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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.

Behind the scenes, part one: From Genesis…

My wife and I watched Battlestar Galactica for the first time in the first few months of 2015. How did I get from there to having a book set in that world? Why Racetrack? How did all this get started? Minor spoilers for “Poseidon” throughout part one, with more serious spoilers to come in part two.

I.

Over the summer of 2015, after a decade writing non-fiction, I read James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series. And I found it revelatory: Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War in particular are set in the kind of brisk, plain, concise, forceful prose in which I would hope to set non-fiction. (Corey cited Asimov to me as having a similar style. I’ve read a lot of Asimov, and I think Corey’s being too modest.) For the first time reading fiction, I felt a definite conviction that in terms of the style, in terms of the writing, “I love this and I could do this.”

Fast-forward a few months to late February 2016. I run across this Galacticon panel with Leah Cairns (Lt. Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson), Luciana Carro (Cpt. Louanne “Kat” Katraine), Richard Hatch (Tom Zarek), and Michael Trucco (Sam Anders). As someone who doesn’t go to cons, I had some genuinely first impressions. Hatch was wry and delightful. Cairns (who could scarcely be less like Racetrack), bright, vivid, and hilarious. Carro, completely charming. Trucco, the big brother we all always wanted, boundlessly-enthusiastic, funny, radiating affection and generosity. And I remember thinking: “I love these voices and I wish I could write for those voices.”

The penny, as they say, dropped.

I had favorite characters from the show, and two of them were represented by actors on that panel: Racetrack and Zarek. Backstory on either seemed interesting. But what grabbed my attention was Cairns’ anxiety about Racetrack joining Gaeta’s mutiny.

Why the writers did it would seem obvious. A mutiny of redshirts and villains would have lacked the moral complexity in which BSG traded; the mutiny’s integrity required that characters whom we loved and in whom we were invested side against Adama. Other obvious candidates might have been Kat or Cally, but with both dead, the show was short on options. Racetrack was the inevitable choice.

(Worth noting: That choice makes sense only on the assumption that viewers loved and empathized with Racetrack, and would be hurt and wrong-footed to see her join the mutiny.)

But that’s an exogenous reason. Characters require in-universe motives. I understood why Ron Moore had Racetrack join the mutiny. I wanted to know why Maggie Edmondson joined the mutiny.

With no satisfactory answer in view, I started writing. That was February 28, 2016, and I already knew what I didn’t want: It shouldn’t be political. That felt facile, cheap, and a betrayal of the specificity and depth with which Cairns had embroidered Maggie. I also knew that I loved Joss Whedon’s line about how to write a sequel:

“By being smaller. More personal, more painful… By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work [before]. By having a theme that is completely fresh and organic to itself.”

That seemed the way forward. Maggie’s story should be about her. Decisions should arise organically from things within her backstory.

In those early days, I went back through the show, focusing in on why Racetrack had resonated so strongly with me and inferring a picture of who she was that pointed through the decision to join first the mutiny and finally the rescue. The answers were all in Cairns’ work, which I have praised elsewhere. There’s something uniquely and compellingly sympathetic about Racetrack, from her first appearance in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” (where “Galactica” leaves her in the Chronicle) to her last in “Daybreak.” Cairns imbued Maggie with both wounds and scar-tissue, hurts both immediate and intimate that went beyond her shipmates even in the context of people who had lost their entire civilization. And throughout the show, I felt that Racetrack behaved as I think we would have behaved: Not as a heroic archetype as we might wish, a la Helo, nor even as a flawed hero, a la Adama, but as a normal person, terrified, devastated and numbed by events, just trying to survive.

On that basis, I wrote the first drafts of what became “Rubicon.” It went to Cairns for review on March 18, 2016—not coincidentally, albeit perhaps pretentiously) in-universed in the Chronicle as Maggie’s birthday, and two years later, release day for the Chronicle.

II.

For the longest time, I had forgotten when or why Margaret Edmondson became, firmly and irrevocably, Maggie. It happened almost instantly, it’s in my very first draft. While writing this post, I remembered.

