Tag Archives: collaborative

Days Until Home, a retrospective

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Twenty-one weeks, twenty-one chapters. Three authors in three different time zones. The Days Until Home collaborative web serial ended last week. I asked David and Greg to jot down a few thoughts on the project and I added my own two cents. You know, the standard stuff: what we enjoyed, what vexed us, and how the collaborative process was different than our normal writing process. Since the chapters went David, Greg, Mark, I’ve ordered our responses in the same way.

* * *

I’ve worked on collaborative projects before. Danny McAleese and I started the hit new Choose Your Own Adventure-style series Ultimate Ending, where readers make decisions for the character throughout the book and reach endings based on their decisions. However, the [Ultimate Ending] collaboration is more strategic than tactical: Danny writes a book, then I write a book, alternating back and forth and giving each other feedback and ideas. Aside from beta reading and general criticism, each book is either his or mine.

The collaboration on Days Until Home was an entirely different experience. Alternating chapters is simple enough in concept but adds a new dimension to the writing in a lot of different ways.

First, there was very little outlining. Mark, Greg and I wrote down a super rough idea of things at the start, but it was just a guideline to estimate how long the project would be, as opposed to an outline to follow. I’m normally a big outliner, creating outlines that are dozens of pages long, so this was a new (and fun!) experience for me. Each chapter was written mostly on the fly, seeing where it would take me. Near the end of the project the three of us ran some ideas by one-another a bit more, which was necessary since we were hitting the climax, but most of the book was written more-or-less blind.

Second, the goal of each chapter was slightly different. On normal projects I’m always thinking about what’s next: what’s going to happen next paragraph? Next page? Next chapter? Days Until Home always had a big blank space just ahead, since Mark and Greg would be writing the next two chapters before I had my turn again. So instead of setting up my own plots, I felt like I was playing a game of volleyball, constantly setting the ball so one of them could spike it. I really enjoyed this part of the project because it allowed me to “let things go” that I would otherwise obsess over. Normally I’d be focusing on every little detail to make sure everything is consistent and makes sense, or is perfectly explained. This project allowed me to let go of some of those details, “setting” the ball for Mark or Greg instead.

Finally, the biggest part of this project was not knowing where my writing comrades would take things. I would be brainstorming one thing, and then Mark or Greg would drop a big fat (and awesome) new plot that I’d need to work with. As a writer, this was a fun new challenge. There were times when something they wrote screwed with one of my ideas, and I’m sure there were parts I wrote that messed them up, but that forced us to be more creative and work together.

I had a blast working on this project. Writing once every three weeks helped me avoid writing fatigue, so I was always excited to work on the project when one of my chapters was due. Mark and Greg are great guys who I’d be honored to work with in the future. Check out their other published work if you haven’t already!

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Days Until Home – Finale

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Days Until Home: 6

“A lot of COMs traffic now,” Jeremy said looking at a display. His eyes followed the bundle of cables that snaked around equipment and covered most of the deck. They were getting more and more communication from outside the ship as the Kerwood thundered toward Earth orbit. There was increasing concern that the Kerwood was still at maximum cruising speed. The decision was made a few days after the trial to burn hot and hard and request assistance once they reached the Earth.

That was the plan until our COMs array was struck by space junk, Jeremy thought bitterly. They were only a few days away, and their rescuers should’ve been days into preparation, but with no way to ask for help, humanity was left to watch the crippled silent ship head straight for them.

It didn’t help that the Matsue broadcast stories of mutiny, treachery, sabotage, piracy, and kidnapping. The Matsue captain and crew set the narrative and without Captain Hayes and the rest of the Kerwood crew to set the record straight, public opinion was solidly against them.

“It won’t help us, so we ignore it,” Adelaide declared from under a console.

She was trying to create a communications array by linking a series of forearm clusters together and trying to patch the signal through the telemetry array or some other such nonsense. Adelaide seemed to have one crazy plan after another. In the last two weeks, Captain Hayes was seen less and less. He appeared to throw himself into the work required, and it fell to Adelaide and Jeremy to get them home. Even with the trial uncovering the saboteurs, the captain seemed resigned to the fate that awaited him if they made it home. Each new problem with his ship led to him being more and more focused on their salvation. He and Femke holed up together. He became a living ghost wandering around the ship fixing this and that. He spoke to no one and had decreed that his portion of the dwindling foodstuffs be split among the rest of the crew. Femke, Marisol, and Gauge followed his lead and did the same. They were thinning now, and the captain was now a skeleton of a man. But then again, they all were. Jeremy ate his last piece of food the previous morning.

