In case you missed it, I published my thriller novella “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” in early January 2019. The story follows bodyguard Number Seven and his charge Kirill, a young athlete training for Olympic gold, as they weave in and out of high-stakes conspiracies and low-key romantic encounters. It’s a story I never thought I could write – thriller has never been my preferred genre for reading or writing – but once the first inklings of the original plot settled into my brain, I had no choice but to run with it.
This post isn’t about Number Seven’s story, though. Not directly, anyway.
My sister is three years older than me. I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be like her. She was certainly my best friend growing up. In a lot of ways, she still is.
She taught me how to tie my shoes, and how to write my name. She taught me to read, through Little Golden Books and comics she let me look at from over her shoulder. She always read harder stuff than me, stuff with words and concepts I didn’t yet understand. When I’d ask her about them, she wouldn’t roll her eyes or push me away, though; she’d patiently explain them until I did understand. And, of course, we’d play: make-believe school, make-believe knights, make-believe fairies, and make-believe starfighters. She was my first and best example of someone who loved stories. Simply put, I’m a writer because of her.
I’ve talked before about the tradition my sister and I had of trading stories on Christmas morning. But it wasn’t just Christmas stories. There was a time when we traded stories just because we wanted to share our ideas with each other. I remember marking in the margins of my written pages where she’d left off the last time she’d read, and how many lines I’d written since then. She was my first reader, my first critic, the first person whose opinion of my writing mattered so much to me that I felt giddy when she liked it and crushed when she didn’t.
We don’t share stories like that anymore. Her storytelling journey took her on a different path from me. Now, she creates interactive stories, told live with plenty of improvisation from the friends who join her at her gaming table. It makes her happy, and that makes me happy, too.
When I shared the news that I’d published my novella, I was surprised by the encouraging words and actions from family, friends, and colleagues. Many of these were people who had, until this point, never read any stories of mine or even knew I wrote stories at all. I finally felt like the world was seeing the Me that had been here all along. My heart swelled seeing the Congratulations! messages pop up. Then I saw a message from my sister. “I’m so proud of you!” it said, and I burst into tears. This woman who’d taught me so many things, including how to make stories, was proud of me for the story I’d written.
It was satisfying to finish Seven’s story. Publishing it made me anxious but also excited. Hearing from friends that they enjoyed the story has made me happy. Making my sister proud, though, has been one of the greatest joys I’ve ever felt on this journey of becoming a writer. Who knows? Maybe I can even do it again.
World Building in Fan Fiction
I enjoyed the first Pacific Rim film. Watching it, I wanted to learn more about that world. For that, I did a little bit of reading and poking around the Internet (mainly the Wikipedia article). While that gave me a gleaning of information, I wanted to do something a little bit more.
I didn’t always like world building. It seemed tedious. But as I’ve started to create my own worlds, I’ve come to appreciate the craft of others’ worlds. It’s just that some worlds lack the specific piece I’m looking for, which is why I write fan fiction.
In the first Pacific Rim movie, I loved the design of Cherno Alpha, the Russian robotic monster-hunter Jaeger. Cherno’s pilots had a great fight scene but were handed a raw deal in the script (along with the Wei triplets and their Crimson Typhoon Jaeger, which had to be one of the coolest ideas for a robot ever). I was in the shower one morning when I got the main ideas for the Kluge twins, competitive brothers caught in the swirl of war with the Kaiju but somehow still distanced from it…until it becomes personal to one of them.
I wrote a drabble based on this personal connection (“Worth Dying For”), but here’s the backstory for the brothers, written in a world-building buzz of one sitting almost 5 years ago…
The Brothers Kluge
Ein and Albert Kluge are fraternal twins from Ulm, a city in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, born September 23, 2000, to parents Inge and Erhard Kluge, a chief engineer at Zwick Roell Group. Brash and competitive, especially with each other, the twin boys grew to adulthood in the far-reaching shadow of Kaiju attacks, each one always trying to one-up his brother for skills and smarts. Their father desired them to stay in Germany and continue their work with him at Zwick, but when they came of age, they enrolled in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps Jaeger Academy. They believed their close genetic bond would make them excellent candidates for the Ranger pilot program (q.v., Gage twins, Wei triplets). However, while their mental and physical scores were significant, they failed out in first cut, being particularly incapable of successful Drifting with one another or anyone else.
Morally winded, the Kluge twins resigned themselves to returning to Germany and their “disappointingly conventional” heritage as material testers like their father. Before they were dismissed from Kodiak Island, though, first-generation Ranger and instructor Stacker Pentecost suggested that, while their competitive nature with each other would prove disastrous in a Conn-Pod, it could be highly beneficial in a research capacity:
“It’s not all about piloting Jaegers, you know,” Pentecost said. “J-Tech Engineering needs checks and balances, too.”
Ein looked at his younger brother. Albert looked back at him with the gleam of a new grin. They turned to Pentecost at the same time, and at the same time said, “When do we start?”
