Note: if you’re just looking to read the novella, it’s at the bottom of the page, but please do bear with me while I provide a bit of context to exactly what this is and how it should be read.
If you’ve followed any of my blog posts about the writing and publishing process of the Boone Shepard Trilogy then you’ll know what this is. Written in 2013, The Broken Record is a 28,000-word novella that was originally designed as the first instalment in a theoretical five book Boone Shepard series. It was a reworking of a bizarre draft I wrote in high school, intended as a fun little mystery that would serve to both introduce Boone as a character and establish the bigger questions that would drive the remainder of the series.
Obviously that did not happen. I was, at the time, proud of The Broken Record but it was met with a collective shrug from publishers and agents. When the series was eventually picked up by Bell Frog Books the mutual decision was made to skip The Broken Record and redevelop part two, then called Darkening Ventures, into the first instalment, retitled Boone Shepard.
Reading over The Broken Record again underlined for me that this was the right decision. There’s an inessential quality to it that, weirdly, was at least partly by design. Read in isolation you wouldn’t even know the series was supposed to be about time travel until the last page – intended as a mind-blowing twist, in execution more of a ‘Huh? What?’ moment that theoretical readers might not even have gotten to given that The Broken Record as book one in a series isn’t an especially compelling beginning. The mystery is easy to work out, the humour could and should be funnier, and Boone as a character comes off as pretty flat. Even my beloved Promethia Peters, who meets Boone for the first time in a brief subplot, here reads more as an unpleasant annoyance than the equal sparring partner she would be in the later books. I was lucky to get a book two after the first published Boone Shepard; had that been The Broken Record, even the best of luck wouldn’t have been enough.
This all probably makes it sound like I don’t like The Broken Record, which isn’t the case. On a personal level it’s a nostalgic read, taking me back to a time in my life when writing was what I did in stolen minutes between uni and working long hours at Dracula’s. The frenetic pace of the thing reflects how it was written; in a flurry of clacking keys at a time when I was so, so excited about the prospect of telling this story. My excitement, in this case, probably exceeded my ability, but I’m okay with that. It’s almost like I had to get this out of the way to write the better books that would become the published trilogy.
And it’s not like The Broken Record has nothing to recommend it, at least in my opinion. It’s a fleet, fast read, never lingering too long in any one place. There are lines and moments that make me smile, and a couple of clever little reversals that I’m prouder of than I thought I would be. In its best moments it reflects what I always saw the Boone Shepard series as; a story of fundamental optimism about finding the joy and the funny side in the darkest of circumstances.
Tonally it’s closest to Boone Shepard’s American Adventure; light, frothy with beats of melancholy among the absurdity. In fact, if you know the series reasonably well you’ll see how American Adventure in many ways works as a sequel to The Broken Record, as several major plot points in that book tie in fairly closely to the central mystery of this novella.
Which brings me to how I’d advise you look at the manuscript. It is by no means a polished product; apart from a couple of cosmetic tweaks, this is basically the same text I wrote in 2013, and as such it’s very much the work of a developing writer. I’d ask you to bear that in mind if you plan on reading it. Had The Broken Record been officially published and gone through rigorous editing it would likely look very different to this version. As such, while I doubt anyone would, I don’t recommend reading it if you’re not already interested in or a fan of the Boone Shepard books. Ultimately there’s a good reason it was not the story I chose to start Boone’s adventures with, despite it being the first written.
But for all intents and purposes this remains a key part of Boone’s journey, a missing piece of the series that I am glad to be able to share with the world now, even if only as a curiosity. It is both canon and prototype; the Boone Shepard of the trilogy absolutely went through the events of The Broken Record before readers first met him hanging off the side of a speeding train, but maybe think of this as Boone at a time in his life where he wasn’t quite sure of who he was, a time post-Marbier and pre-Promethia where he was struggling a bit to find his voice and regain his passion. The Broken Record, then, is the story of how both Boone and his author found what they needed to go on to the bigger, better adventures soon to come.
Despite my criticisms I do think it’s pretty readable and even enjoyable at parts, and hope that if you like the Boone books you’ll get something out of this. Just, you know, don’t judge it too harshly. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, and the Boone Shepard I grew to know and love started here.
Writing words about writing words.