The Galactic Sentinel



NUMBER 2 - STARDATE 6 13 2019

Phil Nolte, editor


My new book, "The Callisto Catacombs," Book three of "The Guardians of the Galactic Sentinel" was published last weekend!


How does the author feel? Exhilarated? Vindicated? Relieved? Exhausted? Maybe even a bit lost?

The answer is—"all of the above to some degree." Writing a book is a huge undertaking. "Catacombs" took well over a year to write because I had been having so much fun with books one and two of the trilogy that I didn't realize how many loose ends I'd left. Book three took so long because I had to find some way to tie together a whole passel of those unresolved issues.

Fortunately, my heroes found a way.

So, why on earth would anyone feel lost after publishing the final book of a trilogy? Simple, the book becomes a part of your life while you're working on it. As an example, I started writing book one, "The Deimos Artifact," back in May of 2015! That means I've been working on this trilogy for just a little over four years!

And I remember when I didn't have time to do my homework back in high school! Go figure...

I normally write for about two hours a day, and those hours are generally between 6:30-9:00 am. The process of writing in the early morning seems to be a good way for me to wake up and get my mind focused. Yes, I certainly do write at other times of the day, but the early hours are the most convenient and, at least for me, the most productive.

Just because I'm not physically stroking the keyboard of my trusty laptop doesn't mean my mind isn't working on the story, though. A new idea or the solution to a knotty problem can strike any time of the day or night, and often does. The subconscious never rests.

I think the mild depression is due to the fact that this project—this trilogy—is finally done. I try to write every day of the week and usually succeed in doing so. However, even when I take a day or two off, I'm still thinking about the story at some mental level. This project has occupied me for four years. Now it's done and I need to channel my creative energies into some new—and currently undecided—project.

I certainly have some ideas. I have a short story called "Neocat," never published, that I might consider going back to. I never even imagined writing a novel when I wrote it, but looking it over now, I think it could be a good starting point for a new book. On the other hand, I actually started writing a fourth book in the "Junkyard Dogs" series, "Milk Run to Maqam." but decided I'd been confined to that universe for so long that some new direction was needed. The Guardians trilogy was the result. I could go back and finish Junkyard Dogs 4.

Or should I boldly strike out in a brand new direction?

Guess I'll have to get creative.

P. Nolte



Phil Nolte, editor


In Sentinel #1, I discussed some of the ways and places where I get my story ideas. This time around, I'll be discussing another vital aspect of writing a story: Characters.

Every writer out there probably goes about this process differently. One recommendation is to make a list of all your characters along with notes about their personalities, strengths, flaws, origins and etc. This approach didn't really work that well for me because I'm not that organized when I start writing a story. I prefer to put the characters into the story and let them develop as I write. The amazing thing is that once I set a few guidelines, the characters often take on a life of their own. They certainly do for me.

Case in point. Ensign Tamara Carlisle, the main character from my Junkyard Dogs series, required a great deal of trial and error on my part before she fleshed out. I remember at one point early on I experimented with imbuing her with some odd character traits—speech irregularities and social awkwardness due to her extremely high intelligence and her exotic origins.

That decision really put me out on a limb but, fortunately, the experiment gave me access to some new and interesting facets to her character that I really liked. The beauty of modern word processing programs is that you can easily create alternate copies of your work, just in case. I saved the story at that point and then saved it again as working copy under the new name "Weird Carlisle," so I didn't have to backtrack completely if the experiment didn't work out. Once I made the decision, it meant going back and retailoring her interactions with the other characters and altering her dialogue to suit the "new and improved (?)" Carlisle. I discovered I really liked the changes. I guess it was just dumb luck that I came to this decision early while writing the book.

Other characters, like Angus Hawkins (Hawk), also from the Junkyard Dogs series, started out more fully formed but continued to develop quirks and other traits I liked and needed to expand upon as the book came closer to conclusion. During some of my last edits of the book, I went through and worked only on Hawk's dialogue. Then, I did the same with Carlisle and the other characters to ensure their speech traits and interactions with the others remained consistent throughout the tale.

Some characters seemed to magically spring, fully formed, into the story. Oscar Kresge, the Junkyard Dogs commander, was pretty much a complete character almost as soon as I wrote him in. His fiancée, Irene Marshall, was a similarly mature character the first time I "met her."

