Behind the Scenes · Spinward Fringe

Samurai Squadron: Writing Minh-Chu

Man jumping between rocks. Overcome a problem, challenge, and hope for a better future. 3D illustration

This was originally released on Patreon during the Samurai Squadron serial. It’s a little piece about what it was like to write from Minh-Chu’s perspective. For the curious ones only, enjoy!

Minh-Chu is a complex character who is much more charming than I am. That’s not really the problem with writing his character though. I can consider what he says for a lot longer than it takes to type it, hours if I have to, so I can try to be Minh-Chu charming.

The biggest problem with writing a character like Minh-Chu is that he’s been a favourite in relatively low doses for many books. I haven’t written from his perspective in about a decade. Coming back to the character means that I have to write what he thinks and how he feels between those quotable moments and weighty conversations. So far I’ve enjoyed putting him at the centre of this book, but it hasn’t been easy.

I”ve been writing him a certain way, as someone who carefully chooses when to speak and how. This is why.

There are three things that are key to this novel and don’t worry, I won’t spoil the story for you. The first is family. That is made more difficult because Ayan, Little Laura, and Minh-Chu’s sister are all absent. It’s made easier because the extended family is established and interesting. The second key is the establishments. The Rebel Captains, Haven Nation’s expansion through the Nodes and Privateering Initiative, and the Order of Eden. The third key is conflict. Minh-Chu is the character who will see all of these things. That is the point of his story in the first part of this season of the series. So, he’s watching and performing what he sees as his duty right now.

Along the way, I hope to do him justice. I have to write Minh-Chu as he is after experiencing so much since we were last in his head. He’s been a Wing Commander for a while now, and he’s settled into a relationship with Ashley who has discovered that she has a sister of a kind. How he gets along with and views Jake and his other close friends have evolved as well, so showing that takes time and has to be done right. I hope that I’ve gone some distance towards accomplishing that because most of the book is written now. Thankfully, he’ll be in the middle of the next novel.

The last important thing about Minh-Chu in this volume is simple and incredibly important. By the end of the book, he’ll have something to say about what he’s seen. I hope you’re looking forward to it. What did you think of this non-spoiler peek behind-the-scenes?

Behind the Scenes · Spinward Fringe

Samurai Squadron: About Some Of The Research

Sci-fi space background – two planets in space, glowing mysterious nebula in universe. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Whenever I’m about to, or am writing a book, I always do some kind fo research. You’d think that after about fifteen years I wouldn’t have to do any preparation for a book in the Spinward Fringe universe, but that’s absolutely not true. In the following piece that was first relased on Patreon some time ago, I describe and discuss what some of that research was. Strictly for the curious, enjoy!

Cult Research

First of all, I’m done. Every year part of prepping for most of the Spinward Fringe books has included about 10-20 hours of research on cults. Sometimes it spills over into more because I find the topic interesting, but when I was getting ready to work on Samurai Squadron I went deeper into the topic than ever. I wanted the ultimate answer to; “Why do people join?”

I had a lot of information already, but I had to find accounts from reformed members, read a few biographies and watch specific documentaries that focus on the topic of leaving organizations. Finally, a former cult member and well-known de-programmer’s interviews and book brought all the information together so I could finish constructing the anatomy of the Order of Eden as a cult. The experience that Minh-Chu had in the last section of the novel was a very shortened tour through the early introduction (indoctrination) that the Order is trying to put into play across the Rose System and beyond was meant to show a different ruthless side of the organization. It was also there to deliver a simple point so the Order might seem more personally dangerous to him and perhaps the reader: There is a cult for everyone.

Now, after over a decade, I’m finished researching the topic. I don’t know everything there is to know about it, not even close, but I have what I need to write the final structure for the Order and get on with the bigger story that the work is meant to support.

