Behind the Scenes of “The Tomb of the Ophidian Scepter”

Hooray! My newest flash fiction story, “The Tomb of the Ophidian Scepter,” is available to read for 24 hours on Havok today. It’s based on classic adventure, Indiana Jones-type stories of powerful artifacts, supernatural guardians, and lots of action. If you’ve already read it and want to know a little about how it came to be, this post is for you!

Like my previous two stories for Havok, this one was written specifically for this month’s theme—in this case, recover. From the beginning of brainstorming, I knew I wanted to interpret this in terms of recovering a treasure. And fortunately, I had already written a story in a similar vein last year to provide inspiration … and maybe a few other elements.

That other story was “Sword of the Stones,” which was published in Havok’s “Extraordinary Exploits” issue in April 2018. You can read more about writing that in this post, and many of the elements mentioned there were repeated in writing “The Tomb of the Ophidian Scepter.” In addition, I thought it would be fun to feature the same main character on a new mission in a different location.

“Sword of the Stones” takes place in a ruined cathedral, which felt like it would be a European location. Wanting “Ophidian Scepter” to take place in a different region, I settled on the Middle East. (As I understand it, the type of mummification the story references is pretty specific to Egypt, but I don’t want to commit the story to taking place anywhere particular in the region.) This choice, in turn, influenced the majority of the new elements (setting, guardian, partner, and artifact, in that order).

By setting, I basically mean the idea to set the story in a tomb. Originally, I considered a story with a lot of exploration. But since I still wanted to have a battle as well as the search for an artifact, I figured those two elements would use much of the word count. That meant the tomb would likely be a large chamber. Thankfully, Havok editor Cathy Hinkle pointed out that the environment could use a little more description, so the final product is a little easier (and more interesting!) to visualize.

As for the guardian, a mummy seemed like the natural choice for a tomb in the desert. But since undead mummies are no strangers to this type of story, I wanted to make it a little more intimidating. That’s how the sickles grafted on in place of hands came into play. A cut line actually referenced that the main character’s impatience is the only reason the mummy was activated to protect the scepter.

Changing the main character’s partner was another nod to Indiana Jones and The Librarian, but I also like the idea of different regions having specialists researching arcane artifacts and tracking down their resting places. In fact, the idea to name her Miriam was less of a nod to Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and more from wanting her to have a name originally from the same region (Miriam is a Hebrew name). Since I was working with a higher word count than I aimed for in “Sword of the Stones,” I wanted her to have more of an active role in this story—and I’d say that worked out

Regarding the artifact, brainstorming powers was more of a challenge at the beginning because I didn’t think it would necessarily be used in the story—I wanted to focus more on the recovery than the treasure itself. That said, I did think it would be fun to name it using an uncommon word. “Ophidian” is one that I’ve learned (and retained) recently. And (in case you didn’t know or haven’t looked it up yet), it basically means snakelike. That idea leant itself to being paired with a scepter, which matches very nicely with the Rod of Asclepius—instrument of the Greek deity and modern-day symbol of medicine. With that connection made, it only seemed right for the artifact to convey supernatural healing powers. Just goes to show what a difference the right name can make!

After that, the story started to fall into place. I had a loose outline of the main beats (fight, trapdoor, retrieve scepter, fight part 2), and started writing based on that. As I wrote, I realized that the scepter might actually be an effective weapon against the mummy. On one hand, it would restore the monster’s hands. But it could also mess with the magic-mummification that allowed the mummy to fight in the first place.

That meant thinking through how the scepter would work—even if I didn’t have room to explain it in the story itself. So if that question was bugging you at the end of the story, you’ve come to the right place. The scepter heals any wound, basically restoring tissue/organs/whatever is damaged through magic (the magic itself I can’t explain—roll with it). The mummy is animated by magic, which not only allows it to live, but also retain a connection with the organs that have been preserved (stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines in Egyptian mummification). The brain’s been ripped out, but the magic that enables it to be the scepter’s guardian takes care of movement. When the scepter touches the mummy, it starts superseding the magic that keeps the mummy animated. This heals the mummy’s wounds, which is why the sickles fall away and its hands regenerate, but it can’t physically take the preserved organs (enchanted to stay in the same condition as the mummy for millennia) and put them back in the mummy’s body. The mummy effectively turns into a couple-thousand-year-old person missing certain guts, which is why it keels over.

