Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
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.
The ship that contained their newest customers was an ugly conglomeration of parts, the big belly suggesting that it may have once been a smaller cargo freighter. The hull was covered by a decades’ old patchwork of repairs, while the great arms that made it look like an insect appeared to be welded to the body using little other than the hope that the ship wouldn’t fall apart.
After a few minutes of the comet chaser hissing and creaking as it adjusted to their atmosphere, there was a low thud in the hull. The entry ramp lowered after getting jammed in place for a moment and two Wintis ducked their heads and stepped into the daylight. Built for few ships other than their own, the Wintis stood at least a head taller than most Humans, owing mostly to their long toes. Kviye had never seen them because Wintis wore boots up half their leg, but she had heard that the toes culminated in hooves. The Wintis’ eyes, which sat wide apart on a slightly triangular elongated face, were round and mostly black, with only thin slivers of white visible on the sides. Flattened noses with narrow vertical nostrils were surrounded by thick short fur that covered the bottom half of their faces, while the Wintis’ hair was generally short, culminating in a slightly longer tuft at the top of their head.
Of the two Wintis that disembarked, the one on the right was taller, with lighter auburn fur that stuck out messily from his cheeks. The other was chestnut brown, had a flatter nose and a scar running from his brow past his eye and down the length of his cheek. He stepped down the ramp more cautiously than his companion, holding with both hands a metal rod wrapped partially in gauze that Kviye did not immediately recognize as a weapon.
“You can put that neural devastator away or walk right back into your ship.” Valyen spoke in the language common to spacefarers.
The Winti with the lighter fur looked around for a moment, then patted the other on the arm.
“Apologies. My first mate has seen more than his fair share of pirates so he tends to be a little too careful sometimes.” The Winti with the scar didn’t take his intense gaze off Valyen but did place the rod into a metal holster behind his back. “I’m Captain Mokob of the comet chaser Oshken, and this is Nmala.”
“My name is Morozo Valyen and this is Hon Kviye.”
Kviye nodded, wondering if Valyen spoke for her because she mistakenly thought Kviye couldn’t keep up with the language.
“If you don’t mind me saying, I didn’t really expect to encounter any Humans this far out.”
Kviye and Valyen glanced at each other at the unfamiliar word.
“Humans?” Valyen repeated.
“Humans, yes,” Captain Mokob hesitated, “That is the name of your species, right?”
A ringing rose in Kviye’s ears and a heat bubbled in her chest. Her mouth went dry but still she managed to speak in a tongue much rustier than Valyen’s. “You know of others like us?”
“Why sure. You’re not a common sight, mind you, but,” the Captain’s eyes widened and his mouth opened into a smile that revealed his flat blunt teeth, “One of my crew is Human. I’ll go get him.”
As Mokob walked back up the ramp, Nmala stood immobile, regarding them. The ringing in Kviye’s ears only grew louder, making it hard for her to hear her own thoughts as they raced through the endless possibilities of what the next minutes could bring. She glanced briefly at Valyen and found her frozen with cruel determination, a look Kviye had never before seen on her friend’s face. She thought that maybe if the weapon was in Valyen’s hands, both the Wintis would be dead by now and the ship blown up into scrap.
“Hey Samir!” Captain Mokob shouted into the open door. “Samir.” A muffled reply came from within. “Ngado? … Could you get Samir for me?” Mokob turned back to rejoin Nmala on the ramp, resuming his smiling disposition right where he left off. “He’ll be right out.”
Kviye’s fingers found Valyen’s hand and grabbed it and she appreciated that Valyen returned an assuring squeeze back.
A young man, with a sandy light brown face partially obscured by dark grease stains, and with a head full of short dark hair wound into dense coils, stepped out of the ship into the light. To Kviye’s eyes, he was unmistakably one of them. His eyes lit up when he saw them, and he rattled off a sentence in a tongue that was unfamiliar to Kviye. Judging by Valyen’s silence, it was equally foreign to her.
The man’s face shed some of its enthusiasm which was replaced by confusion. He spoke in the language again, this time making it sound like a question, but Kviye and Valyen remained lost.
“Do you speak Trade Thorian at least?”
“Yes,” Valyen answered, “Though I didn’t know that’s what it was called.”
“Great, perfect. Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t assume you’d know StEC this far out near the Adaract Hive. Still, it’s nice to see some familiar faces. Though, I have to ask, are you okay?”
He was looking at Valyen when he said it, and she narrowed her eyes before replying, “Me? Why?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve just never seen a Human so pale before.”
