Monthly Archives: December 2013

Kickstarter #1: Background

In my BEGGAR challenge post, I mentioned I have a lot of stuff due this week.  One piece of that is my initial Kickstarter plan.  I am so crazy excited about my campaign that I have to share it!

I think I first came upon Kickstarter through CE Murphy, a fun, gleefully geeky author I’ve been following for nearly a decade now.  She has, among others, something of an obsess passion for Kickstarter.  So even without being deeply involved with the workings of KS on my own, I’ve inadvertently followed and researched and planned as she discussed.  I backed her project when she ran it and it was a ton of fun!

A little over a year ago, when I decided to take the plunge into indie e-publishing, I knew I needed to run a KS campaign for the series of my heart.  (I’m still trying to figure out a good series title, but for now we’ll just call it the Monty Girl Saga.)  The Monty Girls and I go waaaay back.  I originally conceived them as a storyline for a text-based message-board-and-chat-room RP group I belonged to.  The more time I spent in the heads of Langston and her eight younger sisters, though, the more I knew they needed to have their stories told.  So I wrote the first book, sent it out on the agent rounds.  Even sent it to an editor (the one who originally published CE Murphy, as it happens).  While the editor’s assistant/gatekeeper loved the idea, she didn’t love the execution.  She offered to let me do a rewrite of the partial, which I did.  Again, she loved the idea even more the second time, but it was clear that the story – or I, as the writer – was missing something.  I had a minor crisis of craft, certain that what was missing was a good voice and that voice was the one thing that couldn’t be taught.  I shelved the story and moved on.

Except I didn’t move on.  My heart is still with the Monty Girls.  The truth is, even if I’d landed a print deal back then, the likelihood I’d have been allowed to write the series the way I wanted was slim.  I designed it to take one book per sister, with possibly a companion novel/long novella devoted to their lone brother.  That’s a lot of books!  For a publishing house, a lot of books is a lot of risk.  Especially for a first-time author.  Would I be allowed to write the stories I wanted?  Would I even have the readership to get beyond the first book and maybe one extra optioned?  Traditional publishing is all about the numbers nowadays, and numbers can be fickle, misleading jerks.  With the economy collapsing between then and now, there’s an even higher chance I would have failed to reach the second trilogy.  Because of the way print rights work, I may or may not have had a chance to follow up with other houses if the initial publisher declined to publish the rest.

But with e-publishing?  Doing it all myself?  This way, I have complete control over when, what, and how my books get published.  If I want to take a break in the middle of the series to work on something else, I can.  If I suddenly discover I want to diverge to a different kind of story than is expected within the same framework, I don’t have to worry about print line guidelines.  So long as I have the time and energy, I can make sure the Monty Girls get the series they were always destined to have.

Except for one thing: Funds.

With self-publishing, I have to foot the bill for everything, from editing to cover art.  Even simple proofreading of a 125,000-word novel (which is smaller, I think, than the first Monty Girl novel) will run me at least $1000.  My family survives on a single, hourly-wage pseudo-retail income; we’re having a super-lucky month if our bank account carries a tenth of that editing cost over past rent day.  Currently, there is no way in the world (minus winning a lottery I don’t enter) I will ever have a grand to shell out to have someone check my grammar on a single novel, let alone nine.  Not to mention cover art, complex formatting, maps, or any of the lesser beasts that are involved in creating an ebook with a possible pay-on-demand print model.

That’s where Kickstarter comes in.

Through crowdfunding, wherein anyone with an extra buck can become an artist’s patron, I have the opportunity to not just publish the Monty Girls Saga, but to make it spectacular.  It’s the series of my heart – it deserves to be spectacular!  Plus, the extra bells and whistles add value and depth to the purchase and reader experience, which ain’t bad, either. ;D

I’ve been working long, tireless (and exciting!) hours this month to find out what makes a good campaign; to pull together the best rewards I can; to make everything the best value for my funding goal I can.  It’s tremendous fun, but it’s also exhausting.  It’s business and accounting, too, so I’ve had to learn a lot from areas I didn’t think I’d like or grasp easily.  Turns out I actually enjoy the business side of writing – luckily, as I don’t have money to pay anybody to help me.  I’m still researching, still learning, still finagling.  But I also want to talk about it, ’cause it’s exciting, and I think if I don’t my head might explode!

