Nightwind Follow-Up, ch 25-26

Chapter 25 continues my least favorite sub-plot of this version of Nightwind. Wait, no, it continues both of my least favorite sub-plots. Sweet.

There’s very little to say about the overall plot of the “crew gets stuck on a planet being held by hostile, primitive people” bit. It wasn’t anything but a time waster for me. This remains baffling to me, since the original draft of Nightwind clocks in at a bit under one hundred thousand words, has about twelve different plots, and doesn’t really explore any of them. I will be the first to tell you that this is bad writing. Is it the worst ever? I hope not. Am I proud of it? Not particularly.

This is one of those things that can only be learned with time and seeing other people do it well. When I started the rewrite I thought I could basically take the original and tweak it. Add in some details here. Make something less stupid there. But the book itself was fundamentally broken. I had too many plots and none were being properly served. So either I make a bigger, more detailed mess or I pull back and reimagine the whole structure.

So I pulled everything back to the point where only one plot line survived. And then I added a whole new plot line that functioned alongside the main one to bring a different perspective. It was, I will admit, terrifying. I spent a lot of time worrying that the new book wouldn’t be long enough. Then, as I approached the halfway point I started to worry I had too much. So I left a couple of big chunks basically as placeholders for some ideas I had but I wasn’t sure I had the room for. The main difference is that I started asking, “What are we seeing in this place? What are we hearing? What are we smelling?” And then I started asking what the characters thought and felt about it.

In chapter 25 we see a hint of what I wanted to do. I’ve always had a sense that Anderson was in over his head and wasn’t prepared for the job. So this is where he’s starting to fall apart. But I didn’t really do the work here. I just made him suddenly go into full asshole mode when dealing with his own crew.

Furthermore, I never bothered to answer one of the most important questions. Why does Anderson have this job? We already know that Turner and Hunt have their own ships. We already know that Horatio Semmes is the most senior captain in the Earth Command Navy. While we can probably eliminate Semmes from contention because of his age and general weirdness that still leaves Anderson as, at best, the third best option.

The rewrite has an answer for this. It’s not a very good answer, at least in the way someone outside of the universe looking in would imagine. But it has its own internal logic. The universe of the rewrite is familiar but quite different. In that universe David Anderson has a particular quality that makes him uniquely suited to this role in Earth Command’s eyes.

Meanwhile, there’s the silly little mutiny sub-plot that’s just getting dumber. See, long ago I had a throwaway line about civilians being aboard the ship. Basically, I had the civilians aboard the ship to answer the question, “Why is Jackson’s husband suddenly here?”

The best thing about this plot line, though? It’s actually survived into the rewrite. It has survived in a completely different form. I’d say it’s completely unrecognizable, in fact. But it’s there.

So we traipse along to Chapter 26 where everything is awful. Seriously.

What we’re looking at here is textbook WWII convoy action. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The transports are, well, the transports. Semmes and Morgan are running destroyer escorts. The rogue ships are playing the role of U-Boats or Panzerschiffe. And Semmes starts off by setting up for a freaking broadside. Like he’s in charge of a wooden ship of the line.

I have figured out many things about theoretical space combat since then.

The other big problem here is that everyone seems to have energy shields. The only reason for that is because Star Trek.

The problem here is that it would be trivially easy for Dragon and Wyvern to take out this convoy. Dump a whole lot of missiles at the fat, slow, transports and skedaddle while its escorts try and fail to shoot said missiles down. Or, even better, drop the missiles and then engage the escorts so they can’t actually defend the ships.

Also, this hasn’t really solved the bigger problem that I have no fucking clue why this is happening other than “because plot.”

Ugh. Let us never speak of this again.

Nightwind Wednesdays, ch 25-26

[Author’s Note: It’s back! The reason that Nightwind Wednesdays disappeared for a good long time is because I was busy with the rewrite. The rewrite is done now. I’m letting it simmer and having a few people read it to offer their thoughts before I begin the revision process. In the meantime I’m also working on getting some professional writing credits so I can approach publishers with more than, “I kinda-sorta write a blog. Sometimes.” Tomorrow, as is my custom, I shall go over these chapters and explain exactly why I think they suck. In hindsight.]

