What comes before ‘beta reader’? That’s what I need.

Those who’ve been reading these posts possibly know I have a SciFi novel in progress, about a country doctor in 1928 South Dakota who, among other things, meets a furry lady from another planet. You may also know that Amazon’s entry into the episodic fiction delivery business, Kindle Vella, is about to debut. Think ‘Radish’, with mega market penetration, or at least that’s what we’re given to believe.

Elbert, at 94,000 words, the ending yet to be written, might be good candidate to throw into the melee IF I can edit the first few chapters into ‘That’s right, folks … don’t touch that dial’ territory. I’m not worried about the rest of the book … there’s plenty of stuff going on after the first 30 pages, but I’m now on the 4th rewrite of the opening sonata and it’s getting hard for me to tell how I’m doing with it.

So, I show my wife version #3, and she says, “You need pirates swinging cutlasses” and I say, “It’s not that kind of story”, but I agree the book deserves something better than what I’ve written so far.

Yesterday, my brother said I need to smack the reader in the face with the core concept, right out of the gate, and I said, “That calls for a data dump, a cardinal sin that will get my tail roasted in author circles.”

But I’m going to try it anyway, on you. Call to action here – after reading Chapter 1, will you spend the tokens to get a look at Chapter 2? I would be grateful if, having taken the time to read these words, you’ll invest a little more to leave a comment. Here we go …

Addendum, the following morning - I'm now reminded why authors rarely allow the public to see a first draft. On the plus side - it's not as terrible as it could be, and I did receive a constructive comment. Rather than expunge my shame, I'll leave it. Look for a follow-up post - I might still make something worth reading out of this. 

Chapter 1

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

If one had to pick a single development imparting a sense of urgency in tourism traffic between Jivada and Earth, it would be aviation — a minor nuisance before the Great War in Europe, a real show-stopper afterwards.

It then became painfully obvious that, sooner or later, there’d be an incident involving denim-clad giant lemurs, headlines proclaiming, ‘Sasquatch revealed!’ — and perhaps a mention of the fact that Levi Strauss jeans were hugely popular on their mysterious planet.

Thus, by 1928, fixed-base hospitality enterprises were closing their doors to the furry tribes, leaving South Dakota’s Lazy L Ranch, nestled in the hills north of bucolic Black Rock Township, as one of the last full-service resorts in existence.

Operated by the Vadin clan (ethnic Iravat, regarded in Anye circles as a hotel mafia), the Lazy L was enjoying its best season ever. The lodge had been fully booked since June, the restaurant was packed every day, aircars were dropping onto the lawn at all hours — and thanks to very tall trees, the natives were still, after a hundred years, completely unaware of what was going on.

Most of the staff were Loka AjJivadi — human citizens of Jivada, their ancestors having been admitted into Anye society in ancient times, before the furries made good on their intentions to let the human race have its planet back.

One such person was Doctor Maryanne Bjornson, employed by an urgent care clinic — the latter located on resort premises for the same reason the lodge was still open to Anye customers: you could fly in anytime.

It was a demanding occupation, but when she wasn’t busy, Doctor Bjornson served the resort as an adjunct art teacher. On Thursday, August 16, 1928, it was slow at the clinic. Maryanne spent most of the morning in the crafts hall, helping a novice sculptor prepare a figure for casting in bronze. The man was Anye Samudri, a lemur branch having a genetic intolerance for simple sugars — which condition went undetected long into the Anye home planet’s industrial age, earning the ‘Dri a reputation for anti-social behavior.

That was not the case with this particular Samudri, who assured her he was on ‘the diet’ and no homicides would take place in the workshop. For her part, Maryanne was surprised the topic even came up. “Sir, it’s been 70,000 years since your people came into the fold.”

He replied with a feral smile on his rat like face. “And yet madness is still only a sweet roll away.”

Shortly thereafter, Maryanne was reading a monograph about the Samudri pancreas when she received a notification from the clinic Oma — a guest had been injured by a horse.

The patient was Mahat Limar — short, burly, with thick black fur and close-set ears — in agony when she arrived, contrite after she dialed his pain receptors down, confessing, “It’s my fault; I’d been told the horses don’t like us.”

“Of course, they don’t; you look like a bear.” Maryanne let a pair of size two maroli lift him onto a surgery platform. “So, how did this happen?”

“The miserable beast kicked me from the other side of a fence.”

“Uwa! I’ll bet the lodge issues new rules tomorrow.” She watched through her neural interface while a hoop scanner glided across the injury. “Are you comfortable?”

He nodded. “Can I sit up?”

They chatted while waiting for swelling to respond to palliatives, the patient intensely curious about life at the eastern boundary of the fading wild west. “Were there authentic cowboys in the area when you moved here?”

“Yes, and there’s cowboys here now; even a few of the kind you read about in dime novels.”

His eyes were big as dinner plates. “Where did you live before?”


“What was that like?”

 “In many ways, more primitive than America; but civilized and very pretty. During the big war, not a place to be if you wanted to keep your body fat.” She shrugged. “It was home.”

His eyes flicked away, a sign he was looking something up. “Norway was neutral in the conflict.”

“Ostensibly, but the Germans got tired of our play-acting.” Maryanne ran another hoop scan; the swelling was down enough for her to go to work. “There was a coal shortage during the winter of 1918. That was not a good year for me.”

“Too bad you can’t grow fur.”

“Oya; it wouldn’t have bothered you at all.” She tucked a pillow under his knee. “If you need to change position, urinate, whatever … now’s the time.”

“I’m fine. Is that why you came here, to get away from the cold?”

Maryanne shook her head. “I brought my son, so we could get to know his grandfather.”

“Family’s the most important thing, isn’t it?” Mahat Limar were not blessed with a variety of facial expressions to choose from, but the man’s eyes spoke volumes. “I should call my pop.”

“You won’t have to report you’re crippled, but you’ll be in a brace for a week; I hope it doesn’t ruin your vacation.”

“I’m on a sixteen-week furlough; plenty of time to see the sights.” He scratched at an ear. “The darned natives are growing up so fast, I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to do this.”

Maryanne inserted an instrument between kneecap and joint. “Well, we couldn’t stay in short pants forever.”

He waved a hand. “I’m sorry … I know that sounded patronizing.”

She laughed. “The Anye saved humanity from extinction twice; your influence is everywhere, and all for the good. Take a bow; you deserve it.”

When she wrapped an exo-frame around his knee, telling him he could walk out, the man clasped her hand. “Please send your father my warmest and most reverent greetings.”

It was a sobering moment — Black Rock’s Doctor Elbert Harrison, a gentleman worthy of her confidence, did not yet know he had a second daughter and a grandson, right at arm’s length. For ten years. Shame on me.

But that was about to change.

2 thoughts on “What comes before ‘beta reader’? That’s what I need.

Add yours

  1. For some reason, I feel that the start feels a little too heavy before anything ever happens. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but as a reader who’s new to your work, I might want to be invested in something before I decide to continue reading. Just personal tastes, so take them with a grain of salt.

    Your prose is pleasant though, and your dialogue is punch, so that’s awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

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