When Last We Left the Tales of the Black Knight

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When last we left the “Tales of the Black Knight,” the first book was going to be subtitled “The Orphan’s Search” and I was in the process of shopping it around to editors and agents. I found an agent who, while she didn’t deal with sci-fi, had a boss who did. She gave me some very excellent feedback about what needed to change before she would pass my work along to that agent.

One of the things that was requested was changing the perspective to first person, which involved a lot of re-writing. By this point I had been working on it for about 8 years. I realized I wasn’t particularly happy with the last few re-writes—especially the last one, in which I tried to incorporate everything I’d picked up at the last writer’s conference in a hurry. Some of the mistakes that got to the agent made it obvious I could no longer read the book I had written. I needed to step back.

So I took a break. The book was frozen in my mind like ice, and I had to let it melt so I could work with it again.

Now I’m ready to start in earnest, with potentially bigger changes than the perspective shift. For instance:

  • Fewer characters: The book as it stands has a lot of characters, some of which I began to realize might be redundant with each other. Is there anything the Preacher does that the Black Knight couldn’t do? What about the Whisper and Mischief? Whisper is an older character, actually an adaptation of a character I created when I was doing Microsoft Freelancer fan fiction. But Mischief is a much more interesting character, and again, she can do anything Whisper can. It would require major changes to the plot, but I think less might be more.
  • Lose the nicknames, change the title: I’m a huge fan of the DC universe. Everyone has an alias there. Bruce Wayne is Batman, Clark Kent is Superman, Edward Nygma is the Riddler, etc. And they each behave differently depending on which persona they were using at the time. Batman is really only himself as Batman—Bruce Wayne is a fake persona where he tries to look incompetent. This was my plan for the mercenaries in my book. “The Black Knight” is a persona that Joe Zam uses to do things he wouldn’t normally do. Think of it as “mental armor.” But, so far, switching between names seems to be confusing the readers, so I’m not pulling it off effectively enough. The good news is “Joe Zam” is a perfectly good name for a space mercenary, and “The Zam Chronicles” works well as a title—I think. I will probably leave “The Black Knight” as a call sign, but it will be more of a minor detail. When you read Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger books, Joe Ledger is Joe Ledger—“Cowboy” is his call sign, but it gets used sparingly. Come to think of it, in the same books the rest of Echo Team goes almost exclusively by call signs, so perhaps that’s a structure I can steal from him. (It’s his own fault for stressing the usefulness of deconstructing successful novels to teach yourself to write—and then writing amazing novels.) For the record, I’m not stealing the Joe part—Joe Zam was the shortened version of my Grandfather’s name that he used when selling cars. It was way easier for customers to remember. God rest him, he was an amazing guy that I miss pretty much every day. (So there’s a bit of backstory for you.)
  • More advanced technology: Today I read a story that Duke University created a computer out of rat brains. Most of the stuff I've been planning on including-- neural interfaces, nanotechnology used for human biology, robot cars, etc--is looking like it will happen sooner than later. I've got to start thinking further outside the box.
  • Bleaker setting? : I’m on the fence with this one. Not only do I believe in miracles, I count on them. I lived through the cold war when we were facing nuclear annihilation on a daily basis, and by some miracle we did not get annihilated. When I started writing this book, it was about five years after the fall of the towers. When the towers fell I said that we’d be at war for the next twenty years—perhaps thirty. Things seemed to be working on that timeline. The major powers weren’t crazy enough to start a major war, and the minor powers had no chance of getting enough power to start a major war. So when I wrote massive wars into the history of the book, they were in space. Corporate warfare was the pathway to destruction. And that will stay in the book.
    But now I look at the current state of affairs with dismay:
    • In the Middle East, ISIL is currently burning, beheading and drowning every Christian they can find. Meanwhile Iran is getting closer and closer to nuclear weapons, while Israel may no longer feel any pressure to avoid using force to slow this process down.
    • Former Easter block NATO members are calling for heavy weapons to be set in place because a resurgent Russian is expanding into Ukraine and possibly beyond.
    • China is building artificial islands—think about the commitment required here—to expand its influence further into the oceans. Oh and they’re covering those islands with artillery.

    So what happens next?

    That’s the question I have to answer. I’m creating my own universe for this book, so I don’t have to accurately predict the next few decades for it to be believable. But I do have to make it believable. Will my readers believe that we can get through the next three hundred years without something cataclysmic: nuclear war, a collapse of the global economy, a zombie apocalypse?

    And people are really into apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Throwing that flavor into the pot might make the soup more popular.

    But do I want to be one more voice warning/predicting of a cataclysm? Do we need another voice of warning or—what I prefer to be to be honest—another voice of optimism? It’s not like we haven’t been close to the edge before. I grew up wondering if the bombs would fall, and by probably many, many miracles they never did. So it’s not like were doomed to destruction. We’re just at a particularly interesting point in history.

    What path serves the story in the best way? Would it be better not to jump on the post-apocalyptic bandwagon so late in the ride? Or will this be the popular trend for the next few decades?

These are just some of the things I’m considering as I go forward. I think I’ve got as much reading to do as I do writing. But I’m going to take my time with it. I think before this I started rushing the process trying to get published. Once it was obviously impossible to accomplish within a certain time-line, I lost some of my motivation.

I’ve got to go back to where writing is a fun thing that I want to do all the time.

I think I’m moving in the right direction.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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