Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Time to share a success story! Spoiler alert: it’s a pretty tiny milestone, but when you’re a writer that barely has one foot off the ground floor, I think it’s important to focus on the little things. As I’ve mentioned recently, I started posting my science fiction (space opera or science fantasy, labels are so passé) web novel The Bloodlet Sun, on Royal Road on the same release schedule as I do here. And now over the weekend, The Bloodlet Sun reached ten followers there. To put that in context, the best fictions on RR have followers in the low thousands. For further context though, how many fictions have no followers at all?
For those of you unfamiliar with Royal Road, following a fiction is essentially just saving it as a bookmark, which, again, doesn’t seem like much, but it’s crucial to look on the bright side of things. Don’t see it as “just” a click on the “Follow” button. See it as someone who read your work, and found something in there that was worth spending more time on. That’s how I choose to see it, which makes that round little number that much more exciting. Also exciting then are the two people who chose to click the “Favourite” button, therefore showing that in their mind my work is at least somewhat elevated above the others things they read.
I feel like, when it comes to little rays of sunshine in your writing, you have to sweat the small stuff. You deal with so much criticism, constructive or otherwise, and so many rejections for a craft that is deeply personal. It’s like taking your heart out from your body, where it has the protection of your sternum and ribcage, and putting out for the world to handle. A world that frequently ignores the “Caution: Fragile” label. So when it comes to the negative stuff, sometimes it’s in your face, hard to ignore and easy to internalize.
Which is why successes, no matter how small, are a precious thing that require all your attention. They’re good for your motivation and even more importantly, they’re good for your mental health. Plus, if you choose to put them all together into a single mental reel, then you’ll be better able to see your worth as a writer above all that noise.
Not only that, but successes snowball. Sure, I have ten followers now, and sure, that might be the only ten followers I ever have. But that’s for the universe to decide, not for me to dwell on. Those ten followers could be the first ten followers out of that coveted thousand, or two thousand. That’s how I will choose to see them. If someone else chooses to think it’s not a big deal and thinks that I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill then guess what, every mountain starts with a molehill and I’ve still got a bucket and a shovel.
The request for assistance from the Protectorate to the Humans was another piece of information that would have been very helpful for Rzena to have passed on. Forget snapping his tail in half, she should just bite it clean off at the base.
“In that case,” Angzal replied, visions of violent retribution dancing before her eyes, “I hope your Congress eventually makes the wise decision that recognizes Humanity’s role in a greater world.”
“If I were you,” Reyes’s tone suddenly grew glacial and her body assumed a far more relatable stillness, “that’s not what I’d be pinning my hopes on. If we do somehow vote to send our fleet, and if Human lives are lost, there are those here who will put the blame solely on the ones they think should’ve been fighting instead, and I’d have great concerns about the safety of your people both here on Earth and elsewhere in the Human Interstellar Dependency.”
Had this been another Mraboran, Angzal would have freely laid out in grotesque detail everything she thought about Reyes’s brazen threat against her people. Other species though, and Humans in particular, had more delicate sensibilities, and it took all her strength to keep her instincts from bursting onto the surface, probably to the eventual deep regret of Rzena.
Angzal measured each word carefully so that none of what she actually yearned to say slipped by.
“That sounded an awful lot like a threat, Congressmember.”
“Coming from me? No.” Reyes’s tone was frustratingly casual. “But I’m not the one you need to be worried about.”
“So what is this, then? A warning on their behalf?”
“It is what you make it to be,” Reyes answered with a slight shrug. “I would imagine someone with your influence would consider this a call to use that influence for the good of her people. Or is it that the Mraboran have that little regard for the lives of others, even their own kind?”
Angzal was aware one of her fangs was showing.
“What influence do you think I’m able to wield, exactly?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Reyes briefly glanced to the side, as if she was growing bored with the conversation. “I’m not going to pretend to know how the intricate web of nepotism works in the Protectorate. Almost fluent in Earth Standard Commercial? Consular position at such a young age? A lot of aging diplomats wouldn’t mind having this view for a few years in what you consider a quiet backwater, yet here you are.”