Between February and March (exact dates still TBD), I will be running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of Gryphon’s Overture, the first book in the Monty Girls Saga.

The goal will be around $7000 (I think…depends on a lot of reward finagling).  This will pay for editing, cover design, formatting, and some pretty spiffy rewards (as well as the obligatory 7-10% administrative fees to run the campaign).  The rewards (currently) include extra stories, t-shirts, custom statues, music, maybe flashy art prints, character input/naming for future novels, and one lucky big spender will have the chance to determine who the heroine eventually marries.

Interested?
Keep an eye on my blog, my brand new Facebook page (and like it while you’re there!), or on either of my EarthGirly or sci-fi Twitter accounts (and follow them for good measure 😉 ).

I also welcome comments or suggestions, if you’ve got them!  I like creative input. 🙂

Next up: Gryphon’s Overture, the actual story.

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BEGGAR Add-On

Your week’s BEGGAR Challenge:
Pick up an object on your right.  Doesn’t matter what it is – could be your mouse, a book, a chocolate bar – just whatever is closest to hand.  Take a minute to look at it.  Really look at it.  Notice its seams, its texture.  Does it have a smell?  Once you’ve turned it over several times, gotten a solid, tactile idea of what it is, put it someplace you can’t see it.  Now describe it.  Use a lot of adjectives.  Be florid.  Describe it like it’s the most important object in the room.  Incorporate as many senses as you can, within the bounds of logic (you don’t need to describe how your mouse tastes, for example, unless you really want to!).  Make it a whole paragraph!

Got the paragraph?  Now take all of it, every dripping descriptor, and truncate it to a sentence.  Capture as much of the original paragraph as you can.

Have your sentence?  Now, make this object truthfully the most important thing in the room.  Give it magic.  Make it the keystone of an insidious plot, or  the last of its kind.  Or maybe its value was in the person who gifted it.  Make it up!

And most of all, have fun with it. 🙂

I may not participate in this challenge, just because I have a crazy ton of stuff due to my boss (that’s the slave-driver in my conscience, and her whip is painful) this week.  It’s a fun exercise, though, and once you get good at it, you’ll never want for story ideas again!

The Celluloid Files: 2

(Miss the first installment?  Jump back now!)

It didn’t occur to me until I tried the door that I didn’t have keys. This seemed the kind of town where people kept spares under the doormat or tucked inside a corner of the eaves, but I came up empty. There wasn’t even one stashed under the ugly grinning frog statue beside the porch steps. I was about to grab my cell when a red sedan pulled into the space vacated by the squad car. I hung back, one hand on the porch rail and one foot on the first step.

A tall woman, made taller by three-inch heels, flowed from the driver’s seat in an impeccable blue suit that went charmingly with her graying brown hair. When she pushed petite, square sunglasses up to keep her hair out of her eyes, I recognized her. She was certainly older than the last time I’d seen her, with a face of tiny smile lines in all the flattering places. She waved and I returned the gesture.

“Perfect timing, Ms. Mellion,” I called across the small lawn, trying to be casual yet professional at the same time.

“Please, Annika. You’ve always called me Aggie in the past. I see no reason to start with last names now. I certainly don’t need to feel older than I am.” She smiled when she said it, which actually peeled years from her rounded features.

We discussed my drive as she joined me on the porch. Then she produced four sets of keys. “I can’t ever keep these straight,” she said, her mouth bowing on one side. “Nora refused to get rid of ones she didn’t use anymore.” She pointed at a key with a leather head binding. “That one’s to the ’63 Studebaker she had when we were in college.”

“I didn’t know she went to college. What was her major?” It occurred to me I didn’t know much of anything about my aunt, except what I knew from her visits. Niece guilt dragged at my shoulders.

Aggie laughed – a gentle, warm sort of sound a little like the bees buzzing in the rose bushes. “What wasn’t? Oh, here it is.” She held up a key of what looked like polished brass but was otherwise like every other house key I’d ever seen. She unlocked the door and held it open for me.

