Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and this year, because fuck this year, it started early. I’m talking about Christmastime, or as I like to call it, the time Michael figures out where the hell two thousand Christmas lights are supposed to go (hint: at least six hundred of them go on the tree).
I was never a Christmas freak growing up. In Russia, the big family holiday is New Year’s Eve, and even though as “westernized” Russians, Santa Claus did drop by with something in our stockings, it was New Years that took centre stage. And sure, there’s many similarities, for example how our New Years trees are essentially Christmas trees, but the holidays tend to be invasive in different ways.
So it was my wife that ended up infecting me with the stereotypical anglo-western Christmas bug. Our first winter in Toronto, where we moved into a 350 square foot box while I went to law school, one day she came home with a few bags from Dollarama and basically vomited Christmas all over our apartment. Then, over the years, I built up on this decorating tradition, and much like with Frankenstein, the creator quickly lost control of their creation.
I wasn’t kidding about the number of lights. My last tally was a couple of years ago and we were up to three thousand, a good chunk of which ends up on our tree, as you can see from this year’s iteration:
I also have some icicle lights in the corner of the living room, a set of dewdrop fairy lights on a bookshelf in the kids’ room, and this string of white lights running half the perimeter of our unit:
I think it might be a good thing that we live in a Housing Cooperative and not a detached single-family home, because had it been the latter, I think Christmas decorations may have been allotted double-digit percentage points in the family budget. Instead, our housing complex is set up more like a townhouse with multiple units per building. Still, it doesn’t stop me from plastering the railing with as many lights as I can fit:
Every year I make an event out of adding to my collection, usually hopping south of the border for a visit to Target. This year though, the borders are closed, and in any case, I’ve lost quite a few lights to attrition this year so it would mostly just be replacing what I previously had. I was thinking of checking out Canadian Tire’s curbside pickup but I prefer looking at the lights in person, so my purchases this year have been limited.
The best part is that once it’s all set up it’s really easy to maintain. I went from plugging everything manually every evening to using remotes to now setting everything up on two plugs that come with a timer, so it ends up being completely hands-off.
There’s generally been a lot of trial-and-error since I started doing this that makes the setup easier year every year, like taking pictures of the previous year’s lights to jog my memory, installing clear plastic support hooks that can stay up year-round, and figuring out how to place lights on railings in a stable but not time-consuming way. Gotta say I’m very pleased with past year’s me and the tidy work he left for me.
I think it goes without saying that lights are not the most important part of the season for me, but I’ll say it anyway – it’s my family’s happiness and seeing them up and feeling like Christmastime has begun that keeps me coming back to this labour of love year after year. And during this year, we can use all the light in the darkness that we can get.
Alright, real talk.
Never in my history of my writing have I felt burnout about writing in particular, and wanted to throw up my arms and just say “fuck it, I’m never going to make it”.
It’s not like anything particular happened, more like perfect storm of consecutive punches: the pandemic in general, the holidays coming up where lockdowns have basically took a giant dump on usual plans, the sleep deprivation of having a newborn, stress eating, not exercising due to lack of sleep and therefore not counterbalancing the stress eating, reading about writers having a “barely productive” year with six publication when I haven’t published squat in two years, having a spark of hope during #pitmad and finding out it’s essentially a self-publishing scam, failing to find an audience for my web serial after three months, blah blah blah sob story that most writers go through.
I’m jus tired. Tired of trying with absolutely no promise of success; of putting in hard work where the only fuel is hope and the only reward so far has been self-doubt. When does one ask themselves if they’re good enough? Almost constantly. When does one decide to answer the question in the negative?
Not now. Not yet anyway.
That doesn’t make what I’m currently experiencing feel any better though. Watching the yellow blips of pending submissions in my spreadsheet all flicker to red. Seeing absolutely no traffic on my blog or on my Royal Road page for my web novel.
I love writing. This summer, when I had hit the best groove of my life it made me feel good, even though my success landscape was pretty much identical to what it is today. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m just not writing enough, which is what’s leaving room to get distracted by the failures instead of enjoying the journey. Eventually, I will get out of this funk, and will regain my ability to see the big picture – that I like creating stories and playing with language and sharing my work with people no matter how few of them there are.
