Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
When I relaunched The Bloodlet Sun here a year ago, I honestly didn’t know how it would go. I’d been optimistic for the original launch as well, but that first effort died after a single chapter was posted, and then the story went quiet for more than a year. I promised myself that if I were to try again – posting a sci-fi web novel on my blog in weekly installments – that I would have to do it right. Well, now that I’m officially more than a year into this second attempt, I think things are going as well as I could have hoped (okay that’s a bit of a lie, I could have also hoped for droves of readers but that’s beside the point).
I’ve recently completed my first full cycle of POV character chapters, introducing the readers to all six characters that are spotlighted in the first “book” of this sci-fi epic. With established characters it’s beginning to get easier to move the story forward and it’s personally exciting when I get to dive back into each story.
My buffer, though it’s not quite as robust as when I started (I was taking no chances so it was a hefty one) is still quite healthy and has grown in the last few months. No chapter has given me quite as much grief as much as chapter 2, which is what had originally derailed the publication in the first place. This chapter was Kalirit’s first chapter (released as chapter 3) and I’m coming up to writing her second chapter so let’s see if she was the real culprit here all along. But other than that little ominous aside, things have been going well.
Since bringing The Bloodlet Sun back to this blog, I’ve also searched for other publication outlets for the space opera, launching on Royal Road late last year, where I’ve gathered 24 readers, and then launching on Tapas a couple of weeks ago, where only have a handful of views and 2 subscribers. Now I admit it doesn’t sound like much for something that’s been up for a year and I’ve learned to be okay with that. I kind of have to, otherwise it becomes too easy to get discouraged.
What I have to remind myself is why I started publishing The Bloodlet Sun in the first place – that it was a project I had been contemplating for years and I could no longer see any other viable outlet for other than through the web novel format. I think though looking at my current commitment to it, what was intended to be a side project has actually become the main focus of my writing resources. Sometimes I question this path, but I have to remember just how much fun I have writing it, and also sharing it with the world. That handful of subscribers is my one true tangible readership, and I can’t dwell on how small it might be compared to anyone else, because it’s the most I’ve ever had.
What I’ve learned over this past year is how much I still love this project, that once it started taking shape, I was not bored of it, but rather only became more excited as to where it could go, and already I built more on top of my original outline than I could have imagined just a couple of years ago. I’m finally, in my 30s, beginning to learn to write for the fun of it, and not for some hard-to-pin-down external concepts such a publication, praise and accolades. Maybe it’s this new attitude that would inadvertently lead me to all three. Or maybe I just continue to have fun with it and to spin these tales set in the Known Reaches two thousand years from today.
The next day, Kviye was back on the Oshken, working alongside Valyen to get the ship ready to chase down its next quarry. Uncle Dekan had also been called down to assist, and on account of it being one of his good days, so had Adri. For Kviye, it was all different this time. Work during the previous day felt just like what it was – a job. Now, it had become more intimate. Until this point she couldn’t imagine becoming as familiar with another ship as she had been with the family skiff that she destroyed. Every open conduit, every inch of hull, every piece of temperamental equipment; she realized that what she was doing was potentially exploring the inner workings of her new home, a realization that more than once sent waves of nausea through her, and she was glad when the day was done.
The work led them into the next week, which gave Kviye the phantom impression that it could last indefinitely, forever postponing her need to make a final decision.
“So did you think about what I said?” Samir, who had until then given her distance and not once brought up their earlier conversation, asked as he joined her in descending the ramp in the darkness of the evening.
She had. She had thought about nothing else the whole day to the point that her and Valyen hardly exchanged any words that didn’t directly relate to what they’d been working on.
“I guess,” Kviye answered with a shrug, not meeting his gaze.
“And it’s a lot to think about.”
He laughed quietly almost to himself. “You’d be surprised.”
“What do you mean?”
Samir stopped walking, which forced Kviye to stop as well and turn to face him.
“All I’m saying is,” Samir said. “If you knew what you were missing, you’d realize that there isn’t much to think about at all.” And before she could answer, he walked ahead of her, throwing up one hand to wave goodnight and heading for the guest house.
Despite the exhaustion from consecutive days of hard work, it made it no easier for her to fall asleep at night. There were so many conversations she would still need to have, but in what order, and what of the fact that she wasn’t sure if she was ready to pull the trigger? It didn’t help that Valyen had not yet turned in for the evening, her place on the floor conspicuously empty. They should not have been spending potentially their last days together apart. This also went for the many of the others under that roof but in Valyen’s case, it particularly twisted Kviye’s heart to wonder where her friend may have been away so late.
Sometime past midnight, it was the hunger that got the best of her, so Kviye got out of bed and made her way downstairs. She found a light streaking out of the kitchen door, unusual for the Morozo household at this hour, and inside she found Valyen, and her mother and uncle huddled at the table deep in conversation. They hadn’t noticed Kviye until she made a few steps into the kitchen.
It was Valyen that had best managed to act as if there was nothing going on out of the ordinary, like she’d just looked up from welding or tightening a bolt. Her mother and uncle on the other hand, looked startled, eyes a little too wide and mouths slightly open, unmistakable siblings.
