Imposter Syndrome, story by L.M. Lydon at

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

written by: L.M. Lydon


So, I dreamed my best-selling fantasy novel last night.

It began with the start of the end of the world: huge, winged higher beings descended from the heavens, their incendiary shadows eclipsing a small peasant village. Wood and rope suspension bridges fell slack and plummeted into the deep gorge lying next to the collection of mountainside huts and cottages: helpless innocents screamed all the way down.

It ended with me, a knight, who having overcome enormous odds to become the first female member of the King’s bodyguard, struggled to defend the Queen from a horde of zombies attacking a majestic castle. Nearly overrun, with one last great effort, I stabbed a towering zombie in the heart with my dagger. As it collapsed to the stone floor, the remaining undead tumbled and fell still along with it. Then I realized that something familiar protruded from the corpse’s gray-skinned, sunken-in skull: a crown. I had killed the King! And I had once had an illicit affair with him. Horror, repulsion, and guilt made my gorge rise, stealing the joy from an unexpected victory. After a moment of silence, the background music swelled to a crescendo: horns blared, accompanied by the rich, slightly eerie thrumming of an electric cello.

I love electric cellos. They’re not as cliche as violins and less brash than electric guitars. It’s a shame I failed out of the school band after my inspired pretense of playing the clarinet was finally penetrated after four years. I probably won’t be asked to consult on that part of the movie adaptation.

Anyhow, that’s how the novel begins and that’s how it ends. Except that the whole middle, where the plot progresses from angry gods to zombies, is missing. Unfortunately, I failed to dream that part. I’ll just have to fill it in as I go. Thank goodness it’s the weekend and I have time to capture that ephemeral dream-firefly before it escapes into the daytime void of ordinary life.

Settling into my cushioned swivel-chair and flexing my fingers in expectation of a vigorous typing session, I power on my laptop. A pristine new document appears on the screen. Where to begin?

Before the stars fell, it was a sunny afternoon. Not even a single ominous wisp of cloud heralded the tragedy that was about to befall the world, beginning first in the tiny village of Belendia. Cradled in the valley between two of the mightiest peaks in the surrounding range, the afternoon began as all others had for hundreds of years before. With mellow harmonies rising from exquisitely carved wooden pipes, shepherd boys announced their return from the surrounding hills. Oblivious woolly sheep filed one by one down the narrow mountain path towards their waiting mangers. It was an ordinary day in a completely ordinary village occupied by completely ordinary people. Why had the dark gods chosen serene Belendia as the preliminary sacrifice that harbingered their return?

Actually, that is an excellent question. Why did the dark gods choose Belendia? And what does my main character have to do with Belendia? Maybe she’s the village’s sole survivor? I’m not as clear on the connection to the main plot here as I’d like to be. Perhaps I’ll start a little further into the narrative and save the introduction for later.

“No, Jane, I don’t know where the remote is. Go ask your father. My office door is closed for a reason. I’m writing.”

Let’s skip straight to the castle, where the main character first meets the king.

Sullenly kneeling in the straw with the other new “recruits”…

Wait, what’s her name? Surely my main character requires a vaguely medieval-sounding name with great symbolic import. I hate character names. Almost as much as I hate titles. Okay, this is just a first draft and I don’t want to disrupt my initial vision with scouring baby name websites. I’m leaving it NAME for now.

Sullenly kneeling in the straw with the other new recruits, nose wrinkled at the pungent aroma of stable-droppings, NAME stared at the ornate, gold-embroidered hem of the king’s robes, which was all she could see of her monarch from her lowly vantage point. Thinking back to her lost village and the tragic yet mysterious deaths of her family and friends, NAME swore to herself that she would never fail again. Instead, she would serve the King loyally for the remainder of her days, giving her life in his defense if need be…

“All right, Jane, so the remote’s not working. Even if I was the parent on duty, which I’m not, I would still say ‘Ask your father!’ He’s the one who set up the entertainment system.”

Where’d I leave off?

Instead, she would serve the King loyally for the remainder of her days, giving her life in his defense if need be. Yet NAME had to hone her skills and prove herself to the smirking stable-boys and sanctimonious squires who haunted her path forward. She burned with the genuine conviction bestowed by holy fate. For the gods would not have spared her life from the shades[synonym] of Belandia idly, for any reason less than a mighty and noble purpose that would shake the very foundations of the world. For NAME alone could thwart its ruin.

Did I spell ‘Belendia’ with an ‘e’ or an ‘a’ as the second vowel? And what is NAME’s high purpose? Maybe I should skip ahead a bit further…

“Go away, Bart. You’ve had evening conference calls and client dinners all week. This is my ‘me time.’ Parent for once! Surely you can figure it out somehow.”

“What? How dare you? My writing is far more than a ‘silly little hobby.’ I’ll have you know that I’m in middle of writing a best-selling…”

Hold on: I shouldn’t show my hand. He won’t believe me anyway. Wait until the divorce complaint. I have other ways to retaliate.