Apologies for being a downer, I just needed to vent, and firmly believe that bottling it up certainly won’t fix anything, and I for one like seeing that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels down in the dumps about their writing, so hopefully I can do the same for someone else.
Right, that’s my excuse.
Anyway I’ll make it up to you all with my next post which will be about Christmas lights.
A couple of months ago I posted here about waiting for our new baby to arrive any day now, and then about a week later I disappeared off the face of the Earth, with only regular The Bloodlet Sun updates being posted through Weebly’s handy queuing system. I suppose everyone could have guessed what happened, but long story short, at 6 am on a Tuesday, my wife’s water broke, and a couple of hours past midnight on Wednesday, we welcomed into the world our new baby boy.
For those of you keeping count, that’s now three boys in our family. The temptation might be to think that we had this one because we were going for a girl, but there’s no truth to that. Sure, it would have been nice to add a splash of variety, but we know boys, we’re good (knock on wood) with boys, and so we’re happy with boys. I guess the only one who experienced any kind of disappointment is our eldest, who already had a little brother and was really hoping for a little sister. The rhetoric for the first couple of weeks was “I wish he was a girl but I still love him” and even now that’s gone out the window.
The bottom line is, both kids absolutely adore their new baby brother. Gabriel, who is now the middle child and who, I swear, was born a middle child, is thrilled any time he has to throw out a used diaper, and both brothers rush at the opportunity to keep the little one company whenever their mom or I need a few moments in the kitchen.
With the difficulty of the pandemic pregnancy, it’s nice to be on the other side and happy. This wasn’t a year that anybody had planned so having this sunshine in our life is a welcome relief.
For my own part, I’m doing what I can to support my wife and our family. I was fortunate enough to be able to get four weeks off work as vacation time to help with the transition, and had some generous coworkers fill in for my files during that time. I know lots of men aren’t given the same opportunities, something I decry whenever I can, but if you are at least presented with an option that makes sense financially, do take it. Not only does that set a good example for other dads and puts the pressure on governments and employers to extend better leave benefits to fathers, you will benefit immensely from it by being able to provide support to your spouse and to spend so much quality bonding time with your newborn.
Another undeniable silver lining of the pandemic is that with remote work, I’m able to be there more and to continue to spend my time with those that are most important to me. I hope that’s one lesson that the world can learn from this unfortunate situation is that the majority of people would sooner be spending time with, or at least being closer to, their family then ploughing away at an office.
I’ve been back at work for almost a month now, and judging by the tardiness of my blog entry on our baby you can tell I’m not quite fully into the swing of things. Sleep is currently a fickle concept but some nights are better than others. In any case, even when I’m up with him it allows me to keep current on the Mandalorian and allows me to catch up with all sorts of shows I’ve been behind on. While I do look forward to getting some rest, I will enjoy my current ability to be reckless with my sleeping habits.
As for the rest of the writing outside my blog, the creative juices are sluggish but not entirely dormant, so I am producing a little bit here and there but nowhere near what I was immediately before the baby came. Good thing I’m currently sitting on a The Bloodlet Sun buffer that stretches into March. That said, no complaints from me – they’re this little only for so long, and I have the rest of my life to write.
I currently find myself in one of life’s biggest holding patterns – the arrival of a new baby. Of course, it’s my wife who’s taking the brunt of the waiting as we move into “any day now” mode with everyone’s bags ready to go whenever the little one decides that it’s time. Still, after going through most of the pregnancy during a pandemic that did not make it any easier to find ways to occupy the two kids that we already have, she still managed to finish a semester of school and go on almost daily walks, which she’s keeping up. It’s incredible what she can do.
As for myself, most of my experience is simply marinating in ever-increasing excitement and nervousness, throwing every possible second of my day into supporting her, and counting down the days to when my poor wife can stop struggling to turn over in her sleep like a very determined sea turtle returning to the ocean. I’m also ready to pull the trigger to go off on a short paternity leave (more like banked vacation, so I’ll take what I can get). So it’s a bit like living on a powder keg that can go off at almost any moment, but one that’s filled mostly with confetti.
The kids are also happily waiting to be introduced to their new baby brother or sister, with very serious and opposite opinions being held by each as to whether it will be a boy or a girl. They also met their newest baby cousin a couple of days ago (don’t worry, that family is in our pandemic bubble) and with the glow on their faces when they did, I just can’t wait for our own little bundle.
