Monday, August 31, 2009

Some Interesting Links

While perusing my normal morning collection of random articles, I came across a couple of items I thought would be of interest to those following this blog.

The first was an article entitled Dissecting a Simile with VocabGrabber. I read this article and wondered, "What the heck is VocabGrabber?" So I went and looked it up.

VocabGrabber is pretty cool. You can drop any text you want into a text box on the web-page and have VocabGrabber analyze it. VocabGrabber will list every word, how many times it's used, and show icons indicating what subject matters the word is primarily associated with.

For instance, it showed me that the word analyze is associated with three subjects: Arts & Literature, Science, and Vocabulary.

VocabGrabber lets you filter words by the different categories; for example, you can have VocabGrabber just show those words in the submitted text that are associated with Science, or with Vocabulary, or with any combination of about a dozen different categories. You can save word lists and automatically generated sample sentences using words you select.

Best of all, VocabGrabber links to (and is part of) VisualThesaurus. You can select any word on the list and immediately see related words in a VisualThesarus graph displayed on the right side of the page. Clicking on this graph launches the full VisualThesaurus so you can easily search for related words.

Even cooler, by selecting Gallery View you can see a VisualThesarus graph for every word in the text. Clicking on any of the words causes all the sentences that contain that word to be displayed on the right side of the page so you can see how the word was used in context.

The obvious use for this tool is to have VocabGrabber analyze something you have written. This will tell you how often you are using certain words and easily look for possible alternatives to ones you use too often.

I saw another article this morning I thought people might be interested in entitled Bringing Lively Similes Into Student Writing. I think the subject of this article is self-evident from the title, so I will not elaborate further on it.

That about covers it for this morning. Have fun.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 3

This post is part of an ongoing series about the central characters in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to the earlier posts in this series.

Protagonist, Antagonist, Hero, Villain, Antihero, and AntiVillain
Protagonist: A Closer Look at Damon Roth
Antagonist: A Closer Look At Demiurge
The Nature of the Hero
Hero, Part 1: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis
Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2
Hero, Part 3: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis
Hero, Part 4: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis
Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith
Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I continue with reviewing the character of Artemis Arrowsmith, the woman who fills the role of antihero in Gods Among Men .

In my previous two posts on Artemis I established the journey she took from being a stock, male, character with no well defined role to a female character central to the story. Last time I focused upon the elements that would become seeds for her back story, about how on the surface she would appear to be completely different from the story's protagonist, Damon Roth, but underneath would have a history and personality that made her his natural ally. I described how Artemis became the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Within that framework were details that had to be filled in. Details that took years for me to determine and which were inspired and influenced by a motley collection of sources including, but not limited to, Greek mythology, Dungeons & Dragons, Dances With Wolves, Babylon 5, cheesy science fiction heroines, and the seven deadly sins.

First came Dungeons & Dragons, which is where Artemis first began. She was inspired originally by the ranger character class. Rangers in D&D are fighters with specialized knowledge of certain types of creatures that heps them become experts at fighting and killing those creatures. I incorporated this feature of rangers into Artemis's personality by making her exceptionally knowledgeable of, and focused upon killing, Gogs; humanoid creatures that have a wolf-like appearance along with some characteristics of wolves.

I couldn't have Artemis intent upon killing Gogs unless she had a good reason for hating them. Killing for no reason is the act of a villain, and I was determined that Artemis would not be a villainous character. Finding a reason for her to hate Gogs drove me to flesh out these creatures as something more than big nasty wolf-like monster. At the same time, I also needed a way for Artemis to gain her special knowledge about them.

Around this time I watched the movie Dances With Wolves, in which Mary McDonnell plays the character Stands With A Fist. Her parents were killed by Indians when she was a young girl, and then she was raised by a different tribe of Indians.

There on the screen were answers for why Artemis hated Gogs and where her expertise of them came from. Artemis hates Gogs because they were responsible for someone she loved dying, and her knowledge came from a period where she was taken captive and lived among a Gog tribe.

This solution raised other problems. I had already decided that Artemis was an orphan raised by the Guild, a world-spanning empire. This part of her history was important because it paralleled Damon's own childhood and was integral to using Artemis as a way to explain Damon to the reader. i.e. Artemis could not be raised by the Gogs, nor could it be her parents that were killed by the Gogs.

