Earth to practically be a different universe, yet close enough that well-prepared starships might be able to make the journey–if they’re lucky and have an extremely-dedicated crew.

But, truth be told, the story’s exact location in the galaxy is still an unresolved issue, so don’t take this section as definitive proof of anything regarding Earth’s location in my fiction. The Norma Arm’s distance from Earth (around 12,000 light-years at the closest) is probably a bit too far for the starships available in my world, even considering a few extenuating details that are Top Secret™ for now. But the location and distances are not really relevant until Book 6, so I have plenty of time to make a decision. In the end, the name might simply end up being a coincidence.

The Prince’s Revenge Status

Finally, I wanted to give a brief update on Book 3’s status. One of the great things about being self-published is that I can do things at my own pace. No external deadlines or pressure from publishing companies. Sometimes things really drag out, but sometimes they go faster than expected.

So far, I’ve scheduled one release per year. I released my first novel on January 1, 2018. Exactly one year later, I released the first sequel. I’ve hoped that my output would increase as I become more experienced and continue developing the series, and I think that’s starting to happen. It’s now early March, just two full months into my current project, titled The Prince’s Revenge, and my current draft is sitting at 55,000 words. I estimate that the final work will be around twice that length. (For comparison, Rescue at Waverly is roughly 90,000 words and Rebellion at Ailon is around 140,000.)

So, assuming I can keep the pace up and don’t need to do any major rewrites, it’s quite possible I’ll release this one well before the end of 2019. I’d love to step up to two releases per year, because I have quite a backlog of ideas I’d like to work on!

A Short Geography Lesson

I’m doing some planning and mapping while I detail out some parts for my upcoming third novel, The Prince’s Revenge, and part of that involves adding some areas to my map of the “galaxy”. I decided to share a terrible cell phone picture of the map and go over a couple points, just for fun. I used to work in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and even though that was years ago, I’m still a map nerd.

A map of the Marcellian Universe (click to enlarge). Each grid cell represents 25 light-years.

So far, the majority of my work has taken place in the so-called Independent Regions. This is a large, lowly-populated area that’s all galactic “south” of the Norma Empire. Lots of tiny governments, single-star-system civilizations, and tons and tons of empty space. Plus Thad’s Headquarters asteroid.

If you’ve paid close attention, you’ve seen the Norma Empire mentioned multiple times in my work, but mostly as a background element that doesn’t seem too important. That will change as the series progresses. Basically, the Norma Empire is a huge confederation of Imperial States, each one led by a Duke who’s mostly an absolute monarch in his state but has pledged fealty to the Emperor at Norma in return for protection and stability and economic advantages. I mostly modeled it after the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval predecessor to Germany which, as the joke says, was neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire. But the important fact is that Norma is the oldest, most highly-populated, most important, and most powerful civilization in my universe, and it occupies a huge chunk of the area of the “galaxy” civilized by mankind.

There are a few other star empires on the map. Some of them are unlabeled, just placeholders I’ll work on if I ever decide to visit that region of the “galaxy” in my works. Some are mentioned in the stories, and some are background details I worked up and haven’t used yet for whatever reason

I put galaxy in quotes because it’s kind of an overused term in science fiction, and it’s also not really that accurate in my work. Our Milky Way galaxy, in which my fiction takes place, is a disc-shaped region anywhere from 90,000 to 150,000 light-years in diameter depending on who you ask. But the region of civilizated space in my work (okay, I have no idea how I typo’d civilized into that, but I’m leaving it in because it made me laugh…) is at best less than 3,000 light-years wide, which means that mankind has visited very little of it. If the galaxy was the size of the Earth, then the characters and empires in my stories have barely left their house yet, and certainly haven’t crossed a street. And yet it’s still a huge volume of space that can take months to cross in hyperspace.

Well, that’s all for now. Just a minor geography lesson, for fun. (And before you start looking too closely, no, Earth is not marked on this map.)