I stepped into the house that was now mine with a creak of polished floorboards. The air smelled faintly of bread, as if Aunt Nora had been baking the day before. Bread and cinnamon, with a faint trace of something I couldn’t place. Immediately ahead of me sat a steep staircase done in pale wood washed white along the railings. To the left of it ran a long, narrow hallway with a handful of doors leading from it. The tiny foyer held a coat rack behind the door and a short sideboard with an elegant mirror tucked into an alcove on my left. There were no coats on the rack – not surprising for this time of year – but it sported one of the loudest hats I ever had the misfortune to look upon. It looked like it belonged in Gone With the Wind, full of frills and ribbons and wide enough to keep the sun from ever touching a single spot of the wearer’s skin.

Aggie followed me in and dropped all the keys on the sideboard. “I tidied up a little, but otherwise everything is just as she left it,” she said, sounding like her throat was as tight as mine felt. She, however, managed to keep talking. “I imagine you want to get freshened up after your trip. We can talk afterward.”

“Actually,” I said, snagging the ruffled cuff of her blouse before she could escape, “I’d rather get to the details first. My head is kind of spinning and I’d like to make sense of some part of this, if you have the time.”

“You want to know how you get two million dollars,” she said, nodding. “So would I, were I in your shoes. Let’s go into the parlor.” That was number two on my list of questions. Number one was how my aunt had acquired such a huge sum of money without anyone in the family knowing about it. I figured it could wait for a more appropriate time, though.

My aunt’s house had a parlor. A real, honest-to-goodness parlor. It wasn’t very large, more like a small bedroom than something I would consider entertaining guests in, but it was beautiful. Aunt Nora had decorated with period-specific antiques. I knew enough about Victoriana to appreciate the overly flowery settee and the fainting couch facing it. A silver tea service decorated a low coffee table between them, glinting happily in the sunlight streaming through lace curtains. We sat on the settee, which felt more like sitting on a pillow than the hard lump I expected.

Aggie turned one of the dainty china cups on the tray so its handle lay parallel to its companions. “Did Nora ever tell you much about Meadowhaven?”

“Sure,” I said, shrugging. It did nothing to dislodge the guilt. “She told us all stories. How Cary Grant loved to eat at the diner and Danny Kaye danced the night away at the dance hall. We always thought she embellished a little.”

“A little.” Aggie smiled again. This time, sadness crowded the corners of her mouth. “She loved a good story, your aunt. But I meant more modern tales. Perhaps how much the town meant to her?”

I shook my head. “Never anything specific. At least not that I can remember.” I was again reminded of how little attention I paid during my aunt’s visits. Teenagers aren’t known for their attention spans, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done her a great injustice and would now be sent to the corner of hell reserved for horrible nieces. “Anyone listening to her could tell how much she loved it here, though.”

“She did love it. More than it deserves, really.” She sighed. “As her attorney, I am legally bound to follow her instructions. As her friend, I can tell you that she wanted you to have this house – and her estate – more than anything.” Upon seeing the skepticism I couldn’t keep off my face, she nodded and continued, “Yes, it would have been more convincing had she simply left it to you. But as you said, she loved Meadowhaven.” She methodically turned all the cups and the teapot so they faced the other direction.

“What, do I have to share the money with the town? It’s not a big deal, Aggie. One million is more than enough for a girl like me.” I was trying to be funny, but my brain kept telling me to shut up. I didn’t really want the money. I mean, I did – it’s impossible to turn down a monumental sum with the capacity to completely alter the course of one’s life. I would be stupid to refuse it. No, more than stupid. I would be the walking equivalent of an amoeba. Yet there I was, uncomfortable with the idea of taking any money from my aunt, especially now that she was gone.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. Well, if that’s what you choose to do with it. There are many other ways, I’m sure, to carry out the stipulations. And there are still the vehicles and physical assets to consider.” She was babbling, her dark eyes trained on the tea service as her hands continually turned a teacup.

I put one of my hands on hers, stilling her. I didn’t know what it was like to have someone care so much about me, at least not that they let me see. But I could recognize the loss. I’d felt it enough times, after all. “You were her best friend, Aggie. I know it’s important for you to do things like she wanted them done. She trusted you to do it, too, or she wouldn’t have made you the executor of her will.”

There were tears in her eyes when she finally looked at me. “That’s exactly why she left it to you. You’ll know what to do with it.”

I didn’t argue, even though every little voice in my head demanded it. “What did she want me to do with the money?” This idea lightened my heart. If I could do something to earn the money, or use it for a greater purpose, that I could get behind.

“It’s up to you. The stipulations are about how you qualify for it, not about the method you use to do so.”

I smiled at her in what I hoped was a reassuring way that didn’t exude impatience. “What did she want me to do to qualify, then?”

“Nora never felt she could help the town. She didn’t know how. None of us do. I don’t know if you noticed on your way in, but it’s falling apart. Our glory days passed while Nora and I explored the world. The twinkle has gone out of our town and Nora’s greatest wish was to see it returned to its former brilliance.”

“I didn’t notice.” It was true; I had been too busy worrying about the Terminator to actively see the town around me.

“That’s what she wants you to do. She wants you to spend the next year helping the town and its folk to recreate themselves.”

That seemed simultaneously a monumental task and easy as pie. After all, what can’t a couple million dollars do? I didn’t know anything about revitalizing a business let alone a person, but I was sure I could find out. “Who judges if I’ve managed it?”

Aggie took a deep breath and shook out the ruffles at her neck. “I do. It’s a complicated system she left and I don’t know that I could explain it properly.”

“Seems kind of important.” I picked at a raised seam on the settee. “Are there goal posts I’m supposed to hit or something?”

“Your aunt wasn’t the most concrete person. I’ll know it when I see it. That’s the best I can offer you.”

I’ve always hated answers like that; my mother used them all the time. They required trust in the speaker and faith they had your best interest at heart. I wasn’t rich in either anymore. A long, torrid story lay behind that particular state of affairs, one I tried hard never to think about. The vague answer nevertheless sparked off feelings I’d tried hard to bury for years.

I did my best to shove them back in their dark corner of my psyche and said, “So I’m supposed to find a way to make Meadowhaven a place ‘where the screen comes to life’ again, but I have to do it without knowing what qualifies?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“And you can’t give me any more help than that?”

“I can offer my opinion as you go, but no. Not really anything more.” Aggie frowned, her smile lines shifting to make her seem even more concerned than she might have been. Not that I doubted her sincerity either in wanting to help or our mutual frustration. It was just something I noticed. I notice things like that a lot, ways in which people can manipulate others without trying. It’s the part of myself I hate the most – it makes getting close to people more difficult than it should be.

“So, in your opinion, would starting with the store be a good thing?” I had no idea what sort of business Aunt Nora’s store did on a yearly basis. I always assumed it kept her comfortable and able to take trips whenever she felt like it. No store in such a tiny town, no matter how amazing, could rack up two million dollars in personal wealth.

Aggie shook her head. “You should certainly appraise the store to see if you want to keep it or if you’d prefer to sell it, perhaps to one of your new neighbors. I know Ivy would like to keep it open.” As an afterthought, she added, “That’s Nora’s assistant, Ivy Ambrosia. She’s worked at the store for years.”

“I’ll stop by soon, then.” I quickly considered and threw away about a dozen ideas to refit the store. Nothing seemed plausible. “I guess I need to see the town to really figure it out, don’t I?”

“That,” Aggie said, finally brightening, “is an excellent idea.”

She left me documentation from the will, both for my newly accepted quest as well as my new ownership papers. It took me about an hour of reading after she left to develop a headache and, soon afterward, a rumbling stomach. Part of Aggie’s housecleaning included cleaning out the fridge and freezer. Likely a good thing for spoilage issues, but it left me with nothing to scrounge. One thing I did know about Aunt Nora: she was part of the all-natural breed that grew up before “organic” was a thing. She always insisted on cooking as much from scratch as possible. For me, that meant there wasn’t much of anything in the cupboards, either.

It appeared I was going to have to venture into town sooner than anticipated.