As we enter the home stretch, the undercurrent of anxiety that’s inherent with this kind of event can just go pound sand. Between cancelled family vacations, home schooling, and a pregnancy where you’re unable to go anywhere indoors, can’t see your parents, or ever truly meet your healthcare providers, this has been a ray of hope and joy to ride out the last few months. Sometimes it feels like swirling around in your own personal eddy while a storm of uncertainty rages around you, and in the end, I’m just looking forward to entering this new stage of our lives, turning into a father of three, and for us turning into a family of five, and all the adventures that would come with that.
There’s something to those walks with the baby carrier at three in the morning that help me refocus and reprioritize; realize what the important things are in my life and to reorient myself in their direction. Even if in their first few weeks and months I have way less time for my writing, I feel like my kids only help me grow as a writer, allowing me new insights about myself and the world that serve my writing.
So if I disappear for a little while, the reason is I’ve got a new ten pound project keeping me up at night, and I wouldn’t wish to have it any other way.
Another month gone by of this madness and I wanted to check in on something else I’ve been seriously unmotivated about, so that I can let you know you’re not the only ones out there who aren’t quite feeling yourselves during quarantine (actually, it’s to make me feel better about all my productivity failures – if I’m being productive about not being productive, it kind of resolves part of the problem). I’ve been pretty much neglecting my publication efforts for the last two months.
If I’m being perfectly candid with myself, the lack of acceptances over the last two years probably has something to do with it. I often come on here to encourage folks to push through the wall of rejections and just keep trying in the face of adversity, but it wouldn’t be adversity if it didn’t have any adverse effects. Sure, I’ve had my share of “good” rejections including one that said my story was in the final fifty for consideration. These are the blinking lights at the end of the tunnel (or the flame that attracts the moth, whichever way you want to look at it), but overall since my last publication in Nashwaak Review in December 2018, things have been pretty grim. And the grimness does get to you.
Whether as a result of the lockdowns or because the academic came to a close, but I feel like editors have been very active since March, and in that time I’ve accumulated about two dozen short story rejections. Normally, these get processed into my big glorious spreadsheet of submissions, I make notations of when I can next submit to a journal, and makes plans for the next rounds of submissions. Currently, this stack is sitting neglected next to my desk, and I haven’t opened my spreadsheet in over a month.
This makes me a little bit sad. Despite the minuscule ratio of my works that have been accepted, I usually enjoy playing the game – organizing journals, figuring out which stories are appropriate for which ones, customizing cover letters, sending my babies off into the real world where they inevitably get smacked around a little bit. It helps that I’m also a chart fiend, as evidenced by my light bullet journal addiction, so updating this gives me a certain pleasure based on that alone. Plus there’s always the promise of success – the more I send out, the more chances there are of being published no matter how small. So when I don’t find joy in something I normally do, it leaves me with a troublesome feeling.
I apologize if I’m being a bit of a downer. If the previous trend has been any indication, the moment I complain about something here is pretty much when I turn it around and start doing it again. Despite my lamentations a couple of weeks ago, I’ve slowly been getting back into editing my work, which is a good sign for finally completing Chapter 2 of The Bloodlet Sun (it’s been over a year, I should be dead of embarrassment but it helps I have very little shame) and a couple of short stories that have been “almost complete” for quite some time.
So too I think in the next week or so I’ll rip off that Band-Aid, update my chart, and start planning out my next flurry of submissions. I guess, in a time where we have to tell ourselves ‘no’ so much for the greater good, it’s hard to keep hearing ‘no’ from an additional source, particularly when it chips away at one of the core parts of your identity. Sure, each rejection is like a mosquito bite, but as someone who once went to a beach in Cuba after nightfall, I know that a having a few dozen simultaneous mosquito bites is a whole different ball game.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that to be a writer, you need to have thick skin. But having thick skin doesn’t mean it’s impenetrable. Some things will get you down more than others, and right now I’m in my down. I know the next ‘up’ is right around the corner, and if you’re in a down, I hope you find yours too.
