Branding and Genre Fiction

So once a month, a group of us writers get together up in Lynnwood to talk, not about the craft of writing, but about the business of indie publishing. Most of the writers I know in the indie field do publish their own work, but would not call themselves publishers. It is a different mindset.

My wife and I do think of ourselves as publishers, because we go beyond just doing our own books. I have done a couple of anthology projects so far, and am going to be doing a major event this summer. She has a half dozen other authors she handles. And all of those efforts involve coordinating a number of different writers, ranging the entire spectrum from stone-pros to delicate snowflakes.

For many indie folks, the work isn’t worth the reward. (And I have to ask myself on a regular basis why the hell I’m doing this.) But I also see the benefits of doing some of those project. It exposes me to the fans of folks I pull into anthologies. Hopefully, if you, the reader, buy this for the person you like, you’ll read the rest and find my stuff acceptably entertaining. I figure if you like the kind of stuff I write, I can hook you. I’m a good enough writer, but I have to attract your eyeballs first.

At lunch, the topic of branding came up. Two of the folks I was talking to were in the process of redoing all of their existing covers with new art. There is an ugly secret in the publishing world related to covers. Every three to five years it is necessary to redo your covers to something else.

In Traditional Publishing, senior and managing editors come and go. When they do, the new person taking over will have different tastes, and so will push for covers to look a different way. Think back to the Sci-fi covers on paperbacks from the sixties, which tended towards the minimalist in many ways. Now compare that to the seventies, where big paintings with a scene from the book were suddenly everywhere. That also was every fantasy cover in the eighties.

But it changes. If you walk into the bookstore today, take a look at the covers on your preferred genre, and compare the picture to what you have on your shelf already from five, ten, or twenty years ago.

So for indie writers, we have to fight an ongoing-battle to keep refreshing covers. (I can cheat, because I write frequently write epic space opera. Throw a space ship or a space battle on it, and I’m pretty much good.) They were in the process of updating. I suggested that instead of taking two months off from the writing, it might be better to spend one or two days writing new cover blurbs for all the backs, and then dedicate a day or two each week to updating the covers.

I cannot imagine taking two months off and doing nothing but covers. But Fabulous Publisher Babe™ also does most of those. My job is to write new blurbs whenever she tells me that its time, as well as much of the marketing. But we do it ongoing. Constantly going back and looking at old stuff and seeing if it has become “dated,” and fixing it while maintaining the brand.

I have been thinking about this a bunch lately because the sixth Beyond The Mirror has just come out, and at some point soon I will drop number seven. Each of them has a sub-title, so that the reader knows what they are picking up.

1) Fantastic Worlds

2) Fantastic Worlds

3) Alternate Worlds

4) Dramatic Worlds

5) Dramatic Worlds

6) Alternate Worlds

7) Heroic Worlds

Two collections of early fantasy stuff (that I need to get back to extending one of these days). Two collections of science fiction. Two collections of stage plays. One superhero collection.

But they all have to be branded. Epic space opera is branded by having a big space battle on the cover. Hard-boiled detective often has a gun and a fedora. Fantasy will involve swords (and frequently bimbos with large chests in a state of barely-covered disarray, but I digress).

When I set out to do collections, I had no idea where my career would go. And I can prove it with the list of other prospective sub-titles I dreamed up for the Mirror books, including Mysterious Worlds, Pulp Worlds, Wild Steam Worlds, and Romantic Worlds. Might yet still use some of those. Dunno.

But each of them starts with the same cheval mirror in a wood-framed bedroom. It is what you find in the mirror (beyond the mirror, as it were), that tells you what you’ll get. Fantasy bridges, space ships, empty stages. When I get famous, a reader would be able to see one of those on a bookshelf and immediately know it to be a Blaze Ward short fiction collection.

If I have to go back and redo covers on them, the question will be if we use a different mirror in a different bedroom as the frame, plus new art in each of the mirrors that open your world to adventure.

That is the brand. Today. Tomorrow might be entirely different. I have no idea. Nor does anybody else. Harry Potter and Hunger Games both drove fantastically new forces into the world of branding when they came out. Now go compare your issue #1 covers you got way back when to what they are today.

Wow, huh? Same for us, with the extra bonus that we don’t have an art department we can just instruct to redo all the covers. That costs money. Or it costs a lot of time and not as much money. The choice is spending all of your time today, or a little every day until hell freezes over, or we get so fabulously wealthy that we can just pay someone else to do it while we spend all day making shit up.

Most indie writers don’t want to do that work. As a publisher, I understand that it is a necessity. Part of the job itself.