“Oh, Kviye honey, why aren’t you sleeping?” Valyen’s mom asked, folding her arms across the table.
“Sorry, I was hungry.”
“No need to apologize. There’s plenty of leftovers in the fridge.”
Whatever the conversation was before she arrived, it had not resumed while Kviye was there. On her way to the fridge, she had the feeling that all eyes were on her as they sat in complete silence, save for the frequent forced sniffling coming from Uncle Dekan, as if the man didn’t know what to do with his face in the meantime. Kviye originally intended to eat there but now thought it best to taker her plate upstairs.
“Goodnight, honey,” Valyen’s mom called after her, while her daughter kept quiet, her mouth in a hard line, looking just off to Kviye’s side and Kviye noticed that the bottle of Grandma Morozo’s special drink stood un-stoppered on the table between them. Just as Kviye left the kitchen to head back up the stairs, she heard Valyen call from behind her, “I’ll be right there.”
By the time Kviye was back in her room, her appetite had faded and she put the plate aside and went to bed. It was going to be a long day tomorrow, one way or another.
The following day, they were well on their way to completing the work on the Oshken. There had been a large gash in their hull that forced them to decompress a part of their cargo hold. This is what Kviye had been working on, repairing the severed connections on the interior part of the hole when Captain Mokob found her.
“So, what do you think?” He asked, putting his hands behind his back and holding his head up high as only the proud Captain of a veritable hunk of junk could.
“Well, all this,” the Captain gestured expansively, speaking as if the question were the most obvious one in the world. ‘All this’ to Kviye looked like the Oshken bit off the business end of a rock slide and had a difficult time digesting it.
“What is it?” She asked, climbing down the ladder.
“It’s our latest score! We hadn’t had a chance to process it because of the decompression but from what we can tell there’s a few goodies in here.” He walked slowly between the rubble strewn about the floor of the cargo hold, passing his hands over some of the boulders. “We’ve detected diamonds. Not terribly rare, but useful in industry, and with these amounts, should fetch us a decent sum.” He tapped on an iridescent yellow sliver on one of the rocks. “This is anstakite. Purely decorative, but highly sought after. If these flakes are any indication, there should be more inside.”
“Are there any of those …”
“Drops? No, not in this load, I’m afraid.” She had known that though, if there were, she would have felt them. “We are chasing down a lead out here near the Adaract Hive that might just pan out. And hey if not, there’s a whole lot of Known Reaches left to explore, all the way to the Thorian Empire, if we have to.”
“Are you planning on heading to any Human worlds?”
“Sure, why not. We’re not far from Human space in any case. That’s the best part about being a comet chaser, we can go anywhere we damn please.”
“I see,” she said, distractedly looking at the speckled boulder, each dot a star around which a cure could be revolving.
“I heard that Samir told you about our opening. What do you think? Ready to chase the ice-tailed beasts with us?”
“You mean you would actually take me?”
“Sure.” Captain Mokob walked past her, hands still behind his back and she noted that her head didn’t even reach his shoulder. “Why wouldn’t we?” He stopped to look up at the section of wall that Kviye had been working on.
“It’s just that I’ve never even left Tanfana before.”
“So?” He turned around again, surprisingly agile for such a cumbersome beast, though the Wintis in general looked almost frail due to their lankiness. “I can hardly see why that should matter. All you need is the drive and the ability to figure out how to make yourself useful around the ship. And it looks like you won’t have any problems with that last part. The question is then, do you have the drive?”
She looked up into the Winti’s big dark eyes that stared back at her with some form of amusement. “I do. It’s just not that easy to leave.”
For a moment, those eyes turned distant and melancholy. “We’ve all been there, I can promise you that.” And after a pause, the previous jovialness returned to Captain Mokob’s face. “You have some more time to decide, though if things go well from now on, we should be taking off tomorrow afternoon. I hope to see you here again, Hon Kviye.”
With that, the Winti Captain strode out of the cargo area, ducking his head through the door. Tomorrow afternoon. It was far too soon.
“Captain!” She called and Mokob poked his head back through the door. “May I see your drop?”
Captain Mokob was quiet for a moment, a cautious expression on his face, as if he was looking for far-off danger. “Sure, come this way.”
There’s something about me that has not come out on this blog often, if at all, though I have mentioned it elsewhere on social media. It is a deep and dark part of my personality that I sometimes tend to hide from the world lest I not be judged for it unfairly. And folks, this secret that I have been sort of not keeping from anyone is that I am in fact … a runner.
I know it’s quite shocking – as a writer I’m expected to be devoting all my time to strictly cerebral pursuits. I ought to be crafting myself into a tortured soul that subsists on nothing but ramen noodles and three-day old reheated dumplings, reading obscure Lithuanian authors well into the late hours of the night, only to sleep three hours and power through the day on seven cups of coffee and a pot of green tea I should have emptied a week ago. Instead, I sometimes set my alarm for 5:40 in the morning to go for a six kilometre run so that I can feel refreshed and energized for the day.
But seriously, I feel like I don’t talk enough about my running here, considering that it forms such an important part of my routine and is an essential element of managing my mental health.
First off, I want to clear the air about my first instinct when I say that I’m a runner – and that is that I want to clarify that I’m not like a “runner” runner. Why the hell do I want to do that, and what does it even mean? It actually reminds me a lot about the label “writer” and all the baggage that comes with that. What’s a writer? Is it someone who’s so successful at writing it forms the sole source of their sizeable income? Is it someone who gets routinely paid for the writing? Someone who got published once? Someone who’s written five novels that have never seen the light of day? Someone who writes short stories and publishes them on their blog? Someone who writes the occasional poem when the mood is right and then burns the original? Who is gatekeeping this term “writer”, when a writer is someone who writes and sees themselves as a writer?
Same in my case. Why do I find trouble owning the term “runner”? Partially of course is that I don’t see myself as that serious of a runner, and partially because its other people who expect a “runner” to be something that I’m not. I’ve never run a marathon, nor do I expect that I ever will. My last two races have been the 24-hour Easter Seals charity relay I was roped into in my first week at my first legal job, and the Grade 4/5 400 metre race back in elementary school. I hardly buy myself any running gear and my primary thought any time I go for a run is not “how far and how fast can I run” but “how far and how fast can I run without messing up my knee/shin/ankle/foot?”
So in that sense, in that specific conceptualization of what it means to be a runner, I’m not a runner. But I am, in fact, a runner, because I’ve had an on and off relationship (mostly on these last few years) with this form of exercise for more than 15 years. It’s because even though to go for a run I have to haul myself out of bed around 6 am before the kids are awake, I’m disappointed when something comes up and instead I sleep in for an extra hour. It’s because I enjoy the bar graph that the Nike Run Club spits out for me to track my running distance for the year. It’s because when my wife got me a Garmin watch for Father’s Day I couldn’t stop looking at it for a week and now obsess over every metric it tracks. It’s because without it, I would have a hard time figuring out a way to stay physically active. It’s because when I run I feel good both in my body and in my mind. For all these reasons and more, I am undeniably a runner.
Yet it’s not a relationship without its difficulties. Even though I feel good after the run, I hate every second of the first ten minutes. Even though I willingly set my alarm, it’s a struggle to actually haul myself out of bed to get my running clothes on. And even though it’s good for me, there’s no joy in icing my joints and muscles every other week. I’m not doing this for accolades or personal Everests, I’m just doing this because after all the grueling work it at least gives me a chance to feel good.
So yeah, obviously a lot going on there, but in writing this entry I’ve decided that I’d share more about this hobby on this blog. I know it’s a blog meant for writing, but at the same time, my header does state that it’s an “author’s journey”. And running for me forms part of my journey in surprising ways. I would not have the mental acuity to be the writer I am without having exercise in my life. And though there is much to hate about running, it is, by definition, the most accessible form of exercise – no equipment, no set gym times, just open the door and go. And even though there’s no exercise easier to start, that is not to say running itself is easy at all, and I want to use this platform where I can offer encouragement to those that like me, may find it life-changing to incorporate running into their life, even at this kind of amateur level.
So expect to see more occasional posts here about running and running related things. And who knows, hopefully I could inspire someone to be just like me and at the age of 20 to go for their first run since high school and after three minutes, standing wheezing and with a stitch in both sides thinking this was the worst idea they’ve ever had, only to not ever fully give up for the next fifteen years. Just don’t think you’ll catch me opining on things like, what the best running shoes are, because honestly outside of “get what’s comfy” I really have no clue.
Kviye walked Samir back down a boardwalk that thinned out somewhat, both in terms of pedestrians and the shops that remained open, and judging by the noise coming from the tavern, it seemed that they had all funneled there instead. On their way back to Valyen’s home, Samir shared stories of the space stations he’d visited, mostly Human and Winti though their intention was to reach the borders of the Adaract Hive before heading to Iastret and Mraboran space, perhaps all the way to the Thorian Empire itself. The names meant little to her, shiny distractions as she planned conversations she wasn’t sure how to have.
They parted when they reached the garage – Samir returned to the guest house while she inserted herself into the remnants of the evening clean-up in the kitchen as if she’d never left, silently grabbing a pot from Kviye’s mom and scrubbing it. She was certain her absence was noted, but not even Valyen had bothered to comment on it.
Well after the whole house had gone dark and quiet, Kviye lay in Valyen’s bed with her eyes opened, promises from the whole galaxy whispering in her ear.
Her friend insisted that as a guest, Kviye would have the bed and Valyen would have the thin mattress on the floor, and when Valyen was in that kind of mood there was no fighting it. So for the sake of not having to hear Valyen sulk in her own bed refusing to sleep, Kviye acquiesced, though now it was her who was unable to fall asleep, and not for a lack of trying.
“Seriously Kvee, I can’t sleep with you thinking this loud,” Valyen grumbled in the dark.
“Sorry, I’ll try to keep it down.” Was she breathing too hard? Or sighing unintentionally? In any case, Kviye had no interest in making this Valyen’s burden, so she turned on her side and tried to keep her breath low as she went through the possibilities in her head, all the ways her life could go if she went through with the decision she had already made – watching her father struggle to find work, leaving him for months or possibly years, finding her way out there without him, without Valyen, without Adri. And the stars, always the stars in the background promising a thousand different worlds to see.
