THE STORY SO FAR:
5 YEARS OF GUNMETAL BLACK

By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com


PART I: THE EARLY DAYS

"But we do the job for different reasons, don't we? And besides. Two people can't be the best at everything, can they? Not a title that lends itself well to sharing."
-Kienan Ademetria, from the first Kienan story.


I had just gotten fired from my job at the ad agency around the time I'd come up with Kienan. I'd also met a person who was so enamoured of "Seven Spheres Legend," that she'd written her own little roman a clef on it, which had her character in it. I was somewhat flattered--after all, the only person who'd bothered with SSL fanfic before was close to it anyway and so I attempted to do my own for her characters.

Since I was writing from my own perspective, I pretty much made it up on the fly, pitting her character against someone I vaguely had a image of as her opposite number. There's a reason why, hoary as it is the villain as dark twin of the main character is still used so often--IT WORKS.

And so I set to work on the first story while I worked to come up with an appropriately striking visual. Apparently (according to my fans--I don't have any real perspective on what I do), my best characters (besides all having a blue/red/white/black color scheme) always seem to work best with a striking visual--Darken's wings, Kienan's braid, etc.

I did one pass that almost went though--between that and the second version, I kept only his smoking habit. The rest I junked in total embarrassment. Version 2 was the rough run-through for the final version--a few details would be sheared off and streamlined, including the utterly superfluous shoulder pauldron he had at first. More detailed things--his necklace, his "X" scar on his back also entered into his history at this point as I sketched and sketched in search of a final definitive version.

I finished Version 3 (the definitive version and the one that, with minor variations, exists to this day) about the same time I finished the first story. With the visual down, his character traits came together in short order--he was dangerous yet sensitive, theatrical yet secretive, mercilessly brilliant and wholly lethal. More than any character I'd done thus far, he was less a reflective sort and more the type who just did stuff rather than navel-gaze for a few pages and then did it.

Also there at the beginning were the Marionettes, who remained unchanged save for me plugging Conscience into the ship in the next story.

It all came together like it was meant to be.

Fortuitous indeed because this began a collaboration that, despite all the acrimony that's built up in the months since, I'd be a fool not to acknowledge as fruitful. Of these "proto-Kienan" stories, 3 concerning the Kienan and the other characters were written, as were 4 other unrelated stories in a similar crossover mode.

None of them will ever be widely read. There are some bits of in there but even if the climate was different I wouldn't release them--they're too rough and not at all indicative of what GMB is really all about to me. Elements may be used or scenes I liked reclaimed (after all, the only reason writers keep old stuff is as a creative organ bank of sorts) but the stories, like the collaboration that spawned them, are best walked away from and forgotten.

It's probably tempting for people to ask at this juncture why the collaboration failed, but there's not much point in it because, like life, there is no clear answer. And it's at best an academic point--there is no going back and even if there were, I wouldn't want to.

Besides, you wanted to read about my story, not that drama, I hope.

Maybe after three years people chafe at the bit and want to know if they can do it on their own. Gilbert and Sullivan eventually dissolved into that kind of acrimony, as did The Beatles, Van Halen, hell, even Robin became Nightwing to get out from under Batman's shadow.

In any case, by this point in our story, the divergence had begun and I had my feet on the path that would take me to Gunmetal Black . . .eventually.

PART 2: THE EARLY SHORT STORIES

" "He's not what I expected," Sinclaire said, finally."
-From "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies


I'd just elected to move Kienan past being a face in someone else's cast and onto his own destiny. But the road to that wasn't as clear at first as I thought it would be.

At first, I had no idea where to go save for the few elements I'd kept from Kienan's early stories. The short stories that predate and that I wrote simultaneously with GMB1 are a document of trying to find my feet with Kienan. The three stories from this era are a couple of blind passes at getting the GMB "style," down.