Plus, some of you will own collector’s items, one of these days, because you have the original cover, before it changed. There are Science Officer paperbacks that don’t say Volume One. Same with Auberon. And as I look at the shelf in my office, I have half a dozen volumes of “Beyond the Mirror: Fantastic Worlds.”

Kinda weird, ya know?


So in a Chop-socky movie, you get down to the end and the final confrontation, where the villain shows off his bad-ass martial arts moves. Then the hero looks at him, and smiles politely.

“Your fu is good,” the hero says. “But still, mine is better.”

And then proceeds to kick the bad guy’s butt.

My fu is better. I know this because as I was driving out to the farm the other day, I was stopped at a light behind a pickup truck with a big sticker on the tailgate advertising the Ravensdale Cupcakery.

Let that sink in for a second. I bet you had no idea there was such a thing as a cupcakery. You’ve lived your whole live eating corporate cupcakes produced in a bakery that made other things, with cupcakes being just a side gig they really didn’t care all that much about. These people do one thing. Cupcakes. And they do it close enough to me that I could just run by on my way home some night and get cupcakes.

Your fu is good. Mine is better. I know a cupcakery.

But, I’m also close, so I could possibly be convinced to swing by and pick them up for you, if I was headed in your direction from the farm, and you felt like bribing me with cupcakes.

Because, you know, cupcakes.

And if you make it out to see them, you’re only a few miles from the farm, so you should definitely reach out. You can always show up on my doorstep bearing bribes for your favorite redneck writer.

Because, you know, cupcakes.



kinda excited. Auberon (Jessica Keller Book One) is now available as an audiobook, and Melissa (the narrator) hasn’t once tried to kill me. She’s even well into doing Book Two, Queen of the Pirates. For you, gentle listener, you can now enjoy the excitement and relish a good space opera series, as I keep bribing her to do more of them. Book Six is in the can and will be published this spring. I’m banging furiously away on Book Seven.

Book One:

Jessica Keller has a reputation as a maverick commander. It almost got her court martialed. Now, it has gotten her a new command in an obscure sector, with orders to ignite a new front in the eternal war.

But her old nemesis, Imperial Admiral Emmerich Wachturm, stands in her way.

Worlds will fall before their feud ends, but only if she can forge her crew of strangers into a weapon. Otherwise, disaster looms.

So exciting to have it available in audio!!

And if you are just now discovering me, there is also The Science Officer (Season One), volumes one through eight, that Matt has done. And there will be a Season Two (both written and audio) soon. (For a teaser, pick up your own copy of Beyond The Mirror, Volume Six: Alternate Worlds for the first short story from what will be the ninth Science Officer book, The Bryce Connection.)

Get yours today, and let all your audio-book friends know that there are two series for them to get addicted to!!



The Unbloomed Rose

Most of you know that I try to publish something on the 10th of every month. Something good is coming on Feb 10th, as well. Most of it, you’ve already seen, but I got a little sidetracked last year, in the process of writing all those Science Officer stories to finish out Season One. (And I’m happy that so many of you enjoyed how that part of the story ended.)

So now, the next phase begins. Now available for preorder: Beyond The Mirror, Volume 6; Alternate Worlds contains a short story titled The Unbloomed Rose. It takes place after the events of The Hammerfield Payoff.

Javier is recruiting some specialized experts to help with the new adventures he had planned. Yes, Javier. Willingly adding more people to the crew. More people to talk to. More voices in the wardroom.

But that’s okay. He’s starting to finally grow up. It happens to all of us, eventually. (One hopes.)

In my notes, there will be four, distinct short stories that will be bundled up as Volume 9: The Bryce Connection. However, I have been working on Jessica lately, and needed a break from Javier anyway, so I haven’t written the other three. Will hopefully get around to that this year, depending on how some other projects break out for me.

And the Muse of Crazy.

Because I have enough notes to fill Season Two. And if people like that, and I am still having fun with those characters, maybe Season Three.

I have also considered some of ‘Mina’s adventures, possibly ending up in a bar on a certain day with a red poppy in her hair. Y’all will need to let me know if I should pursue the stories of the Last Shepherd of the Word.

But, back on topic. The Unbloomed Rose. Special thanks to Dorn for letting me Tuckerize him into the world as a recurring character (technically, he is The Bryce Connection in this context.) The rest of the collection are things you’ve seen: Eva, Hive, Dale, Holly. A couple of others you might have seen, if you didn’t blink at the collection they were in (not published by me).

Hope you enjoy. Hope you come back for more. Happy to answer questions on most topics, including writing.


shade and sweet water,


West of the Mountains, WA

Making art

My business cards do not say writer. I’m not. They say storyteller. I am.

