Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
The fur coat kept the warmth in, but without the steaming tea, there would have been no warmth for it to contain. The fur, of course, was fake, they hadn’t harvested shimchek for their fur in centuries, but the coat did its job nonetheless. Vaiya tea was still around, except this was also not the real thing, and it was not doing its job. Yarmar had put together her own special recipe from the supplies they had available, and Hilosh supposed that if you heated it enough to scald your tongue, you could almost pretend it was distilled memories of the actual drink.
The view outside the darkened co-supervisor’s office was even more sorrowful, and made Hilosh feel cozy by comparison. The storm had entered its second week, lashing the canyon that was the base of their mining operation with piercing violet lightning while winds made everything in the workers’ barracks shiver and groan. The engineers assured him the structures could withstand a far worse beating. Then again, the geologist promised far more ore than what they’d been pulling up, and the meteorologist swore at the beginning that this storm would clear within three days. So Hilosh was in ample supply of assurances but with a dwindling amount of trust in them.
There was a hollow metallic knock on the door.
“Come in.” He didn’t need to ask who it was, knowing that it would be Yarmar, his co-supervisor, no doubt with some news he didn’t want to hear; otherwise, she wouldn’t have bothered him, knowing to leave him to his own somewhat unproductive way of coping with this adversity.
“It’s not going to go away just because you keep staring at it,” she said.
“It used to work with my kids.”
“Have you been sleeping?”
“Not recently,” and then after the pause that was filled by Yarmar’s sigh he added, “Besides, your vaiya tea has been keeping me up.”
“That tea is glorified bathwater and you know it.” She joined him by the window, looking down into the deep scar in the ground, the sheer rock faces punctured by mining caverns, some of which were plugged by drilling machines that had been tucked away from the worst of the weather. The War of the Last Gasp may have been celebrated across the Know Reaches for its blow to the Thorian Empire, the apparent signal that their time of dominance would soon be coming to an end, but forty years later, not only had that day not come, but forgotten in the allies’ victory were the Vaparozh. Hilosh and Yarmar’s people lost substantial territory at the end of the war, an unspoken compromise to have the Thorians admit defeat, which resulted in the resource crunch that chased their people to the inhospitable worlds of Dead Space, just like the rock Hilosh had now found himself on.
“Any end in sight?” Yarmar asked.
“None that I can see. Though Viri swears up and down that it’ll be another two days at most.”
“We might not have two days.” There it was, the reason she had come. “The Raire just radioed in and said they’re a couple of days out.”
“Great,” Hilosh said with what felt like the last bit of strength leaving his body.
“If this thing isn’t over by then …” She stopped herself, took the mug from his gloved hands, and took a sip of his vaiya tea. “Well, I don’t need to tell you.”
She hadn’t. Just like her, he’d been crunching the numbers the last couple of days. No one was crazy enough to fly shuttles in this weather, and even if the storm resolved itself, it would take time to collect the extracted ore for transport, and the crew of the Raire wasn’t exactly known for their patience. This far out into Dead Space, about a two-month freighter haul to the nearest breathable atmosphere, supply ships were life and they knew it. The Raire in particular was an Anthar Kai vessel, so would have little concern for the plight of lesser species. They’d stick around an extra half day, at most, and then they’d be gone, and not only would this complete an abysmal year of missed quotas, the crew would also have to ration until the next scheduled ship arrived. He wondered how much more he could lower the temperature before they chucked him down the chasm.
The crew were mostly Vaparozh, with a few Mraboran and Nabak, as well as one lonely Human, the first one to have stepped foot here since the Human that had started this whole mess for Hilosh in the first place.
“How’s the crew?” Hilosh asked. He hadn’t been out of his office in a few days, and in any case, Yarmar was always better with the whole lot of them than he was.
“You know how they are, they just want to work. Charosar has been talking about how she did four years on Rosha Chot’hagh without any work stoppages and this storm is nothing compared to what they have there.”
“Ha, I also spent time on Rosha Chot’hagh. Those storms are a gentle breeze compared to what’s out there right now. This place? Should have been shut down years ago if they asked me.”
“I take it no one asked you.”
“Nope. Just thought I’d have better luck finding another Drop down there.” A lightning bolt struck the top of a crane standing at the edge of the chasm. “I don’t know, I think my luck may have run out.”
“There’s always my luck, maybe it’ll rub off on you.” Yarmar jostled him shoulder-to-shoulder, yet Hilosh didn’t take his eyes off the storm or even crack a smile.
“You should at least join the men for dinner tonight,” Yarmar suggested.
I’ve noticed a curious trend in my writing recently to do with the setting of my stories. First question of course is how does one “notice” their own trend, aren’t I the one setting them? To that I answer that you’d be surprised what you don’t notice about your writing until you’ve had a chance to step back and take a look. Specifically, in my case I’ve been setting more of my stories in Russia, and with a particular slant to them as well.