Angzal recalled what she knew of her predecessors, and Reyes wasn’t completely off the mark.
“I’m one of a litter of five, Congressmember. Trust me, whatever it is you think I get is scraps from the dinner table.”
Reyes gave her head a slight shake and gave a crooked smile. “Big carcass – big scraps.” And before Angzal had found something in reply, Reyes continued. “If the issue is that you simply can’t appreciate the potential gravity of the situation, I would be more than happy to speak to someone who can. Maybe a direct conversation with the Ambassador would be more productive?”
“I’m told the Ambassador is off world,” Angzal replied, ignoring the rising heat in her ears.
“I’m sure she is,” Reyes said and put her hands behind her back. “I think I’ve wasted enough time here.”
Evidently finding as much use for goodbyes as she did hellos, Reyes headed for the door, sending one last volley without even turning around, “Next time, I expect to be able to speak to someone more senior.”
Angzal waited for her to reach the door and open it.
“Congressmember?” Angzal said and Reyes paused, still facing her back towards Angzal. “As would I.”
For another few beats Reyes stood with her hand on the door and then stepped out and closed it behind her.
It had become almost uncomfortably quiet after Reyes left the office, an eerie calmness after the passing storm. Angzal continued to stand for a few moments, as if expecting the door to swing open again and a disembodied wagging finger to fly into the room telling her what’s what, but it looked like the silence was here to stay, so she turned back to the window.
The sky over the bay was a bright blue that tapered off into milky grey towards the horizon, not much different from clear days on her homeworld. If she kept her eyes upwards, she could almost imagine being back on Mrabr, at the family estate, shady purple fronds looming just out of view. Her gaze drifted downward though, and the illusion was broken by the expanse of the bay, and the multitudes of weekday beachgoers spending their time on the sand and in the water.
The blasted Thorian she ran across on the journey here had been right – Humans were jittery and unpredictable. She had never before met a species so full of internal discord; it was no wonder they had nearly blasted themselves out of existence. The question now was, were they capable of doing it again, and would they drag anyone down with them?
The handle of the door to her office clicked, the individual on the other side hesitating, and then fully opened.
“Rzena, you coward, I will drown your litter in your own blood.”
Rzena hardly even looked in her direction as he made his way to his desk. “My litter is older than you are, and there’s three of them. Don’t think there’s enough blood.”
Angzal emphasized each word through clenched teeth. “I will make do.”
Rzena plugged in his personal tablet into his terminal and then peered over his desk-mounted monitor at Angzal.
“I take it your meeting with Congressmember Reyes went well.”
“Well as can be expected.”
“You’re alive, so that’d be accurate.”
“A little advance warning would’ve been appreciated.”
“Really? I’ve always been a firm believer in a practical, hands-on approach to learning.”
“The only practical thing I learned is I’d derive great pleasure from a hands-on approach to your neck.”
Rzena made a low hum at the back of his throat as he busied himself at his terminal, while Angzal permitted herself to sit back down at her desk and release the predatory tension that had gripped her body since before Reyes’s arrival.
“The Mraboran Protectorate is doing everything it can within the limits of the Treaty of Krevali,” Angzal assured Reyes.
“The Thorians took a giant dump on the Treaty, so how are your empty assurances supposed to help the Krevali? Do you know who had just been appointed the transitionary governor of the planet? Vekshineth, the Butcher of Nabak.”
The appointment of Vekshineth to lead the transition of Krevali to Thorian rule was, Angzal admitted to herself, terrible optics for the Protectorate. Over the previous three years after the Insurrection, a conflict in which the Protectorate had a role that was less clandestine than they would have preferred, Vekshineth had been overseeing the repatriation of Nabak, which earned him a reputation across the Known Reaches that rivaled some of the historic Anthar Kai and Thorian governors of conquered or pacified worlds. The particularly troubling aspect of the situation for the Protectorate was that prior to the Insurrection, the Butcher of Nabak built his resume through a series of stints on Thorian worlds that had formerly been Mraboran and continued to have a majority Mraboran population, rooting out any ambition of independence that formed in the decades after the Last Gasp. This seemed like the kind of information Rzena ought to have brought to her attention, so Angzal reminded herself to snap his tail in half later.