Valyen looked like she was about to dig deep into her knowledge of informal Trade Thorian when Kviye stepped in with her own question. “You mean there are others?”
She wasn’t sure if it was her accent or the fact that the words caught in her throat but she repeated, “Like us. Are there others like us?”
“Humans? Oh, like … billions. On Earth and on the colonies and oooooh I know what’s going on here!” His mouth was agape in wonder as he shook the arm of his captain who’d watched the conversation with increased fascination. “This must be one of those lost tribes. The ones that lost contact after the Great Fire. I would have thought they’d found all of you by now but I guess not.”
“The Great Fire?” Kviye wasn’t sure if she liked the taste of those words on her tongue.
Captain Mokob’s honking laugh startled her momentarily. “Well isn’t it just the most fortuitous thing that we landed here? Looks like you have a lot to catch up on. And you,” he pointed a finger at Valyen, “Look like the person to talk business with.”
“Your crew should disembark,” Kviye offered. “They can sleep in the lodgings behind the garage.” She gestured with her head towards the white building where her and her father had lived for the past few months.
“What are you doing?” Valyen hissed at her in their native tongue.
“Offering them a place to stay.”
“But at your place?”
“That’s not our place. That’s –”
“Please, my apologies,” Captain Mokob interrupted. “We didn’t mean to intrude.”
“You’re not intruding,” Kviye said.
“It’s nothing really, my crew is fine to sleep aboard the ship. It’s where we live anyway.”
“You can sleep on the ship, Captain. I need a break from all that metal,” Samir said, and elbowed past his Captain to walk down the ramp.
Mokob looked over his shoulder and then back at Kviye and Valyen. “Believe it or not, it does look better on the inside.”
Uphill Both Ways
I’ve recently decided to incorporate riding my bike into my morning commute, once that becomes part of my life again, and so far, it has been a grueling failed experiment.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on here, my office at the university has been exclusively work-from-home since the pandemic started, save for the one or two people who want to come to campus as a preference. I’ve been quite satisfied working from home since cutting out my commute essentially puts two hours back inn my day and being able to split that between commitments to work and personal life have really improved my situation overall.
Of course, despite the recent rise in cases, the hope is that the pandemic is tapering out here as our vaccination rates are quite high, so we’re talking a return to the office around November. Things won’t be back to what they were before the pandemic but also there won’t be an opportunity to continue that exclusive work-from-home arrangement, so it looks like at least twice a week my commute will be back on the menu.
Let’s just say after going almost a year-and-a-half without a single cold I’m not too keen on hopping onto public transit again. Something about being with fifty strangers in a cramped space during the wet and cold Vancouver winter months, stewing in everyone’s sniffles, just doesn’t sound terribly appealing anymore. It’s bad enough that I’ve got two kids going back to school in September and will likely bring back all sorts of goodies from the germs marketplace. So it’s safe to say you’ll never catch me on a bus again without a mask, and the less commuting I do on public transit, the better I’ll feel.
That said, I’m not about to replace that commute with a car either. Between gas, parking, the environmental impact and tying up our car for the whole day with my wife not being able to use it, this doesn’t sound like a great option either.
So I thought maybe I should join the ranks of the thousands of bike commuters in the city and kill two birds with one stone – avoid taking public transit, and getting some of my morning exercise out of the way.
I took my dinky commuter bike that I’ve owned for fifteen years and slapped more safety gear on top of it than my bike is worth. Then there was the addition of a fetching safety vest from Costco and a reflective water-resistant cover for my helmet, and any car will light me up like a magnificent biking Christmas tree.
What’s also opened up this possibility for me is the addition and discovery of some biking routes to work. My wife and I are both pretty risk averse people (I’m sure more than once we’ve been accused of being ‘lame’), so I wanted to avoid biking along the busy street-side routes, especially that one stretch of semi-highway where the speed limit is 90kph (60mph for my metrically-challenged readers). Now with the relatively new greenway that can take me a third of the way there, and the discovery of the awesomeness that is Pacific Spirit Park, which would bypass the highway stretch, I thought this was going to be a piece of cake.
Turns out baking is hard.
It’s not like I haven’t done a 14-kilometer (9-mile) bike ride before – my end-to-end greenway trips are slightly more than that, but it’s one thing to bike down a paved even greenway – and another thing entirely to do the rough terrain in Pacific Spirit. The first time I did a test run of this ride I entered the park with cheery optimism, and was ready to die two minutes later.
