How’ve you been enjoying Issue 049 so far? Wondering how the authors created such fabulous stories? Then you’re in luck, because today we have Virginia Mohlere’s answers to our questions about her story “Small Offerings for a Small God.”
LSQ: I feel like I always see fandom Discourse™ about whether villains deserve redemption. What are your views on this? Why should someone like Danit who was, in her words, “on the wrong side” of a war, be shown a kindness from the godling?
Virginia: Starting off with the really thorny questions!
I love redemption arcs – as long as they’re earned, which they often aren’t. I’m sure we could all name half a dozen stories where an established villain does the equivalent of not deliberately running over a squirrel in the road one time, and then in the next scene/volume/film/episode, they’re fighting shoulder to shoulder with the good guys, looking all broody and launching a thousand fics.
All right. Maybe I love that a little bit too.
I like that you phrased this in terms of a villain “deserving” redemption, followed by “why should Danit … receive kindness”: because that’s the heart of the whole matter, isn’t it? Is redemption an internal or external activity? I say it’s internal: that the key component is atonement, and atonement, like apology, can only be offered freely. Those receiving it don’t have to accept it. Redemption can’t be thought, only action. I wouldn’t call Danit redeemed, because her actions – her offerings – weren’t given to those she wronged. But the crack that allowed the godling to remove her punishment is a crack that could become a journey toward redemption, if she lives.
(A close friend said they wanted more of her story, to know about that journey to atone. I had two thoughts of that matter:  “yeah, I can see that,” followed by  “ugh, that’s easily 200,000 words”)
As far as the godling goes, I wouldn’t call it “kindness,” simply because that’s a human trait. In the story, worship is pretty transactional: Danit’s small offerings swell the godling’s coffers of power, until he pays her back the interest by giving her a blessing. He’s a practical little god, isn’t he? Swooping down on the first likely worshipper, and taking what she has to give, even when he disapproves, so that he doesn’t have to be a mostly-forgotten god stuck in the desert anymore. And the godling of the end has more memories about the many varieties of human frailty than the weaker god at the beginning. Maybe he even remembers his name.
LSQ: Did the idea for this story start as a wisp, like the godling, or fully formed?
Virginia: In one sense, I went looking for this idea, because I adore stories with tiny gods in them. Ursula Vernon’s “Pocosin” has lived rent-free in a corner of my head since it came out in 2015. Also, I had just read Francesca Forrest’s The Inconvenient God, so I was stomping around a bit wanting my own tiny god story.
I always have to “hear” the voice of a story before I know it’s fully cooked in my brain and ready to be turned out onto the plate for serving. So when I heard “You will worship me,” I knew it was ready to go – the sound of the god’s voice, accompanied by a sense of glaring light, dry air, and a hollow weariness.
LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story? What was the most difficult?
Virginia: I really love the godling, and I love that after all the work I put into this, he remains largely a mystery to me. I also think this story is incredibly on-brand, in that Danit’s entire progression stems from her punishment being so entirely boring that she just goes along with the god’s order because why not. I’ve had some grand adventures that started with “yeah, sure, okay,” and I like that I wrote that into a story without meaning to.
Capturing the horror of walking oneself to death over an extended period of time was by far the hardest part to write, and even now, I can only hope that I did so effectively. Is the curse awful enough? That Danit can’t smell herself or feel her own pain was a choice I needed to make to give her the mental space to hear and be curious about the godling, but it added a layer of distance. The eternal writer’s cry: “I could’ve done better!”
Even though, overall, I have so much affection for this story.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Virginia: I would love to say yes, but the pandemic has been a brutal ride for my creativity. I’m shopping around a novella, and arguing with a novel about whether I still believe in it. But after a long time of mental static, I’m starting to pay attention again to the way the woods smell when I’m out on my bike, and to the changes in bird calls over the course of the day. I’m starting to ask myself again what I think about redemption arcs (thank you for that), sentient houses, and monsters. I’m reading ancient drafts of old projects to see whether any of them still have a living voice.
So maybe there’s hope yet.