According to old emails, Redemption Rift was written somewhere in 2009-2010. I don’t remember the year, myself; I remember the chair and the room (cheap leather office chair, wood-floored office). I can tell you what house I was then renting (the yellow one, with the fireplace, I really liked that house), what time of year it was (cold, either late fall or early winter), and what my day job was then (I worked in printing). But I can’t tie down the exact year.
If you haven’t read the book, here’s the links. I bought one of the PODs. It’s a sharp book.
So let’s go with a decade, with enough rounding to account for loose change.
I want to start with the end; a couple years ago, at a story summit, Loren looked at me and said “you did a great job. That’s how you write Dragoons.” Now, I’m from the Midwest, so I don’t know what to do with a compliment, but him saying that told me I’d done what I’d set out to do, which was take a favorite faction, move them into a new era, but keep who they were and who they should be.
That was my goal.
I didn’t know at the time if I could get there.
In 2009, I’d written four Dragoons short works for BattleCorps: “The Last Day of Zeta,” about the Mars attack; “The Day After” and “Feral,” also Jihad stories, and “Hector,” a novella about the original Dragoons on Hesperus. If you’ve never published a story, four feels like a lot. But all those words together didn’t add up to a novel. And none of them were in the Dark Age.
I was still one of the new writers, I think, then. I was on my way to becoming managing editor of BattleCorps, to be sure, but I managed to latch on to the tail end of the group that included Ilsa Bick, Phaedra Weldon, Kevin Killiany, and Steve Mohan. At Gen Con, where we all met face to face, I was the new guy. Another time I’ll write about what wonderful, kind, and generous that group of professionals was and remains.
But I hadn’t sold a novel.
In 2009 the last Roc MechWarrior Dark Age novel, Kevin’s To Ride the Chimera, had been out for a year. Steve’s excellent A Bonfire of Worlds was wending its way toward publication. And the “next” book was sort of up for grabs. We were all pitching for it, I think. At that stage we didn’t know it was going to be the Dragoons.
I’d been lobbying hard behind the scenes to get a chance.
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The Long Shot
Finally, it was decided that Randall Bills and I would collaborate on a novel. I’ll be honest and say I’ve slept more than once since 2008-2009, so my recollection of what is his and what is mine is impenetrably hazy. Randall, if you read this and you recall differently, we’ll go with your memory.
What I do remember is Randall being far more gracious and collaborative than I, the new guy with no long credits to his name, expected or honestly deserved. Even if I can’t recall the details, I’ve never lost that sense of respect for the way he handled things.
What I remember is that Randall generated an outline, and it went to the powers-that-be for approval. I may or may not have commented on it, but what eventually happened was that Randall’s schedule changed and he wouldn’t be able to contribute.
Which left me working alone.
What I think happened was, I was assigned the novel and given the freedom to “make it my own.” I have a hazy recollection of redrafting the outline into something I thought I could write on my own, and from an outline I just dug up, that feels right. The necessary people signed off, and off I went. I recall getting 90 days or so to write the book.
I wasn’t scared of 90 days at all.
I have no idea what the details were, but I know for the first 60 days of that 90 days, I wrote maybe two chapters. I had the best intentions. But I was coming up on 30 days left until deadline, and the book wasn’t written. So I did the math, worked out that it meant 3,000 words every day, and got started.
I had a good outline. And some things came up. So the words-per-day had to go up.
But I wrote Redemption Rift in something like 22 days.
And let me tell you, that hurt. I don’t mean mentally, though it did that. It also hurt physically. That’s a lot of hours spent in a chair, typing. That’s a lot of words to type, by hand, in a short period of time. My fingers cramped more than once. I think I put on ten pounds that month.
I know, first-world problems, right?
I took that book to work and wrote during slow periods. I wrote in the morning before I left. I wrote all evening, and in 10-15 hour sprints on the weekend. At one point I had to rewrite four chapters because I’m an idiot and I can’t do math.
But I got it done, and turned in a couple of days before the deadline.
Sure. It was no sweat.
I don’t think I wrote anything for four months after that.
The Story Background
Redemption Rift is the story of the Wolf’s Dragoons leaving the service of House Steiner and taking contract with the Draconis Combine to fight against the Federated Suns. Strangely enough, Robert N. Charrette’s Wolves on the Border is also the story of the Wolf’s Dragoons leaving the service of House Steiner and taking contract with the Draconis Combine to fight against the Federated Suns.
In Charrette’s seminal book, the Kurita contract nearly destroys the Dragoons. Randall and I wondered, this time, what if it was the reverse? What if this was the contract that would make them, in this new era? What would that look like? From there the ideas spitballed, and I honestly can’t remember who thought of which part, so for the sake of argument, let’s say Randall thought of it all.
He probably did. I wasn’t very confident back then. I’m going to keep saying we. It was probably him.
But we took this idea of “what if” and ran with it.
What if the Combine wasn’t the duplicitous villain it had been in the first book? What if it was the Dragoons who needed to have their attitudes adjusted? What if instead of winning all the time, the Davions lost?
I’m a capital-L Literature-trained English major. I care about things like character development and I know how to pronounce “denouement” (it’s with a “d”). Turning the common tropes on their heads? I was all for it.