First, I needed a shower. I lugged all of my suitcases inside, which didn’t exactly help my head. The shower, on the other hand, worked wonders. Despite the vintage decor, Aunt Nora had spared nothing in the bathroom. The tub was a pristine, claw-footed monster big enough to fit four people with varying levels of comfort. And my goodness, but it was comfortable! Heaven could be outfitted with nothing better.

Once I was clean, I donned a lightweight top and skirt with a pair of strappy sandals and went out in search of food.

I’ll Be BEGGARed

So sorry, readers, that I didn’t pop in on Monday to check in with my challenge!  Bad EarthGirly!  The holidays got the better of me, apparently.  But that gave you a few extra days to work, right, so you now have your list?  Here’s mine.  Feel free to use as you’d like!

Story Ideas:

1. A little girl discovers fairies living in her Christmas tree.
2. The protagonist must trek to a giant, forgotten castle to gain the help of an ancient, long-sleeping vampire.
3. An agreement to go on a blind date leads to a woman’s involvement with a darker world than she knew existed.
4. That old Christmas ornament isn’t actually an ornament; it’s a little pocket of time-space in which a forgotten relative trapped his nemesis/love/magic in for safe-keeping.
5. A modern retelling of the Swan Princess.
6. For some people, “geeking out” comes with magic that causes a whole heap of trouble.
7. A girl falls in love with the boy in a strange, centuries-old portrait in her great-uncle’s house, only to meet the boy on her 18th birthday.
8. The apocalypse arrives, but it’s not what’s expected.  As told through the eyes of several different – but connected – groups of survivors.

I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours!
I’ll be back on Monday with a new challenge.

The Celluloid Files: 1

As promised, dear readers, here begins our tale of:

The Celluloid Files: A Serial Story
Episode 1
Part 1

Meadowhaven, a quiet, sleepy town buried in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, has a reputation for, well, nothing, really.  Once upon a time, it was the vacation spot of choice for movie stars, directors, and the common man looking to rub elbows with the not-so-common.  Today, it’s more of a wallow for those who can’t let go of past glory.  Therein lay my problem.

My aunt, Nora Pingree, lived in Meadowhaven my whole life.  I grew up hearing stories about its lights and bustle, about romantic scandals and lives filled with adventure the way some kids get subjected their grandfathers’ war stories.  Don’t get me wrong; I ate the tales up like any adoring kid who loved and admired the teller.  But one thing I’ve learned about life is that no matter how bright and shiny something seems one day, it eventually fades like a pair of perfect jeans left too long in the sun.

I hadn’t thought of Meadowhaven for nearly ten years, which was about how long it had been since Aunt Nora had come for a visit.  Then I received a phone call that, looking back on it, changed everything. Changed it, and pinned Meadowhaven as the center of my lackluster world.

“Hello?” I said into the phone as I dug a pair of old heels from my closet.  I was on my way to meet a friend, and assumed the caller was the same-said friend, telling me she was going to be late.  I didn’t bother glancing at the number because nobody else ever called.

“Annika?”  The woman on the other end sounded familiar but I couldn’t immediately place her voice.  “This is Agatha Mellion.  I don’t know if you remember me…”  I didn’t.  “…but I used to travel with your aunt.”

It took me a minute, mostly because I was immersed in the search for the elusive shoe, but then it clicked in a cobwebby corner of my brain.  A tall woman, brown hair.  Assertive but with a kind smile, even if it didn’t go very deep.  “Aggie?  I remember you.  My aunt’s friend, right?”

I don’t remember what I thought.  Probably something to do with surprise visits or a birthday reunion or something.  My mom used to get calls like that, totally out of the blue.  That’s the kind of woman my aunt was – out of the blue.  Whatever I thought, I was more annoyed that I was now running late than concerned anything might be wrong.

“That’s correct.  I’m calling on Nora’s behalf, actually.  I represent her estate, and I have important information for you.  Are you busy?”

“Actually, I was just about to meet someone.”  The only thought in my head – beyond how much crap I was going to take from my friend for being late – was, “Aunt Nora has an estate?”