There is a famous piece of R-rated (and very fanficcy) BSG fanfic centered on Tahmoh Penikett’s Karl “Helo” Agathon. In one scene, Racetrack puts the moves on Helo; BSG lore holds that Cairns and Penikett reenacted that scene at a cast party and worked it subtextually into their characterizations thenceforth. (You see it in, for example, “Torn.”) In that story, an amorous Racetrack tells Helo to call her by her name:

“How long have you been here?” She opened her locker door….

“Not long.” Feeling awkward and having been stung before by her prickly exterior, he said, “Look, Racetrack, I wasn’t going through your things, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Margaret.”

“What?”

“My name is Margaret. Or Maggie.” She didn’t look at him as she took clean clothes from the locker and tossed them to the bed. Her color had faded to pink by the time she turned toward him and crossed her arms over her chest, the gesture defensive. “I thought you were leaving.”

Maggie. That immediately felt right. I’ve never met a Margaret who went by Margaret; it’s a beat that the Chronicle uses in several contexts, and it stuck. I’d forgotten its origin, and I’m happy to remember it.

Although it isn’t canon, that story was influential in a second way. I wrote the Chronicle with a background assumption that Helo is exactly Maggie’s type, and there are deleted-scenes with David (to whom we’ll get in part two) and Helo in which we see their similarities and differences.

III.

Right from the get-go, there were two collections of writing running in parallel, between which there was a constant dialogue: The story-cycle and the background materials. Between those two collections, I was trying to develop a characterization of Maggie that complied with and expanded on Cairns’ performance. I would improvise dialogue around a piece of research, or research around improvised dialogue, I’d tinker with things earlier to point toward things that came later, working toward a gestalt that I could feel but couldn’t quite see.

A good example of that dialogue between the page and the background materials would be the Raptor crash in Poseidon’s second act. I knew that it was a beat that worked for the character-arc, and sketched the dialogue. Then I worked out in detail what actually happened, consulted a plane-crash investigator and an aerospace engineer, and wrote the PCI report mentioned on the page. (It’ll be in The Racetrack Apocrypha.) With that in hand, I went back to the story-cycle and was able to rewrite that scene with a lot of confidence and specificity but without feeling any need to Trekify it with distracting technical details.

Anyway, we’re getting ahead. The March 18 “first circulating draft” of “Rubicon” raised a number of implications and questions. That Maggie is a people-pleaser with a difficult relationship with her mother was a key to unlocking her. That she had originally joined the fleet because she was running away from some traumatic event was also implicit in what I’d written. Gareth Lowell (named for Bruce Dern’s Silent Running character, and implicitly the in-universe Chronicler) was already in the mix

The other vital thing that happened was creating Abigail. The very first draft sat Racetrack and Athena at the bar, but in the second draft, having realized that Athena was unavailable at the necessary moment, I created Abigail as a counterpart to Maggie: A vivacious cheerleader to Maggie’s saturnine sarcasm. I immediately liked the character, I liked their interplay, and wanted to see the backstory: I wanted to see “Adventures of Racetrack and Spitfire.” I wanted to see “Maggie and Abigail at USNA.”

I started writing that in late March, and at the same time, started writing a background document called the Character Arc Synopsis. The former was very free-form; I was just riffing and coming up with scenes and dialogue that now appear in “Poseidon”’s opening act. The latter started with the conclusions I’d reached about who Maggie is in the show and started developing a backstory that would explain and contextualize that characterization.

Serendipitously, I was working for a university, which gave me access to a faculty that would be instrumental as domain-experts in several relevant fields, particularly psychology, physics, and nursing. I was also able to make contacts with, for example, someone who had attended USNA. To the extent to which the Chronicle counts as science fiction, it bears noting: Getting the science part right makes it easier for the reader to come along for the fiction part.