I have been a storyteller since I had words. Some of the stories were what you would expect. But I never stopped at just that. There are six volumes of poetry sitting in a box. I have pulled out a small portion of #2 and #3, combined them, and published The Forestal. But that’s a small chunk. The Mirror is another chunk, as is The Desert Ring. Have many more. Most of the poetry doesn’t fall into long-forms like that, but could easily just be put out as is.

Might do that, one of these days. Might not.

But I storytell in other media. When I reached the point that I had to stop writing poetry, I needed a different emotional outlet. JM and Snake got me into playing Warhammer 40k (mid-90’s, second edition, I think. They just came out with 8ed this year. And nerfed everybody. Again.) So I painted miniature figurines for a while. Also fought them on the tabletop, but mostly just spent time creating characters. Sold everything when 3ed nerfed everybody and later got into Flames of War, and did the same thing. I’m like that.

Late in the 90’s I created a fantasy role-playing game with a buddy. It was fun. We played it a bunch. Had to put it away around 2004, because my partner wasn’t willing to put in any more work on it. Which is kinda funny, because at that point, we were only a few years from the indie publishing revolution and wouldn’t have had to go big to do it. Have a core rule book and three full supplements in the archives. But they’ll stay there.

Haven’t talked to him in several years. Giving him the thing he wants more than anything else in the world: The Last Word. Best friend for many years, and didn’t even invite him to my wedding. But we all grow up.

Thinking about all this because of Moirrey. Working now on the seventh Jessica Keller book: Lord of Winter, and The Goof figures prominently in the first overture. She had an idea for overturning ground combat, and wants to get rich. Writer-brain locked in and pointed at several somethings from the WH40k universe that I could bash into the right thing. And been thinking about bashing from a recent story.

Went so far as to stop by a GW Store in Lynnwood, but they didn’t have the figs I needed. The next day, I went by the one in Kent, but they were CLOSED ON A SUNDAY? (Shit, man, that used to be tournament day. What gives?) And the website is sold out of the figs I needed to do this.

So, obviously, I was not meant to buy those figurines and bash that image into plastic. These things happen, especially when you pay attention to your Parking Buddha. Fabulous Publisher Babe ™ and I got to talking about how there are a number of fantasy table-top games, and a few WW2 or civil war, but only one major SF game (not counting space games played on a table top, like my buddy Ken at Ad Astra Games.)

Got to thinking.

Couple hours later,  and I were at the grocery, walking across the parking lot. Writer-brain whispered a word. Just one, but you know how that goes.

You ever make rock candy as a kid? Heat up the water. Add a stupid amount of sugar and dissolve it. Turn the heat off and dangle a string into the water as a crystallization source?


Yeah. By Monday morning, I had six pages of notes on a new table-top, platoon-level, SF miniatures game. By Monday night, I had hints of an rpg that would scale up and down. (You could put your characters into a battle without conversion, or convert some cool table figs into characters to play off battle.)

Previously, me and the boyz had been talking about how hard it was to do science fiction role playing. You have to have a context. Without it, you end up number-crunching too much, or the GM has to invent whole universes on the fly and gets burned out quickly

And within context, what’s the easiest way to do things? Star Trek as a game requires the GM to invent whole new planets and cultures on a constant basis. I can, but it gets tiring. I can cheat and use random planet generators, but you lose something in the storytelling. Star Wars lets you slot into a number of timelines, and introduces all sorts of tech. There aren’t many other games that have made a major impact on gaming, that I know of. (Granted, I don’t pay that much attention, but…)

I had even gone so far as to create about half of a new rpg game engine last fall, as we were talking. Mostly lists of how characters would be built, and how to scale across genre from historic, to low fantasy, to high fantasy, to modern, to future, to SF. Didn’t write any rules, but had started assigning point scales and things to shape out the engine.

So now, nine days in, I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to start building characters in another week. And I’ll have this particular context, which is vaguely post-apocalyptic, concrete enough to start writing fiction and histories set in that universe. And ideas of how to shift both directions on tech and contexts.

Next, I’ll talk to some friends who are Makers (3d Printing, et al) and see how I would go about hiring an sculptor to create me some figurines we could use to test the table-top rules. I only have one core, three expansions, and two future editions already plotted out in my notes. Nothing much. Certainly not for a whole week’s work. 😉

And mind you, at the same time, I’m 20k words into Lord of Winter. And maybe halfway through the second Carl and Deke story. And juggling a couple of other projects.