Researching Fighter Pilots

Over two years ago now, I started thinking that I’d like to write at least one book that focused more on Samurai Squadron. I started looking for biographies from modern pilots and found one from Robin Olds along with several others. That amazing bio about a pilot who flew in World War II as well as Vietnam was a great start. It started me on a reading and documentary binge that changed my preconceptions and led me back to one question. Who would my main character be for Samurai Squadron? The answer seemed obvious, Minh-Chu, but I hadn’t extensively written from his perspective for a decade and there’s a rule with including too much of a favourite character in a book. Don’t do it. Some characters are amazing in small doses, but spoiled when you get a good look at their troubles and more serious side.

Before I started work on Broadcast 17, I had an idea that led to the Bullet Chasers, and I took the opportunity to write Breaker, a new pilot who might become a main character for Samurai Squadron. I liked him, and I still do, but when it came to actually writing Broadcast 18, I knew I had to centre the book on Minh-Chu, even if it meant ruining the character and killing the series. I was hoping that all the research I’d done would pay off because after reading the biographies of three Wing Commanders, I realized that they all had a sort of swagger about them, but I could include a kind of sensitivity that suited Minh-Chu perfectly. 

He is not the kind of person who includes himself in everyone’s lives unless something is going terribly wrong or he’s invited. He also enjoys challenging people and providing mentorship, even if it’s simply by being an example. Some of the best leaders I read about were very much like that, so I felt I could extend his character. There was also a long arc I could embark on with him.

I’m thankful that so many service people put the time and work into talking about and writing about their experiences. I’m grateful for their service as well.

Researching Spinward Fringe

That’s right. Spinward Fringe is over two million words long now. I was a different person in many ways when I wrote Broadcast 0, Broadcast 6.5, and Broadcast 16. I’m not saying that I’m a walking whirlwind of change, but I know a lot more about writing than I did fifteen years ago, and I’ve had a few more experiences.

As I started writing Broadcast 17: Clash I was wrapping up a complete re-read of the series. I was also listening to the audiobooks, which I’m starting again as I write Broadcast 19. In my opinion, my favourite books in the first half of the series are in the Rogue Element Trilogy: Broadcasts 5, 6, and 7. The drama of the characters fighting for the Triton, the Victory Machine, and finding a new home come together in a way that I’m pretty proud of. That got me thinking.

Minh-Chu has been on the sidelines for so long that I could almost re-introduce him as a new character, extending his arc over three books. My research showed me that turning it into a tutorial on “how to be an effective Wing Commander” would be a terrible idea. I’ve never been one. I shouldn’t even try flying a plane because I have compromised vision! The best I could do is write about what it’s like to be Minh-Chu the person and I could layer in detail about his job later. I’ve done this before with Jake and Alice, holding back detail on the inner workings of the military by focusing on what interested them, and the adventure.

So, the plan became apparent. start with light detail in the first book. I wanted to show everyone what a briefing is like in general because Minh-Chu has been a part of hundreds of them, it’s a regular part of his life. How he used the new technology in his fighter was important, but we could get to the deck crew who maintains it later. This, like the first novella in the entire series, Freeground, and like the first part of the Rogue Element Trilogy, Fracture, would be short and fast-paced.

He’s not alone, either, so I had to make room for Ashley. Their relationship has calmed down, so she’s as much a best friend as a lover. I wanted to have her presence there but since it was the first book in this new trilogy, I intended to keep it light. Later she was included in the mission to Gold Haf Station because she was actually well suited for it. I also wanted to include her as a fighter pilot one more time, even if there wasn’t a lot of detail in that battle. It was new territory for me in a way since there’s almost no real-life account of someone flying with their girlfriend in the same fighter squadron in the real world. I might explore that a little more, but I don’t know if I’ll use Minh-Chu and Ashley.

So, I’ve rambled a while, thank you for reading. I’m realizing that there are other topics of research that I’m always checking in on. Space exploration, technology, storytelling techniques, life and the universe. I could go on for another three thousand words, but I should save something for later since I like writing these little features.