“Can you get this working?” Jeremy asked of his Main Propulsion Assistant.

“I’ll get it working, or die trying,” Adelaide’s voice sounded out from under the console.

“Not slagging funny, Bähr,” Jeremy retorted, the ire he felt evident in his voice.

“Look, ChEng,” Adelaide said with a heavy sigh, “you hovering and interrogating me won’t get this done any sooner.” She pushed her way out from under the console and locked her eyes on his. “In fact,” she continued, “It might even make me screw something up.”

Their eyes were locked for a moment. “I read you five by five,” Jeremy hissed.

Adelaide shrugged and scooted back under the console. Jeremy knew that he had been summarily dismissed. As he walked through the airlock to Main Engineering, he didn’t even have the energy to be offended by the behavior of his subordinate. He stumbled over a piece of equipment, made brief contact with the bulkhead, and staggered down the passageway. It could very well be the last opportunity he’ll ever have to see the engineering marvel that was the Kerwood.
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Days Until Home – Chapter 20

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Days Until Home: 18

When a fourth slug did not come through, Viktor chanced a look down the hall. He could make out the figure of Telly attempting to reload, and he threw all caution to the wind. Bracing his feet against the edges of the hatch, he used his good arm to heave the wrench. It moved with a velocity that he did not expect, and slammed into his attacker with tremendous effect.

Pausing only momentarily to marvel at what he had done, he pushed off towards the unconscious man and snatched the gun out of the air. Time, we just need time, he kept thinking to himself, as he struggled to bring Telly back towards the cargo bay.

“Leave him out there, Vicky, he’ll only be trouble,” said a wincing Seibert from the open hatch.

“We need him as a hostage, to make Hayes back off,” Viktor said.

“Viktor, don’t be crazy, he was just trying to kill us,” Jessica said, now looking out past Seibert.

“Okay, you might be right,” Viktor said reluctantly, then stopped for a minute to catch his breath.

“I’m getting a call,” Jessica said suddenly, “it’s from Vega on the bridge, what do you think I should do?”

“Hold on,” Viktor said, and pulled himself back inside. He secured the lock before turning to face them, the loaded gun now by his side. “Go ahead and answer it. I wonder what sorts of threats they have for us now.”

“Go ahead, Marisol,” Jessica said, and the other three leaned in close to listen.

“Things have gotten out of hand and the captain is livid. Is there any way that I can convince you all to turn yourselves in?” Marisol whispered.

“We did not do this thing!” Viktor yelled into the comm.

“Even if you didn’t, Viktor,” Marisol said, “we will need to continue the discussion before, but without you men trying to kill one another. The Captain isn’t aware that I’m making this call. He’s convinced that you all had something to do with the explosion, but I don’t want anybody innocent to get hurt. Who’ve you got there, Jess, can you at least tell me that?”

“Why should we trust you, Marisol? You did nothing to stop that lunatic from trying to murder all of us. Seibert is wounded, do you know that? We were unarmed and you all decided to execute us on the spot!”

“That wasn’t me, Jessica, it was Telly and Adelaide. Gauge, Femke and I want justice but we want it done right. We can talk to our captain, make him see things the way we do, but we can’t do it if he feels that you are out there hiding and possibly organizing a mutiny of some sort.”

Jessica studied the face of Seibert and Viktor, they both seemed tired and willing to comply. “What should I say to her? She says she wants to help.”

“Marisol has always been there for us, she’s always stood up to Hayes’ slag,” Seibert said. “Even if they think we did it, she would not let them get away with murder. She’s the only one on the bridge that I trust, but I’m not sure if they will hear anything that she says.”

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Days Until Home – Chapter 19

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Days Until Home: 18

“A mutiny is not what I am suggesting,” Viktor said.

“Then what are you saying?”

Viktor took a sip of coffee to give himself a moment to think. It tasted like water scooped up from the bottom of a muddy hill. The five miners arrayed around him–well, four miners and Rebecca–weren’t getting it.

“I am saying tensions are high right now, and people are becoming suspicious of one another. It is dangerous. We all need to carry protection, just in case.” He hefted the heavy wrench to give the others an idea.

Jessica frowned, the skin on her forehead moving the white bandages of her head. “Won’t carrying weapons escalate the issue?”

Viktor nodded. “Which is why we need a simultaneous show of good faith. To help everyone relax.”