“I can still hear you, you know?”
“How?” Kviye sat up in bed looking in the direction of the lump on the floor, hardly visible in the reflected planet-light streaming through the window.
“I don’t know, just do,” the lump grumbled back and then reluctantly unfurled and also sat up. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?”
“Samir said there’s space for me on the Oshken.”
Kviye didn’t mean to leave her friend in silence. She had been looking for a response – the right mix of lightness, earnestness and apology. Instead, it was Valyen who had to break the silence.
“Do I need to break your other leg?” She asked with a sigh of resignation.
“You might have to.”
It was Valyen’s turn to soak them in quiet as she stared off into some indeterminate point in the darkness of her room.
“Are you mad at me?” Kviye whispered.
“Me being anything won’t make a bit of difference, will it? You’re gone either way.”
“That’s not fair. You make it sound like it’s just about leaving.”
“Then what is it, Kvee?”
She had for Valyen only part of an answer. Samir couldn’t make any promises and neither would Kviye, nor would she feed Valyen’s hopes just to justify her own burning desire to leave behind everything she knew and everyone she loved.
“You heard Captain Mokob,” Kviye said. “He was able to buy the Oshken with the money he made comet chasing, and I don’t need anything that big. Just something to replace the skiff, maybe connect our moon to our closest neighbours. Who knows the kind of things they might have that we would find helpful.” If Valyen didn’t hear it then, then she wasn’t ready for it.
“Kviye, these comet chasers are all about tall tales and talking themselves up, they’re worse than the fishers. And besides, I’m sure your dad will be the first to tell you that this is a ridiculous idea.”
“I’m not sure my dad will be the first to tell me anything. I don’t know if you noticed but we’ve barely talked since the crash. He’ll say ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ but other than that, any conversation we have is just listening to each other talk to other people at the dinner table.”
“He still loves you. The crash didn’t change that.”
“That’s’ about the only thing it hasn’t changed.” Kviye sat looking out the window; there was a light on in a window of the guest house and the pale storm on the surface of the gas giant was visible just above the top of the building. “If I could make enough to get another ship, things could go back to normal. I would be flying, and he would have something to do. And we could forget the crash ever happened.”
Kviye knew though that the crash would never allow itself to be forgotten. On clear days when she looked up into the sky, it would transform into the fast-approaching ground and the wound in her leg would groan. Or when she’d sit alone in the dark, she could hear the wind and the rain and a voice calling her name from a distance, first her mother’s and then Valyen’s.
She wondered if Valyen was experiencing the same thing from her own perspective – entangled in the memories of the skiff streaking white across the sky, coming down somewhere behind the hills that encircled Zhakitrinbur.
After a long while, Valyen said, “Kvee, I want you to know, that no matter what I may’ve said, whatever you decide, I’ll be there.” She finally looked at Kviye then, her eyes pale and determined. “Do you understand?”
She didn’t then, as Kviye would later realize, but she agreed anyway. “I understand. Thank you.”
Kviye led Samir through a few deserted streets to the boardwalk. Here, some of the stores were still open, spilling their lights, smells and sounds onto the street. Kviye didn’t know where to start her question and Samir seemed to be in no rush to have her get on with it. He walked slowly, hands in his pockets, turning his head this way and that and taking in his surroundings. He studied the ships that docked for the night, some darkened, others with their cabin lights aglow, and others where the fishers still worked to set everything in order, barking terminology at each other that Kviye had never become familiar with. At a florist, Samir stopped to admire their fresh-cut selection – yellow morning dragons and green opaleyes. She supposed if there was anything that was unique to a place it was its flora and fauna, and wondered if he would be amused by the grazing beasts of their plateaus, creatures she hardly ever thought about.
They passed an establishment that would be open well into the late hours, music and laughter flowing freely from within. Samir peered through its windows with particular interest, as if noting its location for future reference.
“I like your town.” Samir said, craning his neck one last time at the pub, “It reminds me a bit of where I grew up – quiet and isolated.”
“Not as isolated as this I imagine.”
He laughed. “No, not quite. But there’s fewer and fewer places like that in the Known Reaches. ‘Civilization’, as they call it. There’s no stopping it.”
Kviye turned from the boardwalk, and led them to the end of an empty pier.
“I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around how many of us there are out there.” Kviye said, taking a seat at the edge of the pier and staring straight ahead at the stars shimmering over the water.
“I know we don’t get starships passing through here often, but no one’s ever mentioned having encountered Humans before.”
Samir took a seat next to her, stretching his legs out over the dark water that reflected the light from the gas giant.
“That’s not surprising. Our kind is pretty new to this, so we haven’t really spread all that wide from our little far-flung corner of space.”
“What do you mean by ‘new’?”
“Well, other species claim they’ve been travelling the stars for thousands of years, but I think we left Earth only about two hundred years ago.”
Earth. That word sounded almost divine, like an ancient mother goddess who had resided nameless in the heavens but now descended, tangible and named.