The solution to this quandary came from a merging of ideas from the science-fiction television series Babylon 5 and the story from Greek mythology of Artemis and Actaeon.

In an episode of Babylon 5 there was a tender, romantic moment in which the character Marcus Cole sacrifices his life to save the life of the woman he loves, military officer Susan Ivanova. This prompted me to add a love interest for Artemis, someone she grew up knowing and fell in love with. I named him Marcus, a homage to the character who inspired him. I decided that Marcus and Artemis would have served in the military together and that he died fighting Gogs.

In Greek mythology, the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, catches the mortal Actaeon spying upon her. As punishment she has him torn apart by his own hounds. I already thought of the Gogs as related to wolves, which in turn are related to hounds. Once I thought of Actaeon being torn apart by hounds because of Artemis, it was easy to conceive of Marcus being killed by Gogs because of something Artemis did.

I combined these ideas and decided that Marcus and Artemis were, at some point in the past, sent to a remote fort. Because of something Artemis did, Gogs overran the fort, Marcus died, and Artemis was taken prisoner. There she would learn about Gogs in great detail before she managed to escape and make her way back to civilization. As a plot twist, I decided the Gog who captures her and holds her prisoner would be Widukind, the Gog I created based on the work I did while developing Morel Rihtwis's character arc. In developing his relationship with Artemis, Widukind in turn became an antivillain.

Over time, Artemis's grief over what happened to Marcus became transformed into bitterness, which in turn became a wrathful need for vengeance against those she believes have wronged her. In particular Gogs suffer her wrath, but as Gods Among Men unfolds others become the focus of her burning rage.

Wrath, of course, is one of the seven deadly sins. Rage became the character flaw that made Artemis violent, even bloodthirsty where Gogs are concerned. Her excessively violent nature makes her cross the line between hero and antihero. It also means that at some point she must pay a heavy personal price for committing the sin of wrath.

There were other influences that drove Artemis towards the character she is now. Germanic and Celtic mythology offered ways to resolve problems with the timeline of events in her life. Movies such The Deer Hunter made me ponder the psychological effects the violent events in Artemis's life would have upon her, which led me to consider the affects upon her relationships with those closest to her. Songs such as the Moody Blue's Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time) and Bill Whelan's Highstep inspired particular scenes that, in turn, made me tweak her character so I could eventually include those scenes.

In many respects, Artemis Arrowsmith has become my favorite character. Her flaws become entangled with her strengths, her failings color her successes. Her importance in Gods Among Men and her ever growing complexity as a character made me alter other characters, facts about the world, and even plot elements so that they better fit what I needed and wanted from her character. Without her I couldn't begin to tell the story that I have worked on for so many years now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I shall continue reviewing the development of Artemis Arrowsmith, the character who has developed to fill the role of antihero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. This is part of a larger series of posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, and includes posts about the nature of the hero, protagonists and antagonists, and multiple posts about the more heroic characters Morel and Tara Rihtwiz. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Last time I covered how I first included a male ranger-type character drawn from my Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing experiences, then evolved the character into being a female archer/hunter called Artemis Arrowsmith. Although I did discuss how the character underwent a sex-change and was renamed, I did not discuss the changes that occurred with her back story. That is because at this point in her evolution she had no back story to speak of.

To call Gods Among Men a large, complex tale is an understatement. It took a long time for me to understand what the story was, which made actually writing any of it rather difficult. For many years I was plagued by more problems than solutions and few of my vague thoughts made their way to written word.

Artemis was one of many characters included because I felt instinctively a need for certain archetypes common in fantasy and mythology. Over time, my thoughts on the plot began to coalesce and the real needs of the story became more clear. As that happened, some of the characters I first included were removed while others were altered, some quite dramatically.

The central character in Gods Among Men has always been Damon Roth. Part of my growth as a writer was understanding how making Damon Roth central to the story influences the development of other characters. To state this revelation in simple terms: all the other characters become defined by how they react and interact with Damon.

As originally conceived, Artemis was to be Damon's ally. For many years I kept her personality defined based upon stereotypical notions of what she should be like, and that made her impossible to write effectively. Once I realized Artemis needed a personality and history that made her a natural ally of Damon then she came into focus.

Thus began a slow mixing and matching of traits so that, upon first glance, Artemis would appear to be the exact opposite of Damon. He was a wizard, she was almost immune to magic. Damon was wealthy and lived in a grand manor, Artemis carried all her belonging in a backpack and had no permanent home. Damon was subtle, while Artemis was blunt. Damon planned everything he did with infinite care, while Artemis lived entirely in the moment, reacting instinctively to all that happened.