There was more to encapsulating GMB than just establishing Kienan's character. His world, the very way the story was told also had to be right, and these were my first attempts at that. They form the building blocks of both Kienan's character and the GMB universe by introducing us to his best friend, his rival, and the two women who did as much to shape him as the central tragedy on Caldera that started him down the road to his career as an assassin.

The Ragged Edges of Torn Photographs

The first of the GMB short stories, and one of the few I think that still hold up, Ragged Edges was an effort to do GMB as straight noir. The earmarks are there--the wounded hero, the femme fatale (only in my story she's dead, but no less able to tempt her lovers toward a confrontation) and plenty of melancholy on all sides. It also gives us a little insight into Jayla Kyren, though at this point I wasn't really clear on how dysfunctional their relationship was. I'd develop on her downward spiral more in "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" and "After the Rain."

The Eyes of the Girl

The second GMB short introduces Silhouette and Toriares and fills in a few more trivial background details (like when he gets his ship, because I like to fill these things in without making a big deal out of them) It might be important in a historical sense, but in some ways it's a reworking of "Ragged Edges," minus the final confrontation.

Despite it's historical importance, the relationship between Kienan and Silhouette is done better in other stories, and it's really less a living breathing story on its own than a dry run for certain central ideas of GMB. I look on it now as something I had to write, solely as a starting point for themes I'd perfect as time went on.

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

It's in this story where I feel GMB as a concept finally gels. Despite a big flaw in it (the cursing--I look at it today and cringe because it turned out I really didn't need it to emphasize the mood or for shock value) We have a clear picture of just how bad Kienan and Jayla are together, how deep the wounds with Silhouette go.

It also gives Kienan someone to be matched against. The battle with Sinclaire is a great action set piece and sets the tone for the confrontations that follow as far as matters of pacing, duration, and rhythms go.

It also establishes finally the pattern for GMB stories--in greater or lesser fashions, Kienan always ends up alone. No matter that he bested Sinclaire and accomplished his mission, Jayla leaves him and Silhouette has moved on by the end of the story. Occasionally he comes out better, but Kienan's the kind of person who could have a surprise birthday party with 20 people around him and still be alone.

But yet he keeps on.

PART 3: GUNMETAL BLACK 1

GUNMETAL BLACK

Red smiled. "And how will you come back from being dead, Kienan?"
"The same way I always have. Clawing my way through hell."
-Pirate Red and Kienan, from "Gunmetal Black 1"


When people speak of GMB1, they usually express that it's the weakest of the 4 (thus far) GMB novellas and I don't think they're wrong to think so.

It's weak in that it doesn't advance the larger plot of GMB, doesn't give us much insight into Kienan's recent past, or much else, beyond the fine details of the disaster on Caldera and a little background on the Marionettes.

Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that I hadn't written very much about Kienan up to this point, coupled with the fact I was writing three other short novels at the time ("The Way of Earth" and the never finished but curiously adored "Liandra") and wasn't probably paying the attention I was.

Also--and this is a hazard with EVERY introductory story, regardless of who writes it--there's a heavy burden to convey a lot of information in the story in addition to the main story. Once free of the burden of all this expository stuff, you're free to start pushing off in the direction of your story in earnest.

And this is why, warts and all, GMB1 still exists more or less the way it does--as an introduction, it does what it's supposed to do, as well as laying tracks for threads picked up in GMB4 and GMB7. Rewrites (one of which I've done already) may expand and embellish points, but the story is always gonna be about how Kienan gets caught up in Valcuria's mission of vengeance against the human race.

Works for an introductory story, yes? It lacks the focus and the polish of the later GMBs, but it lays the groundwork for it as well. I suppose that you can't have one without the other.

I remember not thinking overmuch of it when I was writing it--I was juggling three other novels and the idea of GMB as a long-form series hadn't gelled yet. In fact, around Chapter 8 I'd given it up for awhile.