Since I’m going into more detail about Minh-Chu’s life and times in this book, I’d like to end with a question: What did you think of how Minh-Chu was depicted in Broadcast 18: Samurai Squadron?

Audiobook · Spinward Fringe

Samurai Squadron Official Release Date!

On April 28, 2023 Spinward Fringe Broadcast 18: Samurai Squadron will be released on all the major ebook sites. This also marks the beginning of the Starfighter Trilogy, something I’ve been looking forward to and researching for three years.

Here’s some of what you can expect in Samurai Squadron:

A return to classic characters:
This book follows Minh-Chu as he leads Samurai Squadron in their first real missions after their return to the Triton. For the first time in over a decade, we get a real peek at his thought process as he learns about the Shattered End, the Rebel Captains, the Order of Eden’s recruitment agenda and discovers a new secret about the war.

A squadron to rebuild:
The Triton has the capacity to support three full-sized space superiority squadrons, but Minh-Chu barely has enough for one. Easy, Pixie, Maid, Breaker, and several other void warriors who Minh-Chu’s recruited will have the opportunity to learn to work together, and we’ll find out if our favourite Wing Commander has the core group that he needs.

Everyone has a plan:
Citadel and the Order of Eden are trying to recover after a mountain of sensitive data has leaked and an important leader has been lost. Jake Valent is acting on parts of the leak, building a strategy with many layers of contingencies just in case the new intelligence he’s acting on isn’t genuine. Alice is looking to expand her own crew and give the Rebel Captains some direction.

The Rebel Captains are waiting:
The Rebel Captains have been provided with powerful ships and trust Alice, but will they sign on as real privateers and join the war against the Order, Citadel and the Edxi? Will she be able to show the Rebel Captains that they can win against the Order of Eden? How will Samurai Squadron fit in?

I hope that gives you some idea of what to expect in Samurai Squadron. the first novel in this epic trilogy. Here’s where you can preorder or pick up the ebook and audiobook versions:

You can pick it up from my bookstore if you’re familiar with side-loading your ebooks!

Amazon US | UK | AU | CA | DE
Rakuten Kobo
Apple Books
Barnes & Noble Nook
Google Play Books

Audio Book [Auto-Narrated by Google]

Behind the Scenes

The Challenge of Clash

This was originally posted before the book was finished on my Patreon Site. If you haven’t read Spinward Fringe Broadcast 17: Clash, then you should stop here. There are some major spoilers ahead. You can find the Audiobook and EBook versions of the novel in this blog post. enjoy! Now let’s get on with the show!

Image courtesy of Adobestock. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

In this new series of posts, I’m going to give some patrons a peek behind the scenes. I wish I had the time to record these as podcasts, and that may come in the future, but I take way too long editing each one – about two hours for every hour of recording, so I won’t be getting back to that until I have more time.

Spinward Fringe reinvents itself every few books. The living situations and status of the characters have been evolving fairly quickly, and that’s been a good thing. That was, until about a year ago. A change in direction was needed, but it would have to stick this time. Let me explain.

There aren’t many series in any genre that has gone as long as Spinward Fringe, and as I was doing a re-read of the entire thing I started looking back at what was left behind as the characters moved forward. While I enjoy how the Alice story has unfolded, I started seeing that a feeling of disconnection was starting to set in. It felt like she was drifting too far away from some of the original main characters, and something that compounded that was how difficult it was becoming to write Jacob Valent.

When a character becomes too loaded or complex, it can be good to give them a rest, which usually means making them a secondary or even tertiary character who doesn’t come up as often for a while. It also seemed like he was struggling less. He would be justified in thinking that he’d found his place and that what he had to do next would be predictable.

Jake is in his thirties, slowly approaching the same age I was when I started writing this series. Back then I was definitely not where Jake was at the end of Broadcast 16. I felt like I’d barely earned my place in the world, and I had a lot to work for. My career prospects were narrowing while my employment situation was absolutely terrible. I’ve made great strides since then, but my situation is arguably more precarious in most ways.