Plus I’m still a data nerd at work, telling stories in numbers for some lovely folks who appreciate me.

But I’m a storyteller. Its what I do. I work in words.

Anybody know some 2d and 3d artists I could chat with? I’m gonna have needs, in this indie publishing future.

The only limits to my success are my imagination? Y’all are doomed, now.

Omnibus #2

Very shortly, the second Science Officer Omnibus is going to drop everywhere. I’m kinda thrilled because the whole thing is one extended story, broken into the requisite 25,000 word chunks.

And it turned out exactly like I hoped, when I sat down and started working on The Pleasure Dome (#4) to set everything up more than a year ago. I knew then I wanted a long, pirate-war kind of story. And a good cliff-hanger.

I write these to a specific length for a reason.

Once upon a time, I wrote stage plays for fun.  Using the normal formatting, one page of script generally runs one minute of stage-time. (Adjust for talking heads pieces, arias, and car chases accordingly.) As I was working in those days, I realized that a 40-50 page script was roughly equivalent to a one-hour television drama, with commercial breaks and credits.

When I started writing Javier, I decided very consciously to aim for roughly the same amount of story. In my head, these are all episodes on TV. Perhaps Series One over on BBC, since I also decided early on to do them in 8-episode runs. And Season One of The Science Officer is now complete, and available.

Happier still, Matt’s up through The Last Flagship on audio books, and already has The Hammerfield Gambit recorded and is working now on The Hammerfield Payoff, both to be available as fast as Audible will approve them.

A few readers have concluded that I’m done with Javier Aritza as a series character. That 8 is as far as it goes. They’ve even commented on that in the reviews they have left, which I have tried to reach out and let them know otherwise.

If all goes well, there will be a new Beyond The Mirror, (Volume 6: Alternate Worlds) coming out shortly. It will have several previously-published SF/Adventure pieces in it: Holly, Hive, Dale, and Eva. Additionally, it will have a teaser from the next Science Officer book: The Bryce Connection. And yes, I broke my own rules with this one.

Last spring, in the midst of everything else, I got an assignment from a writing group for “Your Strengths” which involved writing an opening with only a vague guidance. “Betty, sitting alone on a train, or bus, or something. 500 words (stop in the middle of a sentence if you have to). Go.”

Wrote the assignment, got feedback on how I could have done it better, and got to thinking. Betty turned into Bethany on a re-draft, and I put her on a tram, coming out of a starport, on the way to visit a pirate about a job. The result was The Unbloomed Rose, and is about 6,000 words long. Liked it so much I stored it for the future (it takes place after The Hammerfield Payoff, but I actually wrote it just after I wrote The Doomsday Vault).

So, to meet my usual length, I needed to write three more stories and collect them up. That sounded like a challenge. So I have two more characters I will write about, setting them up to join the crew of Hammerfield, and then one little Javier story to explore some of his history. And then the ninth Science Officer book (TBD)

After that, not at the same crazy pace as 2017, I will start in on writing issues #10-#17, which will be Season Two of The Science Officer. I don’t know if I’ll be done with Javier at that point. I have so many stories to tell. And Suvi. And ‘Mina. And the rest of them.

But in 2018, I’m growing the Expanded Universe that is the Alexandria Station stories. More Javier, yes, but also a set of short stories that explore The Concordancy War (CE 10,397) and a set of crime capers set in Lincolnshire just after the time period for Goddess of War and Flight of the Blackbird. I have another set of Suvi stories set starting in CE 15,006, or about 1500 years after Jessica Keller dies.

Speaking of Jessica: I am just about to send the sixth novel (The Red Admiral) off to the copy-editor. Expected publication date is still May 10, Good Lord Willing and the creek don’t rise. And I started this year off by diving in to book seven (Lord of Winter), which I’m hoping might come out in time for Christmas. Being as there are only nine of them (I hope), they might even been done with me in 2019 and I can start writing some of the other epic series in my notes.

So these are exciting times. Omnibus editions. Audio books. More novels. More fun.

I hope you have enjoyed all this even half as much as I have. More news in 2018 and hopefully, more awesomeness.

shade and sweet water


West of the Mountains, WA

The Voice of Jessica Keller

I have fantastic news!!

As you know, I got amazingly lucky to work with Matt Weight to do the narration for all the Science Officer audio books. And all the future ones I have yet to write. And anything else where Suvi plays. (and there will be more of those coming as I expand the universe.)

So now, I finally get to announce that the audio book for Auberon is coming very soon (as in, I think everything has been approved finally and is going live in a matter of days or a few weeks. More as I know.)