Having agreed to training and assignment at the Vladivostok Shatterdome, the Kluge twins soon became Jaeger Engineers. They contributed to upgrades in design and armor on Jaegers Nova Hyperion and Cherno Alpha. During their assignment at Vladivostok, Ein developed one-sided and mostly-hidden romantic feelings for Ranger Sasha Kaidanovsky, one of the pilots of Cherno Alpha. Albert advised his brother to steer clear of both Sasha and her husband Aleksis, but Ein remained devoted:
“You’re a fool if you think you have any chance with Frau Kaidonovsky,” Albert said, snorting under his breath.
Ein wilted. “I know she will never be mine. But I cannot ignore that which beats in my heart. So I will do everything in my power to help her. With or without you, Brüderchen.”
When the Vladivostok Shatterdome was closed in 2024, Cherno Alpha and her J-Tech team, including the Kluge twins, were relocated to Hong Kong. On 8 January 2025, Hermann Gottlieb’s predicted Double Event occurred. Kaiju Leatherback and Otachi attacked, destroying the Jaegers Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha.
On hearing the news of the Kaidanovskys’ deaths, Ein Kluge was never the same. Neither was his brother Albert.
National Novel Writing Month does not inspire me the way it once did. I’ve participated in the race to 50,000 words many times over, each time writing a new story that sometimes became something more, and sometimes not. NaNoWriMo is really an exercise in forming writing habits, though, not so much about the novel or story itself. At least, that’s what it’s been for me.
I’ve long since proven to myself that I can write everyday. I may not write the 1700-ish words you need to average every day in order to finish NaNo, but I do write everyday. Some days, it’s 1000 words. Other days, it’s no more than 100. But the habit is with me, now, and it’s one I can’t shake. I suppose I can thank NaNo for that.
This November, I’m concentrating less on writing from scratch and more on rewriting. Rewrites for the following stories, to be exact:
- Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens: My sci-fi space western about a group of misfits searching the galaxy for freedom, adventure, and one lost love. This one has been in rewrite hell for almost three years, now, it’s time I got seriously cracking on it again.
- Finding Mister Wright: My coming-of-age not-exactly romance starring the original Mister Wright, Marshall, on his journey of self-discovery to be the better man.
- Number Seven and the Life Left Behind: My most recent political action story focused on a bodyguard torn between duty, friendship, love, and country.
I’m focusing my energies on making progress on all of these stories in one way or another. I’m already in pretty good shape! “Number Seven” is in the hands of my husband right now. His feedback should be the last step before I’m ready to upload that one to the printer. “Finding Mister Wright” has gone through a chunk rewrite, with the last chapter in its final stage of revision. “Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens” requires the most work, seeing as it’s a near 90% update edit, but I’ve had some plans percolating for a while now that I’m confident I can transcribe to paper.
I wish all of you out there pushing forward with your NaNo stories all my best. I know what a challenge it can be to make the time to write every day! But believe me, once you get yourself in the habit of writing, you’ll be a stronger writer for it. Here’s a blank version of the spreadsheet I’ve used in years past to track and calculate my NaNo progress: NaNo_calculations-blank. For those of you not joining the NaNo race, what are your writing plans for this month?
HLIB, Take 1
Back in 2014, I joined the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) excitement with a sequel of sorts to an earlier tale, From Hell (A Love Story). FH(ALS) was a raunchy space opera in which I tried to build a bigger backstory for Axton, the running-and-gunning bounty hunter from the 2012 video game Borderlands 2. Part of that backstory was the creation of an original character, Hal, an early (pre-game) partner of Axton’s. I wrote FH(ALS) between late 2012 and early 2014, but I had such fun building that world and the characters in it, I decided to return to that timeline with a host of new adventurers in November of 2014, for NaNoWriMo. The new story was called “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”, and I pounded out that sucker free-form over those wild 30 days, plus an additional six months to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.
I posted my day-to-day progression of HLIB on a separate side blog. If nothing else, this process kept me accountable to my projected NaNoWriMo wordcount. Only one person read it…that I knew of. Several days ago, I received an email – more than three years after I’d finished the story – from another apparent HLIB reader:
HLIB, Take 2
Over the course of the next few years, I wrote a lot more stories following the timeline and characters of “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”. When I looked at the original story, though, I found it suffered from the high-octane intensity of being a product of NaNoWriMo. The bones of the story I wanted to tell were there, but it needed work. A lot of work.
I sequestered the original story and put it in my archives, and started on a new and – hopefully – improved version. That version is Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens. It has become a significantly different story since I started the rewrite, with more characters, more conflicts, and more complications. It’s also become a lot more fun to be in that world, for those reasons.
HLIB principal characters – height comparison chart – doodle by Mayumi Hirtzel/bonusparts
Regarding that one interested reader’s original question – if I have plans to bring this story out again – the answer is, yes. Will it be the same story? No. Will it be better than it was before? Possibly. Have I enjoyed being in that universe again? Definitely.
I don’t know if readers will like the new HLIB, especially those who are familiar with the original version. I can only try to tell the most interesting story that I’m able to do. It will be a rollercoaster, though. I’ll be sharing more of this story – and my journey writing, or, rather, rewriting it – over the coming months. In the meantime…
Have you ever returned to a story for a rewrite, after a hiatus? Did that story change just a little, or a lot? Did you like the final product more, or less, than the original? Let me know in the comments below!