That was why I couldn’t easily relate to Jake anymore. His struggle against the Order of Eden remained, and he was getting used to being part of an expanded family, but he seemed pretty secure in himself and sure of his path. Something had to change if I was going to write him as the main character again, and I definitely wanted him to be in the spotlight.

So there we have two big problems. Alice and her friends were disconnected from the original main characters of the series, removing a sense of familiarity from future books. Jake, a character I still enjoyed, was too uncomplicated in a bad way. He was in a situation I couldn’t relate to.

As I realized these problems had to be solved, I was fulfilling another promise to the very few people who read my fantasy novels. NEM: Awakening ends on a sort of cliffhanger, with the core group formed through trial and trouble, but looking to the future after a very rough encounter. When I released Awakening I promised that there would be a much more definitive ending coming soon, so I got to work on NEM: Crimson Shores soon after Broadcast 16 was finished. After that, I followed my muse to Psycho Electric, which was a space opera cyberpunk novel that I’d been piecing together for about ten years. A three-week or so fling with The Last Of The Bullet Chaserf followed as I frantically worked out what would happen to Jake at the beginning of Broadcast 17. I apologize to everyone who expected Broadcast 17 sooner. I had to take a side trip or two to clear my head, learn a few new things about writing, and expand the Spinward Fringe Universe with books that would invite new readers into the fold. I also had to prove something to myself as a writer, which I’ll talk more about in another episode.

The idea that Jake would be punished for unleashing an unrestrained artificial intelligence virus (again) came to me as I was doing my read-through of the entire Spinward Fringe series. I was also about a third of the way through writing Psycho Electric, and I realized that I had the thing that would give me everything I needed for my old main character.

This idea would also facilitate the return of the British Alliance along with Lorander and the Mergillians. More importantly, they could re-establish themselves as the good guys. There would be reparations made by the British Alliance for what the previous government did, but the three allies would demand something first. Haven Fleet would have to clean house in order to show that they were playing by the same rule book. Jake’s removal from the Fleet would bring Alice and all the other original main characters to his side, and he could make a deal that would ensure a good sense of familiarity going forward. He could get the Triton back.

I thought it was a pretty good way to go, so I wrote a few outlines with Jake on trial. The first thing I saw was that I would have a lot of research to do if I went in that direction. The second thing I realized was that, unless I could get John Grisham as a guest writer, it would be pretty boring. Trials are long, testimony is often drawn out, and truncated, abridged versions of them can seem fake. I put the outlines away for a week, then came back to them and realized that I overlooked one very important question: “What would Jake do?” The answer came right away. He’d make a deal. In my opinion, that fixed it. As long as I was clear about what Jake’s deal was, why he was being punished, and that I provided all the details by the end of the book, I could start Broadcast 17 at the end of the legal stuff. Alice wouldn’t know anything about it, that way readers could find out with her.

On to the next thing that big shift would bring in. Jake needed a way to continue fighting, a reason for him to take the Triton back.

One of my favourite unpursued storylines was the Privateering idea, and since Jake would have access to a share of resources and wealth from the Haven System, he could afford to hire a crew and a fighter squadron. The Defence Minister would allow him to hire out of his old unit to prevent a split in the military. To many, Jake is seen as one of the founders of the whole thing, so Oz’s hope was to prevent a massive crisis using this strategy. There’s more to it, but that will come later on.

The Triton makes a perfect mobile base. It truly is a character in this series, and there’s room for new friends as Alice’s story starts to merge with her father’s and we get to see what the honeymoon phase of her relationship with Noah looks like. That is until they have their first real fight, which had to happen in this novel. A relationship without stress isn’t worth reading about, and they had some unresolved issues. They still don’t have a perfect relationship, which is good.

So, Jake is the owner of the Triton again, but he’s free to do as he likes because he has Stephanie Vega in the captain’s seat. I regret that I haven’t been able to feature Frost on the Gunnery Deck in this book, but that’s coming. I brought Ayan aboard, but that’s temporary since we can’t leave Little Laura without her mum for too long.