It’s hard to imagine that just over a month ago, I chose to drive to campus and forgo public transit, and then called my mom and said that bringing the kids over that weekend might not be such a good idea. Within days, my commute to work was resolved with a “Work from Home” directive from the university, and my decision to not visit anyone outside our household was no longer just a precaution, but an expectation for the public good. These six weeks have certainly stretched for many of us the definition of what “normal” could be, and I hope all of you are doing as well as you can under the circumstances.
As for myself, in a previous entry I mentioned how I was having a rough go of it, but it’s been getting gradually better. I’ve made progress across multiple projects (as I’m prone to do, since I can’t seem to commit to any specific thing for too long) and it’s less of a chore to sit down and force myself to write. One would think since I enjoy it so much I should just be turning to it for comfort in difficult times, but as I’m sure many of you have also discovered this doesn’t seem like the case. The stresses and anxieties of the current situation have knocked us out of ourselves and it’s going to take a while to feel normal again, and probably not until the situation stabilizes. I’m looking at my sister-in-law as well who knits like a fiend but has completely dropped it for last month. She recently bought new yearn, so maybe she feels the same slight thaw that I do.
And it’s okay if you’re experiencing no such thing. I think there’s an unfair perception out there that because some of us suddenly have way more time on our hands we should all come out of this as world-class bakers, or pianists or polyglots. That’s a whole lot of aspirational baloney that doesn’t take into account the fact that we’re all human and that our flight-or-fright response had been perma-activated for weeks on end. I’m yet to even touch editing. I can get myself into putting down new words on the page but even the thought of rereading my writing for the purposes of improving it is giving me anxiety.
Dealing with my mistakes is a future me problem.
Wanted to check in from my den during the Covid-19 lockdown/isolation/quarantine. I’m blessed in that I’m able to work from home and have my closest family under the same roof and am generally doing well. And even then I went pretty silent over the last two weeks because, let’s face it, it’s a lot to process.
I think it’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel how you’ve been feeling. This entry is the first time I took to my writing. Even though I don’t have a commute and so technically would have more access to free time, my writing requires a certain headspace and all the space in my head has been filled with news of the pandemic, as I’m sure it has for all of you.
So forgive yourself if you think you have all this newfound “free time” that you’re wasting. There’s nothing “free” about this time. It comes at a great cost, both globally in terms of those directly affected by the virus, and personally for all your anxiety you have for the world, your loved ones and yourself. I think accepting the fact that you may not be yourself could even help settling your mind and your mood so that you may be more productive in ways that you hoped you could be.
You may also find, like I have at times over the last couple of weeks, that nothing outside of the pandemic matters anymore. It certainly feels like it has smothered the world to be the singular thing of importance. My home conversations are often about Covid-19, my group chats are almost exclusively about Covid-19, all the social media that used to talk about sports, and politics and writing is pretty much all devoted to discussions of Covid-19. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to watch the world unite on a single topic, but at the same times it threatens to eclipse everything else.
Here is where you need to remember that writers are artists, and great art often arises out of dire circumstances as a beacon of hope for the world. Not only that, but we are also storytellers, and humans have sought comfort in stories since times immemorial. Now is not the time to put writing on the backburner because something bigger came along. Now is the time to channel your fears, anxieties and frustrations into something that could help others deal with this.
Write for yourself, to help get your mind off things. Write for others, to help them do the same. Sow hope and happiness and sunshine as much as you can, and forgive yourself if the burden of current events prevent you from doing what you love.
Most of this also applies to those of you out there who are not writers. Be kind to yourself and how you’re dealing with something humanity hasn’t really dealt with in over a century. You each might find your own method of coping, whether it’s dark humour, apathy, aloofness, despair. Don’t judge yourself, or others, with how you’re reacting and what you’re doing during your days. As long as we’re doing what we need to do to protect others from the pandemic, what you do with the rest of your time is mostly your business. We could be hunkering down for a long time, and we’ll face a lot of adversity, and as long as you don’t act like your own adversary, it would be that much easier to get through.
Best of luck everyone, and stay safe.
My country is currently abuzz with the news of the firing of a Canadian icon, a long-time hockey commentator by the name of Don Cherry. For my Canadian readers, this man needs no introduction, but for everyone else, I figured I’d start with a summary.