Underneath all these surface differences were the similarities that would bind them together. Both were exceptionally skilled, unusually intelligent, individuals who loved leading dangerous lives. Both were orphans, raised by the Guild, and inducted into service at a young age. Both had hurt those who cared for them, and both suffered guilt and regret over their actions. They each want redemption for their past sins. They want to be heroes, but both are willing to cross the moral lines that a true hero never would.

Then came the insight that firmly moved Artemis from merely an ally to a central character once and for all: Artemis is the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Damon needed to be mysterious; the reader must wonder about his motives and history and plans. Ergo, Artemis must ponder those questions. The reader should not trust Damon right away, therefore Artemis must not trust him right away. The reader should come to understand Damon overtime, so Artemis must come to understand him. Every question, every concern, every reaction I wanted the reader to have concerning Damon became the theme that ran through all of the scenes involving Artemis.

It was in this process that Artemis transitioned from a traditional heroic model of character to an antihero. As I explained in my post about Damon as the protagonist :
Damon Roth cannot be the hero because he does not embody heroic ideals. In his past he committed horrible acts for his own benefit. Acts which harmed many,including people he cared deeply about, though he was unable at that time to acknowledge those feelings even to himself. The important point of his character is that he is still doing this. He will again commit and cause atrocities that will harm many including those he cares for. ... The acts he commits in Gods Among Men, as terrible as they will be, are intended to save mankind, to save the world and everything on it. To avoid the death of every living thing on the planet he believes, truly believes, that he must follow a ruthless plan that leaves a path of death and destruction in his wake. Some must suffer so all may be saved.

If Damon is going to commit atrocities, and if Artemis is going to accept those acts as being required to achieve a greater good, then Artemis cannot be heroic in the classical sense. She must, on some level, be capable of rationalizing that certain amoral acts are required, and that is something a classical hero would never do. She is not a villain, because her acts do not spring from selfish desires, and she performs heroic deeds without thought of reward. She is flawed, and those flaws make her an antihero.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith

This is a continuation of earlier posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about Damon Roth, the protagonist in Gods Among Men, and Demiurge, the antagonist, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. I have multiple posts about Morel and Tara Rihtwiz, who fill the roles of classical and modern heroes respectively. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Today I will focus upon Artemis Arrowsmith, a woman who has evolved into the role of the antihero. I begin by reviewing how I came to conceive of her character and the various twist and turns that led to her current incarnation.

In a previous post I described how I first conceived of the story that would become Gods Among Men. To recap, I was a teenage geek who loved playing Dungeons & Dragons (a.k.a D&D), and so my initial musing on the story revolved around stock characters drawn from my experiences with role-playing games.

A character-type central to D&D is the Ranger. A Ranger in D&D is a hunter, a tracker, a woodsman, a fighter who has special expertise fighting certain enemies. Back when I was teenager it was clear that the creators of D&D were basing their Ranger upon the character of Aragorn from The Lord Of The Rings, who himself was based upon archetypal hunter-heroes.

Initially, I added a ranger-type character to Gods Among Men without much thought. The story I was conceiving revolved around the wizard that became Damon Roth. When I was sketching out my original ideas, a common theme in D&D adventures were background details like, "A long time ago there was a wizard so-and-so and his ranger ally such-and-such that fought the great evil etc..." Another concept that could be directly traced back to The Lord Of The Rings and the relationship between Aragorn and Gandalf.

And so, once I began thinking of a wizard as the central character, I naturally decided he must have a ranger ally. Having no better idea than that, I created a male ranger, named him Smith (nickname Smitty), and tried to figure out where he fit into the story. I thought of him as a tough, experienced, deadly fighter who could dispatch enemies without a second thought.

I also thought of the ranger as the character that would balance the group of heroes. In my mind, the wizard would be in constant conflict with the knight figure (who became Morel) and with other characters I was starting to introduce into the story. My first draft of the ranger had him as a peacemaker that pulled each person's extremes back toward the center so they could complete their quest.

It took me a while to realize the contradiction inherent in this concept of the character: the killer that makes everyone want to be peaceful and happy together. I found the contradiction impossible to fully reconcile, and so began changing the character more and more.