Chapter 25

Ah’dag System
June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2234, Terran Standard Time

David looked up from his display screen as the Command Crew filed into the room.  “Have a seat, folks,” he told them.

Once the group was seated he began the meeting.  “Okay, you all know why we’re here.  Commander Gregory and four of our crew members are being held hostage down on that planet.  The people holding them think we’re pirates and will not give them back.  I need any and all ideas for how to get them back.”

Wing Commander Luchenko spoke up.  “Keptin, are we allowed to use force?”

“Only as a last resort, Mr. Luchenko,” David responded.  “We’re trying to prove to these people that we aren’t here to hurt them and that we aren’t pirates.”

“Well,” Lieutenant Commander Jackson suggested, “We could just sit up in orbit and…not steal anything.”

David’s glare stopped the few chuckles from the officers before they had a chance to truly start laughing.  “I’m serious, people.  Our people are stuck down there and we have basically no leverage.”

“We know that, Captain,” Templeton said.  “At this moment it appears as though the only way we can get them back is by using force or a covert insertion, unless somebody down there starts listening to reason.”

“Is that really all we have?”

“Ensign Thomas has been doing his best to pick up information on what is going on down there,” Jackson interjected.  “We have very little to go on so far, though.”

“Wait,” David inquired, “He has the ability to figure out what’s going on down there?”

“He figured out where their military communication gets routed and broke their encryption codes.”

“Impressive.”

As if summoned by mention of his name, the door of the room opened again and Ensign Thomas stepped in.  “Uh, sorry to bother you, but I just got some bad news,” he said without looking up from his shoes.

“What is it, Ensign?” David asked.

“Uh, apparently Private Nait did not survive the crash.  He’s…he’s dead, Sir.”

The room fell silent.

“When did you find this out?” David asked after the news sank in.

“Just now, Sir.  I picked up a communication between two military commanders.  Apparently they are feeling some doubt as to our occupation as pirates.  Apparently they have seen the people we’re showing close enough to determine who we are.”

“Keep track of that, Ensign.”

“Aye, Captain.”  Thomas spun to leave the room.

“Oh, and Ensign Thomas,” David said just before the junior officer reached the door.

He turned back.  “Sir?”

“Good job.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Thomas responded, a hint of a smile on his face.

“I want you to let me know the moment you learn anything new.”

“Yes, Sir.”

David scanned the faces of his Command Crew as the comm officer left.  “It looks like we’ve got some good news and some bad news here, people.”

“Unfortunately we don’t know how good our good news is,” Templeton pointed out.  “We’re running pretty much blind here.”

“Yeah,” Jackson chimed in, “I think we still need to come up with some way of talking to the people in charge down there.”

“Agreed.” David nodded.

“Should we still come up wi’ a way tae ge’ them oot by force, Sair?” MacDonough asked.

“Of course.  I want you and Luchenko to come up with at least two plans.”

“How are we tae do tha’, Sair?  We dinnae ken where they are.”

“Work with Lieutenant Commander Templeton and Ensign Thomas.  I don’t want to put anyone else at risk, so I hope you don’t mind me telling you that I hope your work will be in vain, but we still may need to do something.”

“Aye, Sair.”

“Yes, Keptin,” Luchenko nodded.  “We understand.”

“Good.”

“Well, we should all get to work,” Jackson said, standing up.

The rest of the Command Crew agreed and stood to leave.  Lieutenant Commander Templeton stayed in his seat as the other three departed.

“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” he asked as the door closed behind Wing Commander Luchenko.

“Well, since I didn’t kill you last time, I suppose so.”

“You’re getting better.”

David raised an eyebrow.

“I mean, the way you gave everyone else jobs and all.”

“That’s what the Command Crew is for,” David responded, “And I don’t believe it’s your job to critique my performance.”

“Yes, Sir.  You’re right.”

