It’s 2006. I’m on assignment in Germany. The weekend has arrived, and I’m bored. It’s a cold, wet, miserable winter day. The hotel has no internet, and I can’t understand a word on the television. Well, except for “Ich möchte ein Bier, bitte.” I had that phrase down solid.
I decide to write.
That’s how The Dragons of Jupiter began. In a German hotel. It’s kind of weird when I think about it. I had already penned ten novels by that point, none published, some better than others, but my overall style was lacking. I had too much Tell, not enough Show. Sickening amounts of exposition bogged down my prose. The writing had two basic modes: explosions and exposition.
That had to change, and that change began with a short story: two teams of super soldiers fighting it out on the moon. I had a lot of fun writing the story. I rummaged through my mental garbage bin, stealing ideas from previous novels, throwing them in wherever and whenever.
I loaded the story up with cool tech, showing the weapons and gear in action rather than ponderously explaining everything. I focused on creating an example of asymmetrical combat: two sides with very different fighting styles and equipment, but still roughly equivalent in power.
Many of the elements in The Dragons of Jupiter made their first appearances here. The Dragons, invisible space ninjas that they are, were in full display, sniping and backstabbing like champs. The Crusaders, with their bulky armor and devastating weapons, also made a showing, gunning down anything in their path. In fact, most of the tech went unchanged in the transition from short story to novel. Locations and political entities like Europa, the Federacy, the Lunar State, and even New London made the switch pretty much as is.
The characters, though. Yeah, umm, there’s no hiding it. They were flat. Flat like cardboard. The story had explosions and cool tech, but no soul. It also had a really depressing ending (and that’s assuming you even cared about the characters). At the time, for some bizarre reason, I believed my upbeat endings were the reason I couldn’t sell stories, so I decided a change of pace was in order.
Yeah, in the short story, all the Dragons get slaughtered. Spoilers.
This was my first and last experiment in depressing endings, just to set the record straight.
I was generally happy with the result. When I got back to Michigan, I printed off some copies and shared them with a local writers group. The result was nearly unanimous. They hated the story. One of the writers said my characters were “stupid dildo heads.” He used exclamation points.
They also found all the tech details confusing, said I should tone it down and make it simpler.
Yeah, not going to happen.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times you should listen to the advice of others. And then there are times when you just go with your gut. I went with my gut on this one and got a second opinion. I shared the story with some friends who read a lot of sci-fi, and wouldn’t you know it? They had a very different reaction. The story wasn’t perfect. Far from it, but they saw what the writers group had not: the seed of a bigger and better story.
And, with some encouragement and a lot of hard work, that seed eventually blossomed into The Dragons of Jupiter. Oh, and just to be on the safe side, I stuffed it with even more ridiculous tech details than the short story. Because, you know, that’s just how I roll with it sometimes.
If I had listened to that writers group, I would have never written the novel, never self-published it, and you can forget about a sequel.
And we’re just getting started!
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