Pacific Spirit isn’t exactly a rough hiking trail, but it is dirt paths, sometimes with embedded roots and rocks that take you through about as wild an urban park as you can get. The gradient can be fairly steep since it follows the terrain (and not like the greenway which was built atop an old rail line, which had its own inclines but never sharper than what a freight train could handle), and my poor little bike that’s hardly worth the spare parts was no help at all, no matter what gear I switched it to. I don’t even think I made it past the first uphill before my legs up and I was left to shamefully walk my bike to the crest of the hill. I’m not an athletic person by any means, but it’s been a long time since something defeated me so thoroughly. And it didn’t defeat me just once, but again and again, to the point where I started contemplating how I might be able to take public transit home.
In the end, it didn’t have to come to that. I struggled through all of the hard stretches, walking my bike more than once, and making it home just fine, and after a quick shower I passed out on the couch for one of the best naps of my life before the kids woke up.
I’m not intending to abandon the idea, but I realized I have a whole lot of training left before me if I’m to make this a regular part of my commute. Honestly, the challenge is kind of fun, though I’m thinking maybe finally it’s time for that new bike.
Within minutes of Kviye’s arrival in the kitchen, all the members of the family settled around the breakfast table. Kviye’s father had come in from his daily rounds looking for more work. He’d had a part time job running numbers for a woman who owned a butcher shop and a bakery, but most of the openings were to work physical labour at the docks, which at his age and his general lack of physical labour experience, having run the accounting of the family business since he was married, were generally off the table for him. Still, he’d come in with a faint smile and a “good morning” for Kviye and a complete lack of updates which she would later have to claw out of Valyen’s mom instead.
Adri also arrived by this point, as always walking in while trying to avoid eye contact and scratching behind his head, as if embarrassed that he’d slept in even though no one present would think of mentioning it.
Even Grandma Morozo lifted her creaky bones from her corner chair that allowed her to observe all the activities in the kitchen and adjacent living room and took her seat at the table.
“Lian, what is this?” Grandma Morozo called out, gesturing with both hands to the spread before her. “Where’s my drink?”
“Ma, I thought we’ve been over this,” came the gentle resigned reply of Valyen’s mom.
“We have, which is why I thought you’d learn by now.” Grandma Morozo smiled wryly in the direction of Valyen, who kept her lips in a tight straight line so as to suppress a laugh and maintain solidarity with her mother.
“Ma, it’s still morning,” Valyen’s mom reiterated, unwilling to budge from where she was sitting.
“What of it? If you live as long as me, god forbid, we’ll see what you need to get through every morning. Now quit wasting an old woman’s life and get me my drink, or I’ll do it myself.”
Valyen leaned in to whisper in Kviye’s ear. “She would, too. Last time she took half an hour and almost broke her hip.”
Just as Kviye snorted in response, Valyen’s mom slapped her hands on both her thighs and let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine. Far be it for me to expect anyone to be halfway sensible in this house.” They all watched her, Grandma Morozo nodding gravely, as Valyen’s mom grabbed a stepstool and used it to reach to the highest cabinet above the kitchen sink from which she pulled out a bottle of a slightly murky colourless liquid, and poured her mother-in-law a small glass, placing it heavily on the wooden table before her.
As Valyen’s mom passed him on the way back, Uncle Dekan leaned back in his chair and asked, “Lian, you mind pouring me a little of that too while you’re up?”
“Don’t you start,” she responded, making a show of holding the bottle as far away from him as possible.
Grandma Morozo slammed back her drink in a single gulp, loudly smacked her lips, and followed it up with a throaty “aaah”, the slightest shine of tears now visible in the corners of her eyes. In about fifteen minutes, if Kviye’s previous experience was any indication, she would get giggly. This would gradually morph into rowdiness, followed by a brief period of belligerence after which Grandma Morozo would clock out for a nap that would take her through to lunch. Kviye always looked forward to the rowdy phase.
“There’s a ship that’s coming in any moment now,” Valyen said while she still had food stuffed behind her cheek. “They radioed about an hour ago saying they’ve got hull damage so I gave them the go-ahead to land on our main platform We owe it to the Malkins to get those two tractor engines repaired as quickly as possible, since we’re about to have our hands full.”
When they moved into the Morozo household, Kviye became Valyen’s right hand in the garage. There was no way she was going to miss out on this job – they hadn’t had an off-world ship land here since Kviye’s crash.