The plot itself is a pretty standard action story with a few large set-piece battles and, I hope, a number of poignant scenes of professionals, on all sides, doing their duty. But what I hope you remember are the people, not just the ’Mechs.
My stories often have people who are clearly the good guys and the bad guys. Except that both sides, from their own point of view, think they’re the good guys. Which kind of means neither of them actually are… confused yet? It’s okay. I get confused all the time and I’m the one writing it.
The Kurita and Davion characters in this book are generally capable, sometimes brilliant, often patriotic and entirely loyal people. Tori Ishihara was Randall’s creation, I remember that. Bob McShane turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, and to be honest Baxter Taft, for the handful of scenes he’s in, still stands out in my memory.
Nate Castle was put in to show the ground-eye view of events. Where Charrette used Dechan Fraser, I had Castle. I wanted to show a young officer maturing across the novel, learning to be an adult and a leader, learning what the glory he seeks costs, and what it actually means to be a man of authority in an organization like the Dragoons.
To explain Nina Slade I need to make a possibly-obscure David Drake reference. He has a trilogy of books generally known as the Igniting the Reaches trilogy. There is a character in those books, Stephen Gregg, who is a capable, murderous man loyal to his best friend as the conscience he knows he lacks. Nina Slade is my homage to Stephen Gregg: a consummate fighter with no real conscience, a natural killer.
Hack Kincaid, though, was an enigma to me when I started writing, which is surprising because I invented him. In Randall’s outline he was the MWDA character Collin Yukinov. I needed a character senior enough to drive the plot. I needed him to counter Castle; if Castle in on a journey to grow into something, Kincaid would be the model for his growth.
I knew I wanted him to begin the book as a man of absolutes. My characters always change, or are changed, over the course of their stories, so I needed Hack’s arc to be one of learning and self-awareness. I made him ambitious because no one without ambition would rise to command rank in a mercenary unit. I made him humorless because a stern father is a better leader archetype for the role he had to play in the story.
And I made him fallible because no one likes a story without conflict.
Along the way, I got to play with a couple of fun characters. Baron Palm of the Draconis March was going to have a larger role, but I wrote myself out of that pocket. I got to glance at crazy Caleb Davion, which was fun. And turning the ingrained haughtiness of local Davion commanders back on them, when that had been role fulfilled by Sworders and other Kuritans in Charrette’s book, was a nice callback.
There are scenes that stand out to me, even now, that I feel like I got right. By which I mean, I think I evoked the emotion I was going for. The lone Ryuken tank’s fight back to the LZ only to die, on Misery. Castle giving Ishihara the relic later. McShane’s constant naysaying actually being the smart choice, in the last act.
Ishihara and Kao dealing with the rapist.
I tend to find readers and fans either love or hate the Dragoons, and I get it. They were always intended to be a plot device. And while Bob Charrette wrote what I think is arguably one of the best BattleTech novels about them, there’s no denying that after a certain point, they just got a little crazy.
What I like about them is that they’re the best.
Now, naysayers say they’re the best because they got every advantage. They are Clan expatriates, trained by the elite (okay, maybe that first generation, but after a decade of campaigning and the Marik Civil War?). They get their own special weapons and even their own planet (guilty). And then they get WarShips and pretty much anything they want.
Plot armor, I’ve seen it called. Author fiat.
All that’s true.
But very little of that is interesting.
What is interesting to me, and what I wanted to strip away in Redemption Rift and illustrate, is that they are the best mercenaries in the Inner Sphere because that’s what they set out to be.
They got their own planet and special weapons and plot armor? Not in this book. It’s the Dark Age; the Sea Foxes will sell anything to anyone. Their tech is not exceptional. Heck, I made their armor seventy-year-old Capellan cast-off Regulator hovertanks.
No huge WarShips or secret orbital facility. Just a dedication to being the best.
What makes them the best? Who knows. Maybe they aren’t. But by their own standards, which don’t have any definition of good enough, they are. Because no one works harder. No one trains harder. No one fights harder. No one tries harder. And yes, they might lose.
But they don’t get beaten.
Among elite military forces, there is the elite, and then there is everyone else. Tankers, and crunchies. Infantry, and POGs. Shooters, and fobbits. Snake-eaters, and the posers in the rear with the gear.
Dragoons, and everyone else.
And because extremes are fun, even the Dragoons: strikers, and line dogs.
It took a lot of years for Redemption Rift to see publication. There are reasons for that, some of which I know and some of which I don’t. In the years since, the Dragoons I got to create in this book went on to keep appearing.
Dragoons helped raise the Kuritan flag on New Avalon.
Dragoons fought against the Jade Falcons on Terra for the ilClan.
Dragoons will continue to fight.
And I get to keep writing novels.
I think about Redemption Rift quite often. When I get a new assignment, and think about all the words I have in front of me, I often remind myself I wrote a book in 22 days. I can do this. Because of scheduling, I ended up writing the bulk of Blood Will Tell in a compressed period of time. It wasn’t 22 days. But it wasn’t much longer.
I think of that first ambush with McShane’s militia sometimes. And the Regulators chasing the Davion scouts into the Davion Guards’ marshaling area, and General Taft screaming at people to shoot something.
I think about how generous with his time and ideas Randall was.
(I also wonder how no one ever did anything with Tai-sho Tori Ishihara, the first general of the Ryuken since Minobu Tetsuhara. Seriously!?)