The first act and last page of Poseidon came quickly. The second act, too, and the idea of the first twist, that our perspective would lurch into Abigail’s and turn upside-down—that came early, too. But the third act was proving difficult, and on the last page, I had written Maggie’s first encounter with David as they board the Galactica, sixteen months before the Fall. That seemed to invite another piece of work, and so, by mid-April, I had started improvising dialogue and themes for “Galactica.” As with Poseidon, I had a very clear idea of where it had to start and end, and I knew the broad strokes I wanted to paint, but it didn’t yet have a plot. “Vespers” did. In late April or early May, having introduced Maggie’s sister Nicola in Poseidon, I came up with an outline for a noir-ish short-story for her and Romo Lampkin that I really liked, and a first draft was written. Of all the elements in the Chronicle, that one is unique insofar as it emerged almost fully-formed and changed only in its detailing over the many drafts.

In mid-May, I wrote a public post announcing what I was working on and noting some of the ground-rules I’d set myself. As the first summer hiatus began, then, there were several plates in the air and much to be done.

To be continued next week, in part two.

The Racetrack Chronicle is available as a free eBook here.

People, ships, and planes in the book

It’s not a nerdy book, but its author’s nerdy, and I fancy that some of the readers are, too. For the record, then, some lists…

Main cast

  • Lt. Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson, CF*
  • Lt. Abigail “Spitfire” Ainslie, CF
  • Ms. Nicola Edmondson, esq.

Supporting cast

  • Ltc. (later Bdr.) Natalia Caldwell, CMC – Poseidon
  • Cdr. Robert H. King, Jr. – Poseidon
  • Lt. Gareth “Nightlight” Lowell – the eponymous chronicler, appears throughout
  • Lt. David “Speedway” Wright – Galactica and Future Imperfect.
  • Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace* – Galactica
  • Lt. Karl “Helo” Agathon* – Galactica
  • Lt. “Switchblade” Molenaar – Vespers
  • MCPO Hardison (“COB”) – Galactica
  • Mr. Romo Lampkin, esq.* – Vespers

With

  • Cdr. (later Adm.) William Adama* – cameos in Galactica and Rubicon
  • Col. (later Adm.) Helena “Cutthroat” Cain* – special appearance in Poseidon, cameo in Vespers
  • Ltc. Nathan Blake – Galactica
  • Maj. (later Ltc.) Jackson “Dipper” Spencer* – Galactica
  • Cpt. (later Ltc.) Appleby – Poseidon, cameo in the Dry-Dock short
  • Cpt. Lee “Apollo” Adama, CFR* – cameos in Galactica and Rubicon
  • Lt. Ronnie “Ronin” Beale – Galactica
  • Lt. Nadia “Harrier” Coswell – Galactica
  • Lt. Felix Gaeta* – voice and cameo in Galactica, cameo in Rubicon
  • Doctor John O’Deen – Poseidon and the John short
  • Sasha Billings (alias Louanne Katraine)* – Vespers

You can read them as you like, but it seems worth mentioning whose voices the new-in-the-maggieverse characters were written for.

  • Nicola: Shiri Appleby (Roswell, UnREAL)
  • Caldwell: Dana Delany (Body of Proof)
  • Nightlight: Michael Fassbender (Prometheus)
  • Speedway: David Gilmour
  • Lydia: Stephanie Jacobsen (Battlestar Galactica: Razor)
  • Switchblade: Kenyan Lonsdale (The Flash)
  • Harrier: Arti Mann (Leverage)
  • King: Brian Markinson (Caprica)
  • Appleby: Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion)
  • The COB: J.B. Smoove
  • O’Deen: Dean Stockwell (Battlestar Galactica)

And on the ship side of things. The maggieverse has so far mentioned three destroyers and fourteen of the 120-or-so battlestars in service at the time of the Fall; of those, five (Galactica, Triton, Pegasus, Solaria, and, by implication Mercury) draw their names from the show, and nine are new coinages that try to fit within the aesthetic of the existing continuity but without falling into the bear traps that beset a lot of fan-created materials. (No one, in our time or theirs, is stupid enough to name a ship Prometheus, and if they are, they deserve whatever they get.)

