Behind the scenes part two: … To Revelation.

In part one, I covered the genesis and early writing process. In this post, I want to finish out that story and remark on a couple of developmental aspects. Some spoilers, naturally.

IV.

I took June and July 2016 off; a summer hiatus. A break seemed healthy, critical distance from what I’d already written seemed helpful, and I wanted feedback on what I had already. Early returns from beta-readers would prove overwhelmingly positive, and it’s hard to overstate how important and encouraging that was. This was also the timeframe when I started development on a possible sequel. (An excerpt from the first chapter of which appears at the end of the Chronicle.) That seemed a good compromise: It kept me in the universe but apart from my own text.

The first thing written after the hiatus was Maggie and the shrink, O’Deen. Although it ended up becoming a pivotal part of the text, I intended to write a throwaway scene; just something to get back into practice, to find Maggie’s voice again. I had just watched the original BBC adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” so I took a pass through the scene doing the shrink in Alec Guinness’ voice. I still see remnants of that on the page. But on subsequent passes, I found myself channeling Dean Stockwell’s voice, and by about the sixth pass, Guinness was out and Stockwell was in. That was delightful; Cairns and Stockwell shot no scenes together, and I felt that their voices worked well together. And Stockwell was fantastic at delivering winky, snarky cliches—which let me feel that “tell me about your childhood” played.

So is Doc O’Deen a One? It’s up to you. That interpretation would raise some questions: Why would a One take a moment to show her some kindness, to encourage her to work out her differences with Abigail? Read it as you please.

Oh, by the way: Ah’deen is the Russian cardinal number one. So there’s that.

Also, there’s a one-shot coming soon (it’ll be in The Racetrack Apocrypha, too) which gives a possible answer.

V.

Broadly-speaking, the main challenges at that point were bringing home “Poseidon”’s dramatic payload (still frustratingly-undiscovered at that point) and actually writing the bulk of “Galactica.” I had rushed out a skeletal version of the latter for one of my beta-readers, and it would prove a useful scaffold. It told me what to write, in broad strokes. But there was much to do. And it was hard: By that point, I was deep enough into the process that I really loved Maggie, and I knew that “Galactica” had to end with some bombshell event that would shatter her, leaving her distraught, angry, and on the cusp of despair. Why? Because that’s how we see her in her early episodes of the show: “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part Two,” “Resistance,” and “Final Cut.” It was inescapable. Inexorable. Her fate was sealed. Written in the stars above and in God’s decree—literally, as Gareth tries to tell her in “Rubicon.”

But how she got there wasn’t. That, I could do something about.

Almost without thinking about it, I had introduced Maggie to David “Speedway” Wright in the last few lines of “Poseidon.” He was clearly a romantic interest; that’s practically the first thing out of Abigail’s mouth in “Galactica”! It took no time at all to realize that he needed to be that and more. If David were to be the love of her life, if he was her soulmate, her betrothed in actuality or in all but the formalities, then his being ripped away from her mere hours before we met her for the first time… That would supply the charge necessary to fire Maggie through Racetrack’s character-arc in the show. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came from that he would be ECO on the ill-fated recon Raptor in Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part One, but—early. It was logical. His fate, too, was sealed.

I should say at this juncture that I love David, and I feel his loss almost as keenly as I feel Maggie’s. Your main characters have to be people, whole and complete; they have to live, breathe, and exist independently of the machinations in which your plot will involve them. The writer’s job (sometimes the actor’s) is to build out and imply that specificity. And it’s a difficult thing to invest yourself in a person you know you’re going to have to kill. That’s a funny thing about writing fiction; no one warns you how emotionally involved you’re going to become with these characters, if you’re doing it right. And when I now watch “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part Two,” I feel (and I hope readers of the Chronicle will feel) a far more intimate loss than they did before when that plane was crewed by redshirts.

Also worth mentioning at this point (although I’ll never get any credit for this): I really hesitated to take Maggie down this road. It was bad enough (in some folks’ eyes) to make Racetrack a country-girl. To go further, to portray her as traditionally-inclined? As a virgin, and deflower her? To ground her short-range wounds in a relationship, in something personal and immediate rather than something grander, something abstract or political? That risked blowback. It risked accusations about intent; frankly, I worried about how Cairns might react. But it felt undeniably right. It felt natural for the character. It complied with the Whedon mandate described in part one: More personal, more painful, the next logical thing that happened to these characters. (That decision also fed back into the characterization in “Poseidon,” especially the scene between her and O’Deen, which is of necessity a little gauzy about her past, but strongly hints at a woman whose primary relationships were non-romantic.) And besides: It felt like something new. It was a tonality we hadn’t seen in BSG but which felt organic to it, something that made the worlds more diverse and interesting. And that, too, was in the mandate of the Background Notes, which had insisted that the “United Colonies of Kobol are not [Trek’s] the Federation, nor even [Firefly’s] the Alliance; they are America in 1810. They are a vast, sprawling, diverse collection of societies…, tied together by history, commercial intercourse, and a remote federal government on Caprica … [but] separated by immense distances and profound cultural and aesthetic differences.”