“Remember, Lieutenant Commander,” David leaned forward, “Commander Gregory is my Executive Officer, not you.  In fact, Lieutenant Commander Jackson is technically ahead of you in the chain of command.  But she knows it’s not her place to tell me how I’m doing, so she isn’t.”  He paused.  “Just because you were right earlier when I blew up at Ensign Thomas, don’t take that as carte blanche to tell me what you think of my behavior.”

“Uh…yes, Sir,” Templeton replied, slightly stunned.

“Now get to work.”

“Aye.”

Templeton left the room.  As soon as he was alone, David turned to a task that was entirely new to him: notifying Private Nait’s loved ones that he would not be returning home with Nightwind.  For the first time in his Earth Command career he wondered how many people under his command would share in Private Nait’s fate.

*   *   *

After leaving the Command Crew meeting Lieutenant Commander Jackson headed directly to the secondary communications control room in response to a repair call.  Lost in thought, she barely noticed when the lights did not go on as she entered.

“How about some lights?” she asked, knowing the voice activated environmental control system would pick up the command and turn on the lights.

Nothing happened.

“The lights have been temporarily disabled,” a voice spoke from the darkness behind her.

She spun, bringing her hands up and dropping into a well-practiced fighting stance.  “Who is in here?”

“That’s not important right now.  What’s important is that you are here with us.”

She thought she vaguely recognized the obviously male voice as one of the officers from Engineering.  “Lieutenant Dwyer?  Is that you?”

A shadowy form moved in the darkness, but the speaker did not reveal his identity.  “I will reveal myself in due time, Lieutenant Commander.”

“Fine,” she decided to play his game, at least for the moment.  “What do you want.”

“I have a proposition for you.”

“What?”

“I want to give you the chance to help us take the Nightwind back home.”

“What would I need to do?”

“Help us get rid of Captain Anderson.”

*  *  *

Lieutenant Commander Jackson entered her quarters moments after her husband.

“What is it, Sara?” he asked, concern marking his broad, strong features.

“Something big is happening, Carl.  I think I’m going to need your help.”

Carl Jackson had joined the Navy just out of college and quickly risen through the Marine ranks through a combination of physical prowess and intelligence.  After nearly a decade in the service he had met Sara, six years his junior, on her first shipboard assignment as a junior technician.  The pair fell in love and were married the next year.

Carl retired soon after the wedding in order to pursue his love of film making.  After seven years travelling around the Solar System he had joined his wife aboard the Nightwind, promising to “make himself useful as the mission’s unofficial documentary maker.”

He spent most of his time with the shipboard Marines, telling tales, talking shop and lending Lieutenant MacDonough some of his expertise and experience.

“What is it, hon?” he asked.

“I need you to talk to Lieutenant MacDonough for me, completely off the record.  There’s a message I need you to deliver.”

“Sure.”

Chapter 26

Phoenix Convoy
June 3rd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1532 Terran Standard Time

“Is that what I think it is, Lieutenant Commander?” Horatio asked, looking up from the Ops console’s tactical display.

“If you think it’s the Dragon approaching the convoy then yes, it is,” she responded, rubbing her bloodshot eyes.  “It looks like they are on an intercept course this time, though.”

“Then we can probably expect the Wyvern will be joining us shortly, as well.”

The comm system crackled to life and Tina Morgan’s voice boomed across the generally quiet bridge.  “I just got a call from Captain Patterson of the Wyvern, Horatio,” she said.

“And what did the good Captain have to say?”

“Told me if I joined forces with him and the Dragon I’d be, and I quote, ‘well compensated.'”

“I’m not going to have to kill you now, too, am I?” Horatio asked, convinced he knew the answer already.

She laughed.  “You couldn’t kill me if you wanted to, Horatio.  Fortunately for you, it won’t be necessary, anyway.”

“Good,” he smiled at his Executive Officer.  “I just figured I’d check.  What did you tell Patterson?”

“I asked what he was offering.  Turns out our two friends are working for Robert Laird, and if I go over I’ll get to be part of his new empire.”

“I thought he was just a nut who has something against technology.”  Semmes paused to consider the ramifications of Morgan’s new information.  “It seems that there’s more to this guy than we thought.”