Shortly after spending two decades as a hockey player in the minor leagues, in 1974 Cherry was promoted to the head coach of the Boston Bruins, one of the oldest franchises in the National Hockey League and a very successful team in the 70s. Cherry coached the Bruins for five seasons before entering broadcasting where he soon landed a gig for his own segment during Hockey Night in Canada, the premier hockey broadcast in the country.
Cherry had kept this job for nearly four decades, despite over the years accumulating soundbites that ranged from somewhat questionable to straight-up sexist and xenophobic. His ire was an out-of-control firehouse that sprayed every demographic that didn’t fit into his anglo-white old stock conception of what Canada should be. French Canadian and European hockey players were a favourite target, but all sorts of diatribes accumulated over the years including about women reporters and Canada’s Indigenous people. These might seem tame by the standards of media personalities in other countries, but in Canada, despite his lovable bright suits and tell-it-like-it-is attitude, he stood out as a sore thumb in a country where it’s generally frowned upon to be openly hostile to one another (off the ice, that is).
Don Cherry’s inexplicable longevity came to a grinding halt this weekend. Monday was Remembrance Day in Canada, a solemn occasion to commemorate all those who sacrificed their lives to make sure we can continue to enjoy living ours. One of the associated traditions here is donating to the Royal Canadian Legion and wearing a commemorative red poppy. Cherry had taken issue with the fact that he’s observed fewer and fewer people wearing poppies over the years. But instead of directing his rant at Canadians in general, he chose to single out “you people” – specifically immigrants who come to enjoy the Canadian way of life but allegedly can’t be bothered to honour those who’ve laid down their lives for it. Interestingly, it wasn’t the worst thing Cherry has said, and his overall point was a decent one: trying to drum-up some support for veterans and to help rekindle a waning tradition. But instead, he chose to make it an “us” versus “them” problem, where “us” is an extremely specific definition evidenced by Cherry’s comments over the years.
The proverbial straw had crippled the poor exhausted camel that has been forcibly dragging Cherry’s career towards the third decade of the twenty-first century. Two days after the “you people” monologue aired, Cherry was canned.
I think before I say anything further I should mention that a small part of me is saddened by this. It is an ignoble end to a national icon, a household name, a staple of Saturday night television, and the seventh highest-voted Canadian in the 2004 “The Greatest Canadian” TV show. He’s survived so many self-inflicted verbal wounds that one simply assumed only health issues could keep him away from the broadcaster booth.
But beyond the begrudging respect for somebody who obviously loves our country very much, my sympathy for Don Cherry is in short supply. He should have been fired a long time ago. Instead of being propped up and forgiven in the name of ratings, his employers should have pulled his national platform for sharing his bilious opinions. He had made Canada a less welcoming place.
To understand where my own feelings about Don Cherry stem from, you have to remember that I moved from Russia to Canada when I was thirteen years old, and spent most of my teenage years struggling into my new identity. Many tears had been shed over the question of whether I could ever be able to consider myself “Canadian”. And a recurring casual reminder of my otherness was the man in the silly suits yelling at me from the TV every Saturday.
Cherry had always worn his attitude towards Russians on his sleeve. This clip from the 1996 Hockey World Cup is a particularly fiery example. Coincidentally, I was present at that game, in my Pavel Bure Vancouver Canucks jersey, unequivocally a fan of Team Russia. It was a couple of months before my parents formed the intention to immigrate and three years before Don Cherry assumed a supporting role in my ensuing identity crisis.
You can see from the clip that it wasn’t enough for Cherry to comment on the quality of Canadian hockey versus Russian hockey. Russian hockey accomplishments were completely demolished and the Russians were accused of having no heart. The problem with Cherry’s brand of patriotism is that it’s not only based on building Canada up, but tearing everyone else down.
And that is how it felt – as I built up my confidence in my “Canadianness” Cherry’s routine commentary would tear pieces of it down. Russians are cowards. Russians are sneaks. Russians have no heart. Never sticking to a specific incident, always these sweeping strokes as if Cherry was pointing his accusatory finger right into my soul.
The low point in this journey came for me in Grade 10, during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Probably in part because I stubbornly held onto to some pride for my mother country, I was anointed the class scapegoat for the entirety of the Russian Olympic team. Russian ice hockey team losing? French figure skating judge helping Russians win? Russian skiers caught doping? I was called to answer for every one of these sins.
