Wild Nines came out last January, and the trilogy wrapped up in March, so what’s it doing here topping this blog post?
Because, even though I’m writing mainly on Riven now to finish out that series, I’m making time for shorter projects. That means novellas, short stories (like the one in The Officer anthology) and such. Writing in these styles, where the prose has to be punchier, the plots tighter and characters streamlined, is akin to trying a new restaurant after eating at the same place for a week. It’s different, and that provides a couple of key benefits:
- The short form complements my novel writing. Like writing these blogs, shorter works don’t seem to draw from the same creative well as my novels. I can work on the main story in the mornings and jaunt out a chapter/section of a short story in the afternoon with plenty of energy for both. I’d attribute this both to the style difference and, also, to the fact that shorter works end sooner. Meaning you start every one with the burst of refreshing “new” energy and the fire that burns when you get close to finishing.
- Each one of these short works provides a marketing opportunity. The aim with a novella or short story isn’t to make money, but rather to help people find me and my books. I’m not going to make a dime from The Officer. The Metal Man, the Mox novella that’s free all over the place, has generated precisely $0 for me since launch, but it has had dozens to hundreds of downloads. Some of those people went on to purchase my other books, and they may never have found me otherwise. Additionally, putting out short works alongside longer ones helps keep new content flowing, which is crucial in a world so crowded for attention.
- It’s fun. I’d emphasize that word even more if I could. Short stories let you explore characters in more intimate settings than you might be able to justify in a novel. They don’t have the same time commitment, so you can dash in and out to give a side character some flavor. Or explore a setting with more depth than was necessary in the longer work. I’ve even got a few stories in the pipeline that aren’t directly tied to any of my other works, but that just seem like fun ideas to try, so I’m going to give them a spin.
I’ve mentioned shorts on this blog before, but I’m going to keep hammering away at it because I think writing a variety of works of different lengths and genres has been so helpful to my development as a writer (and to yours as well, if you’re so inclined).
Below, I’m including the first chapter of my forthcoming serial (shorter episode format) that features a couple of characters from the Wild Nines series. Some awfully slight spoilers to that series if you haven’t read it before, but nothing huge, so don’t be afraid to scroll on down:
Note: Usual caveats about rough draft postings apply. This is all new jazz, and while I’ve given it the ol’ glance, it’s likely got some edges that may get smoothed out in the final version. Enjoy!
The Adventures of Cass Everhart – Episode 1:
The thing with Saturn’s rings is that they look like trash when you view them through, well, trash. Cass watched the refuse float away from Unity’s End, spinning off towards those beautiful rings. Chunks of rotten food, bits of broken pipe and rusted metal jetting off into the infinite void. They’d float around in a decaying orbit until, eventually, Saturn would pick them up and crush them into nothing. Or scavengers might find them first. Plenty of those this far out. If she squinted, Cass could probably see them now. Single-pilot fliers sucking up scrap. Looking for whatever Eden and the other companies threw away.
“You just gonna stand there? Can I shut the door so we can get to the good part of our day?” Squid, the lanky ghost-faced goober working the levers, said. Cass ignored him. Out of self-preservation, really. She’d found that listening to Squid for more than a sentence led her down a dark path to the wrong end of a sidearm. Rather than where she’d prefer to be, at the bottom of a hard glass.
“Where are you going tonight?” Cass asked the man as Squid shunted the large lever down. The trash chute’s large doors ground shut, the magnetic shield keeping their oxygen, and themselves, in place holding until the space station confirmed oxygen wasn’t going to blast out into the void. Then they have three minutes outside the secondary airlock while pressure equalized, contaminating anything filtered out. Time spent in close proximity with Squid, who, Cass realized, appeared in the midst of a personal hygiene crisis. Scraggly hair pounced from everywhere on the man’s face. As though his pores were trying to reach out and grab her.
“Mallow’s, as per usual. You finally coming with us?” Squid asked, those eyes of his widening in that oh so hopeful look. Was it concerning that Cass took so much pleasure in shutting him down? Maybe. But on Unity’s End, she had to take what joys she could find.