The next book in the series, which I’ll be starting right after Broadcast 17, is called Samurai Squadron, so it was important to establish Minh-Chu, Ashley, Cooper, and a few others as important characters on the Triton. That group of characters will have a lot more time on the page since Samurai Squadron launches the first real trilogy in the series since Fracture, Fragments and Framework. The Squadron is at the core of the main story in each book.

There was still something missing.

The best Spinward Fringe novels arguably have one thing in common aside from characters we want to spend time with. New ideas. Whether it’s the proposal of new technologies, deadly trade-offs, or cunning enemies, I think new ideas are important in science fiction. They can challenge characters and sometimes make us think. The concept of the lost colony isn’t new, but it presents a massive challenge for Jake and his crew, especially since they’re freshly disassociated from the military.

To keep the story small so Broadcast 17 wouldn’t be 300,000 words long, I decided to focus on two brothers. Wish fulfilment and science fiction go well together, so the concept of Orner being disabled came in right at the beginning along with Moxa and Eve using him as an example for the miracles they could bring to the people of Tiy. The struggle was in keeping that story from overwhelming the book since it would seem so unfamiliar at a 1920’s technology level. Too much of a new thing can be bad too.

Now we’ve come to things that I haven’t released yet, so I have to stop talking about story. That is, other than to say that the end will lean right into Spinward Fringe Broadcast 18: Samurai Squadron in a way that I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. It’ll be the Twenty-First book in the Spinward Fringe Series, including full-length .5 editions like The Expendable Few and Carnie’s Tale. I may have to take a two or three-week break to make sure that Broadcast 17’s editing is properly wrapped up, but I’m already looking forward to posting chapters from 18 here.

Having said that, I should address the first point I raised in this rambling piece. Things changed in Spinward Fringe again. The shift is drastic, bringing some old ideas back with new character dynamics aboard, and one of those ideas looks as far back as Broadcast Two. Now we’re ready for the next phase, where the Triton will be at the very centre. I actually hope that doesn’t change for a long time, perhaps for the rest of the series. That is if the Triton survives what’s coming.

ADDENDUM: One More Thing…

When I wrote that there were still a number of unwritten chapters and the edit wasn’t locked in. There was even a proof reader who was yet to come on board, and she whacked over eighty typos while providing some good input. I hadn’t decided on a few important things either, and the ending was rewritten twice. Once on the whiteboards, once as it was released on Patreon, and then again for the final edit. Even then the final draft wasn’t locked. I looked back at the very beginning and realized I had a problem.

There was a Prologue that explained how the Haven Government had sent many Nodes into the galaxy that used new technology that made communication over many light years as good as instant. This came up in Psycho Electric and enabled a whole chunk of that book’s story. It would also come up later in the Spinward Fringe Series, but I realized that explaining its existence and significance in a prologue wasn’t only boring, but unnecessary. I also explained that Jake had been sort of missing for two weeks and that Alice had been assigned to the Cefa System for a little over three months.

I wonder if you’re thinking what I was after going over the book for the third time. “Wait. Why am I explaining all that in a prologue when we get to discover what happened to Jake along with Alice while she’s standing in the middle of a Palacial Garden? A place she’s been relocated to in order to use her empathic ability for a job that she didn’t choose or enjoy? Wouldn’t it be more effective and entertaining if we let her show us what was going on?”

The prologue served its purpose when I was still writing the book. It set up the starting point, but it wasn’t required anymore, so after talking to a couple of people who were involved with the final edit, I cut it. Now I know it was the right decision. If you want to see it, you can check it out here on Patreon, where it’ll exist in a rough form.

I’m starting work on Spinward Fringe Broadcast 18: Samurai Squadron this week. Years of work have gone into it. I’ll share more about it later on.

For now, I’d like to hear about the direction the series is taking. Don’t worry about spoilers since only people who have read or listened to the book should participate. So, what do you think of their new course?