So while I literally had my back against the wall as several of my classmates jeered about Russian cheating, what did Don have to say about all this?
"I’ve been trying to tell you for so long about the Russians. What kind of people they are and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism."
You see, his comments didn’t just stop at hinting at systemic Russian doping, a stance that would be vindicated years later; he had to take it a step further. This was all about what kind of people these Russians really are, and that tolerance of these people is a negative consequence of multiculturalism. Here was a beloved Canadian basically telling me that I was unwelcome here. While I struggled to feel like I belonged, Don shamelessly reminded me that I didn’t and fanned the flames of ridicule that I was subjected to.
Over the years, I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin, and I look back at that period of my life as an unfortunate but essential part of a young immigrant’s struggle. I know what I am and it would take more than the careless words of a TV personality to shake my identity as a Canadian. But the hurt had never fully healed, especially while Cherry was still given the time of day to make others feel the way I did, or worse.
At the end of the day, Don Cherry is not necessarily a bad man, but he is an ignorant man, and the narrowness of his mind does not leave a lot of room for people who are not like him. This to me has always been antithetical to my vision of Canada – a nation that strives to the best of its ability to be inclusive and welcoming.
So thank you, Don, for your service, but it’s time for everyone to move on.
Not gonna lie folks, the real world is hitting me pretty hard this week – my big boy is starting kindergarten and I’m not sure what to do with this bouquet of emotions I’ve been handed. I’m not sure how we arrived here so quickly. I can still feel his warmth on my chest from those times where I strapped him into the baby carrier at three in the morning to rock him back to sleep. And now he’s about to walk away from us and enter the building where he will likely make the bulk of his childhood memories, away from his mom and me.
I feel like a big part of parenting is accepting that the helpless lump that relied on you for every need including holding up their own head is transitioning into this independent human being, with their own life, thoughts and memories. Who doesn’t remember their first day of school? I recall standing wide-eyed with some flowers outside my grade one classroom on a rainy Moscow September morning. I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the journey I was about to undertake – both into the next major stage of my life, but also into a whole new language that would come to shape my life forever. And now somehow more than a quarter-century later, on a different continent, my own son stands on the same threshold, about to enter into French Immersion and unlock for himself a whole new world that comes with learning a new language.
On the one hand, I’m terrified – my memories of myself in elementary school are a bit too fresh. But on the other hand, I know he’ll do just fine. This is the same kid who almost fell down the stairs when leaving the library because he couldn’t get his nose out of a book. And his teacher seems absolutely lovely so he should be in good hands.
One thing I like that our school is doing is this slow transition, which honestly is more for the benefit of the parents than the students. First we get to meet the teacher for an hour, absorb the classroom our kid will be spending the majority of their waking hours for the next year, get a sense of their teaching style so that we get a sense of what’s going to be going on there during school hours. In our case, we then got a day where we get to adjust to everything we’ve heard, to complete the checklist that’s been given to us and read a very thorough write-up on class activities and expectations. And then finally the kiddo got to march off to school for about an hour-and-a-half yesterday, so that us parents aren’t a crippled weeping mess when they got home from their first exciting “day” of school. Then we transition into a couple of half days, after which we’re off to the races.
So I’m glad we get to do a slow burn on this. I know I’ve seen my wife do the silent thousand-yard-stare a couple of times during the last few days, and she’s told me that I have been a little sullen at times too. Even his little brother looked a little shell-shocked after dropping off his big bro on the footsteps of his classroom. He ate three hash-browns at McDonald’s later that morning, so I think he’ll be okay too.
It feels like the first real test of our responsibilities and abilities as parents – did we do all the right things over the last five years to prepare our son for this. Does he know how to make friends? Does he know how to make mistakes? Does he know how to succeed humbly and to push through failures and challenge himself? All of that will be revealed in due course and it’s absolutely petrifying.
Thankfully we already got a preview by having a one-on-one teacher conference yesterday – which gave us a chance to absorb first impressions. Did I mention his teacher is amazing? Because she is. She seems to already have a read on his big personality and I’m hopeful that he’ll thrive. We just have to make sure we keep doing our part.