“Apparently.  He got where he is by creating an organization with the purpose of getting rid of the Navy and the colonies, but at the same time he gets enough Navy people in his pocket to start his own.”

“From what General Schroeder tells me,” Horatio added, “He also had some of the Army on his side.”

“Makes sense.”  The line went silent for a moment.  “Oh, and Horatio,” she said, “I got one other piece of information.”

“Yes?”

“The location of the Wyvern.”

Semmes looked back down at the tactical display as the Phoenix received a telemetry update from Morgan’s Glory‘s computer.  The second rogue ship was tailing the convoy just outside of the sensor range for either ship, exactly where the Commander thought it would be.

“So it looks like I’m still the only one who doesn’t underestimate you, Tina.”

“Patterson is an idiot,” she confirmed, “He broadcast in the clear, didn’t even try to keep me from tracing his call back to the source.”

“Maybe he was just confident his offer would be accepted,” Bixby offered.  “No offense, Ms. Morgan, but you’re not exactly known for taking stands on principle.”

Morgan’s laugh again rang across the bridge.  “Too true, Lieutenant Commander.”

The alphanumeric string under the Dragon‘s icon changed slightly, indicating a new vector.  It was now perfectly set to hit the exact center of the convoy.

“Hold on for a second, Tina,” Semmes said, weighing his possible responses.  “I’ve got to figure out how to deal with our friends.”

“I’ll be here.”

Phoenix Convoy was spread over roughly five hundred kilometers of empty space in the middle of the Europa passage.  Semmes had the point position in the Phoenix and Tina Morgan was bringing up the rear in the Morgan’s Glory.  Fifteen fat, slow freighters filled the space between.  Of those only three, the Tigris, Orca and Liberty could defend themselves, and not very well at that.  Dragon was headed straight for the center of the formation, or, as Horatio thought of it, his soft underbelly.  Commander Durant of the Dragon undoubtedly hoped to draw Phoenix and Glory toward the center, allowing Wyvern to hit the convoy from behind.

Semmes wouldn’t give them what they wanted, but he thought he could make it look like he was.

“Tina, I’ve got a plan,” he said.

“Go ahead.”

“We’re going to drop back toward the middle of the  convoy and prepare to meet the Dragon.  I want you to swing wide and make like you’re coming forward.  Once the Wyvern makes its move, put the hammer down.”

“Got it.”

“Think you can take a patrol ship all by yourself?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Probably not.”  Horatio wished for what seemed like the thousandth time that Benito Fernandez and the Gold Brick had not been lost in the action over Luna Base.  A third escort for the convoy would be absolutely invaluable in a situation such as the one he was now facing.

But wishes were not any use in a fight.  “Lieutenant Commander Bixby, tell the freighters to close up.  I want the three armed ships to act as a screen against the Dragon.  And put the tac map up on the main screen.”

“Aye.”

“Helm, change course.  I want us up ten kilometers relative to the convoy and out fifty to starboard.”

“Aye, Commander,” the helmsman responded.

“And decelerate.  We’re going to force them to come through us.”

“Aye.”

Semmes fell silent as the bridge crew carried out his orders.  He figured his course change would force the Dragon to pass directly under his bow if the other ship did not change its course again, giving him an opportunity for at least one full broadside while exposing the Phoenix to only minimal fire from the Dragon‘s weaker frontal and ventral weaponry.  Also, for once the slow convoy speed Phoenix was forced to keep would be an asset instead of a handicap, as his ship had a lot less inertia to overcome and would be able to turn quicker to keep the Dragon under its guns.

“Oh, and Lieutenant Commander,” he said, realizing one last thing needed to be done, “Set homing missiles and slave them to the Dragon‘s IFF transponder code.”  The fiasco over Luna Base was still fresh in his mind and now he could not afford another mistake of that magnitude. By slaving the Phoenix‘s missiles to an individual Identification Friend or Foe transponder code he could avoid having his missiles lock onto one of the freighters if Dragon managed to evade them.

“Aye.”

“Oh, and call Morgan and suggest she do the same.”

“Aye.”