Battlestar-class ships

Galactica-type:

  • The battlestar Bretannia (locus dramatis in Poseidon; mentioned in Atalanta)
  • The battlestar Galactica (locus dramatis in Galactica and Rubicon; mentioned in Poseidon, Vespers, and Atalanta)

Mercury-type:

  • The battlestar Mercury (glimpsed in Dustman Down)
  • The battlestar Pegasus (locus dramatis in Vespers)
  • The battlestar Solaria (a VR simulation of it appears in Poseidon)
  • The battlestar Tethys (mentioned in Lacuna #1)

Valkyrie-type:

  • The academy-attached battlestar Triton (locus dramatis in Poseidon)
  • The academy-attached battlestar Theseus (mentioned in Galactica)

Type unspecified:

  • The battlestar Agamemnon (specified in Poseidon as Cdr. Cain’s pre-Pegasus billet and glimpsed in both Sovremennyy and Dry-Dock)
  • The battlestar Hibernia (appears in Galactica)
  • The battlestar Minos (specified in Poseidon as Cdr. Earle’s command)
  • The battlestar Nautilus (mentioned in Poseidon)
  • The battlestar Australis (mentioned as Maj. Ainslie’s assignment in Future Imperfect)
  • The battlestar Knossos (mentioned in Sovremennyy)

Escort-class ships

  • DE-610, “the Flying Dustman” (Dustman Down)
  • DE-715, “Fleetfoot” (Sovremennyy)
  • “Cerberus,” hull-number unknown (mentioned in Dustman Down)

Raptors

  • Raptor 327 (Switchblade’s plane in Vespers, numbered for obvious reasons)
  • Raptor 429 (Racetrack’s plane-for-the-day in Lacuna #1)
  • Raptor 602 (Racetrack and Spitfire’s assigned Raptor in Galactica, numbered for Cairns’ birthday)
  • Raptor 616 (Racetrack and Spitfire’s simulated Raptor in Poseidon, numbered for SHIELD-6-1-6)
  • Raptor 1098 (Racetrack’s plane in Dry-Dock)
  • Raptor 4077 (the ill-fated descent vehicle in Poseidon, numbered for M.A.S.H. #4077)

The Maggieverse so far

The Racetrack Chronicle spans a period of approximately nine years. It begins six years before the events of the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries and concludes a few weeks after the end of the series finale, Daybreak, which aired nine years ago today. But the continuity in which all my BSG writing takes place, I think, embraces a particular vision of the entire post-exodus history of the twelve colonies. Let’s call it the “Maggieverse” to remind us who in all this is the central, animating figure.

In addition to the Chronicle itself, that continuity now sprawls over thirteen published shorts (one-shots, deleted-scenes, and lacunae) with at least three more to come, a second novel in the works (Evaded Cadence), and a whole legendarium’s worth of ancillary materials which may or may not ever see the light of day (an anthology of short-stories, tables, charts, production-materials, essays, concept-art, and the like entitled The Racetrack Apocrypha, anyone?).

The backstory between Edward T. Yeatts’ Lords of Kobol trilogy —embraced as canon in the Carillon one-shot—and Caprica, and thence down to “the present day” is outlined in the Enchiridion, found in Appendix 4 of the Chronicle. Excerpts from the in-universe author Claude Bentinck’s magisterial histories of Virgon show up here and there in the shorts to flesh out details. (Bentinck is a thinly-veiled Edward Gibbon figure.)

I scare-quote “present-day” only to observe that for narrative purposes, it is almost always “now,” flashbacks, premonitions, and plot-devices aside. Generally-speaking, “now” means the Twelve Colonies on the cusp of the Fall or wherever we are relative to the “narrative cursor” in the Chronicle. (Pro-tip: In the Chronicle, you can tell whether it’s “now” or “then” based on whether the chirons are italicized.)

More broadly, the general timeframe for our “present-day” is two thousand Caprican (Gemenese, technically) years “A.E.”—after the exodus from Kobol under Stephen Acastus, the event with which volume three of Yeatts’ Kobol trilogy concludes. That’s because “Caprica” take place 58 years before the Fall (a chiron during the opening scene of that show tells us) and 1,942 years after the exodus (the Serge Graystone twitter account that was maintained by the showrunners during the show’s run told us). While different worlds have different years (and so calendars: Several fan organizations use “Military Date,” which I have assigned to the year of Canceron and Aerilon), it seemed reasonable to use “x [years] AE” as an in-universe dating system. Thus, for example, Maggie Edmondson is born on March 18, 1,973 AE.