“Rebellion at Ailon” officially released!

Today, I’m officially releasing my newest novel “Rebellion at Ailon” through! This is the second book of the Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles, and it follows Thad as he attempts to take a sabbatical from his mercenary organization yet ends up in a war anyway! You’ll also get a look at some other parts of his Organization, including the formation of a brand-new Blue Fleet squadron and the efforts of a pair of Gray Fleet spies in Imperial space. It all comes together in an epic battle for freedom at a world called Ailon!

Both of my titles are available on and Kindle Unlimited. You can also click “Look Inside” on the Amazon product page to read a preview. I’ve got some links below to get you started:

  1. “Rescue at Waverly”: Ebook edition ($2.99) and Paperback edition ($9.99)
  2. “Rebellion at Ailon”: Ebook edition ($2.99) and Paperback edition ($10.99)

What Inspired The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles?

Since releasing “Rescue at Waverly,” I’ve been submitting links to my work all over the Internet, to various promotional sites to get my name out there. And one of the things I constantly get asked by the online submission forms is some variation of “What inspired you to write?” I thought it might be fun to go into further detail and examine the history of my project, “The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles.” And if you’ve ever considered writing your own fiction, maybe if you see how my process went, it’ll give you some ideas.

It All Began with Star Wars

When I was a kid, most of the fiction I read was from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which was a collection of novels that were first released in the early 1990’s. I loved reading, and starting around the third grade, I spent much of my time in school ignoring my teachers and quietly reading Star Wars novels instead. At some point, for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to write science fiction, too. Why? I don’t know, it’s been so long I don’t remember. Maybe it’s the same nature that made me want to get into programming after spending so much time with computers as a kid, because I was exposed to Microsoft QBasic at around this same time. But that desire to write never really went away. As I grew older, it was fueled by my interests in math and physics, and it persisted even when I found myself working a full-time career in IT and software development.

Space Pirates

The first thing I remember trying to write was called “Space Pirates.” This was around fifth grade, maybe even a little earlier. It didn’t have much of a plot, but as I recall, it followed a crew of three pirates who worked around Earth space and somehow got involved in a ground war on Venus. I think I had 20 or 30 pages written, and then I must have gotten bored and moved on. (My manuscript might still be sitting on a rotten 3.5-inch floppy disk somewhere in an old abandoned Missouri farmhouse. I wouldn’t go looking for it though, floppies had lifespans measured in milliseconds and it’s now been twenty years or so.)

Killer Toy Robots

Around the same time, plus or minus a year, I remember working on a story involving a toy robot. It was given to some kid as a Christmas gift. However, it was accidentally programmed at the factory to be a military assassin, and once turned on, it escapes from its family and starts a robot revolution. I was young and impressionable, and I’m pretty sure I had just read “Tales of the Bounty Hunters” and regurgitated IG-88’s story in my own terms. Minus the parts where he uploaded a copy of his droid brain into the second Death Star’s main computer, of course.

Flight School

In sixth grade, I had my first “finished” work. We were supposed to write a short story for a school writing project. I wrote about a cadet in flight school who passed a flight test by using a highly-classified starfighter maneuver that he wasn’t supposed to know about, and so he got in a lot of trouble for it. But he was friends with the guy who’d developed it, who was a high-ranking wing commander or something. Most of the story was about the flight itself. (If I had to guess, I must have been reading the “X-Wing” series at the time.) I remember my teacher saying that it was very unique coming from someone my age. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of this anywhere, because I think it would be funny to re-read something I’d written at the end of elementary school.

