Popularity can be such a curse.

I sat in my cramped home office, surrounded by books on magic, witches, horses, fairy tales, mythology, Louis Lamour - a thousand subjects. Most had Post-It Notes tagged to individual papers, notes furiously and loosely scribbled on them, ideas and concepts being mapped out.

I was a week past deadline.

My editor was on speakerphone, pleading with me to come up with a resolution for the latest Astoria Lowell novel. Fans had been speculating for weeks over what would happen next in the series, and retailers everywhere were drooling over the possibility of new characters to merchandise, new audiobooks to sell, new movies to rent. And for all of my sucess, I was frankly sick of it all.

I had become a writer out of necessity, doing freelance technical stuff while I submitted short metafiction to The New Yorker and McSweeney's. A check here, a check there, but nothing special.

And then one day I wrote a small story about a girl named Astoria Lowell, a British witch transplanted into the Wild West in 1871. I fleshed it out a bit, nothing special, combined a bit of Native American mysticism and Harry Potter metaphysics. It was unspectacular. But that night, something very strange happened.

I dreamed of Astoria Lowell.

What's more, I dreamed of her in the very story I had written. I watched her duke it out with Wild Bill Hicock in the opening scene (winning with the help of her talking horse Peg) and then take on an invading band of Apache. And true to form, the dream was unspectacular. And then a stranger thing happened. As it came to an end, Astoria began talking to me. "Well, that wasn't very good, was it?" she said peevishly. I nodded, somewhat sullenly. "Well, there's a big plot hole in the second act, when I talk to the Native Americans." I thought about it for a moment, and she was right! "I think we can make this work," she said, and we stayed up all night talking. It was the most excellent form of peer review I'd ever had.

The next day, I rewrote the story, fixing details I hadn't liked, adding in more exciting elements, creating more substantial dialogue, all the little things. That night, I dreamed again of Astoria Lowell and my newly rewritten story. It was much better - I was so excited when I woke up I made 20 copies and shipped it off, confident in its success.

And that, as they say, is that.

She was an instant hit, and a novel deal soon followed - a trilogy, in fact. Soon it became a major motion picture (with the divine Rachel Weisz in the title role.) It was great - stories for both kids and adults, western meets science fiction. All in all, magic. I used my method to perfect each story - I had already seen the movies before they even came to life. As a working relationship, it was great. Astoria thanked me all the time for her fame and renown, and I thanked her for her inspiration, for being my muse. But soon I dreamed of other things, too.

I was sick of Astoria Lowell.

Now as I went to bed, a week past deadline, I watched the newest story unfold.

Astoria was on a cattle drive from South Dakota to St. Louis. She had stopped one stampede with a time stop spell. She was fighting with the boss constantly, and now she was standing up for the Native Americans constantly. She'd become a somewhat tired PC Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman rehash. It was pitiable, really. Now I had her almost in Missouri, and then that'd be the end of the story. There wasn't much to it.

Astoria was particularly snotty. "Well, this is just a fine mess. No denouement, no startling climax. No really good new characters. I mean, nothing at all! You're just going through the motions. I mean, really, is this the best you can do?"

I awoke with a start, and got up to my computer. I had had enough. Now I wrote a short passage with passion, with fervor, with delight.

As the group slept, they did not see the quickened shadows cast across their campfire. They did not hear the marauders make their way closer to the cattle, freeing them into a casual trot. And they did not sense the Apache warriors near their makeshift pallets, Bowie knives in hand ...

I went back to sleep with a contented sigh to watch the show. I could've written the rest, perfected it, but I decided to let things take their own course. I'd get up in the morning, recount the massacre, send it off to my editor, and then come up with a new character. One with a little less guff to dole out.

I just hope everyone doesn't write me off.

Title from Francis Bacon's New Atlantis.

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