Against that backdrop we can organize the published shorts in time:

In The Racetrack Chronicle itself, “Poseidon” (excepting a flashback to 1983 and very brief coda in December 1998) takes place between 1994 and 1997. “Galactica” takes place between December 1998 and June 2000, i.e. sixteen months before the Fall to just over two months after it. “Vespers” takes place during the last three weeks before the Fall with a brief coda on Day 1,116, i.e. the timeframe of “The Son Also Rises,” shortly before In The Eye of the Storm. And “Rubicon” starts on Day 1,189, i.e. “Escape Velocity,” and spans the remainder of Season Four. (Evaded Cadence jumps around a little, but is bookended by a funeral in mid-1998 and the Fall.)

I’ll mention a few of the shorts with which I’m particularly happy:

  • Aftermath: Aquaria and Dustman Down take place on the morning of the Fall, and capture ground-level glimpses of the the attacks that we hadn’t seen in the show (or The Plan). The former gives us some information about Aquaria and shows us what happens there, and the latter I think is probably one of my strongest bits of work, despite playing to none of my strengths and being wholly outside of my usual character-focused approach.
  • The Crossroads deleted scene, which weaves through Racetrack’s appearances in that episode, is our chronologically-first alarm-bell that Maggie, after a brief period of being relatively happy (as you’ll see in the Vespers coda and In The Eye of the Storm) is plunging back into depression as we go into season four.
  • Sovremennyy, Dry-Dock, Lacuna 1, and City of Lights (forthcoming) are worth mentioning because they’re close to the original “adventures of Racetrack & Spitfire” concept that I had for a preview take place during the ensign year on the Triton. They’re just fun-—a relatively happy Maggie and an ebullient but more seasoned Abigail running around various interesting sights in the world of the Fleet.
  • Atalanta was the first canonical appearance of Margaret Cavendish (always played in my head by Rekha Sharma), of Picon, the first President of the Colonies for whom Maggie will later be named, and Adm. Bethany Page, of Canceron. (I was gratified to be given the opportunity to work with Chris Dykes at CMOD to include Cavendish in an article on the founding of Colonial Day.) Carillon is not especially strong, to be honest, but it stands out as an attempt to do some straight-up worldbuilding, to show us a lot about the worlds through the vehicle of a little story about some of the humans who are living in them.

Release day!

I am thrilled to announce that The Racetrack Chronicle is now available, free, in all major eBook formats at this link.

Here’s the blurb:

“Growing up in bucolic Falstone, Picon, Maggie Edmondson looked up at an endless night sky and knew that no matter what happened, the Colonial Fleet was out there. Protecting her. Visits to the aging warship Galactica reinforce her association of the Fleet with a sense of safety and security.

“Six years before the Fall, after a shattering personal tragedy, Edmondson flees to the Poseidon Colonial Military Academy where she is befriended by Abigail Ainslie. Their motivations and personalities seem polar opposites: Edmondson is a withdrawn, bookish, depressed country-girl, while Ainslie seems to be an effervescent, cosmopolitan, and promiscuous Marine-Corps brat. But they become mutual supporters, and after they stumble into a secret that threatens the careers of several prominent officers, they will find themselves assigned to a ship that is no one’s idea of a plum assignment… Except Maggie’s.

“For the next sixteen months, as the storm clouds of the Fall gather around the Colonies, Edmondson is even more blissfully-unaware than most. Sequestered on the Galactica with a ragtag collection of officers and men deemed problem-children by Fleet Command, she is busy falling in love and planning a future. The events of the Fall will shatter this happy bubble and set her on a very different, momentous path.”

The Last Rites

With The Racetrack Chronicle a week away, today’s post is another short-story filling in a narrative gap. In Rubicon, Maggie notes that Gareth has convinced Adama to reinstate her, but declines to press the point about how he did so. The Last Rites tells that story.