“Any idea who they are?” Kviye asked. Ever since she confirmed that the ancient skiffs that served as transports on her moon had once been capable of spaceflight, it only strengthened her theory that their ancestors came from some long-forgotten homeworld. By Valyen’s expression, Kviye figured that she was not amused by the twinkle in Kviye’s eye at the prospect of a Human from a distant world possibly visiting them some day.
“Captain sounded like a Winti to me,” Valyen answered with a shrug and shoveled more food in her mouth.
Not ten minutes later, Grandma Morozo, a proud longshore worker herself, with the zhelteska fish tattoo on her arm to prove it, threw shade at the subsequent stock in her family by bringing up Valyen’s grandfather. “Mitya was a man who built his body on the docks. Had the arms the size of tree trunks and not mention what was in –”
Before Kviye got a chance to see everyone’s face turn beet red except Valyen’s, who was somehow immune to all of her grandmother’s shenanigans, the house began to vibrate, causing the cutlery to dance on the table. Rowdy Grandma Morozo was going to have to wait – their newest customer was coming in for a landing.
When she and Valyen stepped outside, the ship was already low enough to blot out the sun with its insect-like shadow as it descended towards the landing platform. Though still black and mostly featureless against the bright light, Kviye could tell it was in rough shape, and its engines sounded like they had the starship equivalent of bronchitis.
The wind from the ship’s atmospheric thrusters blew Kviye’s hair into her face, while Valyen’s ponytail twitched angrily as she regarded the vessel with lowered eyebrows and narrowed eyes, tightening the arms that she crossed in front of her.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she grumbled through shut teeth.
“What is it? What is that thing?” Kviye asked as the ship concluded the last few metres of its descent and landed in the yard with a groan of metal.
“A comet chaser,” Valyen answered with cool disdain, “Only thing worse would have been a pirate ship.”
It appears that I may have accidentally burned myself out when it comes to my writing.
The foundation for these unfortunate circumstances was laid last month, when I was preparing to go on my first vacation since the pandemic started (didn’t go anywhere, just a good two weeks where I could unplug from the emails and spend more time with my family). When I’m on vacation and therefore tend to be away from my computer, I usually put in less time for my writing. So in anticipation of this productivity dip, I thought it would be a good idea to build up a buffer.
One flaw in this plan was that my daily goals already account for vacations and stat holidays, so I’m already building up a natural buffer. Seems like riding the high from having my most productive writing year clouded my judgement a bit.
To meet these goals, I really did try to fit any spare minute of my day with either writing, or thinking about writing. And to my credit, I met my buffer goals, and was in a position where if I wrote moderately over my vacation weeks and then jumped back into the same pace once my vacation was done, I wouldn’t have skipped a beat and would have been well on my ridiculous 1,000 words per day rate.
About two days into my vacation I realized that I had overdone it.
The moderate pace that I expected from myself turned into a trickle – sometimes putting in only 50-100 words just so I can maintain my write-every-day streak. Where my mind would normally be racing through scenes while I was doing the evening cleanup, I couldn’t even force it to focus anywhere. Silently washing the dishes for twenty minutes thinking of random junk seemed to be preferable.
I assumed that this was because the entirety of my brain preferred to head on vacation, including my creative side. I also remembered about the built-in daily goal buffer, and decided I wouldn’t stress too much about it – I could pick it all up again when I’m hanging out with my computer the entire day.
That didn’t happen either.
I found my mind in an unusual spot where I couldn’t even force it to think about writing. And that wasn’t specific to any particular project but across the board – there was nothing I wanted to pick up any more, even at the end of the day where there were no particular priorities.
I tried to blame it on the heat wave, or the transition to work back from being freely available for my kids. In the end though, as I finished up my second week of this strange lull, I figured out that I simply overdid it. Which I guess is surprising, since there is a certain expectation that if it’s something you’re enjoying or it’s not particularly laborious then what is there to burn out over? However, there’s a possibility of overdoing everything, and I’m an expert at overdoing (just ask my multiple running injuries even though I’m a casual runner).
So this will be a lesson learned – don’t push yourself to be so productive that you end up losing productivity over the long run. Worse yet, don’t make something you enjoy a chore.
The plan is not to beat myself up over it and not allow any stray thoughts questioning my worth as a writer from intruding. What I need to do is gently ease myself back into my previous groove, perhaps focusing on those projects that are going through an easier time of being written in order to build my confidence up.
Such an odd thing to have to do after taking a vacation – one would expect that you come back feeling refreshed, but it appears that in this case it just allowed my mind to process and to reject my previous pace. Just need to be smarter about all this, is all.
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.