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!
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?
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