“It’s highly important, regarding your aunt’s will.”

That’s when I stopped and actually heard what she was saying.  My shoes were on, my purse sat waiting beside the front door, but I lowered myself onto my bed.  It felt like the heater had turned on full blast.  “Her will?  Did something happen to her?”

“No one told you?”  I shook my head and the phone with it.  Thankfully, Aggie accurately interpreted my silence and continued.  “Nora was involved in a car accident several weeks ago.  She passed away at the scene.”

I felt hollow.  I may not have seen my aunt for nearly a decade, but that didn’t ease the shock.  The one unassailable point of my family life was that there always existed a chance Nora might drop by for a visit.  Just because she never made it to my apartment didn’t mean she never would.  That her RV wouldn’t be parked outside my building any time I stepped outside.  Until now.

“I’m so sorry, Annika,” Aggie said, sounding on the verge of tears herself.  “If I’d known that, I would have done this differently.”

“My family doesn’t talk,” I managed to say.  That’s always what I say.  It’s a lot easier, not to mention less melodramatic, than to declare myself the Prodigal Daughter, practically disowned and at risk of never even receiving one of my mom’s mass-mailed Christmas cards again.  It was a long story, and unlike Aunt Nora, I didn’t do stories.  At least not personal ones.

“I have noticed that before,” Aggie said, with the forthrightness I remembered from childhood.  “I thought certainly, given the circumstances…Well, that doesn’t matter now.  What matters is that your aunt cared about you a great deal.  She told me her only regret was not being closer to you and your sister.”

This time I nodded with the phone.  My throat seemed to have swollen shut to block my capacity for speech.

“I understand if you don’t want to discuss this now.  I can call back in a few days, when you’ve had a chance to breathe.”  For some reason, that only heightened my need to cry.

Instead of sobbing uncontrollably, I coughed the feeling down and found my voice enough to say, “No, I’d rather have it all at once.”  I figured it would be like ripping off a band-aid.  Why leak information little by little when I could be done immediately and never have to think about it again unless I wanted to?

I heard her take a deep breath.  “If that’s what you prefer.  Nora made me the executor of her estate, as I said, and the majority of her will pertains to you.  She named you her primary heir.”

Maybe that’s a thrilling prospect to some people, grief of loss aside.  To me, it didn’t mean much.  “So, what, I own the store now?”

“If you choose to file the necessary paperwork and go through appropriate channels, yes.  You may also dissolve it if you wish.  But the store is only a small percent of what she’s bequeathed to you.”

“What else could she possibly have to leave me?  Did she have expensive family heirlooms or something?”

“She left you all of her property, with the request that you inspect it personally before you decide what to do with it, including the house, the boat, and the motorhome.  And there’s her investment portfolio and various accounts.”

That might have sounded like a lot, but all of it, minus the accounts, was at least as old as I was.  “So I need to come down there and sort through everything?”

“When you’re ready, yes.”

Like the injured idiot I was, I said, “I’ll let you know.”  Then I hung up, switched the phone to silent, and went out to dinner.

It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning with a headache that was more sob than alcohol – though I’d had plenty of both – that I heard the rest of what she needed to tell me.  I had to guzzle a tall glass of orange juice and pick at a bowl of marshmallowy cereal for ten minutes before I found the courage to listen to the voice mail she left me.

“There was one other thing,” Aggie said, her voice hollowed out by a bad connection.  “I know Nora liked her secrets, so I’m sure you have no idea what it is you’ve actually inherited.  There are a few stipulations and requirements involved, but should you follow your aunt’s wishes, in a year’s time you’ll inherit close to two million dollars.”  She left me her contact information, but I didn’t hear any of it.  Only quick reflexes kept my phone from ending up covered in milk and Captain Sucrose.

So here I found myself, sitting in the comfort of my air conditioned SUV, staring at the same sign that emblazoned the town’s pitiful website.

 

MEADOWHAVEN: Where the Screen Comes to Life!

 

Personally, I thought it sounded more like the setting of a horror movie than the quaint tourist village it purported itself to be.  I blamed that thought for why I couldn’t seem to take my foot off the brake.

