Don’t get me wrong, I love books about starship captains, especially women captains, but how is Kris Longknife different from the rest?
You’re right, Hornblower in space is something a lot of folks enjoy reading. As I’ve often told new writers, it’s not so important to come up with a totally new idea… those are truly rare… but to come up with a new idea about an idea, and treat it in an interesting way with fun characters. Now that can get you a lot of readers
When I pitched Ace Books a Hornblower in space series, I told them I wanted to do it as a coming of age story. Some writers start with a captain already. I wanted to start Kris out as an ensign. Boot ensigns are usually in trouble. Ask any senior officer… boot ensigns are trouble. They’re all tied up figuring out the right way from the wrong way from the Navy way. And often on the wrong side of all of them. They don’t think of it as mutiny. They aren’t trying to be insubordinate, but ….
Then there’s Kris’s family.
I’d already created a universe full of interesting characters that could be her great grandparents. These people changed the way the world wagged and created the world Kris lived in. Now, what if that world fell apart?
Imagine what Lenin’s great-granddaughter might have watching all those statues get torn down. Hmm.
And another thing. I’ve noticed that the truly great are often separated from the just great by what part of their life they have left over for their family. So I added Grampa Al and Billy Longknife, the politician, and in no time, I had a totally dysfunctional family, That certainly separated Kris those SF heroes with mom’s and dads you’d just love to come home to.
Now we’ve got a world with lots of problems. A world that thought it was done with heroes and may, just possibly, be about to become desperately in need of a few. Not that they want one. Nope, no good deed goes unpunished.
Then my son told me that my first Grandkid was going to be a Grand girl.
And I remembered spending a wonderful couple of hours with Elizabeth Moon at Rusty Con, sharing our mutual love for the Heinlein juveniles. Only, unlike me, before Elizabeth could get too far into one, she had to change the gender of one of the main characters. At twelve, I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t notice, but it hit her smack in the face. All the people doing interesting things were boys. All the girls were sitting off in a corner or maybe coming in with coffee.
So, in order to relate to someone fun and interesting in the book, Elizabeth had to change the guys into a gal. Then she could enjoy the book.
That couldn’t happen to my grandchild, my Nikki Girl. No one was going to tell her that she couldn’t be a hero. That she had to sit in the back of the bus or do boring things. If she wanted to take off on a Hero’s Journey, her grampa would buy her a ticket.
So Ace was told that Kris Longknife was very much a girl. She’d be shooting at her assailants while running backwards in high heels on wet cobblestones. She could throw a caber in a cocktail dress and shame hooting sailors to silence. She could hide out in a harem in a burke with a five gallon can of tomato sauce to fake pregnancy while a bantam grandmother sent armed guards fleeing as her own daughter faked birth pains. Yep, Kris Longknife is a powerful woman, making her own way, as just that—a woman
You mentioned the characters of Grampa Ray and Trouble. Ah, I read the books they were in and a guy by the name of Mike Moscoe wrote them. Do you know him? Aren’t you violating copyright?
Oh. Right. Him. Mike and I are close. (Nervous laugh) Very close. If you drop into my website at www.mikeshepherd.org, you’ll see that Mike Moscoe and I share a lot of things in common. A mother. A father. A birthday. We’re kind of the same guy.
When I was working on the Kris Longknife idea, my editor asked me if I’d be willing to write them under a different name. I’d been warned by other writers that this could happen, and it took me all of half a second to say, “Sure. No problem.” Thus, Mike Shepherd became a writer.
Shepherd was my mother’s maiden name. I can’t tell you how delighted she is to have me writing under the name she was born with. That was one of the reasons I could agree to the name change so quickly.
But like so many wonderful things that happen to us in life, the reasons for them often have many layers. Just why did Ace Books ask me to change my name?
Mainly because book stores today have computers to keep track of sales. Boy, do they track sales. The first six weeks of sales are the most important, because the next time that author has a book come out, the buyers take a quick glance at that writer’s last book… and order that many copies of the next book.
(Note to readers. Please buy my books… and all your favorite authors’ books… the first six weeks after they come out. We’ll love you for it and get to keep writing.)
If sales are really bad, the bookstore computer can flag a writer’s name to only order two of the next book and Do Not Reorder. That’s understandable. They only have so much shelf space. They can’t afford to tie it up with books that don’t go out the door.
But for a writer, it’s impossible to grow your sales when there are no reorders.
My first sale to Ace was a trilogy. Now trilogies are great if the first book catches fire and everyone can’t wait for the second book and the third. But if the first book stays on someone’s to-be-read stack and they don’t get around to it until after the second has come and gone and…
You see the problem. Lots of trilogies don’t catch fire. Sometimes the third book never makes it into print. Or they can be like my poor trilogy. Book one: Great sales. Book two: Bad sales. Book three: Really bad sales.
Now I was lucky in two respects. When I turned in the last book of the trilogy, all excited about my characters and wanting to do a fourth book, my editor, Ginjer Buchanan, suggested I try something different for a change. I’d been daydreaming of writing a space opera since I was about twelve (and have the C’s and D’s to prove it) and I launched into First Casualty with gusto.
(Note to future writers. Always pay attention to your editor.)
My second stroke of luck was one I earned. I write fast and steady. Ace wanted a book a year from me and they got it, delivered right on the due date. So, before the less-talked-about-the-better numbers came in for book three, I’d already turned in First Casualty and had The Price of Peace under contract. Those, and They Also Serve, brought my sales back up to the level of the first book—but no higher. With the computers hanging that third book around my neck, Mike Moscoe was stuck.
That could have been the end of my writing career, but Ace offered me a way to fool the computer. Reflag me. They didn’t have to. I’m grateful they did. I know writers who weren’t given the option.
Why did I get the chance? That you’ll have to ask the folks at Ace. My guess is that I was writing good and getting better. I delivered on schedule and was always easy on my editor. Something to take note of for those of you thinking of making a career in writing.
I can’t help but notice that the first two books were Mutineer and Deserter, but the last ones have been Defiant, Resolute and the newest is Audacious. You went from UCMJ misconduct to aggressive battleship names. Is there a story behind that?