Merry Christmas folks! Yes, I know I’m on vacation, but this post is a good idea. See, last week a reader posted saying that since they’re not getting a new Axtara book this Christmas (Christmas is magic, but not that magic) they’d love to see some of the cut content that doesn’t make it into final books or stories from across my library.
Personally, I thought that it was a pretty good idea! I do have a pretty solid collection of cut scraps, partial stories that never went anywhere, material that got cut, chopped, completely rebuilt, etc. And that sort of thing is pretty popular these days. You can watch blooper reels or cut scenes from films, look at sketches of scenes for animation or graphic novels that were cut and never made it, and I do have a decent amount of that stuff!
So today I’m going to share it with you. Those of you that have read the final products, you’re definitely going to see some serious differences on show here, and not because of editing—though in that regard, yes be aware that some of this stuff is old as well as unedited and raw. Which could be one reason it was cut.
Anyway, let’s dive through the cutting room floor of writing and take a look at some snippets from original drafts, cut content, and stories that didn’t make it! Merry Christmas, and enjoy!
Axtara – Banking and Finance Original Short
So Axtara originally started out as a short. Intended for the LTUE Anthology A Dragon and Her Girl, which had a 15,000 word limit, I knew when Axtara‘s first draft hit 17,000 words that there was no way the idea I’d dreamed up was suitable for a short story. In the end, another idea that had come up during the “short” itself, a scene in which Axtara explains to Mia that someone hired a dragon to find them a husband as a twist on the old “dragon kidnaps a princess” trope, ended up becoming a sub 15,000 word story, while the initial Axtara short was retooled and expanded to become the book that so many of you are eagerly awaiting the sequel for.
The short was a lot different. For one, it opened with someone shooting arrows at Axtara‘s door, the move-in already completed and over, and immediately thereafter jumped to Axtara meeting Princess Mia. Then the dinner, and business picking up at the bank, and … Well, let’s just take a look at some of the early scenes and a late one.
~~~~~ START ~~~~~
Axtara paused as the sound echoed through her home, her claw poised above the letter she’d been writing, ink pooling at its tip as she waited. The sound hadn’t been nearly quick enough, nor come with the regularity one would have expected from a solicitor, and had carried with it an unfortunate weight, which meant that, unless she was wrong, any second now …
She frowned, scales furrowing. Any … second … now … The ink at the tip of her claw had pooled long enough. It dropped to the parchment, eliciting a faint curse as it marred her careful calligraphy.
Maybe the sound had been a bird, she decided. A lost bird, confused and perhaps blind, and it had flown into her door by acci—
A faint growl escaped her lips as she stared down at the letter she’d spent the last twenty minutes composing. Of course, she thought as she swept the parchment aside, the careful missive she’d been composing for the last twenty minutes now ruined by the stain. Such a formal inquiry couldn’t be made with a stain the size of a coin covering some of the letters. She’d need to start from scratch.
And all because of some brainless, spineless, fear-mongering—Insults stormed through her mind as she pushed herself away from her desk and made for her front door, the letter forgotten. Is everyone in this kingdom a complete backwater, tail-dragging, imbecile?
She reached the door to her home and place of business and without any further preamble shoved it open. “What—?”
A fourth arrow bounced off of her chest, a faint tap against her scales before it fell to the dirt. She stared at it for a moment, eyes narrowing, before turning to look down the road to her home. A single, somewhat-grubby looking peasant stood there, nervously fingering his makeshift bow.
“And just what,” she asked, putting as much emphasis on the phrase as she could and lashing her tail, “do you think you are doing?”
“Foul … beast?” The peasant looked about as unsure and unwieldly as the homemade bow he was carrying. “I have come to drive you from our kingdom’s lands in—“
“Oh go pontificate to a monk!” She snaked her head around the end of her door. Three arrows, as badly fletched and put-together as the one lying at her foreclaws, were embedded in the wood. “Are you here to open an account? Conduct business?”
“I …?” The peasant seemed taken aback, eyes darting first to the arrow on the ground and then to her muzzle. “No?”