“That’s quite enough from you, Bartholomew Quincy Smith, Esquire. For that comment, I’m not going to touch your disgusting workout laundry for weeks. And I mean weeks. I’m going to wait until that sweat-soaked pile of socks and sweats is so dense and foul that it turns radioactive and triggers a nuclear reaction. We’ll see how you like it then.”

God, I freaking hate him sometimes. Note to self: if I’m truly going to file for divorce, do it before the royalties start pouring in. That way he’ll be stuck paying support and he won’t get a single dime from my ‘silly little hobby.’

Anyway, the king and me… I mean, the female knight… are having a secret affair. I could write a torrid sex scene. It’s not like I don’t know how, having read so many excellent examples over the years, but what would Bart think? Awkward questions could follow about why our nighttime encounters aren’t quite as exotic. Try chalking it up to your vile socks and equally stinky, condescending attitude, Bart. When do I get time to work out if I have to beg for even a few minutes to write in peace?

Eh. He won’t read my novel anyway. Screw it. The pre-zombification king’s going to be young and scorching hot. Take that, Bart. Would edible underwear be anachronistic?

On the other hand, what if my friends read this novel when it finally gets published? What would they think? But that’s why I use a pen name, right?

Or my relatives or Bart’s? Um. Yuck.

Even worse, what if Bart actually does read it, and one of his sharky lawyer friends attaches excerpts from the adulterous sex scene as “Exhibit A” to some horrific divorce proceeding filing to prove that I’m an “unfit mother” during the custody battle?

Never mind. The knight burns chivalrously with a fiery yet unconsummated passion for the King.

But, on the other hand, don’t they say that “sex sells”? This book needs to sell and sell. I want royalties, after all. How else will I prove to Bart that he’s wrong about my writing and turbocharge the kids’ college funds?

To be safe, maybe I should make NAME male and gay. But, wouldn’t that be exploitative since I’m cisgender and straight and can’t write that viewpoint in a fair and representative manner? Oh, God, I don’t know.

Besides, I want to write a female character! There aren’t enough strong female fantasy characters. No, NAME must be female.

Maybe I’ll just write the romance part later. It might be easier to flesh out the ending first.

With a crack, a large hole appeared in the barred wooden door, sending splinters showering onto the stone floor. The rotten reek of the undead without slithered into the previously safely-sealed refuge, infiltrating the nostrils of the last holdouts as an olfactory atrocity. Dozens of pairs of glowing red eyes illuminated the darkened corridor. Additional fists joined the drumbeat on the door as a few severed fingers sneaked through the impromptu opening and tumbled onto the floor before wriggling towards the defenders like grotesque caterpillars. In thick chunks, the door finally crashed inwards. Behind NAME, the queen screamed with desperate shrillness.

A figure at least a head taller than the other foul creatures shoved its way to the front of the formation, pausing momentarily on the threshold. For a moment, NAME hesitated. There was an air about this one that reminded her of something… someone… familiar. Yet when it charged her, grasping a sharpened tibia scavenged from another undead fiend, she instinctively brought her sword up…

“Jane, for the seventeenth time, please leave me… You made me a snack? To make sure I don’t get hungry while I’m writing? Aw, sweetie. I usually prefer strawberry preserves rather than blueberry jelly in my PB&J sandwiches, but it’s the thought that counts. I love it. Thank you.”

“And, John, what’s this? You made me a ‘Best Mom in the World’ drawing because you missed me this afternoon?”

“No, I’m not sniffling because I have COVID. Contact lens problems, that’s all.”

“Daddy told you to tell me he’s making those steak fajitas I love for dinner? And he’s opening one of the good bottles of Zinfandel right now?”

“Oh, all right. I guess I could take a break and come help set the table for dinner.”

It’s a good thing for Bart that he’s an amazing cook, when he bothers. After his initial whining, I suppose he did manage to keep the kids alive all afternoon. And if we divorced, who would get custody of the wine cellar? Maybe if he follows dinner up with a foot massage, I’ll table the divorce speculation for now. But I’m still holding off on his laundry. Let him match his own damned socks.


Finally, the kids are in bed. I’ll just sit down for a few more minutes…

What? I had five hours of writing time today and I only managed to type 650 words? That’s not possible. The blank white space on the screen taunts me as clearly as if it were crossing its eyes and sticking out its tongue at me. I want to cry. I’m never going to be a real writer!

Honestly, the only way I’m ever going to finish this novel is if I go on one of those writing retreats. But they’re pricey. How will I be able to justify the expense to Bart? And who will watch the kids when they’re not in school?

You know what, I’m going to enter short story contests. Maybe I’ll win a few and pick up prize money to offset the cost of the retreat. Then I’ll finally be able to finish the epic saga of NAME’s adventures.



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