I’m not exactly sure when “Poseidon”‘s last main act snapped into focus, but I do remember a moment of realization that Maggie now articulates in the book. I had over-engineered the hangar-deck, made it too safe, and I couldn’t for the life of me fathom how this accident was supposed to go down. Nor did I have a sense of the motives of the players. But once I had what is now Maggie’s realization that the launch-tubes are a potential point of failure, things moved quickly from there as events and character motives fell, satisfyingly, into place.

At any rate, I did a draft a day for most of that autumn, and had set 12/1/16 as a deadline. That was the day that “the first draft” of the whole shooting-match would be done and out the door. I had told Cairns and Carro that it was going in the mail to them (among others) on December 1, and that was that. Deadlines are helpful for focussing the mind, and I raced to meet it.

I made deadline—barely. By late afternoon on 12/1, I was running dangerously late, but I got to the print-shop, everything was printed and collated, everything was good to go. But because I’m a worrywort, I checked, and there were a few pages that had a problem. Naturally, they were the racy ones, the ones that I would most hate someone to glance at out of context. And, long story short, the nature of the print error made it more complicated than just reprinting a couple of pages. By the time everything got corrected and re-collated, my stress level was pretty high, the post-office was close to closing-time, and I would swear that I heard an alarming pop! sound in my temple as I pulled into the USPS parking-lot. Phase two was over.

VI.

A couple of weeks of decompression passed, and I found that I had ideas for shorter pieces that weren’t in the book. Writing them was mostly for my own enjoyment; publishing them was self-consciously promotional, for the character, for my “brand,” so-to-speak, and for my vision of the RDMverse, which is on plain view in some of those shorts. (A catalog of them can be found in this post.) I’m fond of them. Those shorts (particularly “Soveremenny,” “Dry-Dock,” and the as-yet-unpublished “City of Lights”) are a purer expression of my original “Adventures of Racetrack and Spitfire” concept than is the Chronicle itself. Mostly set in the lacuna between “Poseidon” and “Galactica” while Maggie and Abigail are ensigns on the battlestar Triton, and unencumbered by any need of serving an overarching plot, I was able to dream up interesting things in the universe that I wanted to see and have our heroines go visit them as our proxy. Writing a happy, light, unburdened version of Maggie and the developing relationship between the Maggie-Nicola-Abigail trio was a breath of fresh air after the weight, depression, and occasional brutality of writing the Chronicle.

(Now is not the time to discuss the personal tolls exacted by writing the book. That may come later, in another place.)

Some of those shorts, however, were held back for one reason or another. Among them were drafts of texts that would enter the Chronicle as the Prologue, the “Galactica” Prelude, and “Future Imperfect”; the notion of correspondence between Maggie and Nicola also dates to that period of downtime, which lasted roughly from Christmas 2016 to mid-summer 2017.

VII.

Feedback on the private preview was less uniformly-positive than had been feedback on the earlier round of circulating drafts. That, too, was helpful. Although some of the criticisms missed the mark, most struck me as well-considered and actionable. A strong criticism, I thought, was focus: The text presupposed a reader who knew the show very well, and the narrative thread—by design, to an extent—meandered in “Galactica”’s second act. Stronger yet was the “footnote problem.” In part one, I talked about the notion of a dialogue between the page and the background materials, each informing the other as they developed; from the earliest drafts, I had included a running commentary on the text in footnotes, a la Ron Moore’s commentaries on BSG episodes. Early beta-readers had liked that, and it was helpful to me in writing. But readers of the private preview balked. It was too elaborate; it was confusing insofar as the footnotes dragged the reader’s eye and pulled them out of the flow of the story; and too much of the thematic material was clearer in the commentary than on the page. (That last one had been deliberate, a tilt toward minimalism, but I took the point.) Oh, and “hire a pro editor who doesn’t have any connection to you or the franchise.”

With benefit of hindsight, it’s striking to me that none of the feedback criticized the thing for which I cared most: The characterization and the character-arcs. The only critical notes on the substance regarded Abigail’s threadline getting lost and “Galactica” meandering in the second act. No one objected to any of the things that had frightened me. Still, at the time, it was tough. It was helpful; essential, even, and the book is stronger for it. But I won’t pretend it wasn’t tough to hear.

Broadly-speaking, I responded in four ways.