Perhaps the first major change came when a former girlfriend read my early drafts and noted, "You don't have any female characters." This prompted me to look at my major characters and consider which ones would benefit from a sex-change. The ranger named Smith was the first to undergo the procedure. In the process, I dropped the horrible nickname Smitty and the non-descriptive name Smith and began looking for a better name.

Being a fan of all things mythological, when I began thinking of a female hunter I immediately thought of the Greek goddess, Artemis. I liked the symbolism, so I gave my huntress a bow and changed her name to Artemis.

Later I stumbled across the name Arrowsmith; it was the name of the central character in Sinclair Lewis's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Arrowsmith. I immediately liked the name Arrowsmith because it underscored the archery aspect of the character and created a nice alliteration: Artemis Arrowsmith.

After a bit or research, I discovered the character in the Sinclair Lewis novel was a doctor torn between the demands of society and his own desires. I liked the symbolism there as well, so Artemis Arrowsmith became my new and improved ranger character.

In my next post I shall continue reviewing Artemis's development as a character and the various influences that affected my choices with her.

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Essay by George Orwell

I stumbled across an 1946 essay by George Orwell I thought people might find interesting. The essay is about the poor use of language in writing, with examples of (very) bad writing and suggested rules for what should be avoided. The essay is broken across two web-pages. Here is a link for the first page, and for the second page.

I may comment on this essay later, but for now I thought I would point it out so those interested could read it at their leisure.

When Last We Met...

Yesterday the Magic City Writers met and reviewed the first draft of the second chapter of Kathryn's werewolf story, Moonlit. It was, as usual, a good meeting, punctuated by lively discussions about the content and details of Kathryn's story, followed by a series of writing exercises and a tasty dinner.

To summarize, it was agreed that Kathryn had a good initial version of her second chapter.

My personal opinion about what you want out of the first draft of a chapter is that it should:
  1. Sketch out the major actions in the scene.
  2. Establish, continue, or expand the tone and style of the story.
  3. Progress the plot.
  4. Identify principle characters in the scene and their motivations.
  5. Lay the foundation for what will happen in later chapters.
  6. Avoid significant structural problems.

Kathryn's first draft accomplishes all of this. The key phrase here is "first draft". The journey between first draft and final draft is a long one, as I well know. Clutter must be removed, dialogue and descriptions must be added or sharpened, phrases reworded, and so on. It is a lot of work, often it is remarkably difficult, but having a decent first draft does make the process a little easier.

Nicole submitted her latest draft of her first chapter. I have helped her work on that, so I have a better idea than the others in the group about what to expect. To avoid inserting my bias into the mix, I will refrain from further comments about her chapter at this time.

The writing exercises we did were quite fun. We took turns coming up with starting phrases or sentence that we would all write on for about six minutes, then read aloud. The goal is to write quickly, without dithering over details; to let your imagination run free and put your thoughts on paper as fast as possible. I think we all enjoyed the exercises and noticed interesting trends in each other's style. I will not comment upon the others, but for myself it did become clear that, compared to everyone else, I write slower and focus upon rich descriptions with dark themes. (Did I mention I am a fan of classical Gothic horror?)

Nicole served french bread, creamy cheese, a yummy vegetable beef stew, and ice-cream with nuts and chocolate sauce. Thank you Nicole for a great meal.

That pretty much covers the meeting. We are currently scheduled to meet in three weeks on September 7th. Its possible we may have a new person show up for that meeting. Lindy is inviting a friend of hers who has been published.

Party on everyone.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not Using the Same Words Ad Nauseum

Moonlit is, at its heart, a werewolf story. That is a slang term in the book, they generally prefer to be called lycanthropes. In reality, these were pretty much the only two words I could think of to describe the infected in the story. As I write the chapters, I quickly begin to realize that I am using those two words a little too much. They were beginning to get on my own nerves.

I started looking for other words that mean 'werewolf.' I found two more: wolfman, and loup-garou. The former is only applicable if the infected person is a male, which is about half the werewolves I have stuck in my head. The latter is a strange, French word that I would have to describe before using. There have to be more, better words to describe the villains in my story. So, I sat there and thought for a while.

Werewolf was designated in the story as pretty much a dirty, derogatory word. Hmm. What other words or phrases could be used to describe a werewolf that would be a little less unsavory than 'werewolf?' Coming up with terms is fairly easy. Coming up with terms that my characters would actually use was the tricky part.