Horatio sat in the command chair and watched the distance wind down.  Dragon did not change course and his own ship slowly fell back to the perfect intercept position.  The rest of the convoy, meanwhile, responded reasonably well to his commands, presenting the attackers with a slightly harder target.

Dragon is in range, Sir,” Bixby’s call came at the exact moment Semmes expected.

“Open fire.  Full broadside.”

Earth Command patrol ships did not have the ability to fire off impressive broadsides, as they carried only four laser cannons in either arc and could not fire more than three missiles in any one direction at any time, but Horatio knew that getting in the first hits against his opponent could still make all the difference.  Dragon had taken damage fighting the Gold Brick and Morgan’s Glory over Luna and had probably not been able to stop for repairs yet.

And all he had to do was drive the attackers off.  He didn’t have to destroy them.  Even though he really wanted Dragon to go down.

He watched as the tactical display dutifully recorded the other ship absorbing the fury of his attack with its shields and returning fire with two missiles and the single unmasked laser cannon.  Phoenix didn’t even shudder as it took the hits.

“Again, full broadside,” Horatio ordered.

Dragon continued in, undeterred as more hits struck its shields.  It again returned fire and Horatio soon realized the two combatants could engage for hours with little or no discernable results.

As the other patrol ship swept in beneath Phoenix‘s bow, Semmes ordered the helm to turn and give chase.  They dove under the convoy, poking and jabbing at Dragon‘s rear shielding, damaging but never breaching it.\

Rather than trying to figure out how to get Phoenix off its tail, Dragon opened fire on the transports, getting in several hits before they passed to the other side.

“When they turn,” Horatio told the helmsman, “I want you to get inside their arc.  Keep us between them and the convoy.”

“Aye.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, Sir,” Bixby said.

“What do you mean?”

Dragon isn’t slowing to turn, it’s picking up speed.  And Wyvern is already breaking off its attack.”

Horatio sighed.  Hit and fade tactics.  It was going to be a long trip.

Thoughts on a First Draft

I didn’t write anything yesterday. Which is weird, because as I’m writing this it’s yesterday compared to the earliest you could possibly read it. So I suppose what I should say is that I didn’t write anything on Wednesday.

There were times in my life when not writing anything on a given day or during a given week or month was standard operating procedure. I would think about something to write. I would sometimes sit down and pull up a word processor. And then nothing would come out. The words refused to make the transition from mind to finger, finger to keyboard, keyboard to screen. Writing was a thing I loved. Writing was a thing I hated. It was an adversary, in turn chasing and running away.

I didn’t write anything on Wednesday. I didn’t write anything on Wednesday because I didn’t have anything to write on Wednesday. I didn’t write anything on Wednesday because on Tuesday I wrote ten thousand words over the course of ten hours. This was the final culmination of a ramp up over the course of the Fourth of July weekend and the preceding days where I would write four or five thousand words. It was the final stretch, the last sprint to the finish line.

I didn’t write anything on Wednesday because I finished the first draft of the Nightwind rewrite on Tuesday. Well, technically I did write on Wednesday, since I finished it at 1:30 in the morning on Wednesday. But then I went to sleep. And the day ends when sleep begins. Perception matters more than the calendar or the clock.

Either way, I learned many, many things from this particular first draft that I never learned in previous first drafts. I need to catalog those lessons. I don’t want to lose them. Over the last two months I leveled up as a writer in ways I didn’t expect when I started this process.

————————-

One of the big problems I already see when discussing this is that final sprint at the end. Those days where I wrote four or five or ten thousand words create a false narrative. They create a world where I could sit down and write a book in a week and a half. Ten ten-hour days and you’re done. Boom goes the dynamite. But you can’t write a good book ten thousand words at a time.

Those days at the end where the word count advanced by leaps and bounds came because I’d laid the groundwork. They came not in spite or mockery of the days where I crawled forward, writing a thousand words or a hundred or a sentence but because of those days. Those early days of slog are the training. Those final days of sprint are what the training allows.