It’s extraneous to the main narrative, but I like that this adds pathos to Gareth at the end, making explicit that although he loves Maggie, he does not believe that she loves him, and is acting purely for her benefit. It also hints at a thread that appears in a couple of unpublished background shorts, including a currently-unpublished second chapter of In The Eye of the Storm: That Gareth has been experiencing something like a psychotic break since the mutiny. Anyway, check it out—and this time next week the book will be out!

In The Eye of the Storm

For today’s post, we have a short story rather than expository content, but I’ll say a little about it here. Set late in season three, In The Eye of the Storm falls into the “Racetrack Chronicle lacunae” category of shorts. Like The Last Rites (coming in the next few weeks) or John (which is maybe coming in the next few weeks), it gives you a little bit more time with the characters, a little bit of context on characters and events that would be extraneous to the book but which are still nice to see—in this case Gareth Lowell’s faltering attempts to join Maggie’s circle.

He was previously subject of two other lacunae, the prosaically-titled Story cycle lacuna 2 393 and Brig deleted scene 332. This one sees him catch up with Abigail in the weeks between, on the one hand, The Son Also Rises and the coda of Vespers (part three of the Chronicle), and on the other, Crossroads, for which I wrote a Racetrack-focussed deleted-scene, here. The idea that he, and he alone, will do what even Abigail cannot bring herself to do and visit Maggie during her post-mutiny incarceration is interesting (personally, I think he suffers a psychotic break, unable to reconcile his feelings for Maggie with her actions), and adding some context to his motivations is always fun. (A second chapter of this may or may not ever become public; a draft exists, but I am in two minds about it.)

Worth saying at this juncture is that were The Racetrack Chronicle written just a little differently, stylistically, its opening sentence could be “Call me Gareth.” The original draft of the Chronicle comprised two novelettes and three short-stories. Each was written separately and to an extent has its own tone, style, and concern. During the summer/fall 2017 revisions, I realized that the theme which could tie these pieces together into a single book is a narrative framework in which we start in media res in a style unique in this book: We open with Maggie talking to us in the first-person present-tense. She tells us her anxieties about a conversation she is having in prison with Gareth Lowell, in which he prompts her to tell her story—the telling of which becomes the book. We then dip in and out of that conversation at the top of each part of the book until our timeframe catches up with it during Rubicon, with that idiosyncratic first-person present-tense style cueing the reader as to where they are (and reminding them that this is going on) until the story catches up with them and moves forward into Rubicon’s final scenes. Thus, although it is Maggie who is our narrator (of sorts), it is Gareth (I realized very, embarrassingly late in the project) who is to become the Chronicler, the book’s in-universe author.

I must say that I found this revelation almost surreal. Lowell (named for Bruce Dern’s character in Silent Running) was the first character I created for the Chronicle. He has been pretty much fully-formed since the first circulating draft of what was then called “The Turning Point” (sent to Leah on March 18, 2016, a date later in-universed—perhaps, I admit, with a degree of pretension—as Maggie’s birthday), he’s there, more-or-less fully formed.

I always wanted Gareth to be a sympathetic character, even back then. That determination has been strengthened with the realization that he is, in a sense, the person other than Maggie with whom we should most identify: Just as Racetrack is the viewer’s avatar in BSG, so Gareth should be our avatar in the book. Our questions should be his questions, and our experience of reading the book should be his experience of listening to Maggie tell her tale.

The campus

The physicality and specificity of the campus of the Poseidon Colonial Military Academy—one of the colonies’ two main officer-candidate schools and the eponymous locus dramatis of part one of the Chronicle—has been a good example of the dialogue between the background materials and the book itself.

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In creating a map, I drew on the imagery in Poseidon’s first few drafts. It seemed natural to start with the academy’s IRL counterpart (the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD) and augment it with additional complexes. Blenheim Palace became a stand-in for the Manorhouse, for example. I scaled everything to the same size and dropped it onto a fondly-remembered geography from the west coast of Wales, whence a handful of geographic names are taken, most prominently (Saint) Bride’s Bay northwest of the campus.