“Earth,” Kviye whispered, just to hear it again. “You said something earlier about a Great Fire?”
She assumed maybe he was lost in the stars as much as she was because the question seemed to startle him.
“What? Oh, right. They say we’d been to the stars before, a long time ago, but then there was a great fire, and we nearly destroyed our planet and ourselves. It took us thousands of years to get back to where we used to be. That’s what I was talking about before. We started exploring again and sometimes we’d find old colonies of Humans who survived all this time in isolation. I used to read stories like that as a kid, you know – somebody finding a lost tribe of Humans who went back to their primitive wild ways.”
“We’re only a little bit primitive.”
He laughed again at that, a thing that came out of his mouth freely and breezily, and turned to look at her, though her eyes were only for the stars.
“You wanted to ask me about something specific, didn’t you?” He asked.
She did. But she was also treading on the possibility of hope being dashed and it was difficult to cross the threshold.
“Have you ever heard of something called ‘the grey’”? She asked.
“Uh, you mean like the colour?”
“No, no.” The words came dry from her mouth. “It’s a disease that effects our people.”
She could feel him tense up next to her, make the slightest move to put some distance between them.
“Sorry, no, it’s nothing like that,” she said. “It’s not contagious, in that sense, but it has been killing my people more and more recently. Our loved ones waste away before our eyes as their skin turns grey, and then they’re gone. Does that sound familiar to you?”
He seemed to relax, but there was a new note of sheepishness in his voice. “Can’t say that it does. But I’m no expert in medicines. All I know is that there’s all kinds of doctors out there, Human and alien, and they can work all sorts of miracles you and I wouldn’t understand.”
Kviye could see it clearly enough – walking into a hospital on this “Earth” and describing the symptoms to a doctor who, after laughing about the simplicity of these savages, hands her a small vile of salvation which she then delivers to her people across the stars.
“You want to be out there, don’t you?”
“What’s that?” She asked, crossing lightyears to come back from her daydream.
“You have that look. I’ve seen enough friends in the months before they jump on some random passing freighter to recognize it. I probably had the same one leading up to grabbing that job on Nkagan. So what about you? Dreaming of getting off this rock?”
She made a dismissive sound that somewhat resembled laughter. “You know, I dreamt about it all my life. To get out there and find others like us. But now it all just seems too big.”
“That it is. No matter how much you think you understand, you really don’t get it until you’re out there – how endless it is. But that’s the best part, because nothing beats that kind of freedom. I thought I had it when I moved to Nkagan, but on the Oshken, it’s something else. You should join us.”
“What?” She asked, startled at her own thoughts being projected onto his words.
“I’m serious. We’re a little shorthanded and I’ve seen you on the ship today, you seem to know your way around the mechanical stuff.”
“Me? No. I’ve only really ever worked on one ship, and it went to space once. Valyen’s the real mechanic.”
“The pale one? Sure, there’s room for her too.”
Kviye burst out laughing and had to stop herself after seeing Samir’s quizzical look. “Sorry, the thought of Val on a starship is just …”
“Well think about,” he said, that crooked smile returning to his face. “You’ve got a few days.”
“I will,” she said. “I will definitely think about it.”
Okay, for anyone who’s reading my blog, there’s plenty of evidence in my entries about how The Second Magus isn’t dead, and is actively being worked on. However, the last major update had me estimating that it might be released on Royal Round in early September, but given that we’re basically there, and you haven’t heard anything concrete from me, means that’s not happening anymore.
I’m not sure I can really give a definitive answer as to why my estimates keep proving so wildly inaccurate. I think when I first set out to do my fantasy web novel, I had thought that I’d be able to start posting it by June, and then I had to revise to September and now I’m not even sure what I’m revising it to. Realistically speaking, if I can’t launch by early November, I don’t want to end up competing with Christmas break, so I might end up waiting until January to launch. So I guess what I need to do now is ask myself if I can launch by the second week of November and honestly, I have my doubts.
That is not to say I don’t have plenty of material. Just recently I wrote about how I have 50K words done. It’s the editing that’s been the bane of my existence my entire writing career, and this situation is no exception. I’ve only gone through a single edit of about 24 chapters (my benchmark being 29 chapters before I’m ready to launch in order to have a good buffer) and I won’t be able to consider it as a finished product until I get through at least three edits. So to me it sounds like a lot of work, especially since when it comes to time management, editing for The Second Magus is also competing with editing for The Bloodlet Sun, and I won’t even mention my novel for which I swore I would go through another edit before the end of the year but I actually haven’t touched in months.
There is a little nagging part of me that’s wondering if a commitment to two regularly updated web novels is taking up too much time away from other writing (given how they monopolize my editing time, I begin to wonder what’s the point of writing all the other projects if I don’t have time to finish them into a polished product?), but so far I’m trying to deal with the issue by finding ways to carve out more time for editing. Will I have to reprioritize in the future? Hopefully it never comes to that and I’m able to get my act together here.