I don’t know anyone else’s process and I can’t pretend to speak for anyone but me. But for me I didn’t really know where the second half of the book was going until I was passing the first half of the book. This is odd, since it’s technically a rewrite, but it’s a rewrite because I tore everything down. I told a new story with most of the same characters in the same universe with the same overarching story. But I was gutting and renovating a house with a plan I started drawing up the day after I tore everything old out.

Some days I wrote basically nothing. On those days I looked up everything I could find on space elevators or how light refracts through the atmosphere or had long conversations about firearms technology. Some days I spent hours listening to Mike Rowe tell me How the Universe Works. It’s a lot easier to get important information like that now than it was back at the turn of the millennium when I first sat down to write Nightwind. That’s for damn sure.

Either way, I decided to do the rewrite in, what, February? In March or April I decided that I would take the rewrite in a completely different direction, since just rewriting the first version but better was creating a confusing hodgepodge. At the end of April I thought I’d have the book done by June. Because those multi-thousand word days danced in my head. I knew I was capable of it. I just forgot the reasons why.

———————-

I read a surprising amount over the last three months. I read the sixth book in Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier series.[1] I read John Scalzi’s The End of All Things. I read a couple of Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid books. I just finished re-reading Leviathan Wakes because I didn’t really remember the book that well and wanted to see what was different between the books and SyFy’s The Expanse.[2]

Let’s set Ian Douglas aside for a moment, since the Star Carrier books are actually kind of a mess and my appreciation for them begins and ends with the extreme attention to detail. Scalzi, McGuire, and James SA Corey are four of my current favorite authors. The rewrite of Nightwind owes much to both Scalzi and Corey.[3] I approached them this time not just as a guy reading books but as a guy reading books while also writing books. I saw something this time around that I’d never really noticed before.

Long sections of the books I was reading were downright pedestrian. These were books written by professional authors and edited by professional editors. And don’t get me wrong. They were good books. Hell, this is my minimum third re-read of Leviathan Wakes. I love that book. I loved it as I was re-reading it. I’ll probably read it again in a couple of years.

What holds those books together isn’t unbroken strings of perfect sentences, stringing one after another to create perfect paragraphs and perfect chapters. They’re held together by the fact that writers who have spent years honing their craft by building stories and spinning out universes and putting real, concrete characters into those universes. They didn’t assemble perfect words into perfect sentences. They assembled interesting characters in interesting places and wrote a hell of a lot of words to describe them. Some of those words were very good. Some of those sentences were great. But great words and great sentences assembled to describe stupid places where characters just lurch from one place to another aren’t nearly as effective as good words to describe great characters in memorable places.

I realized that one night while I was still somewhere in the first half of the Nightwind rewrite. I had found myself, as I so often do, doubting my ability to write. The words were often wrong. The sentences that sparkled in my head were dull and lifeless on the screen. Then, one night, I just stopped worrying about it. Because I read a few sentences in Leviathan Wakes and thought, “Huh. That wasn’t very good.” I suppose it’s arrogance on my part, but I realized that my average sentence was probably pretty close in quality to the average sentence from any book I was going to read, especially when I stopped comparing a first draft to a complete, professionally edited book and got my book to the point where it was complete and professionally edited.[4]

———————-

I knew I was going to love The Expanse almost at the beginning of the first episode. There’s a long tracking shot that passes through various parts of Ceres and ends with Thomas Jane as a world-weary detective in a ridiculous hat standing in the middle of the medina watching an OPA hothead harangue a crowd in the strange Belter language of the book. It wasn’t a scene from the book but it was a scene from Ceres. It established in just a couple of minutes that, yes, the people who made the show had every desire to turn to the source material and visualize the world that up until that moment only existed in my mind.

This was one of my most important lessons. I realized shortly after I decided to completely tear the entire thing down and start the rewrite from the foundations that I had no idea what anything looked like. I had never mapped out Nightwind’s interior. People lived there but they just kind of floated in a vast, enclosed void.

It actually started with Zaqar, which was the new name I gave to the colony ship Winged Messenger. The Winged Messenger was just a big blob moving through space on rockets or something. I never described it. So I wrote a new chapter that started with a description of the ship.