Then I met someone very special who encouraged me to keep going with it. Once that happened, I went at with a renewed enthusiasm, which might explain the way the writing dramatically improved. Also, about that time I'd done a sketch of a handful of characters with the following legend:

GUNMETAL BLACK 2: GUNMETAL BLUES

So I guess I had my series after all. But first I had to get a handle on this ever-expanding universe I'd created by lucky accident and so, I figured a few short stories would do the trick . . .

Valcuria was designed long before GMB was even a twinkle in my eye--roughly about 1993 or so, only his name was Syren and he was a man. Fans of the video game Phantasy Star may be interested to know (OK, vaguely interested--some people like the meaningless trivia of my creative process. I have no idea why. It's not that interesting, I promise.) that he was based slightly off of Siren, the cyborg villain from the second generation (or so) in the 3rd game.

He floated through my sketchbooks for the next few years after that--sometimes changing gender, always substantially changing his look, and finally got a bow as Valcuria in GMB1 because, well, it just sorta fell together that way, the first (but not the last) instance where work I'd done when I was 14 seemed to lock into place with what I was doing when I was twenty-errr . . .when I was older. Substantially.

Making her a prototype of the Marionettes made sense, as did creating her own twisted version of her sisters in the Ironmadiens. The Ironmaidens, for those keeping score, were also older designs, but date back only as far as 1996 or so.

I found I liked working with Valcuria--she was interesting, if smugly superior (a trait she seems to share with other GMB heavies) and tragic enough to earn some sympathy points.

The curious thing I find is that no one makes the connection between the main villain of SSL, Kirone Witchfire and Valcuria--pale, busty redheads with a retinue of flunkies in uneasy alliances looking for world-shaking power.

PART 4: INTERMEZZO--BETWEEN GMB1 and GMB2

"Because," Kienan said, his gaze was hardening on the scene. "It . . .it proves something I always knew about life. People leave. People always leave. People stop loving you, you stop loving them. You betray them, they betray you, you betray yourself. You can’t trust other people."
"How does it feel being right?" Silhouette asked.
Then as now, Kienan let the silence speak for itself.
-Kienan and Silhouette, from "Etude"


I had just finished GMB1. Rough as it was, by the end of it, I was clear on what GMB's course would be, even if the larger plot wasn't clear in my head, just the punchline image to end it on.

I wasn't quite sure I could do the concept justice. After all, I had never written a story where the villain was the main character and the rather scattershot nature of GMB (continuity happening backwards and forwards simultaneously as opposed to the straight linear plotting of SSL) storytelling--which STILL causes some readers some headaches--was gonna be as they say, "a bear."

But damn it, I was determined to try. Because whatever else I didn't want to write another SSL and the more I thought about it, the more interested I was in this strange world I'd come up with.

So I made some simple rules for GMB:

Every story is probably someone's first and last. Give them what they need to know to not be lost and enjoy the story. Thus, make stories complete in and of themselves but part of a larger whole simultaneously.

Don't overload it with unnecessary continuity points. If they need to know it, it needs to be in there. If they don't, leave it out.

When there's a specific type of GMB story (in other words, when every single one is written the same) you have failed.

That said, I floated a couple of GMB short stories out there as I continued to try to discern what GMB would be all about.

Even If You Dream

I wonder, sometimes, how many people realize "Even If You Dream" is supposed to be a comedy. No, really it is--of the GMB stories it's quite a light one--despite the heaviness of the Jayla fallout at the beginning, "Dream" has plenty of light touches--Joshua Sloane (named for the preacher in "The Ballad of Cable Hogue"--he and Kienan's first meeting is a homage to a similar scene in the movie.) Kienan's repartee with the Marionettes and the later "put some damn clothes on" scene were meant to say "see, GMB can be light too and not take itself so seriously, despite the sturm und drang it's probably better known for.

It also is notable for some continuity points--the Marionettes first appearance, as well as the Ruby Vroom (told you this one was tongue-in-cheek) and Dr. Reficul, though at this time even I didn't know how tightly he'd be tied into the bigger threats in GMB.

The approach to continuity is fairy evident here as well--the business with Valcuria recounted in GMB1 is alluded to but not really expanded upon because it's not her bloody story.