So that’s been your non-update on The Second Magus. No hard launch date yet, tough I think I can safely say that it comes it in January at the latest. Maybe I should bite the bullet and declare that official, but for now, optimism will prevail.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Captain Mokob said, the black pearl held out between his fingers drawing the attention of his eyes to the exclusion of those he was speaking to. “You’re a mechanic, Valyen, I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of these before – the backbone of all advanced technology in the Known Reaches. Interstellar travel at the scale we see it would not be possible without them. The money you’d fetch for one this size will let you live comfortably for a couple of months anywhere in the Known Reaches. This particular specimen is very dear to me – the last remaining piece of my share of the biggest windfall I scored on a comet chaser when I was hardly older than Samir here. The rest of the loot I spent to live like a royal for a few years and after that I bought the Oshken and founded my own crew.”'
“I find that very hard to believe,” Valyen said, her mouth full of food that was being chewed with some hostility.
“It’s not surprising,” Mokob answered. “It is a wild tale of riches. But these beauties can’t be made, you see, they can only be found. And the places they’re found are often remote, hard to get to, and unpredictable. Which means finders are in high demand and get paid accordingly.”
Mokob slipped the sphere back in his pocket and its hold over Kviye dissolved.
“I’ve always wanted to know,” she said, “What are they, exactly? I’ve asked this question before, but nobody’s been able to give me a straight answer.”
“That’s because no one has one,” Captain Mokob replied with a slight shrug before sipping his drink.
“What do you mean?” This time, it was Valyen’s turn to ask, placing her left forearm on the table and leaning forward.
“What I mean is, even though everyone uses them, no one really knows what they are or where they came from. There are theories of course. Some believable, others less so. One I hear the most is that its ancient technology so advanced that it seems magical to us. I don’t know what use the ancients had for shoving their tech into comets and other odd corners of the universe, though there’s plenty of theories on that too. I think it’s just folks trying to come up with something that will let them continue to close their eyes to the fantastical.”
Samir nodded, and then offered his own, “I once heard it could be leftover material from the Big Bang. The distilled essence of creation itself.”
“Ah yes, another very ‘scientific’ explanation, if you will,” Mokob said.
There was a brief silence at the table. Captain Mokob and Samir seemed to consider other theories that they’ve heard, while the first mate Nmala looked his usual stoic self, but it was the first mate’s turn to speak.
“Blood of ancient gods,” Nmala said leaning in across the table with a wicked smile surprising Kviye with the realization that his face could, in fact, move. “If that tickles your fancy.”
Kviye stared back at him dumbly. Something the Captain must have found amusing because he chuckled and said, “Yes, certainly one of the more fanciful tales. Usually, they’re a bit more in the middle.”
“Oh, the confluence of the ethereal material that binds the whole universe together!” Samir said.
“That’s a good one!” Captain Mokob said. “Not sure if I’ve heard of that one before.”
“This is ridiculous,” Valyen mumbled.
“It is, isn’t?” Mokob said, his look suddenly distant. “We rely on them to get us to the stars, to keep us alive in the unforgiving black void of space, but we don’t even know how they work. You travel the Known Reaches as much as I have, though, and you discover that there’s a whole lot of ‘ridiculousness’ out there.”
The rest of the dinner was far less eventful, for Kviye anyway, whose mind disappeared into the unknown Known Reaches, full of mysterious alien technology and teeming with billions of Humans going about their business. It was this last fact that troubled her most; the sheer scope of it. By all estimates, there were no more than a couple million of them on her home moon and even in her wildest dreams she thought to encounter maybe as many others or a few times more. Not thousands of times more, numbers that slipped beyond her comprehension and into the fantastical, the realm of the black spheres themselves. How much knowledge was that amount of people capable of producing? What kind of miracles could they work?
At the end of dinner, when their guests had excused themselves and started heading towards their temporary lodgings, Kviye snuck away from helping with the dishes and sought out Samir.
She caught up to him in the yard between the main house and the guest house, where he stood with his face to the sky in admiration of the massive quarter-dome of the gas giant that bathed them in a gentle blue light.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She asked, following his gaze to the night sky.
“It is. It’s easy to forgot how much better it all looks from the ground, but,” he turned to her then, his prominent brows casting his eyes in shadow, “On the ground, the view never changes.”
“Hey, I know you’ve had a long day but there’s something I wanted to talk to you about that I didn’t want to bring up in front of the others. Do you have a moment?”
If he had been tired, Samir managed to wipe the fatigue off his face. “Sure.”
“Let’s walk,” she suggested.
Even though I’d just written about hitting important word counts on both my second novel and my upcoming fantasy web novel, The Second Magus, it appears I wasn’t’ done with my cluster of milestones. This one, on reflection, is a little bit bittersweet.
This past week, I’d reached 100K words on the fantasy story that I’ve been reading and writing for my kids for a couple of years now, and to which I simply refer to as “Cassia and Mateo”. You can read more about it here but long story short is that I’d taken two characters from a short story I’d written, and then expanded their world into a tale of treasure hunting and mysterious magical powers that I thought I could read to the kids in little chunks at bedtime.