I found my first villain, Ezra Hellfire Brimstone, to be surprisingly mature as well. I think this is because stereotypic templates of villains are common and it was easy for me to plug into them. His attitude needed to be stilted and arrogant and his actions despicable. His character became more complex in the two sequels "The Veritian Derelict" and "The Santana Nexus."  

Sometimes you start out with an incidental character and realize they need a bigger role. This happened with the captain of cargo ship Greyhound, Helen Murdock. For several weeks her character was a generic, middle-age male in my mind. Then it came to me in a flash that this person would be so much more interesting as a lone-wolf woman, getting on in years and—because of her hand to mouth finances—handy with the shoestring repairs frequently needed on her decrepit old ship. Her attitudes, her dialogue and all sorts of good things, including the important role she plays near the end of the story, followed. She played much larger roles in books two and three, and an even more important role in the latest installment of Junkyard Dogs book four, "Milk Run to Maqam."

Back to the word processor.

Thanks for reading,

P. Nolte.


NUMBER 1 - STARDATE 2 22 2019

Phil Nolte, editor


A question authors get asked all the time is: "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer in my case is: "From pretty much everywhere." It could be a news item, it could be something I remembered from junior high, something I read by another author, or something that came up in a conversation. It shouldn't come as a shock, but authors borrow from one another all the time. Where do you think we get "blasters," and "pulse weapons," and "warp drives," and a host of other science fiction staples? 

Most of these, in some form or another, have been around since the origins of the genre. One thing that helps me with ideas, I think, is the fact that I've read a ton of science fiction books and short stories. Oh, and quite a lot about real science too.

Just because the above staples are well-worn clichés doesn't mean an author shouldn't use them. There's a sort of "short hand" involved when using these stock objects - shields, propulsion systems, etc., because they're pretty much universally understood by the science fiction audience. No need to waste time explaining this stuff - on with the story! Inventing new stuff is always fun though, and this sort thing often comes to the author unbidden. 
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue... I incorporated almost all of these suggestions while creating a short story entitled "Endurance Racer" in 1988. (You can find it in my short story collection "Cannibals Shrink Elvis's Head" on Amazon). In this story there was this big race, a kind of steeplechase really, that was contested on a course mapped out in our solar system's asteroid belt. Here's what was new: the contestants were piloting pedal powered spacecraft! Far out eh?

Here's what hatched the story. I had been following the development of pedal-powered airplanes since engineer Dr. Paul McCready's Gossamer Condor won something called the first Kremer Prize (google it) by successfully negotiating a prescribed course that involved clearing a barrier at least ten feet high, flying a figure eight course around markers placed a half mile apart, and then clearing the same ten foot barrier at the end. This proved to be a significant challenge. The prize was established in 1959, and McCready's team didn't succeed in claiming it until 1977.

It gets better. Two years later, McCready's team won a second Kremer prize by flying the Gossamer Albatross across the channel from England to France! Impressive, to be sure, but that still wasn't the end of the story. In 1988 MIT's Daedalus was flown from the island of Crete to the island of Santorini, a distance of over 72 miles! This feat duplicated the flight described in the old Greek myth about Daedalus and his son Icarus escaping from Crete using wings created by the old engineer. Unfortunately, Icarus, the impulsive teenager, flew too close to the sun, melting the wax that kept his wings together, and plunged into the sea to his death. 

After reading about this last accomplishment involving human-powered airplanes, I remember thinking, "What's next, human-powered spacecraft?" The story built from there. I used my love of automobile racing to create the racecourse, sketch out some of the characters, and outline some of the behaviors one would expect from racers.

I shamelessly borrowed an idea I remembered from a book I read back in junior high called "Rocket Jockey" published in 1952 by Lester Del Ray, one of the old masters. This was another story about a race in space, but it involved a race from planet to planet in rocketships. Great fun! What I remembered vividly from the story, was that the rocketeers each used a fuel additive to give their exhaust plume a unique color. The Martians (human colonists, not aliens) used red, earthers used blue, and so on. As a result, my pedal-powered spacecraft all had different colored exhausts so the spectators could tell who was who. Thank you, Mr. Del Ray, for a magnificent idea.

I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings, I'll have another blog out soon. Meantime check out my "Junkyard Dogs" trilogy and my "Guardians of the Galactic Sentinel" series on Amazon. "The Callisto Catacombs," book three of the Guardians trilogy, will be out soon.

Don't hesitate to contact me. Feedback and discussion are always welcome.

P. Nolte

Phillip Nolte's website: