She’s brave, crazy, dangerous… and your best shot at crossing the galaxy alive. An encounter with an android and an orphan has left Shaen unsettled. She’s the best coyote pilot in the galaxy, but the future for all coyote pilots is madness and death, or worse, a permanent return to the hellish Asylum Ships. Unwilling to let the Belle Starr become space debris if she’s incapacitated, Shaen agrees to something she’s never attempted: taking on an apprentice.
But old rivals Vahnu and Vishku have a different plan to make their fortune and avoid their fate. A plan that includes stealing the very thing she’s struggling to save: Shaen’s fractured mind.
I was really questioning whether I could write this thing or not. The biggest problem with Belle Starr: The Skull Game is that it’s a sequel. Not only that, it’s the sequel to my most popular story (Belle Starr: Whiskey on the Rocks). There were a few reasons that made it a little more difficult.
Expectations. I wrote the first episode on a whim, to submit to an anthology. I had exactly zero expectations for that story, other than to have fun writing it. I guess the fun I had writing it translated to fun reading it, because it consistently gets the most positive feedback from people. But unfortunately, that meant that when I went to write the sequel, I had the pressure of high expectations to deal with. What if it wasn’t as much fun? What if people didn’t enjoy it as much as the first? GACK. I hate disappointing people. This was probably my #1 problem with completing the book. I had the story outlined back in the spring. It was the draft that killed me, and it was mostly because that pressure made it hard to just spill some prose onto the page.
Continuity. Since most of my ebooks are relatively short standalone stories, I haven’t had to do much continuity checking as I write them. With a sequel, I have to go back and make sure I’m not changing things that I already set out in the first book. Especially since there was about a six month gap between completing the first episode and the second, this was trickier than I thought it’d be. My memory is not that good. I got through it by having an entire separate Google Doc that was just continuity notes, character and setting names and descriptions, and other stuff that was likely to carry over between books. I also kept a copy of my original outline, which I usually write over, to help with plot continuity. In the future, I’ll probably use a tool like Hiveword for that.
Length and complexity. Whiskey on the Rocks weighed in at about 6,600 words and felt like a tightly-paced, but complete story. The Skull Game ended up being 10,500 words, and I could have easily expanded it by about 5,000 words. Frankly, I hadn’t originally planned to write more stories about Shaen and the Belle. Even if I had, I absolutely hate “set up” stories that are clearly just teasers for a longer series. I intentionally wrote a simple, self-contained story for episode one. Once I realized I was going to write a trilogy, the plot by necessity got longer and more complex. Plus, The Skull Game is sort of a heist/caper story. Those kinds of stories require more twists and turns, and thus, more words to make it work. In fact, the unique challenges of a heist/caper story are probably worth a whole separate post. Because it’s not about you, the author, figuring out what happens next. It’s about when you reveal information to the reader, so that they don’t feel cheated. Yikes. Hard.
In the end, I was pretty happy with the story. I hope readers are as well. I’m currently planning to release the final installment in Belle Starr, Episode Three: A Pair of Aces in December. I already have it plotted and roughly outlined.
Fans of Whiskey and Ward will be pleased to know they’ll be back in A Pair of Aces. They’re missing from The Skull Game, but you do get introduced to Risa Sellee, another refugee from the Asylum Ships, as well as a Mad Scientist named Yuri.
Thanks for coming along!