I knew from Day One that I wanted a female to do the Jessica Keller books. Tried out one, but I found her work ethic…questionable. And good female voice talent is hard to find, because the market is so dominated by great male actors. But I got amazingly lucky on my second try.

Melissa is an old friend of my wife, Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm). She works a day job as a project manager doing online training videos. In her spare time, for many years, she had volunteered to read books for the blind at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library.

She had wanted to get into doing audio books, and sampled a few of mine and my wife’s books, and decided that she liked the art. Then I managed to convince her to do Auberon and the rest. There has been a learning curve for everyone involved, but this morning Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) awoke to an email that said “VICTORY” and we think everything is now uploaded and just needs to be approved at Audible’s end. (I will post links when I get them.)

Even better, Melissa is already way deep into Queen of the Pirates and should be able to get that out in fairly short order. Obviously, she’s going to get these done probably faster than I can write them, but that just means that folks who do audio books will be able to consume them almost as fast as readers of print.

This will matter soon, as I have book #6 (The Red Admiral) off to first readers now and should be getting it back from them sometime in the next week or so. Then I correct all the things I screwed up in the first draft and send it to Canadian Copy-Editor Babe(tm) for a technical pass.

Good Lord Willing and the creek don’t rise, The Red Admiral will be coming out May 10, 2018. By that point, I should be deep into book #7, Lord of Winter. I really keep hoping that the series ends after nine novels. #6 ran to 135,000 words, because I had so much ground to cover.

In stage drama terms, The Red Admiral is technically a 2-Act play: Everyone’s going to the Big Dance; Everyone’s at the Big Dance. Except that each of those two acts break down into the same format, so you’ll get that sort of movement twice. (You’ll understand when you read it. It is not classical three-act and it moves differently that many readers will be unconsciously expecting.)

And then you’ll get to meet The Holding. The Star Empire ruled by the a Sentient system known as The Eldest. Buran.

If everything works and writer-brain hasn’t been lying to me, things are only “slow” in book #6 and then they speed way the hell up in 7, 8, and 9.

And because some of you are going to ask, Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) has been giggling at some of the Vo zu Arlo chapters. (So did I, but I wrote them. What the hell do I know?) I like the way this one turned out, and all the things that I have been setting up for future novels.

Hope you are all well and survived the holidays. Be safe, be happy, and have a good 2018.

shade and sweet water,


West of the Mountains, WA


In review, kinda

So today is Dec 22, 2017.

Useful as a tracking mechanism because I have a target word count each year I try to hit. That’s what gets my lazy ass up at 4AM every weekday, so I can be in the kitchen at the office at 515AM, eat my breakfast, suck down some coffee, read my comics, pay my bills, and then write for 90-120 minutes without anyone around.

The last couple of years, my targets have been modest, compared to some of the lunatics I know that turn out over a million words. 400,000 and 409,000. This year, the goal was 420,000. Blew through that in early December and kept going. (I like modest, beatable goals.)

Just now, I finished what is probably the last story I will write this year. Lovely little story set in a dark, cyberpunk future as part of a project next fall. Added the final count to my spreadsheet and realized I had hit my secondary target: 450,166 for 2017.


I have a lot of editing to do at this point, so I’ll pick up odd words here and there. Every month I stop whatever major project I’m doing and write something “short.” Sometimes, that’s actually a short story. Occasionally, it goes a wee bit longer and turns into a novella. Got several of them to fix.

My goal is to publish at least one new something on the tenth of every month. My eventual goal, sixty years from now, is to die with three years worth of material queued up in the hopper for one of my great-great-grandkids to oversee publishing. Remember, my IP will continue to generate revenue for seventy years (as of today) after I die, so either the heirs can keep collecting it, or they can sell it off to a small publishing house to handle.

Don’t care. They will have gotten taken care of financially. Hopefully well enough to fund their kids and grandkids to to grand and stupid things.

So, 2017 in sort of review of what I wrote each month:

  • Jan – The Pleasure Dome – Javier 4
  • Feb – Shorts
    • – Daoma Dan/Jocelyn – Stand Up (Origin/Issue 1)
    • – ANPS-1: The Last Ranger
    • – ANPS-2: The Maiden
    • – ANPS-3: Forty-Niner
    • – ANPS-4: Posse
    • – ANPS-5: Refuge
  • Mar – The Doomsday Vault – Javier 5
    • – The Bryce Connection – Javier 9a
  • Apr – The Last Flagship – Javier 6
    • – Rocketman – Eva 3
  • May – Rocketman – Eva 3
    • – The Hammerfield Gambit – Javier 7
  • Jun – The Hammerfield Gambit – Javier 7
    • – Expectations (Thorgerd)
    • – Labyrinth – Dan & Stewey 1
    • – The Hammerfield Payoff – Javier 8
  • Jul – The Hammerfield Payoff – Javier 8
    • – Labyrinth – Dan and Stewey 1
    • – The Red Admiral – Jessica 6
  • Aug – The Red Admiral – Jessica 6
    • – Backwards on the Way – Akahana 2
  • Sep – The Red Admiral – Jessica 6
    • – Last Leaf Falling – Lansdowne 1
  • Oct – The Red Admiral – Jessica 6
    • – Gray Hack – Carl & Deke
  • Nov – The Red Admiral – Jessica 6
    • – Can’t Shoot Straight Gang – Handsome Rob 1
  • Dec – B4B: Three Act Dramatic Structure
    • – Dancer – Kumiko 1

As you can see, lots of stuff I haven’t talked about yet. Most of it will have come out by this time next year. The Red Admiral (Jessica 6) went out to first readers Monday this week. Should got to Canadian Copy-editor Babe(tm) early next year. Target delivery date May 10, 2018. All the Javier is now out, except I have started working on #9, which will actually be a small collection of short stories that sets up Season Two. My goal is to knock those bit out as my monthly projects early in 2018, so I can put out another Science Officer book late in the year.

Planning to start on the next Jessica soonish. Lord of Winter. Book #7 of 9. Tentative target date of December 2018, but don’t know yet. The Red Admiral took longer than I expected to finish, but it’s also 135,000 words right now, and I’ll probably top 140k when the edits come in.

Another Business For Breakfast book at some point. And lots of short stories for various projects and to expand things. Two of them above are new storylines in the Alexandria Station Universe, as I get a chance to start filling in the holes in my monstrous timeline spreadsheet. (Jessica Keller will be born in 13,405 CE, to give you some approximation. Javier Aritza will be born in 7510 CE.)

The year has been good. Sales have picked up some, so I’m on track, but they still aren’t sufficient for me to just walk entirely away from having a day-job. (Tell more of your friends about me, okay?)

Health is good. Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) has completely altered her diet over the year and suddenly doesn’t have migraines all the time. The farm is in good shape, as we complete what she calls “The Cottage” in my front yard. (She will never live with me, but she will spend more time around me if there is a place handy where I’m not breathing her air.)

Reviews/Reponses from readers has been interesting. I’m always saddened when people bitch that $2.99 is too much for a Science Officer book, but probably have no problem dropping $5 on a Starbucks. I need to make a living here. Can’t do it giving everything away. And when you walk into the bookstore, how much does the new thriller cost you? Hopefully $5.99 for a novel is within their expectations, as I plan on dropping two Jessicas next year, plus whatever else I can get done.

Support from other quarters has been good. I love getting emails and notes from fan telling me how much their appreciate my writing and my characters. I love storytelling, so people who like my tales keep me warm. Might have picked up a new fan-turned-first-reader who is really good at picking up things the others (including me) miss.

Past that, I have a good life. Hopefully, you have found the bright things that put a smile on your face, as well.

My your holidays be festive and filled with joy.

shade and sweet water,


West of the Mountains, WA

Rank structures in Military SF

One of the most enjoyable things for me about writing some of the military science fiction I generate is trying to get my head into a culture that’s hundreds or even thousands of years into our future, or, more fun, some alien place. Part of where that shows up on paper is in the rank structure (the military parts).

Most of my readers are familiar with the western standards (primarily United States military), either the US Army or the US Navy, both of which follow the same basic structure of E-1, E-2, O-1, O-2, etc. but with different names for the ranks themselves.

But what is the distant future going to hold?

Recently, I had someone reading the Jessica Keller series comment that I had gotten the ranks wrong, because when he was in the US Army, Yeoman was a job title for a clerk, and nothing more. I refrained from asking what his Command Centurion thought of that, because that would have probably just ended up feeding the troll. For those of you paying attention, much of Aquitaine is (VERY loosely) filtered through the Roman Republic, and not the traditional western militaries. (Fribourg, for contrast, uses the western model based loosely on the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy.)