Thinking back on my high school churn of short stories, I can’t recall any of them being explicitly set in Russia except one – the mostly autobiographical story of a kid with a heart condition trying to play hockey (don’t worry folks, knock on wood but this seems to have resolved itself – the heart condition, not the hockey, which is an affliction that refuses to leave me). There was another one that was loosely based on the events of one of the bombings of the Russian parliament in the early post-Soviet Union days, but it was set in an otherwise nameless fictional European country. An odd pattern give how much of writing advice is “write what you know”.
This seems to have begun to shift in the past few years.
Firstly, my second novel that I’m currently 70K words into is set predominantly in Russia. You can read more about it here but the gist is that someone who immigrates from Russia as a kid wakes up in his mid-twenties back in Moscow living the life he would have supposedly led if he had never left. Some parts are set in Canada, but otherwise it’s a Russian-set novel through and through.
Secondly, my third long-form writing project, which recently surpassed 15K but is still in the experimental stage is an autobiographical (or possible semi-autobiographical, since I’m still toying with this) accounting of my relationship with my father set against my immigrant experience. Most of this takes place in Canada but since I immigrated after I’d turned thirteen Russia plays a prominent role here as well.
And finally are my short stories. My production of these has slowed down considerably and I think on average I’ve completed about two a year for the last few years. Still, two out of the last four that I’ve worked on are set exclusively in Russia, with a curious common theme between them. The one that I completed last year, “Grisha and Kolya”, follows two kids, one who has a developmental delay and the other who bullies him regardless, not for his disability, but his perceived class privilege. The other, "Snowdrops", is about an older woman living by herself just above the concrete overhang of a Soviet-era apartment block and her struggles with a juvenile delinquent who keeps throwing things out of their apartment to smash right outside her window.
Both of these stories are pure fiction, but draw heavily on my own experience in Russia, including elements of myself lurking in the background, as I use the stories to try to deal with some of of the mistakes from my childhood.
It’s a shift to be sure, and not entirely a mysterious one.
High school wasn’t exactly an encouraging environment for me to explore my Russianness, as I found mostly what my identity earned me was a heavy dose of bullying. This time in my life I was trying to figure just how “Canadian” I could be given my background, and learning how heavy the first part of the hyphenation of “Russian-Canadian” would be.
Over the years, like Canadian society has finally begun to do, I’ve started moving past the “hyphenated” identity, allowing both to exist independently in the amounts that are true to myself and not some externally-dictated vision of what I should be. I think for this reason I’ve felt more comfortable drawing on my Russian influence directly, since each foray no longer threatens to envelop me in an identity crisis in the same way. I’m excited as to where this new direction in my writing will lead me.
My favourite author, Kazuo Ishiguro, set his first two novels in Japan, even though he emigrated from that country at the age of five. Not to say that I’m anywhere close to expecting the same kind of success, but it’s a great source of inspiration, and who’s to say what will happen next.
When the Human that had hit her noticed she’d seen him, he straightened up and spread his arms, “Wassat, abom? Want sommore?” Despite it being a heavily accented version of StEC, she understood enough – “abom”, short for “abomination”, a catchall epithet for anyone not Human.
She scanned him for a weapon, and finding none figured she may have underestimated the power of a Human fist. Still, she wondered what a full-force open strike from a Mraboran would do to a Human face. Either from boldness or stupidity, he showed no fear as she approached him, arms hanging limply at her side, a pose that may have looked entirely harmless, even comical, to someone unfamiliar, but to any Mraboran who saw would have been an obvious sign that blood was about to be spilled. A Mraboran did see, though, and risked putting himself in the line of fire to pull Angzal away from the street.
“Don’t be daft,” Rzena hissed at her in Mraboran, though his speech was somewhat slurred, prompting the Humans to make crude meowling noises in mock imitation as the two of them retreated, shoving past the law enforcement officers and out of the suffocating strangle of the march. Here, the pedestrians thinned out quickly, and only two blocks later they felt safe enough to slow down.
“I can’t believe you were actually about to fight them,” Rzena said, annoyed, as if it was him who’d had to drag her half-conscious bug-eyed self over that bridge.
“Me!?” She whirled on him, considering for a moment that it hardly mattered which individual served as an outlet for her rage and wondered where the same fire had been when she had to drag him out of there all on her own. “They’re the ones that attacked us first.”
“A few glancing blows. You think that would have been enough to justify a Mraboran diplomat disemboweling a few non-consequential Humans? I can almost imagine the headlines back home. Or is it that you seriously don’t want to keep this job, do you?”
“Forget the job, I’d rather live.”
Looking into his eyes, the right squinting from the swelling on his brow, she took his impatient exasperated tone for what it was – gratitude that he could never express in so many words.
So she dropped it, and they continued to put distance between themselves and the protesters until their presence no longer caused that ripple in the air that Angzal picked up on when they had left the restaurant. Rzena walked with a slight limp that he looked to be trying to hide but couldn’t avoid, so Angzal made no mention of it. As for her own injury, she touched the back of her skull and realized quickly that unless she enjoyed the sensation of a hot needle stabbing through her head temple to temple, then she should probably not do that anymore. Angzal knew the prudent thing to do would be to get it checked out by a doctor, but she had no appetite for dealing with Human xenobiologists, and the one Mraboran clinic in town would not be open at this hour. She wondered if Rzena had walked himself through the same equations yet.