The Triumvirate of Alpha Centauri

This story started in seventh or eighth grade, I believe, around 2001. I was in a typing class in school, but I somehow already knew how to type well. (Hey, I was born in the late 1980’s with a keyboard in one hand and an MS-DOS command reference in the other. I learned to type at such a young age that I don’t even remember it.) So instead of following my typing lessons, I mostly goofed off. At the time, the school had a computer lab full of Am5x86’s loaded with Windows 95 and something like 8 MB of RAM. And you didn’t dare go out to the Internet on them. Have you ever seen a 486-class PC try to load web pages with animated Flash advertisements and ten pop-ups per second? It wasn’t pretty. So when I wasn’t modifying minesweeper.ini files to give myself an impossible high score on every computer in the lab, I mostly goofed off by writing, because Word 95 ran fairly well once it actually finished loading.

During this class, I ended up writing a partial story about the three co-equal Presidents (a triumvirate) of Alpha Centauri, which was a former colony of nearby Earth. The main character was one of the Presidents, and he was also a General in charge of the military. Everything was perfect in Alpha Centauri and so the characters spent their free time building giant lasers and blowing up asteroids, or moving moons into different orbits with huge rocket motors just for fun, and things like that. In hindsight, it was pretty silly stuff. I didn’t have any goals, and the story was nothing more than a disjointed string of juvenile sci fi dreams written just to kill some class time.

While writing it, I never actually got past that string of silly and unconnected stories, but I had brainstormed how it should continue. According to my evil plans, partway through the story, a giant fleet emerges from hyperspace near Alpha Centauri. This obviously alarms the three Presidents, because hyperspace hadn’t been discovered yet, and this fleet is far larger than their own. Then, to their surprise, the fleet’s commander is an older, rougher version of the General, even though the General had been present for the entire story so far. They find out that he was abducted from Alpha Centauri 10 years ago, and the one who’d been President/General since then was actually some kind of secret robot clone who didn’t even know he was a robot. (A continuation of my robot theme, but he was never a Christmas gift who launched a robot revolution.)

Then the story was going to switch to a flashback. After his abduction, the original non-robot General discovered there was a huge human civilization out there, with hyperdrive and all kinds of advanced technology that Earth and Alpha Centauri never knew existed. He became a pirate and a mercenary, scouring the galaxy to find his way home. Along the way, he stockpiled weapons and technology to bring back so he could defend his home from the rest of the galaxy, and he became the leader of very powerful independent fleet. This returning General (he was named Thomas back then) was grizzled and battle-hardened, covered in scars and even with a cybernetic hand.

After the flashback ended, it would return to the present. Earth and Alpha Centauri were near the edges of a rapidly-expanding empire which they certainly couldn’t fight, not without help. Then there would be a massive interstellar war, and all the ships and weapons and technology that the General brought home would save the day.

Writing a Novel – For Real This Time!

My ideas got shelved for a long time, but I never forgot them. I still had the itch to write, but I never felt inspired enough to make a serious effort on anything. Finally, I had a dream which inspired my first published novel. It was short, just a tiny snippet I remembered after everything else faded, but it ultimately became a scene in “Rescue at Waverly” and was the seed that sort of defined the whole work for me. In this dream, a man is aboard a small transport, trying to reassure a woman he’d just rescued from an enemy starship. She was someone he once knew and loved, but somehow they’d been separated by life’s circumstances and he hadn’t seen her in many years.

For some reason this really struck me. But it wasn’t a story. It was just a snapshot, an image without any context. So I provided the context by dusting off some of my old backstory about the General from Alpha Centauri. I threw away the juvenile silliness about moon-sized rocket engines and blowing up asteroids for birthday celebrations. I also got rid of details that seemed cool when I was in junior high school, but really didn’t make sense to me anymore. Why was he replaced with a robot, and by whom? And how did nobody ever discover that a President was a robot? I couldn’t come up with any reasonable explanations so I changed him from a President and General from Alpha Centauri into a complete nobody from Earth, with no robot clone to replace him after he disappeared.