I often muse about folding it into GMB1 (as it's more a story of the Marionettes), though I haven't decided yet. I was lukewarm on it for ages but I've grown to like it, just for the gentle lightness it has. And it stands pretty sturdy on its own.

Etude

I like to open GMB tales with something that will make even longtime readers gasp or get a charge. Partly it's just because I feel like stories, like good art, need an eye-catch, something to grab you and draw you. Partly I do it to show that no one in GMB is really safe.

Hence, "Etude" opens with Kienan flat on his back and bleeding to death. I wrote "Etude" for a specific purpose--on the one hand to tell Kienan's origins in a way that didn't scream out "Special GMB Origin Issue!" and in another to tell Kienan and Silhouette's story a little better than I had in "The Eyes of The Girl."

Since I don't wince when I read "Etude" like I do with "Eyes" I like to think I succeeded with this one.

The result is quite nice--surreal, non linear and probably the earliest, purest example of where I was gonna go with GMB. It was also a great setup for GMB2, as much as "Even if you Dream" paves the way for GMB1 (Despite being written well after GMB1 was completed) It's augmented as well by the immensely helpful donation of "Blood Red Angel," a song someone very special graciously gave to me which improves the story by it's presence alone.

OK, so now I felt I was in a suitable direction to embark on GMB2, which would be far more ambitious than GMB1 and set the tone for the rest of the series.

PART 5: GUNMETAL BLACK 2: GUNMETAL BLUES

In the liner notes for the CD Rush In Rio, Neil Peart talks about how during three dates in Brazil how the shows came together and the band came together under extraordinary circumstances and put on some of the best shows of their career.

I know just how he felt. GMB2, of the four GMB novels so far, just flows and moves with an assurance unequaled in anything that large an undertaking to date. It all just came together perfectly, everything from the Kienan/Silhouette business to the introduction of the Rigellian Empire and one of the first recurring villains in GMB, Heinrich Straeger.

GUNMETAL BLACK 2: GUNMETAL BLUES

The pump had been primed, so to speak, with the Kienan/Silhouette business--"Eyes of the Girl," "Gentle Art," and "Etude" had examined it in such a way that it pretty much wrote itself. While later I added another major wrinkle to Silhouette's historie D'amour later, it's ambiguous enough during the story as to where one can assume there was no reason to bring it up--not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it, but it's not like I'm going to put Kienan and Sil back together or anything.

Instead, the Kienan and Sil bits are the uncomfortable winter of people who were in love, feel deeply for one another, but know in their heart there's no way they can remain together. Sometimes they can accept it, sometimes they feel the gulf more than they should, but the realization that they can' go back is always tantamount in both their minds. Accepting that truth, however . . .

That gulf puts everyone on edge--Kienan doesn't want to be bothered, because who likes being reminded of what they lost? Vain and Mirage, ever protective of Kienan, are looking for an excuse to kick her ass, and Silhouette, as all ex-girlfriends seem to do, manages to get Kienan in trouble again.

This brings us to the Rigellians, a race of militarists in the Prussian Junker mold. The Rigellians predate GMB by at least ten years, at first faceless ship designs with the "Rigellian" name sort of added at random. Gradually, as the middle 1990s ground on and I became a more ready student of history, the Rigellians added some layers--their appearance, their history of militarism, their system of advancement all began to be laid out for use in some form or the other. Finally, I was so wrapped up in SSL I neglected them a bit.

But perhaps in a sort of "right place, right time" moment, they stepped to the fore. The two main Rigellians are studies in extremes--Algrim is a bit of the hoary old cliche of "Fallen commander still conducting the war long after it's over" but in the character of Straeger I found someone who seemed to live and breathe being evil. And people loved him.

It wasn't hard to clarify him--someone who can read minds and works in intelligence one would imagine would have that needling, sneering "I-know-something-you-don't" attitude was the basis for it, everything else flowed from that. Coupled with the strong reaction people had to Straeger when he did his thing, there was no doubt he was gonna come back for another shot at Kienan.