Take Ranulf, for instance. He has worked as a werewolf hunter for years. He knows what they look like, their habits, which buttons to press. What would he call the perps he follows every day? The terms sasquatch, fleabag, woofer, and, oddly enough, squirrel monkey seem to top the list. Lyka, on the other hand, is a wildlife biologist and a bit of a bleeding heart. She would probably stick to Hensenites, lycanthropes, and the infected. Dolph is a leader, but a bit of a rough one. He would probably pick a name to go along with a secondary trait. Like calling a werewolf attorney a shaggy D.A.

I don't know exactly which ones will be sticking to the story, as I am still in the process of writing it. I do know, however, that I really like the idea of creating names for werewolves based more on the temperments and personalities of my cadre of characters than on mythology and old movies.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chaper 4: The Lost Edits

Yesterday I was editing my my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. I fought my way to the end of chapter four, ...And Strikes Down The Inner Circle. Finally, after weeks (months?) of writing and rewriting, I finished addressing the editing suggestions I had previously received from the writers group.

Feeling pretty good, I scrolled back through the chapter, lightly skimming over the text one last time before moving on to the editing suggestion for chapter one.

That was when I saw it. A big blank space towards the end of the middle section of the chapter. What the heck? I thought. (OK, I admit it, I did not think the word heck, but I am trying to keep this post G-rated, so cut me some slack.)

On any given day, I almost never finish my editing or writing at a the end of a chapter or a major section. Since it might be days (or longer) before I return, I insert multiple blank lines near where I stop for the evening. This makes it fairly easy to scroll back to where I was and continue on from there. Sometimes I write notes to remind me what I was thinking about.

Pulling out my editing notes, I looked at the surrounding text to see what I had done there. Above the blank space everything was fine, but starting just below the gap were suggestions and comments that I had not addressed. How it had happened I cannot guess, but it was clear that I had stopped editing there and forgot to come back and finish making changes.

"Curses," I cried. (OK, I admit I didn't actually do that, but I'm a writer and we're allowed some dramatic license now and again.) There were more changes required than I could make last night, but I should be able to knock them out this evening.

The moral of this story? Structure saves you. If I had not adapted the habit of making my stopping points blindingly obvious I would never have noticed that I skipped something. I would have left problems in the text unaddressed. Not the end of the world, but in writing it is the details that matter.

A single poor word choice can make a sentence awkward. An awkward sentence can detract from the content of a paragraph, which in turn disrupts a scene and throws the reader out of the story. This will happen from time to time even with the best of writers, but when it happens often the reader puts down the book and never returns. Problems when found must be addressed or the work as a whole suffers.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hero, Part 4: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis, Part 2

This is part of my continuing exploration on the nature of heroism in literature, and of the role of the hero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to parts one , two and three. And here is a link to the post that started this overall series about the various roles characters play in literature.

Today I am going spend a little more time on Tara Rihtwis, daughter of Morel Rihtwis. In my last post about her I mentioned that she is derived from a different heroic model than is Morel. By this, I mean that Morel is closer to a classical mythological hero while Tara is closer to a modern style of hero.

I do not mean to imply Tara is an antihero, as that implies a character that does something good (i.e. "saves the day") but embodies non-heroic attributes such as greed, or a lack of mercy, or lust. A character such as James Bond or Dirty Harry would be examples of antiheroes.

Nor is Tara a tragic hero. A tragic hero is one like Hamlet, King Lear, or Achilles; someone who is primarily heroic but suffers from some major flaw. Tragic heroes have a defect in their character that overwhelms their otherwise noble intentions and leads to suffering. Tara suffers from no such deficiency.

The defining characteristic between the classical mythological hero and the modern hero is reluctance.

A classical hero has a destiny that they actively pursue, or are thrust into extraordinary events and quickly rise to the occasion. Characters such as King Arthur, Jame T. Kirk, Indiana Jones, and Luke Skywalker are all examples of heroes shaped by the classical mold.

Modern heroes are different in that their destiny isn't something they particularly want or desire. When thrust into an extraordinary circumstance their first instinct is to let someone else handle it, rising to the occasion only after it become clear they are the sole person capable of dealing with the situation. George Baily, from It's A Wonderful Life, is such a character. He sacrifices his own dreams and aspirations so that others won't suffer. He gives up all the things he wants to do because his moral center will not let him be selfish.

