Never thought I would type those words. “Jessica Keller is done.”
Got a social media reminder for 1/7/15 where I posted the comment about the first time The Science Officer went nuts. (It happened again, late summer ’17.) At the time, I had just finished writing Imposters and was in the process of figuring out what my next project should be. With the Alexandria Station universe suddenly exploding, the obvious solution was to pivot to writing Jessica Keller and Auberon.
I’ve told this story before, but I’ll repeat it here for folks who missed it. I was at Powell’s Books in Beaverton, OR, after OryCon in 2014. Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) was at a book signing and we got there way early to help set up. I had nothing to do, so I wandered the stacks looking for books to read. This is a big Powell’s. Not as big as the one downtown, but probably twice as many books as your average B&N. Maybe three times.
I had several hours to kill, so I went pretty deep into the SFF section, with money burning a hole in my pocket. Three hours later, I could not find a single book that looked interesting enough to actually buy. I would see a cover that looked enticing and pick it up. Flip it over to read the blurb, and put it right back on the shelf. Two or three times, I actually got far enough to read the first page.
Ended up not buying anything. Nothing at all. Unbelievable.
On the drive home afterwards, we talked about it and she convinced me that there might not be anybody actually writing the sorts of action adventure science fiction I grew up with (Doc Smith, et al) and that I might just have to write it myself. (Side note: she was right, but in a weird way. There are writers doing it, but we’ve all gone indie and are part of that chunk of the SF market that TradPub thinks died starting int 2011. DataGuy shows that sudden slope where fans “have stopped reading SF.” Uhm, no, but thank you for playing.)
So I wrote Auberon. The Chronicles of Jessica Keller #1. Came out in the spring of 2015, as fast as I could finish it and get it edited, formatted, and published.
Originally, I was expecting the series to be either a trilogy or quadrology. Queen of the Pirates and Last of the Immortals were always going to be a duology, and I wasn’t sure if there needed to be one more after that to round it off. Structurally, the first three Jessica novels follow the same writing arc as the original Star Wars movies (Star Wars, Empire, Jedi), in that you have a stand-alone story, and then a longer piece that splits down the middle and resolves a major arc. This was an intentional act on my part.
But something funny happened on the way to the Forum.
There is a sentence at about the two-thirds mark of Queen where Arnulf is touring Bunala (Chapter XXXVIII, just looked it up so I could quote it.) where the actual span of Jessica’s story changed:
Daneel tilted his head and looked at her. “But could one single point-source failure cause that much system instability? Haven’t we progressed to a point where the loss of any one system would not cascade laterally across all civilization? The Homeworld was unique in that measure.”
Jessica just blinked in surprise. She would have lost a good deal of money betting anyone that this man wasn’t hiding that much intellect and knowledge under that blond hair.
Then she smiled. All that, and smart, too.
Jessica was really, really happy she hadn’t had to kill him.
“Today?” She shrugged. “Who knows? I‘ve heard legends of a system far towards the galactic core and spinward where one of the Sentiences survived and is worshiped as a God-Emperor, never having fallen into barbarism, with technology far in advance of our own, having had a two-thousand-year head start. If it exists, and gets aggressive, it might manage to bind us all back under its yoke.”
At that moment, writer-brain poked me and said: “Oh, by the way? This is nine novels, not three. Here’s the overall arc.”
Why this matters: Part One.
I’ve been sick for the last couple of weeks. Something yucky we picked up on a recent trip to LA. Slow to get over it. Then Saturday night, the windstorm swept through and we were without power for about 44 hours, or all of Sunday and Monday. Finally got electricity back on Tuesday morning , but the interwebs were still too scrambled to be of much use until today.
I ended up writing. I try to maintain a daily pace of 3400 words. When I’m sick, I fall off that, but it builds in a slack of around 10,000 words that keeps me above 100,000. Had to push in December to make my count, because I was too stubborn to lose my streak. Will walk away and let it go at some point, just so I don’t have that streak to worry about, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.
Tuesday morning, I was about 2000 words behind pace when I started, having only managed about 1500 Monday. Then I got on a streak with power. And the realization that I was done with the core story and just writing epilogues at this point. Ended up writing about 6500 words yesterday. That included “-fin-”
Why This Matters: Part Two
Over the course of nine core novels plus a side trilogy and a couple of novellas, I have built up a large cast of interesting characters. You see that when you open the cast list. Some characters have vanished from the back half, because their story wasn’t part of Jessica’s. Others have built up to a much larger role than I ever anticipated, and that’s okay, too.
This was always Jessica Keller’s story. It fell into a much larger universe, but I needed to center it on her. At the end, it was necessary to bring everyone to some level of closure, without killing all these characters off. There are dozens of stories I could spin off from the end of book 9, because everyone will continue on from there, including Jessica and Torsten. But it needed to come to an emotional closure. You’ll understand when you get there.
Jessica’s story is done. Jessica Keller, Volume Two, to quote Emmerich. There can be more stories about Casey, about Vo, about Moirrey. Yan and Ainsley. Even Suvi herself. But they aren’t Jessica’s stories.
And last night, I concluded Jessica’s tale. (I can already hear Dorn popping up like a meercat and sniffing the air. He’s one of the few who has already read Book 8, Winterhome, and wants to know where I went from THERE. Yes, I’m paying attention, Dorn.)
I don’t know where I’ll go next in the Alexandria Station universe. I want to get back to Javier, but I have several other projects with deadlines now that come first. Jean-Pierre is on my list. More Doyle, maybe. Henri needs the rest of The Founding to be told. Imperial Aquitaine awaits the writer’s pen. The Gas Sailors. The Pocket Empires. The Unification Wars. Lansdowne and the Concordancy War. There will be more Handsome Rob soon.
I’ve got lots of places I could explore, now that the big anchor stone is complete.
But this is such an emotionally exhausting moment, to look back four years and realize that the nine(+) novel arc is finally done. Epic Science Fiction is just that. Huge. Grand battles that span galaxies. It requires a lot of energy to do that, novel over novel.
I’m looking at Gareth St. John Dankworth next. Awaken the Star Dragon is done. I’ve got three more in the can, and need to write #5 to finish off that arc. Another grand, epic piece, with fifties pulp layered on top of it.
Valentinian and Dave are not epic. Those are coming out second half of this year, and are just adventure stories where the emotional journeys are much smaller. The stakes don’t have to escalate with every paragraph, and I like that.
I hope you will enjoy the ride. I have to stop and remember that most of you have just digested St. Legier and are still trying to decide whether or not to forgive me. That was a hard book to write. Winterhome was even more interesting. Book 9 (Tentatively: Petron) was the easiest, because I just needed to bring all the stories to conclusion, in the aftermath of Winterhome.
Dorn’s read it, and approved, I think. He’ll bitch and whine until I finish off the edits on Petron and send them his way.
At some point this summer, I am going to put together a full Jessica Keller Chronicles Encyclopedia for everyone. Every character. Every planet. Every ship. All the details I have had to keep organized across three documents, plus things that I never ended up using, like some of the formations of Imperial Land Forces and the Grand Army of the Republic. They’re all there.
I’m guessing it will be about 45,000 words, which is a short novel, but this is all lists, rather than sentences, so it will probably read like a 120,000 word novel for length. But it will have all those references.
Thanks for supporting me on this ride. I might have done it without you, but you’ve made it possible for me to go on and conquer other mountains next.
shade and sweet water,
West of the Mountains, WA