One of the challenges of having recurring villains (or any characters) when your lead is an assassin is to give them an out that doesn't make Kienan look weak and doesn't seem too contrived.

It works here, even more elegantly in a later short story.

In any case, GMB2 is a triumph for me. I have the style I want for GMB down pat, the story is powerful (I count the last chapter of GMB2 among my favorite pieces of writing) and I finally feel like I have a handle on the destiny of GMB. In fact I'm already planning GMB3 and 4 at this point. Slowly pieces of the puzzle are falling into place and it's getting easier to fill in the details of the universe . . .

PART 6: IN BETWEEN GMB2 and GMB3: GMB COMES AROUND

I was freezing to death for most of the end of 2002 and part of 2003, and about the only thing that kept me sane during those long cold nights was thinking about GMB stories yet to be told. I couldn't have known at the time that this would lead to a streak of GMB short stories that even I consider one of the great runs of short stories I've ever written.

Shadow on the Road Ahead

By its nature GMB seems to require a lot of turnover in the cast department. It's one of the slings and arrows that comes with writing an exceedingly downbeat story about a guy who kills people for a living.

It's the rare moment and the rare story where you strike gold (not striking Gold--that's in Caress of Steel) where you introduce a character who adds massive value to the milieu in which you're writing. Such a story is Shadow, and such a character is Toriares At'ae.

He developed initially as simply a visual, but quickly his character formed in my head as a kind of yin to Kienan's yang . . .only in this rare instance, not in an adversarial relationship.

Toriares is composed and methodical, Kienan is wild and instinctive. Toriares waits until the opportune moment to strike, Kienan just hammers on and on until he gets his way. Their relationship really carries the story and I think does it well. This was a test run for GMB3, and had this story not worked, I’d have been in real trouble--because their relationship anchors most of that book.

Fortunately I didn’t have anything to worry about--Kienan and Toriares got along like magic and Toriares entered that rarefied club of characters who are as popular (or more popular) than Kienan himself. I'm constantly tempted to bring him back.

Save the Darkness

Toriares and Kienan, take 2. This time, with a little bit of Silhouette thrown in, just because I wanted to cover that time in Kienan's life--his early shot at a family-type unit. Unfortunately, things are falling apart, due to Toriares moving on and Silhouette moving away from Kienan.

This also gave me a chance to revisit some beloved characters of mine from GMB1--Pirate Red and Kilana. They never win any popularity contests but of the recurring nemeses of GMB, they’re some of the most fun characters to write and having a chance to go back and give them a bit more dimension was fun.

That said, the story sort of gets away from me multiple times, and I wonder occasionally if it wouldn’t have been better to try to tackle the two story threads in individual short stories moreso than one big story.

But people seem to like it all the same, and even I have to admit it gave me some real pointers on how to manage large scope in short stories. That would come in handy later on.

Just a Girl

Lightning strikes twice, and I get two beloved supporting characters introduced in one story. Just a Girl introduces us to the tragic Grey, a lovely girl who's not what she seems and has a curious relationship with Kienan. Another story that, like Shadow was basically anchored by a relationship, Just a Girl is anchored by two such relationships. One is the relationship between Kienan and Grey, which defines the entire story and which, in one of my rare experiments that actually panned out, was emphasized by the scene transitions being framed by a song each for Kienan and Grey.

Those songs, wonderfully powerful lyrics add immensely to the story were provided by someone very special. I have no doubt that Just a Girl would be just another GMB story.

The other thing the story allowed me to do was to introduce Angela Anastazi, also known as Nightshade. I have many theories as to why she's popular, but I'll just stick to why I enjoy writing her--her character has a positive ability to let the air out of GMB when it's in danger of being a bit too serious for its own good. Like Toriares, I had plans in place to insert Angela in any story where it seemed like it would work.