“Then please—!” She swallowed the fire at the back of her throat, biting back the roar that wanted to burst free with it. He’s a potential customer, Axtara, she reminded herself. Maybe. If he can even count past ten. She let the angry thought calm her somewhat before speaking again. “Please vacate my place of business unless you are here on behalf of a client or wish to open an account.”
“I … uh … client?”
“I’ll take that as a no,” she said, reaching down and plucking up the peasant’s arrow between her claws. “I don’t suppose you’d like these—”
The sound of panicked running echoed across the clearing as the peasant beat a hasty retreat, ducking off the path and crashing through the trees to get out of her sight. She let out a faint snort, smoke drifting from her nostrils and leaving her with a foul taste in her mouth.
“Blasted peasants,” she muttered, reaching her claws around and tugging the three arrows from her front door. That made three new marks in the once spotless wood. Marks that perfectly complimented the chips along the side left by a sword, and the large dents one fool had left by slinging rocks into it. She frowned at the arrows, glaring at them before crushing them between her talons. Minus the stone arrowheads—Really? Stone?—and the feathers, they’d at least be good for some decent kindling the next time she started a fire.
“And stone arrows,” she said, turning and checking the sign hanging from the side of her cave. “Stone? He couldn’t even afford scrap metals?” More and more it was sounding like the Kingdom of Elnacier wasn’t half what it had claimed in rumor.
The sign, thankfully, was fine. Well, fine save the few marks in the wood some other idiot had left in it with their arrows. Arrows with good, steel tips. She’d felt little guilt at chasing that particular individual away with a jet of flame. If they’d ended up with blisters on their rear, it served them right. But other than that, the sign was unmarked by her latest ‘visitor.’ She ran her claws over the wood, staring at the words and letting out another sigh.
“AXTARA” the sign read in bright, bold lettering. And beneath that, carved in smaller print that had cost her a decent sum of coins “BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES.” Beneath that, a piece of parchment had been tacked to the bottom, its message now tattered by more than a week of exposure to the elements. “Open Anytime.”
Her sigh spent, she took one last look at the empty clearing outside her home—her first home, all on her own—and then went back inside, shutting the door behind her, mind already returning to her letter. She’d have to start from scratch, but hopefully it would be worth it.
~~~~~ SNIP ~~~~~
A customer! She yanked her eyes away from the banking treatise she’d been reviewing, rising to her legs and quickly checking over herself to make sure she was presentable. Her green scales had been polished to a shine, she’d buffed her horns this morning, even the tip of her tail was—
The knock came again, even more insistent. “Just a moment!” she called, barely able to hide the excited trill in her voice. Her claw tips felt like her fire had taken refuge in them, tingling with nervous excitement. All right, you can do this, she thought as she made her way to the door in a near-rush, tongue probing her teeth to make sure there were no remnants of her breakfast stuck between them. A small pail of mint candies sat by the door, an expensive parting gift from her parents, and she quickly tossed one beneath her teeth, biting down on it, the heavy flavor bursting over her tongue. Mint candy wasn’t her favorite, but most humans seemed to appreciate the efforts to cover her breath.
This is it! she thought, stopping in front of the door and making a last second check before composing herself. Look cool. Calm. Collected. Ready and willing to bring a financial plan or a loan or—
She opened the door and her stomach fell, smile vanishing from her face as her eyes fixed on a short, upraised blade in the middle of the clearing, and the grim, determined look behind it.
The intruder spoke first. “Hail, dragon,” her attacker said. “I am—“
“You know,” Axtara said, patience splintering like so many arrows. “I have a name. The least you could do is deign to address me by it, especially if you’re going to be so rude as to show up expecting to kill me.”
“You do?” The figure seemed taken aback by the revelation, her—yes, it was indeed a her beneath the armor—eyes widening in surprise.
“Of course I do,” Axtara said, sitting back on her haunches and crossing her forelimbs in what she knew was a very human gesture. It also took advantage of her height, a fact she’d used before when working at her uncle’s bank to cow more than one unruly noble. “I’m a civil being, after all.”