As you can see, at one hundred thousand words it’s grown way beyond a simple bedtime tale, and seems to have also grown beyond my kids’ interest. I remember when I first started recounting it to them, they’d be asking me for “one last part” over and over again, even when I’d say that it was for real going to be the last part this time. The light that those words would shine inside me, both as a father and as a writer – I will carry that warmth with me forever. Now though, it’s been at least a month since I read them any of the story.
The “one last part” requests had slowly morphed from genuine enthusiasm into tradition, and even that was eventually dropped. I’ve prepared all my segments that I would read to them with a little encore, and now was forced to prompt that encore myself. I’ve asked them about this of course, and they told me that there weren’t enough monsters in the story anymore. Sure enough, early on in the tale there’d been flying sharks, and croco-jaguars and even bear-eels. Then the story went in its own direction and try as I might I see little room for those kinds of beasts right now.
Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe I let the story get away from me when I should have kept it more towards my kids’ interests – found ways of incorporating the elements they wanted and turning away from the vision of the story that had formed.
It’s like, you kind of expect it, but you’re never truly prepared for how much parenting is one constant struggle with second-guessing yourself. I just never would have imagined that there would be such a crossover with my writing as well. They grow up unfairly quickly. Just when you think you’re hitting a groove with them, they’re older and they’ve moved on to something else. You want to hold onto these moments so tightly but the truth is you never know when they’re about to slip through your fingers.
I’m continuing to write Cassia and Mateo because I know I will finish reading it to them one day, I’ll let them know how the story ends. But what I really want is to find that spark again. To chase that story where I can again capture their imaginations like I did before, even though their imaginations are maturing so quickly. If not with Cassia and Mateo, then with another story, perhaps this one catered entirely to them, responding to their cues and their whims. After all, I’ve got many years of writing ahead of me, but precious few years of my boys being kids.
Not going to lie, I choked up a couple of times while writing this. You’d think hitting 100K in anything is a cause for celebration and nothing but, but I’ve made it about self-reflection, it seems. Oh well. If any of you out there have kids, be sure to hug them extra tight tonight. Wherever you’re finding joys with them right now, whether in the big things or the little things, those are the only things that should matter right now, because this part is so preciously small.
Update: After I wrote this entry and before it went live, I had a brief chat with my kids about the future of the story. Not surprisingly, they did say they didn’t really have much interest in seeing it to its end (poor things, they looked so guilty even though they don’t owe me anything). I said I figured as much but wanted to know why and was it the lack of monsters. They agreed, and then I asked them if there were monsters closer to the end, but it would take a little while to meet them, would they be okay sitting through the parts leading up to that. They both agreed that this was a good plan. My eldest also rushed to tell me that he’s still interested in The Second Magus even though it’s got no monsters. I told him yes, there won’t really be any monsters in that one and he said that’s fine, he still likes it. So there you go, lessons learned for me about how to approach writing that I intend to cater towards my kids, a reminder that it’s vitally important to talk to your kids., and further confirmation that I’m raising a couple of absolute sweethearts.
Like the crew of the Oshken indicated in their call to Valyen, their ship suffered significant hull damage while they were prospecting the ice rings around the furthest planet in their system. By Valyen’s own estimation, even though she made it no secret that she wanted them off the landing platform outside her house as quickly as possible, it would take at least ten days to fix. In the meantime, most of the crew moved into the guest lodgings, with a few choosing to stay behind on the ship, while Kviye moved into Valyen’s room and her father stayed in the single guest bedroom.
There were fifteen of them in all, mostly a Winti crew with Samir, two Fusir brothers and a member of a species Kviye had never seen before called Mraboran.
The first evening after they landed, Valyen’s mom invited Captain Mokob and his first mate for dinner at the family table. The Captain chose to bring Samir along as well.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think we made enough for extra guests,” Valyen said flatly when she opened the door to admit the Wintis and their tagalong Human.
“Nonsense, Valyen,” her mother said sharply from the kitchen, trying to soften her tone in front of the guests, “We have plenty to go around for everyone. Please come in.”
“I have to say we really appreciate the invitation,” Mokob said. “We haven’t eaten planet-side in months and everything smells absolutely delicious.”
“You mean you’ve been only on your ship that whole time?” Kviye asked.
“Well, we did waylay at two space stations, which is a step up from floating around in the confines of our ship, but can’t compete with fresh ingredients taken right off the land.”
The Captain and Nmala took their seats, awkwardly stretching their ungainly limbs under the table, while Uncle Dekan brought in an extra chair for Samir.
“Thank you,” Samir said and Uncle Dekan grunted in return. Within the family, it was only Valyen and Kviye that were comfortable with Trade Thorian. Valyen’s mother could get by if she had to, while the others had no knowledge of it whatsoever, so the two of them served as translators during dinner to the best of their abilities.
“I didn’t think it possible,” Captain Mokob said after a few bites, “But the food tastes even more delicious than it smells.”
“You’re too kind, Captain,” Valyen’s mother said, tilting her head to the side.
“Not at all. Nmala here does most of the food prep on board our ship and he’ll be the first to tell you how astonishingly good this is by comparison.”
Nmala made a grunt that could as easily have been a declaration of a life-long vendetta as a statement of acquiescence.