Then Kat Silas arrived. She started as an idea. Because with the tearing down of the original story I realized that I needed a new wrinkle. I needed, in effect, a b-plot. So I spent a couple of days just throwing ideas around in my head. Kat’s character solved a couple of different problems that the change to the story created. She brought with her a whole new problem, though. I had to answer the question of where she was when we first meet her and how she gets to where she needs to be.

It’s not actually that big of a deal, really. It’s the matter of a couple of chapters right at the beginning of the book, but those chapters required me to spend more time thinking about the world all of these characters exist in than I put into the entire worldbuilding of the first draft.

She also becomes the first person to smell Nightwind. This might not seem like a big deal, but before Kat Silas it never occurred to me to describe a smell. That also caused me to realize that I had never said a single word about the colors inside of the ship. They surprised me. They will probably surprise my readers, too.

There was another change that came from my first foray into describing the inside of Nightwind. The ship got a lot smaller. When I first wrote the book I just said that the ship was a kilometer long because that’s a nice, round number and the ship needed to be pretty big because duh. One night I sat down with a calculator and a spreadsheet and tried to figure out just how much space there was. I came up with 3.3 million cubic meters of space.[5] That is a lot of space. I put everything I needed to put into the ship and couldn’t fill half of it. So I made the ship smaller.

—————————-

My final realization came right at the start of the final sprint. I had this idea in my head of what would happen. Then I modified that idea a bit. Then I actually put it into the book. And a thing happened that would require a decision. So one of the characters asked, “Why don’t we [do this other thing] first?” And I realized that I did not have an answer to that question. I realized that the most logical thing to do was the thing that the character asked and also that would completely and totally ruin everything. So I deleted a chapter and a half and made sure that the question didn’t and couldn’t come up.

That change set the rest of the book in motion. All of the sudden everything snapped into place and I knew exactly what was going to happen between that point and the end of the book. So from that point out I didn’t have to think. I had my characters. They all had a series of jobs to do and a collection of motivations and everything was laid out.

But some things were still in flux even from the halfway point of the book. Some things didn’t really make any sense. Some characters did things that kind of came out of nowhere.

And that is when I learned what a first draft is for. See, I once believed that the difference between a first draft and a second was that you went through the first draft and made sure all of the words were spelled correctly. But that sort of editing is a third or fourth or fifth draft thing.

The end of the first draft is where the real work begins. Once you finish the first draft you then have to go back and make sure it all makes sense. A lot of stuff that goes into the first draft doesn’t make any sense until it’s all over and everyone has done all of the stuff they’re supposed to do.

One of the other things I realized was that sometimes, especially during the first draft, you just have to write something. Anything. I wrote some paragraphs and realized that they were just placeholders to get me through that and on to the next thing. Hell, there’s at least one chapter that I’m pretty sure won’t survive the first revision.

—————————

The weirdest thing about this first draft is that it isn’t actually the first first draft of Nightwind. It’s technically the second draft. But it’s so far removed from the original that it might as well be a first draft.

I also know that I absolutely became a better writer over the course of writing the book. One of my tendencies as a writer is to see characters as a collection of scenes. Shortly after Kat Silas introduced herself I saw her in a scene that I knew would happen in the book, but almost at the end. I wrote it anyway, since I didn’t want to lose the scene.

When I finally got to the scene I copy pasted it in and gave it a quick edit just to put it in the right context and make sure that the right people were involved. As I did the edit I realized that the scene was not nearly as crisp as the bits that surrounded it. It was shocking to see this scene I thought was great a few months back and realize, “Wow, I’m going to have to revise the hell out of this one.”

But that’s why the second draft exists.

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[1]This is now a series that I hate read more than anything else. It’s a weird hybrid of hard core SF and hard core Mil SF. The first three books were actually quite the education, since he spent a lot of time discussing how combat would work in space and endlessly articulating how things like the speed of light would be a hard limit on tactics. He also put tons of work into making his aliens alien. It made me completely re-think how I, as a kid who grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars and Babylon 5 where most every alien was just a human with weird makeup and a universal translator, thought of human-alien interaction.

