Project Xerxes - Writing Wonders Aug 2023

Writing Wonders centered on Project Xerxes. Learn about Emra, Niz, planet Galileo, my philosophy on killing characters, and more.

All August 2023 Writing Wonders questions

Here's what I completed of August's Writing Wonders featuring Project Xerxes.


Project Xerxes is a standalone prequel novella to Enigma (Lost Colonies Book 1), which I featured in May. It focuses on one of the side characters, Emra Telawani, before she gained command of the GSS Infinitum, and gives some background on how Galileo Colony discovered planet Enigma, along with the first daring to explore its mysterious surface.

If you could hang out with one of your side characters for a day, who would you choose? Why?

Nizsim Mido. He's a tough, experienced Galilean Marine whose sense of adventure sometimes clouds his judgment. I would love to tag along and see what kind of trouble he gets into on a typical day. It wouldn’t be boring!

How much do you know about your side characters prior to the first draft?

Usually not a lot. Main characters I’ll have 20+ pages on before I start writing. For side characters, I often have a flavor in mind, but their true personalities and history come out in the story as I write, often to support the plot or main characters. I then bake in and embellish those elements over subsequent drafts to make the characters feel whole.

If your favorite side character(s) had a theme song, what would it be?

For Niz, it’s hands-down "Geronimo (Bombs Away)" by Sheppard.

Does your MC have any pictures of themselves with their friends or family? Why / Why not?

A few. Notably, they all feature Emra’s father in his Galilean Space Force (GSF) officer uniform. The most recent picture shows them in matching officer uniforms, and is the pride of Emra’s collection. Her father is her inspiration and the reason she’s pursuing a ship command of her own. She’s almost there.

MC POV: Have you ever kept a secret from your closest friend? If so, why?

EMRA: All the time. It’s one of the downsides of being in the military. But for every secret I keep from her, that wild minx probably keeps a dozen from me, and I’m glad for it. Knowing everything about a person takes some of the fun out of it—plus, in her case, it may be waaaaay TMI.

What does your MC see when they look out their bedroom window/door?

Through the door of her First Mate’s cabin, Emra sees a narrow, undecorated metal corridor running the width of the fold-capable Galilean star cruiser. Oval portals line either side: some are crew quarters, one intersects the primary accessway to the rest of the ship. At the other end of the corridor lies the Captain’s Quarters.

What is your MC’s bedtime routine?

Emra sleeps at the end of her shipboard shift, regardless of what hour that falls. She changes out of her uniform into comfy clothes, spends a few minutes on her ’ware catching up on messages (mostly from her family), snacks on a few raw veggies if available, reads up on the latest Lost Colonies Alliance news, and finally tries to enjoy as many hours of sleep as she can get until her next shift.

Does your MC have children? If not, do they want to?

Emra doesn’t have children. Her first priority is her career, period. After she gets her command and they inevitably put her behind a desk, she might consider finding the right partner. Galilean medical science makes age a non-issue for fertility, so she’s fine waiting.

What’s your MC’s most annoying character trait?

Emra’s drive to earn her own command has made her too sensitive about her image as an officer. She comes off as cold and inflexible to her subordinates, and recently to her friends, who have told her on a few occasions that she needs to loosen up or her career will be the only good thing left in her life. Sadly, she hasn’t internalized that. Yet.

Does your MC have any prejudices?

A few. Most notable is against the Viceans, which most Galileans harbor whether they admit it or not. Galileo is a colony of pacifists; even their military employs non-lethal suppression technology. They exist more as public servants than fighters because they’ve never once been deployed to battle. Vice, however, is a colony whose hierarchy is defined by their fiercest warriors. You can imagine the social conflicts!

What parts of your world would you recommend a tourist to visit? Why?

The capital city of Nova Veritas on Galileo is a sight to see. Clean, ultra-modern, with all the conveniences, it's one of the safest cities in the Lost Colonies. A prominent feature is a replica of the original ship that settled the colony 10,000 years ago, the CS Galileo.

What parts of your world would you recommend a tourist to stay away from? Why?

The equatorial region and anyplace not civilized. Galileo is dry and very hot! Venturing outside of a city without proper attire (called "coolweave") and adequate water is a death sentence.

The most celebrated occasion is Exodus Day, which marks the day the original colonists fled Earth from the Uu'nok.

MC POV: What's a deal-breaker in a friendship and/or relationship?

EMRA: Helplessness or excess dependence. I get enough of that from new recruits. Friends or lovers should be able to survive just fine without me, because I certainly will without them.

Is your MC good at flirting?

Not especially. Relationships have never been her focus. She isn't particularly bad at it or without promise, just unpracticed.

MC POV: A stranger makes a rude comment about your SO of BFF. How do you react?

EMRA: I let my SO or BFF handle it themselves, because they're perfectly capable adults, otherwise I wouldn't be hanging with them. But if the situation calls, I calmly but firmly put the offender in their place, Executive Officer style.

What makes your hero feel weak?

Being outside of a hierarchy. Emra grew up with an Admiral father who kept the house in order, then went straight into the military. She doesn't know what to do with herself outside of a regimented organization.

In your MC's mind, what's the worst thing they've ever done?

All of Chapter 1. =] Emra very quickly regrets her decision to pursue Niz and the potentially devastating effect it may have on her career.

What does your MC never want their parental figure or mentor to know?

Emra's antics from the question above land her in hot water with her commanding officer. She'd been an exemplary soldier until that day, and she's terrified how her larger-than-life Admiral father will take the news.

If your MC wrote books, what genre would they write? Why?

It would either be military strategy, because that's what she lives and breathes, or a travel guide for climbers, because Emra loooooves rock climbing.

Who is the first character you created for this work?

The protagonist, Emra. Project Xerxes is a prequel, but I wrote Enigma first, in which Emra is a prominent character. Niz was originally a nebulous lost "agent", so he required a lot more work and background for this book. The nice thing is that I was then able to add those details to Enigma during a subsequent draft.

Have you ever planned to kill a character and then not done it?

No, because I don't ever plan to kill characters. It just sort of happens. If it's their time to die, I let them die, unless there's a plausible reason for them to come back (yay, fantasy!).