Even then, as some details began to take form, I wasn’t sure how to begin. Writing a novel with the intent to publish it is a big undertaking, and I never had any formal education in anything like this. I have a somewhat intuitive sense for writing and grammar just because of the sheer amount of reading I’ve done in life, but I never paid much attention during my English or writing classes in school. So during my 20’s, I probably wrote 20 different versions of the first chapter. Each time I finished it, I hated it, so I’d throw it away and start a new version from scratch, with different ideas and characters and starting points in mind. During one of these, I decided to begin the storyline well into his pirate/mercenary career, rather than starting at home before he was abducted. And that actually made things a lot easier.

Although I was frustrated by my lack of progress, looking back now, I realize how important it actually was. Writing takes practice. You can’t start cold and inexperienced and put out a well-written work on your first try. All of those thrown-away chapters were bad for various reasons, but with each iteration, it got better. My skills as a writer improved, the work slowly became more plausible and less goofy, and it also became more focused. After years and years of these false starts, I finally had something workable by around 2015.

During 2016, I decided to take it seriously. I began putting some serious time and effort into it, and had a pretty rough early version of “Rescue at Waverly” written by the beginning of 2017, although later that year I literally deleted the entire middle section and re-wrote it all from scratch because it was terrible. But 2017 was a very big year for me. I finished the first novel, wrote about a third of its first sequel, and plotted my ideas out into a six-book series. I finally self-published that first book at the start of 2018, and although the details have changed dramatically, it still has minor traces of my old fifth-through-eighth-grade science fiction fantasies in it, if you know exactly what to look for.

Developing the Sequels

While working on “Rescue at Waverly”, I had another inspiration from nowhere which lead to “Rebellion at Ailon.” It was just a daydream, really, I don’t even recall when or where or why. And surprisingly, the daydream didn’t even make it into the final book! I wrote a few variations on it but they just didn’t work, and I eventually decided that it was a bad idea and abandoned it. But the story I developed around it seemed to work, and so I actually finished writing that story without the very seed that had spawned it! I guess I’ll say this much: it centered around Thad, who’s been operating under an alias, revealing his true identity to a certain Ailonian. I can’t say any more because it would reveal some spoilers even though the event never happened. But it’s a quirky thing that surprised me when it happened. The entire novel was written to develop and support a single scene that didn’t make it into the novel!

As I worked on “Rebellion at Ailon”, I continued to develop the rest of the series. I have pages and pages of notes and character biographies and even one large hand-drawn map of space, and as I added detail to this mental model of my science fiction universe, the storyline began to take on a life of its own. I’ve changed or even removed certain plots or storylines, ones I’d planned long ago, because they’re no longer consistent with the direction things have gone. It’s like I created a living, breathing thing, and now I’ve lost control of it. And yet things are advancing in a manner that, to me, seems quite logical and natural given the background of history, politics, and technology that I’ve already developed.

The important thing is that the series still ends exactly where I wanted it to. It still hits many of the important waypoints I created in order to get from start to end, but it otherwise deviates greatly from the course I’d originally plotted. And I think it’ll be a far better work because of that, because some of my earlier ideas were terrible. Some of them just followed basic science fiction tropes, abandoning the strong character development and realistic environment I strived for in “Rescue at Waverly”. Although they still got from Point A to Point B, sometimes they really became campy, relying on stupid tech gimmicks and forgetting that I’m trying to develop characters who will have changed a lot by the time the series concludes.

Final Thoughts

So this was kind of long and meandering, but I hope it was interesting. One important take-away is that the ideas I’m publishing now didn’t just happen in recent history, and many of the ideas weren’t even consciously developed. No, it’s all been simmering in the back of my mind for a very long time, around 20 years! I can’t speak for other writers, but for me it simply took that long to get all my ideas in order, and for me to mature enough to do something with them. Is that normal for writers? I don’t know. Maybe if I’d paid more attention in class instead of reading Star Wars novels, I’d know more. Then again, if I’d paid attention in class instead of reading Star Wars novels, maybe I never would have started this project.