Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Word Count Classifications for the Assassin Without a Name series

I'm getting ready to release the next Assassin Without a Name story, The Goddard Affair. Since these stories are not novels, I'm often having to look up, based on their individual word counts, how exactly to classify each story. Is it a novella? A novelette? A short story? Is coming up with such a classification even that important? Maybe not, but it helps with pricing, which is always a bit of a conundrum unto itself because pricing isn't based solely on word count, but other factors such as genre, popularity, and what the market will bear.

That being said, I plucked two sources from the web on the breakdown of word counts as it relates to the classification of a piece. The first, from Wikipedia, has this:

The second, from the SFWA's criteria for a Nebula candidate, has:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more.

Those look exactly the same to me. I don't know if they each came up with those numbers independently, but they're good enough for me.

Given the above, the Assassin Without a Name series breaks down as follows:

Fine Wine 1693 words short story
Killing the Dead 4512 words short story
Night of Zealotry 14522 words novelette
The Goddard Affair 18997 words novella

One of my goals with writing this series is to not regress in terms of word count from one story to another. That means I'd like each story moving forward to come in around 20,000 words. That puts it squarely at the low end of novella range, but with a wide enough margin from novelette consideration. It also gives readers a bit more bang for their buck. Total, the series stands at 39,724 words. The next story should push that into the 60,000 range. At some point I'll consider a compilation, but for now I'll continue releasing them one at a time as novellas.

What is Negative Energy?

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It's believed that when the Big Bang occurred some 14 billion years ago that equal amounts of positive and negative energy were produced. But where positive energy is readily observable in the world around us, negative energy is not. This is because negative energy does not exist in non-vacuum conditions. Introduce a vacuum, however, and you'll not only find negative energy present, but also that positive energy seems to have gone missing.

Stephen Hawking uses the following analogy to describe the existence of negative energy: Imagine a man with a shovel digs a hole. As dirt is shoveled out of the hole, it is made into a pile on the surface. Once the man is finished, he is left with a hole and a mound that perfectly balance each other out. Such is the case with positive and negative energy.

Hawking's analogy applies to the creation of our universe as well, which supposedly was created from nothing. Since the Big Bang produced equal amounts of positive and negative energy, something was created from nothing; take the sum of those two amounts and you're left with 0.

So what exactly is negative energy?

It's not antimatter, which has positive energy. For example, an electron with a positive charge, or positron, is considered anti-matter.

It's also not dark energy, which is thought to make up 68.3% of the universe's mass (on a mass-energy equivalence basis).

Negative energy is perhaps something stranger. Described as "the inherent fluctuations in energy that exists in any energy or magnetic field," negative energy is referred to as a form of "exotic matter." As a concept, negative energy was first proposed in 1928 by British physicist Paul Adrien Maurice Didec. Negative energy was a component of his formula, the Dirac equation, which held that quantum states of positive and negative energy were in balance with one another. In a non-vacuum environment (like here inside our planet's atmosphere), negative energy is not observable. However, inside a vacuum, negative energy is present while positive energy is not.

\left(\beta mc^2 + c(\alpha_1 p_1 + \alpha_2 p_2 + \alpha_3 p_3)\right) \psi (x,t) = i \hbar \frac{\partial\psi(x,t) }{\partial t}

In 1948, the Dutch physicist Hendrick Casimir predicted that a small attractive force could exist between two uncharged, parallel plates in a vacuum. Should the plates be resting extremely close to one another, negative energy is produced since the number of electromagnetic waves between the two plates becomes less than that of surrounding space. In essence, a negative state of energy becomes present when the wavelengths of particles in a certain region of space are less than what may normally be measured.

Negative energy has been produced in a lab via what's called the Casimir effect. This phenomenon revolves around the idea that vacuum, contrary to its portrayal in classical physics, isn't empty. According to quantum theory, vacuum is full of electromagnetic fluctuations. Distorting these fluctuations can create negative energy.

An interesting phenomenon observed within a negative energy vacuum is that light actually travels faster than it does in a normal vacuum. This has fueled interest in the application of negative energy fields to theories involving FTL travel. Further interest in this area has been fueled by experiments demonstrating that negative energy can distort space-time. In regions of extreme space-time curvature, the existence of negative energy may someday allow for the creation of sustainable wormholes.

It is theorized that negative energy that 'falls back into' a black hole has the effect of lowering the black hole's total mass. In effect, as more and more negative energy falls back into the black hole it will diminish over time, evaporating until nothing is left. This is contrary to the belief that black holes gain in mass indefinitely (or at least until the entire universe has been swallowed).


Negative energy is only one of an assortment of strange phenomenon of which we still do not know enough about. I have my own theories on negative energy, however, and how it might fit into our universe. More precisely, I have ideas on how it fits into the world of my fiction.