As an example of the difference between the classical and modern hero is how the character of Aragorn from The Lord Of the Rings is portrayed in the books versus the movies. In the books, he is the rightful heir to Gondor and has every intention of reclaiming his throne when the time is right. He wants and plans to be king, but delays in claiming his inheritance so he can prepare himself and work secretly against the dark lord Sauron. In the movies, however, he is uninterested in the kingship and only claims it when doing so becomes the one way for him to save the love of his life and the world at large. He is a reluctant hero.

Tara begins her journey in the mold of the classical hero. She dreams of being a hero like her father and eventually assuming the throne. She pursues this dream, but over time the cost to herself begin to mount. The price of her heroic dreams are more than she wishes to pay and she wants to let others carry that burden. By then, however, she cannot turn aside from her path without causing others to suffer. Her moral center will not allow this, so she accepts a life that is less than she wants so she can do more for mankind. At this point, she transitions from a classical hero to a modern one, and comes to represent the changes happening the world around her.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Writing About Loss

Three years ago, on August 3rd, 2006, one month to the day before our 6th wedding anniversary, my wife Ellen died. It was the end of her ten month battle with cancer, and the beginning of my battle with loss. This is not the right forum to relate what she went through, nor what I experienced after her death. This is a blog about writing, so I will contain myself to that subject.

My writing touches on many subjects, some I hardly understand and others I know well. When I write scenes about fighting, armor, weapons, horses, heraldry, or any of a myriad of other subjects I must do research. Hours, days, sometimes weeks or even months, searching for tidbits of information that are accurate and which make a scene feel real to me.

In my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, there is a scene I planned out years before Ellen and I married. In it, the character of Artemis Arrowsmith does something because of her sense of loss over the long ago death of her lover, Marcus. This action results in Artemis expressing her feelings over the death of Marcus. It is an important moment not just because of what it reveals about her, but because of what it later implies about another major character. Her action and what she says because of it are crucial elements to the overall plot of Gods Among Men.

As I said, I planned this scene long before Ellen and I married, over a decade before she would be diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t actually write the scene, however, until after Ellen died.

When I did finally write this scene I did not need any research to know in a personal way what Artemis was feeling. Artemis is not me, and often I have trouble with her scenes, but in this case I knew exactly what she would say and do. I wrote the first draft very quickly, and have edited it only a little since then.
Without, further explanation, I present below an extended excerpt from that scene. I don’t know if it is any good or not, but it certainly feels real to me.


Looking at the satchel, Artemis thought, I always assumed The Satchel of Eternity was just a legend. One of Demiurge’s greatest creations. A simple looking bag that can store or draw forth anything wanted or needed. Anything that can be imagined.

“I’m ready to begin,” Damon announced as he opened his eyes. “Keep the flap open. I’ll need to dispose of the staff once I’m done with it.”

Anything wanted.

“Whatever you do, don’t let go of the satchel. Not for an instant.”

Anything that can be imagined.

“Did you hear me, Artemis?”

Nodding, she opened the satchel’s flap and reached toward the opening.

“No,” Damon shouted and started towards her, reaching for her hand, but he was too late.

Reaching into the Satchel of Eternity, Artemis poured all the love she had ever felt for Marcus into a single wish that he was alive and with her. An imagined life with him swam in her head; dreams of growing old together, visions of children, and idyllic images of the family she had never known but always wanted. She remembered Marcus holding her tight, kissing her, touching her face, gazing into her eyes. The longing she’d felt for him every day since he died was replaced with the hope that he could be returned to her, that they could still have a lifetime together.

Inside the satchel she felt something small, hard, oddly shaped, and cool to the touch. She closed her fingers on the item and pulled it forth. It was a small, heart-shaped, decorative box made of porcelain and trimmed with gold; its feet and hinges also gold. The lid had a gentle curve and was inlaid with tinted mother of pearl shaped to resemble a red rose. Artemis’s fingers brushed against something cold and metallic sticking out from the bottom of the box. She flipped it over to discover a windup key.

It’s a music box. Why would I pull out a music box? Glancing up, she saw Damon standing a few feet from her, frozen, his arm still outstretched from his attempt to stop her. His face was ashen, and his mouth hung open. In a hoarse whisper he cried, “Sweet Lady! What have you done?”