Caress of Steel

"Caress" was actually started before the ice storm, but as I mulled it over in my head, the initial thrust of the story changed from simply being a innocuous romp where Kienan met Nightshade for the first time and fought Gold and Silver.

What it became instead was something a LOT darker, but a lot more intriguing. How does someone like Kienan who makes a profession of coldly and clinically applying violence deal with random violence intruding on his life?

I don't know if I really found an answer to that question, but it certainly led to a deeper and I think better story. Even if it received criticism that Gold and Silver don't really act like "real" lesbians. No one has, as of the moment I write this, complained that they don't act like "real cyborgs."

Iron Blue Intention

While trying to get through the ice storm, I had to layer myself with blankets, sleeping bags and anything else I could to get to sleep without freezing to death. It was about as comfortable as being stuffed inside the innards of a teddy bear, but at least I'm here to tell the tale.

As I lay there I thought of an absurd concept. What if Kienan decided to mail himself to a target site, pop out of the box and wreak havoc? The idea was so amusing I turned it around in my head waiting for something to connect.

I didn't have to wait long. Working from an older story from the Delphi forum that "Iron Blue Intention" now supersedes, I built in the tale of how Kienan and the Marionettes get their fighters.

Fortunately, I got more than I bargained for. Instead of merely addressing a needless continuity point, I got another piece of the GMB puzzle, one that had such potential I decided to re-write my plans for future GMBS to include him.

Yes, I'm talking about Captain Meridius Soldato and his Olympus Vanguard. I didn't realize until the story got out there that Soldato himself is an odd reflection of Kienan, but everyone else seemed to.

But so taken was I with the good Captain that I made immediate preparations to use him again as soon as possible.

Nobody on My Side

Not much to say about this story. It's a most atypical GMB tale, lost in the shuffle of "Caress," "Iron Blue Intention," "After the Rain," and "Lament in Starlight."

It was written to sort of build in Kienan and Toriares relationship for GMB3. It was also written as an entreaty to a now long-departed former friend who didn't much seem to get the point of it.

I still think it's a great story. The irregularity of it compared with GMB's usual high action makes it sort of stand out and I like to think it has a special sort of poignancy.

After The Rain

Some stories have an impact like a ton of bricks, and this one, I knew if I could make it work, would do it. Written in white heat in about 2 hours start to finish, it dealt with the death of Jayla Kyren, certainly material I'd never hesitated to explore before.

But this time, I got it right. The stunned silence from everyone who read it told me more than page after page of accolades ever could. I was certainly more confident now than I ever had been before about GMB's potential.

Lament in Starlight

Well, I was confident enough with GMB now to where I felt like I could now do a short story where Kienan never appeared and it would be able to stand with the rest of the GMB canon. It's a trick that's only worked twice so far, and only then in the same milieu with the same characters.

And so it was time to see what Silhouette had been up to. "Lament" was initially supposed to build more of Sinclaire's backstory, but it changed into something else.

My initial idea was nothing more or less than detailing Silhouette and Sinclaire's breakup a little more in detail than the squiblike part they got in GMB2.

But "Lament" ended up being a perfect place to bring back Soldato, and once I found that he and Silhouette had this weird, yet powerful, chemistry I ran with it, while juggling Sinclaire's realization that it just wasn't going to work out anymore (and good thing, in light of later revelations, or GMB would have a very disgusting subplot indeed)

While there were times in the middle of the story I had no idea how in the hell I was going to keep all these elements in one tightly-plotted narrative, it finished out as a powerful story that accomplished what it was supposed to: Open up GMB's universe and show that more than Kienan's adventures were happening, as well as lay the foundation for later plot elements in later GMBs.

And now, all that was left was to undertake GMB3, the most ambitious, nightmarish, frustrating, discouraging and ultimately rewarding GMB yet.

PART 7: GUNMETAL BLACK 3

GMB3 was borne out of an idea to do something a little bigger than GMB2 had been and in a different direction--GMB2, with its emphasis on Kienan and Silhouette's relationship, was a lot softer kind of story. GMB3 ended up being it's opposite twin.