Different forms of energy (made-up or not) have already played a major role in some of my writing. For example, in The Alchemancer series, elemental energy plays a substantial role in the story. Negative energy has also made an appearance, though in somewhat subtle fashion as in when Aaron turns his encorder on Ensel Rhe to discover that the eslar's life force signature is negative. Negative energy will play a larger role moving forward into the next book, The Inversion Solution.

Also, negative energy is coming into play in the Assassin Without a Name series. Look for its specific mention in The Goddard Affair, set for release on June 4, 2014. It's already made an appearance in Night of Zealotry, the 3rd assassin tale in the series, when the Jakaree activated their mysterious black energy machine.

Negative energy, as well as other exotic, similar types, will continue to play a role in my fiction. I hope you enjoyed this brief primer.


Writing in Spring and Unexpected Happenings

My mower of choice

My writing—both blogging and short story/novel writing—always slows down in the Spring. The weather is nicer, the grass needs mowing, trees and shrubs need trimming, farmer's markets are opening for business (my wife and I try to shop local and for organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible), and our two dogs plead for walks more often than usual. These are just some of the usual things which come up annually to distract me from writing.

Don't get me wrong, though!

I enjoy most of these activities. Even mowing the lawn! Life's too short to do nothing but work (and writing is most definitely work, though of the enjoyable variety). Besides, these things are expected and manageable. It's the unexpected events which lately have thrown a major wrench in my usual routine. The biggest of these is that my wife broke her leg during a mountain bike race. She's on the mend and all is well considering she had surgery and has been in a variety of splints, casts, and a boot for over two months now. Of course I've had to play caregiver for the duration, helping her with a variety of activities she couldn't easily do herself. This wound up taking away a lot of my time right when it was already at a minimum because, again, Spring is here and the grass grows like you wouldn't believe here in Texas.

But, we're getting back to a more normal schedule now as my wife likely heads back to work full-time next week. That means I'll get back to more writing.

Here's a few tidbits going on now or coming up along those lines.


I've been working up a post on negative energy that I'm pretty excited about. Negative energy is a theme which fits into both The Alchemancer series and my Assassin Without a Name series. The latter has been building up to some bigger things involving this phenomenon. It's been fun writing about the different organizations each attempting to harness it for their own use. It plays a fairly large role in the next Alchemancer book as well, so hopefully this post when it's published will provide some nice background info and maybe some hints on where the next book is going.

The Nullification Engine (The Alchemancer: Book Two) On Sale Right Now!

The Nullification Engine is on sale as a Kindle Countdown Deal for 99 cents for the next day or so. Then the price goes up to $1.99 and then again to $2.99 before returning to its usual $3.99 price point. Kindle Countdown Deals are limited-time promotions where the price of a book starts at a deep discount and works its way back up to its usual, full price in increments. Readers get a good price on a book, maybe discover a new author at minimal risk, while authors gain new readers, sell some books, and make a little money. It's a win-win all around.

The next Assassin Without a Name story is almost here

The next short story in my Assassin Without a Name series goes to editing in a week, then it should make it out to retailers the week after that. If you're signed up to my email list, you'll get The Goddard Affair for free. This story is about 25% longer than the previous story, Night of Zealotry, putting it at around 19,000 words (76 pages). Based on some measures, this puts it in the category of a novella, which should affect pricing. That's something I'm still debating. Of course, price becomes a moot point if you're signed up for my email list since you'll get it and every Assassin story after that for free. Click-through for more details.

Cover Reveal: The Goddard Affair

The next book in the Assassin Without a Name series has a title and a cover.

Fresh off his harrowing adventure in Night of Zealotry, the Assassin Without a Name is on the hunt, looking for the secret organizations which tried to kill him before they can try again. But the work of his trade doesn't stop just because he's involved in personal business, so when a new client named Walter Goddard comes around wishing to have a rival eliminated, the Assassin Without a Name takes the job.

Only after the task is complete does he learn that Walter Goddard is a member of the Society for the Progression of Science and Technology, one of the very same organizations the Assassin Without a Name has been seeking. At one of the society’s premiere technology galas, the Assassin Without a Name meets Gwendolyn Morgan, a beautiful widow who has run into problems of her own with the society. Not only does she believe the organization hired an assassin to murder her husband, but she’s certain she’s next. Convincing himself he’s only helping Gwendolyn in exchange for the society’s darkest secrets and not because of his part in making the woman into a widow, the Assassin Without a Name finds himself in the unusual role of protector as the society dispatches their Black Guard watchdogs to kill them both.

The Goddard Affair is scheduled for release in May 2014.

On Goodreads? Why not add The Goddard Affair to your reading list?