And that pleasant image is likely the best way to end this behind-the-scenes look. If you enjoyed the story or have any more questions, feel free to comment here or on the post on Havok’s website. If you’re reading this after the story’s 24 hours have passed, you can always become a member and get full access to every flash fiction story they’ve published, plus the ability to vote on which stories are selected for their anthologies! As always, thank you for reading!

Writing Sword of the Stones

In case you missed the news last week, my most recent story “Sword of the Stones” was published in Havok’s latest issue. Get a print copy here or check it out on Kindle. Today, I wanted to share a little background info on its creation.

First off, since I knew I wanted to submit a story to Havok’s Extraordinary Exploits issue, I started with the prompt. I latched onto the examples of Indiana Jones and The Librarian. But, as is usually the case, my first few ideas looked very different from the final story.

One idea was to submit a story that read like an artifact retrieval form. It would include stats like where a certain relic was recovered and what properties it possessed, as well as a brief report of how it had been retrieved. Another idea began with a teenage boy cleaning out his grandmother’s attic, then finding a hatching dragon egg. But when I got into writing both of them, I realized that it was taking way too long to get to the action.

So I started brainstorming ideas of how to get straight to the action—as well as what kind of relic would lend itself to the pseudo-supernatural element of the prompt. I decided the best place to start would be literally seconds before retrieving the artifact, which would in turn activate some sort of (again, supernatural) defense system that would try to prevent the adventurer from escaping. (It should also be noted that, in my head, the main character is known only as “The Adventurer,” and doesn’t have a real name.)

That was when I had a mental image of an angel statue perched on top of a building, holding a sword while lighting flashed around. Those first few paragraphs went through quite a few revisions as I tried to balance scene-setting with action (and a little humor/sarcasm).

Funnily enough, the sword originally was the main relic—and would’ve been a lot more effective against the gargoyles. But the more I thought about it, “able to defeat animated stone” felt like a really random power, and wouldn’t be very useful in other scenarios. That got me thinking about what would be a cool supernatural ability bestowed by an artifact. Wings and flight seemed like a natural answer given the angel statue, and so the medallion worked its way into the story.

It wasn’t until after I started writing the animated gargoyles that I realized they are an unintentional callback to a short story I wrote in college. Something about those monstrous faces and the notion of living rock just strikes me as sinister. Technically, these ones are probably grotesques or chimeras because “gargoyle” specifically refers to carved spouts that carry water away from buildings, but I elected to keep the term “gargoyle” because it’s the one that most people are familiar with for what I was trying to get across.

Half by virtue of the sword losing its abilities, and half due to rapidly shrinking available wordcount, the fight on the roof ended up being shorter than I had first envisioned. I would’ve liked an epic battle on the monastery roof between Adventurer and gargoyle as lightning flashed and thunder roared, but by the time he picked himself up from the fall, I realized that the story needed to start wrapping up. I was happy to get that epic leap from the roof timed perfectly with a lightning strike. In the movie version, that scene is in slow-mo.

For the ending, it’s worth noting that my first draft was a couple sentences longer. I wanted to bring a sense of completion into the story, and I did that through a brief exchange of the duo talking about their next course of action (and the Adventurer thanking Veronica for saving his life). But when my brilliant wife/first editor read it for the first time, she pointed out that the story ended just fine with the “You got the short straw of artifacts this time” comment. Realizing that she was right (as usual), I removed the dialogue for an even shorter word count! Plus, I think the way it draws attention back to the relics gives the story a better sense of completion.

And those are the main points I remember from writing the story. I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes of “Sword of the Stones”! Just in case it didn’t come across, I had a blast writing the story—and I hope you enjoy(ed) reading it! Have any other questions about how it came together? Or about my writing process in general? Feel free to ask in the comments 🙂

Sword of the Stones Published!

Exciting news! Havok has published my latest flash fiction piece “Sword of the Stones” in their latest issue! You can check it out here!

This month’s theme/prompt was “Extraordinary Exploits.” Think Indiana Jones, Warehouse 13, The Librarian, or other adventure stories with some supernatural elements thrown in.

I’m really excited to be part of this issue. This genre is right up my alley, so I was super pumped when I got the news that my story was accepted. I think you’ll like it if you’re a fellow fan of action/adventure stories with a dash of magic and/or sci-fi—plus, you’ll get nine other stories also in the same genre (all of which are a blast, but I must give a special shout out to the cleverness of “First Contact”). If you do check it out, I’d love to hear what you think!

Once more for SEO: Read “Sword of the Stones” today!

Hard copy & digital: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1441511

Amazon Kindle: http://a.co/6DuPj1D