The First Twenty Steps

The First Twenty Steps by Michael D. Smith An ex-convict finds himself mixed up in a motorcycle gang’s plan to heist a hyperspatial supercomputer.

Published by Sortmind Press

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble

Reviews at Amazon and Goodreads

cover art by Michael D. Smith


The First Twenty Steps copyright 1996 by Michael D. SmithHarry, released from six years in prison in One-West, proves that his old reflexes are sound as he fights off thugs who try to rob him on his first day of freedom. Unsure how to meet basic needs, Harry knows he needs to figure out a way to buy a new chopper and head back to Drulgoorijk and his old motorcycle gang, the Defenders, and his best friend Danny.

Deciding to celebrate in a hotel bar, Harry finds a kindred spirit in Roberta, but discovers she’s in thrall to a One-West motorcycle gang, the Cerberean Knights, headed by a passive-aggressive tyrant, Alexander. Falling in love, Harry decides he must help her.

In plotting to stay together and eventually free her from this gang, Harry and Roberta plan to infiltrate Harry into the Knights, but when Alexander announces that the gang will commit a major crime this evening to pay back favors from the corrupt city council of One-West, Harry realizes that their plan was doomed all along, that he and Roberta have compromised their love with Alexander’s evil.

The motorcycle attack on the Dataflux computer building turns terrifying and surreal. Harry and Roberta find themselves outnumbered and outgunned by another biker gang belonging to the mysterious One-West billionaire Richard Mullein, who intervenes to protect the top secret navigational equipment for his Cathedral Spaceship.

Danny, now working for Mullein, reminds Harry how they used to laugh about how bikers and other outsiders could climb a transcendent catwalk twenty steps above common suffering humanity, which they could then regard from a cynical, superior distance. Talented in the worlds of biker gangs and computer hacking, yet clueless as to how to survive in the new society he’s returned to, Harry must come to grips with the arrogance of his “first twenty steps.”


The First Twenty Steps by Michael D. SmithThe First Twenty Steps came from a decades-old dream in which I was a member of a ruthless commune swooping down from helicopters to attack and occupy a fifty-nine-story office building deep in the city, deep in the night. Yet I’d always thought of “59” as unwritable. It was a buried dream, plotless, wordless, full of power, recalled only months or years after it actually took place. What on earth were “we” doing attacking that building?

The ex-prisoner is loosed onto the streets of the western city, confronting the Cathedral Spaceship that, locked away, he’s never seen before. The released prisoner is the central myth of this novella. Freed at last, he confronts his twenty-first step.

I revised the novella in 2010-2011 prior to placing it for sale on Barnes and Noble’s PubIt (now Nook Press) self-publishing site in January 2011. I wanted to experiment with eBooks and self-publishing and I’ve always regarded this short work as one of my best plots. I don’t intend self-publishing all my novels in this manner, but I did want to put this contribution out there and see what happened. A few months later in June I put the novella up on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing as well. Since both venues asked me to name my “publishing house,” naturally I settled on Sortmind Publishing. It could be that one day in the future Sortmind Publishing will expand into a bona fide publishing concern, who knows?

I also learned about the copyright process from the Library of Congress. For $35.00 you get quite an education in the online workings of the Copyright Office, and at the end, a frameable certificate of your copyright. So The First Twenty Steps really IS legally “copyright 2011” even though we’re past 2011. (As a matter of course I normally update the web pages for any unpublished manuscripts with the current year’s copyright statement.)

The master Word document is 96 pages, 25,700 words, but the pagination changes in e-format; for instance, the Nook Press version is 60 “pages,” the Kindle version “64.”

Smashwords Edition

In March 2013 I discovered the eBook distribution site Smashwords, which, once you get your Word document formatted to its specifications (and here I was shown a way to eliminate the messiness caused by Word’s styles and create an extremely cleanly formatted manuscript), creates numerous eBook formats and sends them to retailers like the Apple Store, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. So I performed my formatting procedures and put the novella for sale on Smashwords. But if you obtain the novella from the Smashwords site itself, you can buy once and then download the book in numerous formats.

The text hasn’t changed, but I upgraded the cover, so its not really a new edition. I’m just curious to keep experimenting with these processes and to see how the novella fares out there. The ease of dealing with Smashwords makes me consider trying some other works there as well. One thing I have vowed, however, is that anything I either submit to royalty publishers, or self-publish, has to be my best work. There is absolutely no reason to self-publish something just because you’re attached to it. There has to be a feeling that a reader you’ve never met will find some benefit in your contribution. Anything less and you’re wasting everyone’s time, and damaging your own writing reputation in the process.

All words and images copyright by Michael D. Smith