Initially, the plan was simply "Kienan, Toriares, and Sinclaire meet, fight, and have to work together." Then I began blending more in on their side as I plotted Vain and Mirage's quest to find the Haxan and restore Jayla-2, which was initially the only big alteration to GMB's status quo I'd planned.

And then someone brought up something that annoyed me so bad that it drove me to push GMB3 (and 4 as well, as it turns out) to a higher level. Someone mentioned that for 10 novel-length stories, GMB seemed to be rather vague on where it was all leading. This irritated me a bit since one of the things I'd wanted to do with GMB as opposed to Seven Spheres Legend was let it play out a little more leisurely a pace, whereas in the previous series I’d done, it was fairly easy to see how it was going to go, as it was pretty blatantly spelled out. In eighty foot letters. Carved from a mountain.

I was also worried that once I started doing "main arc" GMB stories, people would read those and skip all the others, which I was very much against and was one of the reasons I seed every story and novel with plenty of "arc allusions." So you see, you have to read all of them.

So, having to listen to that, I decided to add a little bit to the conclusion of GMB3, which actually ended up working out pretty well, as it added some urgency to the Kienan/Toriares/Sinclaire subplot and gave some reasoning behind the threat of the Sekhmet, as well as introducing a couple of my favorite characters (as well as a character from "Even if You Dream"--one of GMB3's intentions is that you start to feel the various disparate threads of GMB's universe, drawing together) who I was very pleased to see became very hated villains.

GMB3 was a novel I felt very strongly was floundering on the beach, but surprisingly by the end of it, became a favorite of mine, proving once again that anything I write or conceive of in moments of severe stress/hurricanes/potential professional self-destruction becomes better than I thought it would be.

PART 8: BETWEEN GMB3 & GMB4

Fell on Black Days

One of the fun things about GMB is finding new ways to do things. Something even more fun is being able to combine that with some foreshadowing of things to come is even better. And "Fell On" is both of those things, providing a chance to see the GMB mise-en-scene from the outside and lay the groundwork for GMB4 in the bargain.

And for those of you who recognized the style of narration as paying homage to the film Sunset Boulevard, give yourself a special prize.

Refrain

A nice coda to GMB3, a chance to bring back Angela, and a return to smaller more character-intensive style of story, all this, and Christmas Episode to boot. "Refrain" is a favorite of mine and other people.

Like "Shadow on the Road Ahead," it's a test to see if the neophyte Jayla-2 fits in with the GMB milieu (whatever that is) Jayla-2 is a bit more of a challenge than the other members of the cast--like Angela she's an outsider in terms of character, as she's totally forthright and not morally compromised (yet) but unlike Angela she's tied in very tight with Kienan and his past. So whether or not I could pull off that character and still make it seem like she belongs in the stories was a challenge.

Thankfully, from the response I've gotten, I guess I did well enough out of it.

House of Cards

Looking back as well as forward, "House" is a strange little story, one that exorcised an often-expressed need to do a story rife with Bond homage (which is why it takes place in a casino) and also, as I was deep into planning GMB4 and it becoming was pretty dark stuff, to do something lighter. A "classic" GMB story, whatever that means

Hence, "House" is an attempt to do a GMB story that doesn’t take itself too seriously and knows it doesn't. It doesn’t stoop to out and out parody (well, not much) but for longtime readers of GMB, there were a couple of "Easter eggs"--little hidden bits they'd no doubt wondered about, like whether Kienan would ever use his braid as a weapon.

Dancing in the Dark

Silhouette and Soldato return, this time with Straeger in tow in a story that was serving many masters. First, I wanted to do a GMB story without Kienan in it again. Second, I wanted to lay some track for a future GMB novel, in this case GMB6, and finally, because I hadn't played around with Straeger since GMB2 and he got such a visceral reaction from the readers it seemed a shame to just leave him in limbo.