“I don’t understand.”

“What did you think you were doing?” Damon shouted. “Why in the name of all that’s holy did you do that?”

It was clear to Artemis that she had done something terrible, but what escaped her understanding. Embarrassed by her impulsive act, at allowing her long buried emotions to overwhelm her, she said in a low whisper, “I remembered the legends. About how you can pull anything you want or can imagine from the satchel.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Damon roared.

“Well you never explained how it worked,” she snapped back.

“You told me you weren’t interested!”

“So now it’s my fault?”

“Yes,” Damon snarled through clenched teeth. “It is your fault. What were you trying to pull out of the satchel?”

“I’d rather not say,” Artemis replied in a tight murmur. Looking away, she took a sharp breath in through her nose then snorted it back out again.

“Artemis,” Damon held his hands together like he was praying and touched his fingertips to his chin. After taking a deep breath he said in a calmer voice. “You need to understand how important this is. There is very little you could have pulled from the satchel that would be a problem. Of that very short list, there is nothing that poses a greater risk for disaster than the one item you managed to retrieve. It shouldn’t have been possible for you to find that music box. Now that you have found it we have to put it back into the satchel in a precise way. There is no room for error. I must know what you were trying to do.”

For several seconds Artemis said nothing. Gazing down and away from Damon, she closed her eyes and considered not answering, or even lying. Instead she mumbled, “I was trying to get Marcus back.”


“I thought if the satchel could produce anything I wanted,” she admitted in a firmer voice. “Anything I could imagine, it might be able to return Marcus to me.” She opened her eyes, but still refused to look at Damon.

Rubbing his forehead, Damon paced back and forth in a small area. “Well, that at least makes some sense,” he muttered and tapped his thumb against his forefinger over and over.

“I know it was foolish.”

“Yes it was.” He stopped pacing and glared at her. “What you wanted, what you tried to do, is impossible.”

“I know.” Artemis uttered in a husky voice. “I knew it when I reached into the satchel. But I couldn’t help but try.” The muscles in Damon’s jaw quivered as he shook his head back and forth. Stepping toward him, Artemis looked up and explained with rapid words, “When Marcus died it was like half my soul was ripped from me. Parts of who I use to be was gone, just…gone.” Damon held her gaze and said nothing as she continued. “Since then, when I’m busy or distracted I can avoid thinking about him, about what happened and all I lost when he died. But as soon as I’m quiet, the moment I have time to think, the first thought that crosses my mind is ‘I wish Marcus was here.’ And then the pain returns.”

The muscles in Damon’s jaw no longer quivered, and his gaze softened. Before he could speak Artemis held a fist against her chest and said through gritted teeth, “For months after he died I felt like there was a dagger stuck in my heart. Now it’s just an ache. Sometimes sharp, sometimes dull, but always there.” She opened her hand, but left it against her chest. “When you hurt like that you find hope in the irrational, you pray for a miracle. I’ve prayed to the Lady countless times and thrown more coins into wishing wells than I can remember. Once a child told me that if you make a wish at midnight it will be fulfilled. Everyday for months I counted the minutes until that hour just so I could whisper ‘I wish Marcus was here’ on the preposterous chance it might work.”

Something was in Damon’s eyes Artemis had never seen there before: sympathy, and kindness. Dropping her hand to her side, she looked away and in a low voice added, “I stopped doing things like that a long time ago. Then you handed me the Satchel of Eternity and I realized there was a ridiculous, impossible, absurd chance that this time my wish might come true. That I might have found a way to reclaim the missing half of my soul. How could I not try?”

“I’m sorry, Artemis,” Damon said in a subdued voice. “I wish there was something I could do or say to take all that away from you, to lift that burden from your shoulders.”

Something about his simple statement of emotional support touched Artemis. It did not ease her pain nor remove her desire for Marcus, but it did stir primordial emotions she had kept buried so long she had forgotten they existed. For the first time since Marcus had died she did not feel divorced from the rest of humanity. Someone somewhere cared that she was hurting; cared about what she had endured, and wanted to help her without expecting anything in return. She was surprised that such a simple statement could so move her. Then she realized, No one has said that to me before. Not after her parents died, nor after Marcus died. Others had expressed their affection for her; Kern, Beatrice, their children. But none had said they would take her suffering away if it was in their power. Its just words, Artemis thought. But sometimes words of sympathy are all you want or need.