First, I moved all the thematic material from the commentary into the main text—at first, literally just cut-and-paste dumping—and everything else into a separate document. Message received: No footnotes. The footnotes had always been my safety-net, a way for me to tell the reader “no, no, this is deliberate, it’s not a mistake, that passive-voice is deliberate characterization, that contradiction of an earlier statement by a different character is intentional.” Suddenly that security was gone. It would all happen on the page or not at all. Thus, for example, the religious undertones regarding King’s motivations became much more clear as further rounds of iteration milled and digested the raw footnote material into the text. “Future Imperfect” also came in at this moment, as a kind of bittersweet pivot in which we see more of the character as things might have been, sharpening the knife and setting a context for her interior-life in the show.

Second, insofar as the Chronicle had been written as a collection of semi-independent pieces, I took the point that it needed a superstructure if it were not to read that way. I cast around for a structural vehicle that could tie the five into a single, coherent work. The idea I hit on was the Prologue and framing subsequent parts as being within that ongoing conversation. I don’t like first-person present-tense, I find it unreadable, but during the hiatus, I had listened to Claire Danes read The Handmaid’s Tale (the primogenitrix, I suspect, of the present vogue), and that had really worked for me in an unexpected way. I felt that if it were kept short, the virtues of that style, its intimacy and immediacy, could be used to powerful effect. It’s not quite “Call me Ishmael,” but opening The Racetrack Chronicle in Racetrack’s own voice? That felt forceful and emotional. It also provided a unique stylistic cue that could be used to thread that conversation throughout the book. That bit of needlework provided an overall structural coherence; it turns the Chronicle into Maggie telling Gareth her story, until the narrative flow finally catches up to and moves into the last hours of her life in the last part of “Rubicon.” (It also implies that Lowell is the eponymous chronicler, as I’ve said in a previous post.) This was also the point at which Maggie’s correspondence with Nicola went into “Galactica,” providing more color and cartillage, and culminating in the letter that that thread is really all about: Her goodbye in chapter five, which was painful to write.

Third, I ditched some minor characters, bolstered others, and worked in characters I knew would have to appear in the transit through miniseries. Brief appearances from Boomer and Kelly were excised and dialogue that had been drafted for Kelly was reworked for the COB. Until that point, the COB had not been a significant player. Now I cast J.B. Smoove to give him a specific voice and expression, and gave him more lines and interaction with Maggie and David, magnifying him as a character and contextualizing Maggie’s above-and-beyond concern for him later in the book. Starbuck loomed larger as an antagonist in “Galactica” than she had in the Private Preview, contextualizing their later confrontation in “Rubicon” and making her involvement in chapter four somewhat less out-of-the-blue for readers unfamiliar with the show. (It also answered an early beta-reader note that wanted more of that antagonism. Scenes like that were apparently written but never filmed; I had already inferred it and written it in, but the voltage was now increased.) Same for Tyrol and Cally: If they were to appear in chapter four, they had to be introduced in chapter three, otherwise I’m presupposing the reader’s familiarity with the characters.

Fourth, with all that work done, I hired an editor, and his work was immensely helpful in tightening things up and providing a fresh perspective. My biggest fear hiring an editor was that things I loved might have to be deleted, but surprisingly, the text got longer at this point. He wanted more material covering the development of the relationships between Maggie and Abigail and then Maggie and David; that was fine, because I had a whole bag of deleted scenes into which I could reach. Maggie and Abigail at the range and on the running-track, and Maggie and David canoodling by the loading-gantries came in at this point (see this post), as did a slightly longer version of their romantic interlude on Canceron.

VIII.

I had announced in December 2017 that the book was coming out in March. Mostly that was to have a deadline; as mentioned above, deadlines help focus the mind. As we closed in on February 1, I realized that March 18 was an attainable and desirable release-date. It was already in the text as Maggie’s birthday; would mark two years to the day since the very first part of the project had been “done” insofar as it had gone to Cairns. That felt like coming full-circle. There were a lot of markers that had to be hit and a March 18 release imposed a tight schedule. Two items on that checklist are worth mentioning. Advance Review Copies had to go out before I was able to make a handful of final tweaks to the text, so if you have an ARC, it’s a unique version with a few idiosyncrasies toward the end of “Rubicon.” The final, published text is better. And the cover image had to be finalized; it had become an “uncanny valley” problem where all the elements were there but the tyranny of little details was delaying things. See this post for more on that.

The day after release, positive feedback started rolling in, which was awesome. The most surreal moment, however, came the following Saturday. I had already committed to doing no writing work on book #2, Evaded Cadence, for six months. For the first time in two years, then, I woke up on a weekend with no obligations and nothing to do. It had been a long journey. A lie-in was a most welcome novelty.

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