Her newest assailant didn’t seem quite sure how to react to this news, though there did seem to be some glimmer of recognition in her eyes. Axtara took advantage of the confusion to get a closer look at the woman. If it came to blows, she wanted to be ready, both to defend herself and to have a capable description to lodge with the local authority, whoever that might be. Being able to give a more detailed description of her attacker than “some human woman” was an absolute must.
“Very well then, dragon,” the woman said, apparently having recovered from her surprise. “What do you call yourself?”
Interesting, Axtara noted as she looked the woman over. Unlike some of the other fools that had come to drive her out, this one appeared to have put some thought into it. Her short blade looked to be of high quality, and was mounted on a spear of decent length—good for stabbing and keeping distance from a dragon’s claws. Rather than heavy, immobilizing armor, she was clad in thick, tough leather that would let her move as needed.A crossbow was across her back, and several knives were dotted about her person. And none of that is cheap. This one might be dangerous.
I swear, if I’m forced to actually kill someone … That was it. She’d move. But the human had asked her a question.
“I’m Axtara,” she said, nodding her head in the direction of the sign. “As it says on the sign.”
That seemed to catch the woman off-guard more than the declaration that she had a name had. She blinked twice, the tip of her weapon wavering slightly, along with her stance. “You mean … You’re serious?”
Axtara tossed her head. “No, human. I simply like to pretend to deal in finances because it’s clever. Dragons and money, oh how funny?” She rolled her eyes. “Of course the sign is serious.”
“But …” The human sank back slightly, her weapon lowering a little further. “So you really are a banker?”
“Of course I’m a banker,” she replied. “Why else would I be here?” A silence fell over the clearing as the woman seemed to consider this. “Didn’t anyone read the sign?”
“Well,” the woman admitted. “Yes. But no one had any idea that you were, well …”
“Yes,” the woman said, lowering her weapon at last. “That.”
“And with a name like Axtara, living in a cave outside of town, what did they think?”
“Actually?” The woman looked a little embarrassed. “I think most of us were expecting a wizard.”
“A wizard.” She nodded. “All right, that does sound like something a wizard would do. But it wasn’t, and isn’t. This home is mine.”
“And the payments?”
Her respect for the woman went up a notch. She was well-connected, to know about that, or to even consider it. “Legitimate, right down to the deed. Handled by a very trusted courier. As were—“
“The payments to the men who built your home,” the woman said, nodding and relaxing a bit more. “I see.”
Axtara narrowed her eyes. Who was this woman? There weren’t very many dragon-slayers left now that the Bad Days were behind dragonkind, but stories persisted, and they were on the fringes of civilization. And this woman did seem quite well informed.
“You have my name,” she said after a moment, eyeing the human. “Might I ask what yours is?”
“Mia,” she said without a hint of hesitation. “Mia Elnacier.”
Elnacier!? Axtara’s eyes went wide with shock. “Daughter of King Elnacier?” The woman’s embarrassed smile said it all. “Your highness!” She was halfway into a bow before she remembered that this supposed princess was holding a spear, and stopped.
“I don’t suppose you have some way of proving it?” she asked, eyeing her. The human woman hadn’t moved, even though she’d almost opened herself to attack with her half bow. “You don’t seem to have any attendants with you. Or guards.”
“I didn’t bring any guards. My father doesn’t know I’m here. And my attendants are waiting down the road, ready to ride for help if things go wrong. But …” She reached inside her shirt and pulled out a small medallion. “The seal of my father, if it helps.” She held the well-worm medallion in the air, slowly spinning. It bore the stylized image of a hawk doing battle with a wolf, the same seal that had come back on many of the documents Axtara had signed when purchasing her new home. Which meant that, unless the woman in front of her was an imposter …
She took a breath, and bowed. “Princess Elnacier. What can I do for you?” Her eyes flicked to the spear as she rose. “And please don’t tell me that you did indeed come here to drive me from my home, or possibly slay me and claim great honor from your father’s kingdom.”
“Um …” “Oh for—!” She bit back the curses that wanted to slip out. The princess was royalty, after all. “You too?”
~~~~~ SNIP ~~~~~
“Axtara,” Mia said with a smile. “I hope you don’t mind, but this is my younger sister—“
“Ebby!” the younger girl almost shouted. She looked young, perhaps still below a decade.