“Well, second to tell you anyway,” the Captain added with a slight shake of the head.
“So that last world you’d visited. What was it like?” Kviye asked.
“Oh, it was that small Human colony on the edge of Winti space, nothing remarkable. What was it again?”
“Nkagan” Samir answered.
“That’s right! It’s where we picked up this fine lad to join our crew.” The Captain put his arm round Samir and shook him a bit.
“Is that where you’re from Samir?” Kviye asked, trying yet failing to not make her conversation sound like an interview.
“No, I grew up on another world elsewhere in the HID.”
“Right, sorry, the Human Interstellar Dependency – it’s the name of all the Human colony worlds. I grew up on an insignificant little rock in one corner of it, not that much bigger than what you have here, and ended up moving to Nkagan because they’re going through a construction boom right now. It’s a boom alright, the workers though hardly get any benefit from it. And then one day I bumped into old Nmala here at the pub after my shift and he talked my ear off about their little venture.”
“Did he now?” Valyen said, looking at Nmala who seemed to only have eyes for his food.
“And now been flying with the crew of the Oshken for the last few months,” Captain Mokob said.
“So what is it that the crew of your ship does?” Kviye asked.
“They’re scavengers,” Valyen interjected, not lifting her eyes from the fork that was approaching her mouth.
“Hmm?” Must have having sensed her daughter’s tone but not recognizing the word, Valyen’s mother leaned into Kviye for a translation. “Valyen!” she chastised when she got the answer.
“That’s alright. It’s a fair assessment a lot of the time. A little salvage here, some minor prospecting there, you know, little things to make ends meet. But it’s the comets that give folks like us our name is where the money really is. Comets are temperamental beasts. And they need a particularly bold kind of crew to tame. They’re not beholden to the confines of our stellar systems and often visit us from far outside the Known Reaches. And sometimes they bear unspeakable riches. Mostly its rare ores, sometimes organic particles used for research and medicines. And if fortune’s favour truly smiles on you,” Captain Mokob dropped his voice low and smiled, putting his hand into an inside pocket of his coat. “You may find yourself a lode of these.” Pinched between his fingers he held an instantly recognizable black orb with its shadowy halo. A little smaller than the specimen that had taken Kviye to space and now sat securely in her pocket, the sphere in the Captain’s hand called to Kviye with its familiar ominous song. Kviye glanced at Valyen and thought her friend looked like Mokob brought an actual bapa zhaga into her home.
With the writing productivity I’ve been having since last year, it’s no surprise that I’m hitting milestones with all my projects. A few nights ago though, I managed to hit two major ones in the same hour – my destined-to-be-a-web-novel fantasy called The Second Magus crossed 50K words, while my second novel whose working title is Maple Vodka has hit 80k.
With The Second Magus, all I had originally set out to do, was to try to bolster my readership for the Bloodlet Sun on Royal Road by producing something in a genre that was more popular on that website and then hoping for some cross-promotion. I started writing it last December and already I’m at 50K, which is hallway into a decent novel length (maybe not so much for epic fantasies, but I’ve got no interest in writing something so voluminous).
What I didn’t expect to happen was just how invested I would become in this. In order to accomplish my original cross-promotion goal, I dusted off an idea I’d been brewing for years, and decided to build something on top. Much to my surprise, I ended up building way more than I bargained for. The amount of story I have going on in my head – I’d barely scratched the surface with these 50K words. And what was supposed to have been a side project, feels very real now. I’ve got the kind of feelings for this story that I have for my long-term projects like my first two novels and The Bloodlet Sun. I want nothing more than for my baby to succeed and I’m putting in as much effort as I can in order to see it happen.
I’m very excited to have shepherded The Second Magus to that much content in less than a year, and I’m getting more and more pumped about eventually releasing it. Last estimated debut date was sometime in September, but now I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if I can get it out the door by early November.
For my second novel, the reason I care about the 80K milestone is because that is generally considered the healthy minimal threshold for the length of a contemporary fiction novel. I’ve recently run into issues with word count on my first novel, since from a 96K I managed to edit it down to 71K, and now have to figure out how to get the word count up without looking like I’m forcing it.
So reaching something like 80K on my second novel doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods yet, since I can always pare it down to less than that, but there’s still a few things to consider here: one, is that there’s still plenty of plot left to tie up, so if I had to guess, first draft will clock in between 100K and 110K, and two is that with all this extra word count I will have a pretty decent cushion to edit myself down to something that is still novel length, and finally, it’s just the sense of relief of being there again – having a manuscript that’s long enough that it can be a novel.
They always say that writing a novel is the marathon of writing accomplishments, and now being in that territory for the second time feels like an important hurdle has been jumped. It’s not some mysterious once-in-a-lifetime event for me anymore, but something that I can do, and something that I can tell myself that I can do over and over again.
If I had to guess, I’ll end up finishing the first draft of this novel either before the end of this year or early into the next one, and then off into the editing process, which is another mental hurdle I’m yet to clear, but that’s a future me problem. For the time being, I’ll just bask in my current milestone, and stoke the excitement that comes from actually accomplishing something instead of just endlessly throwing words onto paper.
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.