All too aware that she skipped a few beats processing the news, Angzal finally responded, “I’ve been told that an impressive delegation from Mrabr, including several high-ranking government officials, are on their way to Kai Thori to discuss this with the Presidium directly.” Angzal was, of course, told no such thing.
“I find it funny that it’s only now that a delegation is being sent. It’s precisely what your predecessor told me in our last conversation, almost two months ago, even though it’s at most a five-week haul from Mrabr to Kai Thori. In any case, even if you’re not straight-up lying to me, how’s ‘talking’ the only thing the mighty Protectorate is able to muster? The time for talk was when the Thorians were amassing their forces in violation of the Treaty of Krevali and everyone who didn’t have their head up their ass or their tail between their legs knew exactly how this was going to play out. And now the Krevali, who’ve barely reached the frontiers of their own stellar system, are absolutely terrified fighting a war against a technologically superior alien invader, without any clue that there’s a greater network of so-called allies out there who’re doing absolutely nothing to help.”
Even for a Human, Reyes was strongly inclined to use her whole body while talking. Arms moved about freely as if on their own accord and fingers stabbed the air emphatically. To a Mraboran, the whole display was distracting, as their own species tended to keep perfectly still, especially during confrontation, which was one of the reasons many of them preferred to keep their tails strapped to their bodies. During the whole conversation, Angzal was motionless, standing between her desk and the window, wondering if the reason Reyes declined a seat was because it made it easier for her to gesticulate.
“Congressmember Reyes –” Angzal tried, but there was no stopping this landslide.
“No, whatever you have to say to me, it’s become quite clear that neither the Mraboran nor the Hatvan have any interest in upsetting the status quo. As long as you feel safe in your cozy Empires, you’re perfectly content to do nothing. Not even help your own people who are languishing under Thorian rule.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Congressmember, but doesn’t the ORC have its own capable fleet that it could dispatch to the aid of the Krevali? Something that has the support of many of your own people?”
“Yes, there are supporters of this mad endeavour and they have their reasons. The point I’m making is this would not be the first time Humanity or the ORC had sent their ships into a conflict that should’ve been resolved by others closer to the source. Especially those responsible for what was happening because of their own complacency. We’ve been dying in wars on the other side of the Known Reaches for almost half a century, and have been paying a price for it at home. Meanwhile, species like the Mraboran are the ones benefitting from the peace our blood helps create. Enough is enough.”
That low growl again began to bubble in the back of Angzal’s throat and she reminded herself that this was an alien species and that they expected a certain amount of deference; however undeserved it may be. Still, she let herself slip just a little, responding with a bit of a gurgle in her voice. “The only reason a species like Humans was even able to have any meaningful participation in the Last Gasp was our convenient presence between you and the Thorian Empire, as well as our own complete lack of interest in you.”
“More like a complete lack of interest in anything beyond the pocket of Dead Space that lies between you and us.” There was nothing about Reyes’s smile for Angzal to like. “But that’s good to know, that the Protectorate’s greatest contribution so far has been its lack of curiosity and simply being in the way. Oh wait, there’s also the letter sent by the Protectorate to our government that had the audacity to directly request assistance in the mess that was largely their doing. The Senate, unsurprisingly, has already endorsed this lunatic course of action. Congress, on the other hand, so far has enough members without delusions of grandeur and who have no interest in sending others light years away to die in someone else’s war.”
When I started releasing The Bloodlet Sun in earnest last September, I had no idea what I was doing. I still generally have no idea, but I have learned some lessons on the way. I always argue that no time spent writing is a waste of time, because even your worst work will teach you something that you will use in your best work. Not to say that The Bloodlet Sun is in that “worst” category, just that any mistake is a lesson in disguise. And the lesson of the day is chapter lengths.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.