“It’s short for Ebathine,” Mia said as the unfamiliar attendant rushed in after the girl, who was still looking up at Axtara with wide eyes. “She really wanted to see a dragon. Sorry.”
“You’re really big,” Ebby said. “Like, really, really—“
“Princess Ebathine!” Her attendant’s voice was stern but not harsh. “One does not comment on another lady’s size. Apologize.”
“But she’s a dragon!”
“Be that as it may, she is still a lady, and a member of your father’s kingdom,” the attendant replied. “So you should show her all the courtesy that her standing deserves.”
“Sorry,” Ebathine said quietly, her eyes briefly pulling away from staring at Axtara.
“Your apology is accepted,” Axtara said, bowing her head slightly. “Though if I may be honest, perhaps I am not that big, you are simply very small?”
“Hey!” Ebathine protested, eyes snapping back with sudden ferocity. “I’m not small! I’m eight! I’m almost ten!”
“Everything is relative, Ebby,” Mia said, shaking her head.
“Like … related?” the young girl asked, glancing at her attendant.
“”Close,” the attendant said. “In this case, it means that if Lady Axtara is big to you, than you are small to her.”
“And you still shouldn’t tell a lady that she is big. It’s poor manners.”
“She called me small.”
“Yeah, well she isn’t wrong,” Mia said, rubbing her sister’s head. Both the gesture and her tone reminded Axtara of her own siblings. “Besides, you called her big. Equal effect. I hope you don’t mind,” Mia said, turning her eyes to Axtara. “She’s just here to say ‘hello’ in her own way for a little bit.”
“And to give you this!” Ebby spun, almost running into her attendant before taking a large, sealed envelope from her. “You’re invited to dinner!” she said, holding the sealed envelope out. “It’s an official invitation to attend a royal dinner,” Mia explained as Axtara took the envelope and parted the seal with a claw. She wasn’t sure if Ebby’s gasp of delighted surprise came from that, or the delicate care with which she unfolded the letter inside. “Sort of a semi-formal occasion to honor such an important individual coming to our kingdom, and so on and so on.”
~~~~~ END ~~~~~
Well! That was different!
Yeah, a lot changed between this short and the full novel. The biggest change you might notice is how rushed everything was. Granted, no one wants to start their day with someone shooting arrows at their door, but not knowing from the very start how much the home meant to Axtara, how important it was to her—and new—really did make the opening feel more like an annoyance and not the more heart-breaking blow it later became in the novel. The opening was expanded and fleshed out to make Axtara’s aims, values and goals more apparent and on the reader’s mind, so that when the moment came, what ended up one arrow hurt a lot more.
There were other changes too. The plot, as you can guess from the dinner invitation above, was vastly expanded and given more room to grow. The original short was about Axtara succeeding, but didn’t have much room to tell anything else, such as the struggles along the way. Everything was moving too fast even in the condensed form I’d given it.
But there are other differences too. It’s not shown in these cuts as much, but originally there was very little focus on finances and Axtara’s love of numbers. The bank was a clever concept, but it wasn’t being utilized as a tool of the story. Axtara was also older, almost in her 30s, while Mia wasn’t intended to be a friend, but more a window to the kingdom at large.
But even these early, prototype characters showed some chemistry with their interactions. Their voices weren’t there yet—compare Axtara’s style of speaking above to her more formal and careful elocution in the final book for example—but the way they interacted off one another made them obvious candidates for “fast friends” once they’d been aged down a bit and brought closer together.
Mia’s brothers never happened either, cut because they were merely a throwaway line equating to “stereotypical fantasy.” Once Mia was a character in her own right, her family took on a much more lively (and realistic) place in the story. Princess Abithine became older as well, though I kept a discussion about her loving riding and wanting to fly.
A lot changed between the truncated, pared down early characters and what they became when there was a full book available for them to grow and thrive in. Initially the idea was a just a funny flip, a “dragon banking for wealth, ha-ha” idea.