As much as we creative types tend to see our works as our children – little pieces of ourselves that we hand over to the world – nothing I write will likely make a greater impact than raising these two wonderful boys. It all kind of puts into perspective years of writing, hours of editing, days of agonizing over whether a manuscript will be liked by a beta reader or accepted by a publication. After years of steering our ship blindly, the anxiety reaches a bit of a crescendo and all the questions begin to be answered, probably with more questions, the most important of which is: have we given him everything he needs, and did we manage to go beyond?
I don’t mean to throw a gloomy cast over the entire affair – storm clouds of anticipation and anxiety aside, this is a magical time. He’s taking his first steps into a life outside of his parents, into taking responsibility for himself as an individual and a human being. Just like when I took his hand in my mine when he first starting walking, I hope I can support him now as well. Shine bright, kiddo.
Any day now, I’ll finish draft 4 of Wake the Drowned, and when I do, I will inundate you with useless statistics and maybe some marginally helpful editing and novel planning tips along the way, but until that happens, I want to talk about inspiration.
For the writers in the audience, we all have an author or work that at one point has made us go “Wow, this is the thing I want to create. I want my writing to make someone feel like this makes me feel right now.” For me, one of those works, and probably the earliest one I can remember, is J. Michael Straczynski’s science-fiction series, Babylon 5, which I have previously mentioned on multiple occasions as a great inspiration.
Not sure how many of you folks will remember Babylon 5 but it ran in the 90s on the Prime Time Entertainment Network and then TNT for its final season and was the original (and superior) cousin of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The show followed the crew of the space station Babylon 5, built by humans to be a hub of diplomacy and understanding between different species, as they struggled with their internal politics and threats from ancient races.
Very importantly, it was one of the shows that found both syndication and a fan following in 90s Russia, where I had grown up, and because off its airtime, served as a forbidden fruit. It was on after my bedtime, which was extended to cover the show only on Fridays, so the other four days of the week I had to piece the show together by sneaking out of bed and standing quietly in the doorway, bolting every time there was a commercial break knowing that that’s when I was apt to get caught. My parents later claimed they mostly knew about this but I still like to think I was pretty stealthy.
What struck me about B5, aside from the cool aliens which would tickle the imagination of any young boy who was into Star Wars, was that it was my first exposure to long-form storytelling. Babylon 5 remains fairly unique in its approach to its story – it started off with a pre-planned five-season story arc, and it was given a chance to conclude its full five-season arc, albeit with some shuffling in the final two seasons due to a threat of cancellation. My little child mind was absolutely boggled by this as stories and themes were interwoven, secrets had satisfying resolutions, and actions had consequences reaching into seasons ahead.
It was the first work of fiction that taught me that characters can come in shades of gray, that as one enemy redeems himself the other can face a cruel downfall, their fates seeming both inevitable and completely avoidable. It showed me that humour can cohabitate with tragedy, and strength with vulnerability, and that somewhere deep within me my own stories were itching to get out.
The reason B5 was on my mind as I set to write this post is twofold. Firstly, I have been diligently working on Chapters 2 and 3 of The Bloodlet Sun (despite what the general lack of updates would otherwise suggest), my own long-form mostly pre-planned sci-fi series that I’m sharing here on this blog. As I’m putting together these early chapters and planning for the future of the series, I can’t help but seek inspiration from B5 and I have spotted some unintentional minor similarities that make me question whether I have an original bone in my body.
The other reason this has been on my mind is because on Tuesday, through the magic of the internet, I had a chance to have a brief interaction with the creator of B5 himself. J. Michael Straczynski did an AMA on the /r/books subreddit and I was lucky enough to catch the beginning and fire off my comment. I told him the little tidbit about watching it past my bedtime and what an influence he was.
The ever-humble Straczynski advised me to never let “some other show” influence me as a writer. In general, I take his meaning. Those previously mentioned similarities notwithstanding, I want my work to be original, but what are we without the giants whose shoulders we stand on? Straczynski is one of the giants for me. While I want Drops to have a unique voice, to breathe life into a story and into characters that are entirely my own, I can’t help but see my work through the lens of works that have inspired me. I want to at least come close to bringing to the world the same complexity, the character development and engaging story that Straczynski brought me when I was a kid.
So with that said, I hope you all get a chance to experience the brilliance that is Babylon 5. I know I’m already looking to my next rewatch, and to bringing you even a smidgen of the same powerful storytelling.
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.