“Like, backrubs or somethin’?” Jimmy said. Nobody laughed. Viktor let the silence stretch a moment before continuing.

“I am going to surrender my personal encryption key to the Captain. I have nothing to hide. Let him see the communication logs with my wife on Luna, all personal computer activity, everything. It’s the only way to set their minds at ease. I think all of you should do the same.”

“Like slag I’m doin’ that,” Jimmy said. “I don’t need Hayes creepin’ through my net logs. A man’s search history is between him and God.”

Viktor ignored him and focused on the others. Siebert, ever the follower, nodded immediately. It might make him uncomfortable, but he’d do it if everyone else did. Jessica took longer. She stared off at nothing for a long thirty seconds. For a while Viktor considered saying something, to make sure she wasn’t still showing symptoms of her concussion.

“Yeah,” she finally said, closing her eyes. “I don’t have a better idea, and I’d prefer Hayes probing my history instead of my physical body.”

Viktor gave her a thank you smile, then used a wall handle to spin himself around in the microgravity to face Jimmy.

“Aww, hell, if I’m the only one who doesn’t do it I’ll look guilty by default,” he said.

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps you’d throw me to Hayes to save the rest of your skins? After all we’ve been through, Vicky?”

Viktor spread his hands in as reasonable a gesture as he knew. “Hayes is already losing his mind. We’re trying to do whatever we can to defuse it.”

Jimmy looked around the room for support. Jessica and Siebert stared back expectantly. Knowing that Jimmy was the kind of kid to react unpredictably when backed against the wall, Viktor said to the others, “Give us a minute. I’ll meet you in the galley.”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 18

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Days Until Home: 18

“When did your tracker start working?”

Adelaide looked up at the chief engineer of the Kerwood. Her hair cascaded like a weeping willow, and she was forced to part it with her gloved hands to see the concerned look on Jeremy’s face.

“Hey, ChEng,” Adelaide greeted him when their eyes met. “When I was monkeying with the EXT during our escape last week, I brushed against a fiber optic bundle and burned the slag outta my coveralls. Might’ve jolted it back to life.” Her eyes focused briefly on the piece of equipment she was repairing, and she returned her attention to Jeremy. “Those were my favorite coveralls.”

Jeremy smiled. “You get zapped?”

Adelaide nodded. “Almost bit my slagging tongue off.”

“What’re you working on?”

Adelaide made no attempt to reveal what she was working on. Jeremy tried to peer through greasy locks of hair to see what she hunched over. He squinted and stared at Adelaide through narrowed eyes.

“Fine!” she declared with a huff and a sigh. She swept her hair aside and leaned back to reveal a series of pipes and fiber optics.

Jeremy looked at the amalgamation of technology, and he couldn’t hide the fact that he had no idea what she was working on. “What is it?” he whispered.

“Well,” Adelaide began, and then looked over her shoulder to the open doorway to Main Engineering. “When we burnt the thrusters out-”

“‘We?’” Jeremy retorted.

Adelaide leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. Jeremy waved his hand for her to continue.

“They burned through the chemical store we, uh, borrowed from the Matsue.

Jeremy nodded. “We don’t have an easy way to decelerate when we get home.”

“We only depleted our supply of fluorine,” Adelaide explained. “We still have plenty of LOX and LH2.”

“Right,” Jeremy replied, “we can use the liquid oxygen and hydrogen we have for the environment to burn off the last of our acceleration once we get to Earth orbit.”

Adelaide rolled her eyes. “We’d be better off getting someone to kinetically decelerate us. I have another plan for some of our remaining LH2.”

“Better than keeping us from overshooting the Earth and wandering the inner planets until the food we stole from the Matsue runs out?”

“It’s more of an adaptation of an old side project, ChEng.”

“Why are you avoiding the question, Adelaide?”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 17

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Days Until Home: 26

A new bridge crew, thrown together out of mere necessity, and lacking the glue that he was used to. Winchester Hayes glanced over at Femke, she had been uncharacteristically silent since they took back the ship and hadn’t even bothered to look at him.

Gauge on the other hand was a different man. Smiling, offering up jokes—JOKES—Gauge Schneider, the navigator, was telling jokes. Winchester remembered a time when he, Angelo, and Booker had a wager going that Gauge was secretly an android that the Kerwood brass had snuck aboard to spy on their activities. None of them could prove it, but needless to say, the last thing Winchester Hayes expected out of his brilliant navigator was a joke.