But deciding to expand into a book, to make the characters younger, to focus more on the guts of finance and how it works … just expanding on everything that was there in the short but couldn’t be explored … That brought Axtara to life. The story was too much to be confined to a mere 17,000 words, or even 30,000. Making it a book, taking the time to explore all those ideas and giving the characters space to take shape as they needed … All of that was worth it.
Was the short still fun to write? Oh yeah. And Axtara wouldn’t have been Axtara without me looking at that work and asking what it’s most important elements were that needed to be explored. Will you ever see the full, unfinished short?
Nope. It was merely a stepping stone. Axtara – Banking and Finance is superior in every way. This was just … where it started. Where the seed was planted that would grow into an adventure that spread its wings around the world.
Axtara – Banking and Fiannce, is available here in ebook and paperback.
From The Deep To Colony
Colony had a long and rough road. How long? Well, let’s take a look at the first time I attempted to write it, and how different the story was.
For the record, I don’t actually know when this first short comes from. The date I have as the backup being created is early 2013, but I know for a fact that I wrote it prior to 2011. I was still in college when I wrote this.
This story would suffer several false starts and stops, There are four of them in my cut folder, all rewrites, and the last ending in “Then the reactor exploded and they all died.” It would be years before the idea would gel into something more solid.
This isn’t the first time I’d tried to explore the setting, but it is where I consider the story of Colony to really start, as it begins with the character of Jake. And it’s … Well remember, this was written long before I’d published a single book. This was back in my “write thousands of words a day, improving the craft.” There were a lot of duds in this period.
So let’s take a look.
~~~~~ THE DEEP ~~~~~
“All right, now bring her down slow ok!” Jeke yelled, moving his arms slowly down to accentuate his meaning. “These boxes are tough, but they’re not too tough.”
“What are you so worried about?” The driver of the forklift yelled back, leaning out of the window as he gently brought the final box down. “If I break it comes out of my pay, not yours!”
“That’s assuming we find it before we shove out of your docks. If we find it when we deliver it, then it comes out of my paycheck!” There was a slight vibration underfoot as the final box gently touched the ground. The metal prongs of the forklift drew back, sliding across the cargo decks corrugated floor with a series of sharp metal on metal rasps as the driver backed away, circling the forklift back.
“Now what’d I tell you?” He said as he brought the forklift to a halt and hopped out of the cab. “Gentle as a first kiss.”
“You must not get around much.” Jeke replied. The driver snorted and leaned on the side of the forklift, looking at Jeke expectantly. “What?” Jeke asked. “You already get paid, don’t go looking for no tip.”
“Suit yourself then.” The driver said with a snort as he spun on his heel and began walking off through the busy docks. Jeke watched him go for a moment and then turned and walked up the loading ramp. Grabbing one of the restraints, he began the process of tying down the back end of the boxes and adjusting the clamps they were tied to in order to keep the cargo from shifting back during the trip. The hold was large, but tightly packed with rows and rows of boxes stacked floor to ceiling, leaving only an eight inch gap between the last row and the heavy airtight seal of the cargo door. Once the back straps were secure, Jeke checked his watch and saw that there was still a good twenty minutes before the ship was scheduled to leave and decided to take the extra time to tie down the cargo from above as well. While he doubted there would be any heavy rolls on the voyage, it never hurt to take precautions.
Twelve minutes later he had finished tying down the cargo to his satisfaction and was doing last minute checks of the ties when the intercom crackled to life, straining to be heard over the clamor of the docks.
“Hey Jeke, are you about done back there? The harbormaster finished our paperwork ahead of schedule and the berth is paid off, we’re free to go whenever’s convenient.” Jeke rose to his feet and keying the intercom panel near the cargo door.
“We’re good down here Nick.” He replied, leaning close to the panel to make himself audible. “Just checking the last of the ties. Everything’s locked down tight. Give me a second to leave the hold and lock it down tight.”
“Yeah, I kind of guessed you’d say that. Scrambling over cargo to get to the back door is never fun. Alright, hurry it up before I lock you in there!”