It did all of these things and more, actually. Soldato and Silhouette have several powerful moments, as do Soldato and Straeger. It also contains what I consider to be the best space battle I've ever written--GMB space battles have a tendency to be over very quickly, usually because the physical action preceding or following them tend to be so draining they draw away from themselves. This one doesn't fall into that trap, I don't think.

It's quite a fun story to write, and I like it a lot, even though it's not really a fan favorite. Unusually romantic for a GMB story, too.

PART 9: GUNMETAL BLACK 4

GMB4 was always meant as the end of the first "act" of GMB as a whole--after this we'd reached a certain point in the story where things had changed substantially and there was no going back. And Kienan would be left to deal with that in a way that would propel the story through the next "act."

When I first pondered the structure, I didn't really know what that would entail. But I was determined not to start on it until I had a clear idea of what the outcome could be. Hence GMB4 was a little late in being started.

Once I'd gotten the idea for the Big Turn (while driving to get the mail, oddly enough) the rest of the story fell into place, and the addition of the varied Onikage allowed me to keep everyone in the cast busy with the same problem and (hopefully) keep things exciting despite the fact that for the duration of the novel, Kienan and co. are pretty much stuck on the colony.

I also wanted to pay off what many considered an inconsequential aside at the beginning of GMB1 and show them how initially small and "inconsequential" bits can boomerang back into the main story and shake everything up.

GMB4 has elements from the previous stories--there's a lot of great action, a semi-intricate plot and the largest cast of colourful villains so far. Also, everyone seems to get a moment to strut their stuff on the novel's main stage.

There's some newer elements as well--at times the violence gets a little more graphic and gruesome than usual, and that's very intentional. Since GMB4 has a lot of heavy consequences, I wanted the moments when those consequences happened to be very jolting and jarring, and from the reactions of the people who read it, I may have been too successful in that.

Also, there's quite a dire cost for Kienan to pay to get himself out of this mess. The first time he really loses the battle on a grand scale, instead of surviving or winning only to find his "victory" was pretty hollow. This time, there's pretty much no victory at all. And no, the deaths in the story weren't "shock" deaths, either. I’d planned them long in advance, and it was the part of the price that had to be paid.

The ending for the story, strange surreal piece that it is, was a little more improvised. I came to the end of GMB4-having had to write at white heat to get it finished in the face of imminent disaster--and realized that it needed something at the end to close this part of Kienan's life and provide some hope for the next without making it feel forced and false. I couldn’t keep darkening it up--I knew as depressing as it got, if I kept bashing the readers over the head there would come a point very early when it all got to be too much.

So the ending attempts to recapitulate the emotional and psychological parts of the story in regards to Kienan in a different key. A lot had to get done--we had to feel the weight of what had happened weighing on Kienan's shoulders, and we had to see the first inklings that things were taking a turn inside him and out. It seemed a good time to bring back Silhouette as a living reminder of Kienan's dark past and failures and have her confront Jayla-2 and have them meet and strike sparks off one another.

It's a strange ending, but I couldn’t imagine a more fitting one that still left some hope that the story would go on, even if things looked pretty bleak at that moment.

PART 10: THE STORY TO COME

Well, here we are, staring down the barrel of 6 more GMB novels and in indeterminate amount of short stories with a lot more confidence than I did when I first started these. From here we move into uncharted territory, learn more about Kienan's past and learn with him what the future's going to entail for him and everything else.

He'll make plenty of more enemies, but also some friends. He'll settle some accounts and make some long-standing ones even worse. Things will get bad, then good, and maybe a mixture of the two.

In the end, just like life.

As for me, I intend to keep on writing. Because even though GMB has been as frustrating as well as exhilarating, daunting as well as enticing, I've never once seriously thought of giving it up. And now of course, I can't. Too far along on the ride to give up now. And now there's all these people along for the ride. So for them, as well as for myself, I carry on with the stories and the pictures.

Because I'm just as curious to see how this plays out as you are.