Officers in the Republic of Aquitaine Navy thus run this way:

  1. Cornet
  2. Centurion
  3. Senior Centurion
  4. Command Centurion
  5. Fleet Centurion
  6. First Centurion

And Enlisted have this structure:

  1. Landsman
  2. Able-Bodied Spacer
  3. First-Rate Spacer
  4. Yeoman
  5. Chief (uncommon)
  6. Senior Chief (rare)
  7. Master Chief (rare)

For Chief and beyond, those are rare because Yeoman is the point where an individual takes a look at where they want their career to go. Many simply serve their full hitch and go back to civilian life, never rising above Yeoman. Others frequently make the leap from Yeoman to Centurion, having proven their worth and being made an officer. (Think Moirrey or Vo.) Only a very few remain in service and move up to the Chief ranks (Chief, Senior, Master), and those are generally technical experts that don’t want the added responsibility of being an officer.

That was why I was amused about the person who thought Yeoman was a clerk. That was his experience. But there are other ways to do it.

My grandfather served with the Eighth Infantry Division in Europe during World War Two. When he left service, he was a Technical Sergeant. That’s not even a rank that exists anymore, the services having consolidated line and paperwork ranks since then into a single chain.

And then I had to invent the Grand Army of the Republic for book four in the Jessica Keller series, Goddess of War. More opportunity to get strange.

Instead of divisions, they have legions. The RAN has security battalions, but the ground forces are organized into Cohorts, because why the hell not? And they want to be Roman, to boot.

  • Legate (Legion Commander)
  • Primus Pilus (First Spear. Senior Cohort Centurion of the Legion)
  • Cohort Centurion
  • (Patrol) Centurion
  • Optio
  • Decurion (Senior Enlisted)
  • Decanus (Leader of Ten)
  • Curator
  • Lancer
  • Trooper

Then you get job titles like: Draconarius (Standard Bearer), Cornicen (Radio Operator), Ballistarius (Squad Heavy Weapons), Pioneer (Sapper/Armorer/EO). All sorts of silly fun, especially when dealing with Fourth Saxon Legion, a horse cavalry unit in a space opera.

But I want exotic. This is Space Opera. With alien cultures and strangeness.

I just finished editing the first pass of the sixth Jessica Keller book (The Red Admiral) this week. The war with Buran gets bigger. And they are utterly alien compared to everyone else, based on a completely different cultural matrix. (And, by the way, the story starts in 13,446 CE, let’s guestimate what the future looks like ELEVEN THOUSAND YEARS FROM NOW. Heh.)

In Buran, most of the vessels, and all of the warships, are Sentient, but not in the sense that Suvi was aboard Mielikki or Hammerfield. There is an artificially intelligent computer involved, but the humans adjust the cognition levels as needed: low when just patrolling, high when combat is imminent.

And then you have Buran’s navy. In charge of a vessel or station is the Director. Equivalent to what we think of as a ship’s captain or a Command Centurion.

Below that, however, the culture is broken into occupational categories, one of which you will be routed into as you grow up:

  • Scholar
  • Technician
  • Warrior
  • Merchant
  • Artisan

Aboard a vessel you will have Advocates.

  • War Advocate (Warrior)
  • Entity Advocate (Technician)
  • Crew Advocate (Scholar)
  • Maneuver Advocate (Warrior or Scholar)

Each speaks for their charge. The War Advocate serves roughly the same purpose as RAN’s Tactical Officer/Second In Command. They fight, without having to worry about everything else at the same time. The Entity Advocate speaks with and for the Sentience, the Entity that is the vessel. The Crew Advocate speaks with and for the crew of humans that serve aboard the vessel. In The Red Admiral, you will meet your first Maneuver Advocate, who speaks with and for the smaller vessels that are carried aboard the Nightmaster Steadfast in Darkness.

Again, alien culture. Steadfast in Darkness is a battleship, but it carries with it four Makos, four medium cruisers that can detach and fight individually, but normally remain attached to the larger vessel all other times.

So military rank can be whatever I want it to be, as long as it makes sense. Think about some European cultures where Frigate Captain and Cruiser Captain were different ranks in previous centuries. What I’m aiming for is to convey to my readers how alien a culture can be, regardless of the people being human.

What was Rome like, two thousand three hundred years ago, during the Republic? Or the Hellenes, to say nothing of armies of the Three Kingdoms Period in China or Heian Era Japan?

And one of these days I will finish Jessica, and can move on to a whole new universe, one with a whole passel of alien species and cultures, into which humans are a very recent arrival. I have a few notes, but it’s going to be a ball going completely strange with militaries and their organization.

The only limits are my ability to dream it up, and my ability to make it understandable and believable for my readers.

So here’s my challenge for you: How would you organize your military, if you were inventing one from scratch and from whole cloth? Lemme know, as I find that sort of thing utterly fascinating.


shade and sweet water


West of the Mountains, WA

Hammerfield is coming…

Hopefully by now, the name Hammerfield means all sorts of useful and intersting things to you. This is important, because we’re about a week away from the Hammerfield Saga dropping. I will be so thrilled when the rest of you are able to know how Season One of The Science Officer books winds up.

