Podcast: S1 E1
My first sci-fi story, why I chose to go with the novella format, and a reading from VODOU PRINCESS.
I’ve always wanted to write a story about marines in space. As a marine myself, I can imagine a future time when space soldiers—like in Starship Troopers—are keeping the peace and providing humanitarian aid across the galaxy. When Space Force stood up a couple of years ago, I realized that if marines are deployed across the galaxy, it will be on landing ships so that they can fight battles on the beaches of distant planets. But the real galactic commandos would be members of the Space Force, traveling around in reconnaissance spacecraft and getting into little scrapes here and there. Plus, the science fiction genre has a very specific Space Marines sub-genre that is pretty well played out. What I decided to do instead, was to translate some of my own experiences as a Foreign Military Force Advisor into a solitary kind of advisor role in the Space Force. I brought back the old Vietnam-era U.S. Army reconnaissance commando name, known as recondos, and voila: Space Force Recondo.
Another thing I wanted to do with the stories was to showcase warrant officers. In my opinion, warrant officers are some of the most important people in our military. As a marine, I see warrant officers as technical experts and superior leaders. They’re in a weird place stuck between commissioned officers and enlisted troops, but that allows them the room to lead and mentor young troops and give honest advice to their leadership. Warrant officers tend to be a little older, more mature, and able to operate independently. This was ideal for my protagonist, Chief Warrant Officer Rave Dekko.
Once I had dialed in on his background, the story almost wrote itself. I’m really happy I get the chance to highlight the warrant officer ranks and I hope you enjoy that aspect when you read the book. The first book in the series is called ADVISOR and I comes out later this month. It follows Chief Warrant Officer Rave Dekko as he helps prepare a small colony on a distant planet to defend themselves against indigenous animals that have been attacking them. I took this idea from a novella by a favorite author of mine, Andrew Mayne, called The Grendel’s Shadow. But I added a twist—the reason the animals are attacking is because of something the colonists have done (and a corrupt official is covering up). I think it makes for a pretty good read.
Those of you familiar with my work will know that I published a roughly 60k-word novel back in 2018 called VODOU. Between 2018 and 2022 I was still working full-time and didn’t put a lot of effort into writing. But when we moved from Germany to Florida, I suddenly had the opportunity to pursue writing full-time. And I wanted to relaunch my writing career with a bang. One of the core series that I have invested a lot of time into is my Paranormal Activity Research Center, or PARC, series. These stories follow a mysterious immortal commando named Nicolaus Rand as he hunts down and protects humanity from paranormal dangers.
When I wrote the series introductory story, VODOU, it just wasn’t long enough. And I spent a year of writing trying to pad it enough to be a full-length novel, which is usually around 50k words. But when I was done, I really wasn’t happy with the result. I felt like the bits I had added were…boring, if I’m being honest. And with the opportunity to relaunch, I decided to pare the book back down to its original shape, which took it well below 30k words.
It turns out that this is the sweet spot for me as a writer. I love writing short stories, but in order to have a full-length tale with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s got to be a little bit longer. Enter the novella. This length (which I target at around 20k words, and which Wikipedia says is anything between about 17k and 40k words) allows for a full storyline in a tight, fast-paced length. When I was done with editing, VODOU PRINCESS (as it’s now titled) was really snappy and more fun to read. My Revision Readers agreed and I happily launched it as my first new book for 2022. If you’ve read the old book and the new one, I think you’ll see where the boring bits were cut away, leaving a much better story in its place. It turns out that a lot of famous books (like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness, and Of Mice and Men) were actually novellas as well.
One of my writing heroes, Stephen King, summed it up best when he said:
[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.
And so this is the format I’m going with moving forward. I won’t be able to call myself a novelist in the real sense, but I’ve always thought of myself as simply a storyteller anyway—and the format and length really doesn’t matter as long as you tell a good tale that readers enjoy.
To come full circle on VODOU PRINCESS, let me read a little big from the book for you. And just as a note, full chapter readings will be available soon for Patrons on Patreon. Go listen on the podcast and I hope you enjoy the reading!