Mapping the campus is about more than creating a neato graphic. It’s important to track where the characters are, and how long it takes them to get from place to place. It also becomes a feedback loop. When the map was made, I more-or-less arbitrarily designated adjacent buildings as the infirmary and chapel. (USNA friends tell me that PCMA’s Frand Infirmary is actually Ward Hall.) A scene in which Abigail visits the infirmary existed from the earliest drafts, but only after creating the map did I realize that, having hinted that she is more religious than we might expect, I have placed her right next to the chapel—so let’s go into the chapel, and that became the starting-point for a scene in act three.

Because almost none of the buildings’ names are mentioned in the text, when it came to denominating them on the map (which lives in Appendix 2), I felt pretty free to make this the place for some serious hat-tipping.

  • Several of the wizards who made BSG get buildings named after them: Moore & Eick Halls are obvious, but there’s also the Hudolin Barracks (production designer Richard Hudolin), the Seklir Athletics Complex (editor Andy Seklir, IRL USNA cognates Michelson & Chauvenet Halls and Ingram Field), the McNutt Building (D.P. Steve McNutt), the aforementioned Frand Infirmary (the late Harvey Frand), and, I thought fittingly, the (Glen) Larson Chapel.
  • Two in-universe characters, Margaret Cavendish and Bethany Page (respectively, the Pican first President of the Colonies and the Canceran Admiral who takes the helm of the newly-created Colonial Fleet, who first appeared in Atalanta) get buildings named for them.
  • The Maplethorpe Building… Well, I’ll let you figure that one.
  • Last but never least, Haran Hall (USNA cognate Nimitz, which is admittedly neither mighty nor black, but is at least somewhat stumpy) is named for Doctor Brady Haran. I think he might be tickled that, of all the buildings his name might adorn, it’s on one that is, both in-universe and IRL… A library.

(For more on the Crest, see this post.)

Happy valentines

As a Valentine’s Day surprise, I thought I’d share a scene from early in Maggie’s romance with David in the Chronicle. And I also thought that it might be interesting to share not the text that’s actually in the book, but, instead, one of the in-house development documents from late in the process, which became the scene in the book. Let’s start with the scene and then talk about it.

Page onePage twoPage threePage four

So—not the format you’re expecting, right? Here’s what’s going on, and maybe this is a good window into the process.

Teleplay format is a useful tool, even if you’re writing a novel rather than making a show. A teleplay isn’t the finished product, it’s a guide for the creation of the product, you’re describing what the finished product will be. So for one thing, it allows you to write substance without the pressure (and I doubt I’m the only one who feels this) of getting the form perfect. It also allows you to describe in simple, plain language exactly what you’re seeing in your mind’s lens. Thus, when a scene is being a problem, or if I have doubts about it, or if I’m not quite clear on the blocking, or any of a number of other use-cases, what I’ll do is take the text and convert it into teleplay format, work with it, and then convert it back into “novel format.”

In this case, this scene was originally drafted quite early in the process and became a late addition. Throughout the process, as ideas and images for possible scenes crossed my mind, I’d take a quick pass at writing them, whether or not there was any intention of them going into the book. Some of those drafts were pretty complete; others were the proverbial back-of-the-napkin sketch. But they all went into a folder, and that gave me a grab-bag into which I could reach if I needed something.

That was fortuitous, because when Poseidon and Galactica (parts one two of the Chronicle) came back from my editor, one of his notes was that he wanted a few extra scenes developing the early Maggie-Abigail friendship and Maggie-David romance. No problem. I just had to reach into the grab-bag, and in the case of this scene, I had a draft which could be a good starting-point. But even after milling it through a couple of redrafts and about a dozen iterations (see this for more on the iterative writing concept), something still wasn’t quite gelling. So I converted it over into teleplay format and worked it through a few more iterations in this format. Eventually, I felt that something had now clicked and everything had fallen into place; the pictures above are the final teleplay version before it was converted back into novel format and subjected to a couple more iterations before finalization.

In a sense, this process is like adapting one’s own novel for the screen, and then re-adapting one’s own teleplay for the page. In doing so, you take the scene apart to see how it works and reexamine it from other angles, in another and more clinical, abstract context. And that’s the value of it. What I’ve described isn’t the right tool for every situation, but it has its uses.

None of which changes how much I love seeing the couple in this early, happy state. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Hug your special someone. ❤️

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