It is not the place I expected when I set out. There were three Javier Aritza books out (The Science Officer, The Mind Field, and The Gilded Cage), and I had left things in a kinda dark place. (You tell me The Gilded Cage is a bright and cheery book. I dare you.) So I knew that I wanted the fourth book to be a little less dark. The result was The Pleasure Dome (#4), which might still be my favorite of all of them.

Coming out of that, I had already planned the basic elements of the War of the Pirate Clans, but writer-brain rarely lets me know what is actually going to happen until a page, or sometimes only a paragraph ahead. The Doomsday Vault (#5) was intended to run pretty much as it did, being something of an homage/pastiche to Run Silent, Run Deep, at least intellectually. And to set up a massive confrontation with the asshole from The Pleasure Dome.

From there, things went sideways on me.

One of the things that people have commented about my writing is that my characters tend to grow and change over time. I do. Frequently, someone asks me about something in the past and I will respond with “That was so many me’s ago, I don’t ever remember him, or the person he became, or the six after that.”

I know that some authors believe that your characters should stay roughly the same over an arc of stories, but that never feels right to me. Are you the same person you were five years ago? Would you make the same choices now you would have then? Don’t get me wrong. I like who I am today, and wouldn’t go back and make easier choices, because I would never be here.

I could have been a lawyer. Would have been magnificently successful, but I’d be on my third trophy wife by now and utterly miserable. Could have been a professor. Would have been successful there, but I’d be dull and boring (no offense, Lew and Nat, or Ken and David).

So here I am, totally different guy from the one I was then.

Javier grows. I won’t say grows up, because adulting is rarely as much fun as teenaging, but you get the point. If you have been paying attention to the early stories, you will know just how damaged he is. I won’t say flawed, because that suggests permanency. He’s damaged. Healing, but slowly. Over the course of the War with Valko Slavkov, he has to make hard choices.

More importantly, he has to turn into the man he could have been but never became, but for reasons never discussed. You’ll learn what they are now. Why he blew up his career with the Concord Fleet. Why he has two ex-wives. Why he ended up alone on a Sentient Probe/Cutter with only Suvi and the Four Musketeers to keep him company.

At the same time, the other characters grow. They are all damaged, to one degree or another. (As are we all, when you think about it.) Wracked by guilt and loss. Pain. Might-have-beens. Each of them has to face their own darkness and come to terms with it. Zakhar. Suvi. Afia. Pete. But most importantly, Djamila.

Her arc is almost as big, and almost as important, as the one Javier goes through over the course of these eight books. In The Last Flagship (#6), she has to come face to face with death itself, and confront an angry AI in control of an entire First Rate Galleon. And then, Djamila must find the willingness to step past the fear that has been with her for so many years. She must do the most intimidating, frightening thing she had ever done in her entire life.


So The Hammerfield Gambit (#7) and The Hammerfield Payoff (#8) come out in a week.

Thank you to all the amazing people who have pre-ordered. The numbers are kinda frightening and boggling for me to look at. Hopefully, you will find yourself satisfied with where Season One went to. It was eight titles. Season Two will be nine, because I have partly written a transition piece, three short stories that introduce new characters for Season Two and set the galaxy up for where you go when you might never safely return to Concord space.

I will not, however, be dropping them every two months, like I did these last five. That pretty much consumed my life, and I really want to concentrate on getting Jessica Keller’s story told. I just finished the first editing pass on book six: The Red Admiral, and I’m rather pleased with it. It’s long (135k words, when Javier runs 25-30k each), and deep. And begins a new interior trilogy (6-8) that sees the war with Buran get serious.

I have three Jessicas to write, and a couple of other projects that I can’t tell you about until summer. I will promise at least a couple of Javiers each year for the next couple, at least until things settle down a little.

I have titles for most of Season Two. And I don’t really anticipate it going into multi-volume story arcs. I like the ability to tell a story at 25-30,00 words. I have to stay on topic. It is the novella equivalent of a short story: Get in, get out, without meandering.

Instead, they will be single issue stories. And I plan to focus a little more on the science side of The Science Officer, and a little less on the piracy. After all, as you will see in a little under a week, Javier and the crew of the First Rate Galleon Hammerfield are rather done with piracy, and poised on the verge of a grand, brand new adventure.

I hope you will join me for their voyages, and I look forward to hearing from you what you think about the Hammerfield Saga.


shade and sweet water,


West of the Mountains, WA