That said, his humans are all paper-thin caricatures. And he posits a universe where humanity is alone, pitted against an impossibly huge alien empire and the brave Americans lead the fight while the French keep trying to sell the brave, self-sacrificing Americans out. Also, for some reason, it’s a functionally post-scarcity society where the big political issue of the day is, “Yay capitalism!” and the brave, brilliant, not-at-all-sellout-asshole Americans just randomly go on anti-Socialist rants. As you do. So it’s basically Iraq War propaganda, but where Saddam Hussein is in control of a galaxy-spanning empire.

[2]A lot. The answer is, “A lot.” For the record, I absolutely loved the TV show. There are some things about it that genuinely annoyed me. They set up a wholly unnecessary conflict at the beginning for reasons I don’t understand. I’m still not happy about Chrisjen Avasarala’s appearance in Season 1 even though she was nowhere to be seen in Leviathan Wakes. Don’t get me wrong, Shohreh Aghdashloo was amazing and absolutely blew the airlocks open. But re-reading Leviathan Wakes the most striking thing about it is just how isolated the main characters are. They exist in their little bubbles with no view of the larger picture at the beginning and slowly piece it all together while Mars and Earth are in the background and the biggest war in human history happens off stage. I prefer seeing it that way.

Otherwise, while I was not at all on board with Thomas Jane as Miller when I saw the cast lists he was just about perfect. And Wes Chatham was spot-on as Amos. Chad L Coleman did a good job with the more limited Fred Anderson of the show. Dominique Tipper and Cas Anvar as Naomi Nagata and Alex Kamahl obviously did their homework. I only just realized that Athena Karkanis played Octavia Muss. I thought that was a wholly original character they created for the show. She certainly wasn’t the Octavia Muss of the book. Jay Hernandez played a stock character from central casting that they slapped the name Detective Havelock on.

The biggest problem with the whole endeavor was Steven Strait as Jim Holden. I don’t think it was Strait’s fault, either. Holden’s character in the book is repeatedly described as “righteous.” He sees the world in black and white terms and always strives to be one hundred percent on the right side of the line. That’s a difficult role to play and Strait did it as well as anyone. The problem is that they undermined him within a few minutes of his arrival in the first episode and that kind of broke everything. It’s especially problematic since Thomas Jane wore Miller like a comfortable coat and so much of the book is about what happens when someone like Holden and someone like Miller are forced to work together.

The other interesting one was perennial That Guy Jared Harris as Anderson Dawes. Harris so completely stole the show that when I re-read the book I was shocked at just how much Anderson Dawes wasn’t an important character. He shows up, like, four times in the book and mostly exists to hand over some key information and kick the plot in the ass a couple times.

Speaking of that, the one episode where perennial That Gal Frances Fisher shows up to go toe-to-toe with Shohreh Aghdashoo was amazing. Chrisjen Avasarala is basically an amoral force of nature until that one episode where she becomes, if not quite human, at least sympathetic.

[3]Which is not to say I’m copying them. Because I’m not. I’ll get to that later.

[4]With the exception of Cat Valente. Or, at least, Cat Valente’s Dirge for Prester John books. The average sentence in those books is on par with the best sentence I will ever write. And then, every few pages a sentence that makes everything else look like garbage just lights up the page with supernova intensity. I kind of hate Cat Valente for being so fucking good at putting words together.

[5]It was basically this: the ship was 1 kilometer long. The forward 20% was unusable. The rear third of the rear 80% was (and still is) a blank space called “engineering.” So that left me with a not-quite cylinder 540 meters long with a 100 meter diameter. The area of a circle is figured with pi * r squared. Multiply that by the height and you get something like 4.2 million cubic meters. But the ship isn’t a perfect cylinder, so I cut that down by twenty percent. It was a lot of back-of-the-napkin stuff.

Eventually I tried to visualize that. I basically realized that I had a structure with half again the footprint of the Sears Tower and that was as tall as the measurement from Wacker Drive to the tip top of the antennae. That’s just a huge amount of space. And also the actual length of the ship was another Sears Tower on top of that. Give or take.