“How’s your head?” she asked.
Rzena put a hand to his brow and then studied his fingers. “Bleeding’s stopped.”
He chortled at that. “Yeah, I guess it is.” He touched it again, seemingly harder this time since he winced and like Angzal thought better of poking around again.
They were passing in front of the consulate offices. The only evidence that this was the starting point of tonight’s conflagration were an abundance of litter, a sign with a snapped handle tossed to the curb and several abandoned low metal fences, for posterity, to show that some effort to control the crowds had obviously been made.
“You think you’re going to get that checked out tonight?” Angzal motioned with her head to Rzena’s swollen brow that continued its advance over his eye.
“I’ll live,” he answered, and then with a shrug added, “probably.”
“Yeah, I’ve also seen enough Humans for one evening.” A rowdy group of locals stepped out of a nearby restaurant and onto the street. By all accounts, and Angzal knew this, they had nothing to do with the others, and were simply having a good time, not even paying any mind to the two Mraboran. Still, they both made the silent decision to cross the street and out of their path, walking at a pace that was uncomfortable for Rzena until their paths diverged a few minutes later and Angzal offered to see him to his door.
“Don’t bother,” he said, and there was a pang of something akin to sorrow in Angzal to hear him sound his age. It looked as if something else was dancing on the tip of his tongue, perhaps some kind of joke or comment he wanted to use to brush the whole series of events under the rug, clear the slate. Instead, all he said was “Good night” and turned to head home.
She waited for him to disappear behind a corner before going on her way.
For Angzal at least, any notion of home was still lightyears away. Nothing about her apartment suggested any sort of sanctuary and, given the throbbing that now ballooned where the Humans had struck her, even the possibility of lying on her back in her strange bed on this strange planet and staring up into a painfully boring white ceiling to put this whole day away was taken from her.
Back in February I introduced you to my latest writing project – the fantasy story with LitRPG elements entitled “The Second Magus”. I’d gotten the idea for the novel when I saw which kind of genres succeeded on Royal Road after I had posted The Bloodlet Sun to that site I wanted to try my hand at my own story in that vein, while also finally bringing to life an idea that I’ve had brewing for a number of years. I initially estimated that I would like be ready to post this in the spring/summer.
With spring quickly slipping away from us (and if we’re going by the Russian way of counting the seasons, today is the first day of summer), I think I’m likely to miss that goal. The good news is, this has nothing to do with a general lack of progress on the story. In fact, having recently cleared 36K words, I’m further along in it by word count than I’d hoped at the beginning of the year.
The problem is that whereas I’ve seemed to have found time for writing, I’m still having trouble putting in as much editing as I’d hoped. The Second Magus is competing with The Bloodlet Sun, which is already on a schedule where I can’t afford to fall behind, andmy novel, which I’ve sworn and will continue to swear will be done soon. For this reason, the editing is lagging significantly behind the writing, and of those 35K words, none so far are publishing-ready.
This is further compounded by the fact that I want to have a pretty aggressive initial release schedule to increase my chances of getting into the “Trending” section of Royal Road. This means that I need to work up a significant buffer before I launch into it, and as a result have much more work ahead of me. Currently, my more realistic goal is that The Second Magus will launch on Roya Road in September, on the anniversary of the release of The Bloodlet Sun on this blog.
As for the story itself, I think it’s going well. I didn’t know how comfortable I would feel in the genre but I’ve found a niche I can live with – focusing on the character and the plot rather than unique and detailed worldbuilding that can be found in something like the Stormlight Archive. Elements of the world and parts of the plot sometimes sprout as I go, which is another advantage of waiting for a larger buffer to build up. Unlike traditional works which get written in their whole before going to publishing, with my serial web novels, I don’t have the benefit of being able to see the end result and then reworking from the beginning. At least with a buffer it allows me to set most of my pieces right before I gallop ahead and handcuff myself by things written in the earlier chapters.
I’ve also had a chance to try out the first few chapters on my kids and it received their stamp of approval. Wish I could take them further into the story but our story time has been sidetracked over the last month or so by my seven-year-old’s own creation: The Adventures of Bob and Appaly. I might go into that later just for fun – it is quite the ride on the rollercoaster of a kid’s imagination.
In the meantime, I will plug way at The Second Magus and work on fleshing out such minor details as the name of the Kingdom where everything takes place, and the main character’s last name (I know, I know, but fictional names have never been my strong suit so I’m being extra careful here, and with the first name being “Miro”, I think I’m just lucky it’s something that’s only four letters and two syllables long and doesn’t sound like some tertiary Star Wars planet afterthought).
I’ll also need to put n some extra effort into the synopsis, as my previous version of The Bloodlet Sun one has recently been torn to shreds by some very helpful users on Royal Road. Taking those lessons to heart, I should have something prepared in the next month, and it will probably be the next thing I’ll be sharing with you in terms of an update on this project.
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.