“Yeah, be right there!” Jeke responded, releasing the transmit button and jogging down the loading ramp, which doubled as part of the cargo doors themselves. Several seconds after he stepped onto the dock, the massive doors began to swing shut behind him, the loading ramp lifting up as its sister piece folded back from the top of the ship, unfolding and connecting at the center of the ship. Once they locked into place, two additional reinforcement doors extended out from both sides and locked across the close doors. Nick had always described it as a “loving mother wrapping her arms around her child”, but Jeke had always thought that it had looked more like a sand beetle eating something.
But it wasn’t his ship, she he couldn’t say much about it. Besides, the Celesta was home, had been for the last two years. She wasn’t much to look at, but as a cargo runner that was expected, her bulky beetle-like shape made for hauling loads of cargo from port to port rather than for speed, travel or pleasure. She was tough, able to take pressures up to nearly a mile down and was built to take hits most pleasure craft couldn’t match.
~~~~~ END ~~~~~
I don’t know about you, but that was painful to read. At least for me.
Still, you can see the seeds there. At this point, the concept was still resolving around being set, start to finish, on the world that would later become Pisces, The setting was less advanced then it would later be in the books, with more of a “fallen empire” approach to everything, where a bunch of colonies had rebelled at once, Pisces included, and basically cut themselves off from Earth and still be picking themselves up. Jeke, of course, later became Jake, after enough friends who saw this early rough draft complained about the name to make me change it.
Ah the early days when I’d do really dumb stuff.
Now unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news here. I wanted to show you some of the cut stuff from the first official draft of Colony, only when I started looking through my folders …
I’ve lost it. I still have all the Colony stuff that went through Alpha and Beta, but the 50,000+ word false start that I deleted?
I apologize, because I did want to share some of it. However, I don’t miss it. So I suppose instead I’ll have to talk about it and tell you what was different. Because it was a lot. At least, in a very specific way. Pisces was still Pisces. Carlos Rodriguez and the opening prologue were still the same. Sweets was the same.
What was different then? So different that 50,000+ words were cut and the entire start of the book rewritten and adapted to the changes?
Jake and Anna. Originally—get ready to laugh—they were both older, as in 50s, not early thirties, and together.
I can hear the brains popping from here. Yeah, it was very different. Jake was grizzled and cynical, more of a “noir” trope, while Anna was the muscle of their two-person operation. They were legitimately hired to go to Pisces, and Sweets was who they were escorting.
I’ll give you a moment to wrap your heads around that one.
Yeah, it was different. So, why was it cut?
The big one was that the character interplay wasn’t there. Jake and Anna were already old partners of decades, and didn’t have the same interplay their younger versions would have. It was like seeing a duo after they’ve had all the adventures that brought them together, without seeing those adventures. It was just … flat. That and their characters were sort of closed, and with one another to interact with, didn’t interact with Sweets.
So, with that realization in mind, I rewrote them completely, and started the story over from the prologue. Took both Jake and Anna back to basics, with the idea that they were much more interesting about to embark on this adventure, not jaded from a long life of them. Split the duo too—they worked much better as strangers than as a duo that was shepherding/protecting Sweets (and at the point of splitting I cut all concept of “will they get together” because that was up to who the new characters became).
I basically rebuilt them completely. The characters they are in Starforge only resemble those rough, original drafts in name only. And honestly, the decision was one of the best ones I’ve ever made.
Colony is available here as an ebook. It was followed by a sequel, Jungle in 2019, and the final book in the trilogy, Starforge, is slated to release in 2022.
To my surprise, this is actually I have for you. I mean, I have more Alpha-Beta stuff, but the issue there is that changes are often minor, on the level of a few paragraphs or tiny changes to scene, setting and character. Here we’ve got a perfect example of some wide conceptual work that underwent massive transformations as the ideas stabilized and evolved into something better. And while I do have another document with 40,000 words of cut content … It’s for Starforge, which isn’t out yet, and therefore full of spoilers for the conclusion of the UNSEC trilogy.
But I hope you liked the look behind the curtain anyway, even as rough as some of that content might be, full of pencil lines and eraser marks.
Merry Christmas, readers. I’ll see you soon. In the meantime, curl up with a book, and I hope you enjoy your holidays.