“Just wanted to know where I shouldn’t be,” Cass said, throwing Squid a wink to de-fang the words. Cass still needed this gig, for the moment, and keeping Squid on her side couldn’t hurt.
“Hey, you want to pull the lever one day, you know where to go,” Squid shot back. The airlock door whisked open and Cass wasted no seconds in dashing through to the room. A quick change out of her uniform, a spritz to the hands with the allowed recycled water, and then she hustled out through the maintenance tunnels. Doing everything she could to beat Squid out, avoid another awkward conversation. Through a door pasted over with personnel warnings, a circular sliding affair that shunted to the side as she approached, and out.
Cass took a deep breath. Paused a moment and took in Unity’s End. Or at least, Ring Seven. The Shinzo district. The arrays of red and gold patterning across the floors and ceiling. The patchwork of transparent panels filtering Saturn’s brilliance, or alternatively the deep black of the beyond. On either side of her stretched walls covered with advertising, shifting images of other moons, of stores and clubs. Call-outs for Shinzo’s specialty ran through the pictures; a variety of dishes refined with the dust from Saturn’s rings.
She’d tried it once. When she’d first come to the station, dropped off by those mercenaries chasing after bigger things. Ring Seven, so she’d been told, had the lowest rungs. The place to pick yourself up. It also had Hokori, a spice they put on everything here. At least till you learned to leave it off. A lesson Cass only figured out when she couldn’t buy it anymore. When she’d been left for broke in the back of a bar, face coated with the stuff and—
Nah. Cass didn’t need to go down that path. Not tonight.
That’s all the free laws wanted. Your coin, your time, your dreams.
Cass brought her wrist up, glanced at the small screen on the arm what wrapped around her forearm. The last message. The guy she’d hired dropped a tip this morning. A likely candidate. And the bar wasn’t all that far from here. She double-checked the name. Miraculous, not Mallow’s. Not that Flip would be messing with her. Reputations were serious business on a ring that didn’t offer much else. A cocky crack that looked like he poured more than his own money into his absurd haircut, a coiffed hairdo that morphed with every orbit of the rings. But Flip said he knew Unity’s End better than anyone, and had the pad to prove it. So Cass paid the man.
9 PM, station time. The hour reflected in the lighting on the edges of the walls. Dim orange twilight casting across the ring. Ring Seven circled the outside of Unity’s End. The rings spun around each other, an endless gyroscope rotating along a central shaft. Pulled together as a joint project by bunch of companies that couldn’t muster the capital to do it themselves. Eden had its own stations. Galaxy Forge had its own base on Ganymede. Mars; a playground for Earth’s experiments gone wrong. Unity’s End was just the latest place for capitalism to run amok.
Cass shook her head as she walked. Wasn’t worth thinking like that. They’d lost. And they’d lost bad. By the end of it, Cass couldn’t even recognize her friends. They’d been trying to hijack a freighter. Shoot up civilians. It’d taken that fighter pilot blasting her partner in the face to wake her up. It’d taken the ride back here from Neptune to give her a new goal. The Red Voice was gone. But its people were not. One, particularly, should be here.
Cass had tried to play her game. It didn’t work. Now she wanted to play theirs.
“Excuse me, Miss?” A rough-and-tumble workman said as he passed by her. “Don’t know if you noticed, but you uh, got something in your hair.”
Cass reached up and threaded her fingers through her burnt red locks. Felt the sticky goo. Remnants of someone’s lunch, most likely. Funneled through the trash, and flopped its way out the airlock and into her hair. Just like Squid not to say anything. The bastard.
“Thanks,” Cass said. The man nodded and kept moving. A moment of politeness out here on the edge. Cass looked at the trash in her hand, a grimy box of used food. Beneath the grease sat a red label, the S and C looping through each other. Dragon faces blowing fire on the ends. Shinzo’s logo. She tossed it in a bin. The trash would reroute. Go right to the tank. She’d see it again tomorrow.
Cass would play their game, and she’d win it.