He thought about the time on the Matsue when he had called his room and Marisol was in there with him. That would explain it, he thought, but the motivations of Marisol Vega were only understood by Marisol Vega. They were family now, they had bled together, and they had fought side by side to win back the Kerwood.

“Listen up,” he said, standing and grasping the back of the splintered seat. “I know that this is crazy, not what any of you signed up for, but we did the thing and we’re getting home.” He looked over at Femke, trying to read her eyes, but he couldn’t decipher what was reflected there.

“Tempers are hot,” he stopped and laughed, “ooh boy,” he began to pat the seat violently, “when I find out who did this—” he had to stop and collect himself. “The Matsue had no slagging right to offer up one-sided bargains when we were crippled and reeling for this … this … violation.” He shook his head and bit his bottom lip, struggling to keep things professional and somewhat positive.

Every muscle within his body wanted a fight. He wanted to punch someone or something, hard, for what happened. He never could talk when he was angry, and the thought of Angelo Lu only made his heart race with anticipation.

Telly spoke up, “we’re with you, Skip. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

“I appreciate that, Telly, but I just wanted to thank you all. Now let’s get to the silver back gorilla in the room. We have some strong concerns about Mr. Sharapov, don’t we? Mhm, yeah buddy, we have some strong concerns. We’re going to have to deal with that one way or another, and I don’t think it can wait—especially now that he knows we’re onto him.”

“Skip, he may actually be innocent,” Femke spoke up for the first time. “He seemed pretty scared when we questioned him, and he was actually shaking. You may not know it, but you’re pretty frightening when you’re angry … plus, Telly chiming in. Well. Let’s just say that most of us would have melted if we were in that same situation. It’s only fair to have him tell his side of the story, if anything we’ve accused him of even sticks—”

“I was just getting to that, Funky, I’m not about to airlock the man. I just want answers before we get home. There are countless lives lost due to one person’s selfishness on this ship. I can’t have that, the dead can’t have that, and we need to make sure that it isn’t going to happen again.”

Marisol Vega raised her hand and Winchester nodded, “Skip, um, the Matsue’s still trying to get a hold of you. I’m not good on insults and they’re getting nasty.”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 16

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Days Until Home: 82

Viktor bent to pick up a crate of ore from the Kerwood hold while considering the question he’d been asked. When he turned around the Matsue worker, Harry, was waiting for an answer, as if it were a question at all.

“Yeah, it was bad,” Viktor said over the suit comms. “The worst thing I have ever experienced.”

Harry bobbed his helmeted head in agreement. “I mean, yeah, it had to have been, right? I saw the launch hallway. Hell of an explosion. Must’ve been quite the sight.”

The third guy on the shift, who hadn’t bothered to volunteer his name to Viktor, stood in the corner taking a breather. He didn’t seem to care about the tragedy that had befallen the Kerwood, beyond annoyance at needing to do work.

Viktor only nodded at Harry and carried the crate toward the hatch of open black, his mag-boots clomping along with each step in the semi-gravity. They were bundling the crates into groups of four to later be moved and rearranged in the most efficient arrangement of mass according to the computer algorithms and laws of physics. For now they were just stacking them close to the ramp door.

Viktor didn’t need to help, but he was sick of waiting around like a passenger. It felt good to work at something, even a job as monotonous as moving cubes of rocky money from one area to another. And the low-G work wasn’t so much hard as it was tedious; even with his wounded arm unable to grip anything with real strength he was able to move the heavy crates without issue.

“Quite a sight,” Harry repeated, staring off at nothing. Viktor got the impression that he was bored, and wanted some sort of excitement to break the dullness of spaceflight. It was the kind of restlessness that only came from youth, when one hadn’t experienced true tragedy yet. When one hadn’t learned that excitement was a bad thing out in the black. With some guidance and nurturing that sentiment would be trained out of him, hopefully without any real crisis.

For a brief, painful moment it made Viktor wish he and Helena had had children.

He smiled sadly and said over the comms, “Stay sharp, Harry. The boots are tricky if you’re not paying attention.”

Harry followed him to the edge of the cargo hold with his own crate. The kid’s steps slowed as he approached, his hesitation at nearing the black edge palpable in the airless air. Viktor kept his movements steady and confident to show him how it was done.

“You want to stop at the edge, here,” Viktor said, just as everything went wrong.

Red and orange klaxon lights around the border of the bay began flashing in warning. It must have scared Harry, because he took a jerky step, one boot detaching from the ground, and then he was tumbling through the air.

Over the comms, Harry screamed.
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