A single, short siren blared at me.  I glanced in the rearview mirror and winced at the spinning blue and red lights.  Barely to town and I had already drawn the wrong kind of attention.

I rolled down my window as the cop stepped up alongside me.

“Everything all right here, ma’am?” he asked.  His voice was hard, full of clipped tones and speed.  He kept his reflective sunglasses on, staring at me in a soulless way that made me feel like the Terminator had just asked me if I was Sarah Connor.  Physically, he may have been a shadow to Arnie’s enormity, but it didn’t matter.  The shirt he wore too tightly over his bulletproof vest made it clear he worked out.  A lot.

“Everything’s fine, officer,” I said, painting on my best smile.  “I was trying to remember directions.”  So it was a lie; how did I explain feeling too much foreboding to enter his town?

Leather creaked as he shifted his weight.  His hand was on his gun.  That seemed more than a little overcautious to me, and only increased my sense of off-ness.  “New to Meadowhaven?” he barked.

I nodded.  That seemed obvious.

“What’s your business here?”

“I’m settling my aunt’s affairs.  She lived on Sunset Street.  Could you direct–”  I didn’t get a chance to finish.

“Nora’s niece?  I’ll give you an escort.  Follow me.”  Without another word, he left me staring dumbly at the trees along the road.  I hadn’t seen a single car besides the cop for fifteen minutes.  An escort seemed unnecessary.  But who argues with the Terminator?

The cop kept his lights on and pulled around me.  I followed him straight down the center of town.  Beyond the haze of rising embarrassment, I took note of quaint store fronts, old-fashioned ball-shaped street lamps, and pockets of people who all waved at the cop car as it passed.  I slouched down in my seat until we turned onto the second side street and left the pedestrians behind.  We made three more turns onto a gently sloping hill of Victorian homes.  Unlike a lot of Victorians I had seen elsewhere in the West, these looked like they had been here longer than ten years.  Their porches leaned like little old men who couldn’t quite stand to their full height anymore.  Shutters drooped.  Most were in need of several coats of paint and more highlights than a California surfer boy wannabe.

The Terminator stopped in front of a house I recognized from photographs.  Photos that hadn’t done it justice.  Yellows and blues weren’t soft baby pastels.  In reality, the house glowed like a canary sunning itself in a robin’s nest.  Lacy woodwork wasn’t simply cut, it seemed spun under eaves and traceries by a legion of wooden spiders.  No other lawn on the street was as green, and no other yard boasted such a riot of flowers.  Ivy climbed trellises, rosebushes hummed with fat bees, and blue, purple, and magenta irises shot skyward like jeweled scepters.

A lump came to my throat as I took it all in.  Aunt Nora obviously loved and cared for her home more than I had cared about anything, ever.  I would never see her weed around the flowers, fill the bird feeders swinging from a solitary elm, or sip her tea from the pretty little bench on the porch.

Officer Terminator waved me into the dirt space beside the house that apparently served as a driveway.  I found it odd Aunt Nora’s RV wasn’t parked there.  She lived out of it half the year, and I assumed it stood nearby the other half, just in case whimsy took her and she needed to run off to Niagara Falls for a week.

I felt more than awkward getting out of my SUV.  My clothes were rumpled from long hours of driving.  My legs ached, in dire need of a stretch.  No doubt my eyes were red and puffy from short bouts of crying along the way, and I didn’t even want to think about my hair.  I couldn’t just leave a cop standing there waiting for me, though.  Rudeness aside, I really just wanted him to quit staring at me.

“Thanks for the escort,” I said, tugging my blouse into a better, still-rumpled position over my hips.

“All in a day’s work, ma’am.”  He saluted me with two fingers to his temple.  I expected more discourse – on my aunt’s passing, my presence in town, the town itself.  Instead, Officer Terminator climbed back into his car like he was hoisting himself into a saddle.  He left me standing there without another word.

At least he took his inhuman, cyborg stare with him when he went.  That was something, right?

I took a deep breath, closed my car door, and stepped up to complete my duties as clueless, baffled, rumpled heir-apparent.

Tune in next week to keep reading!

BEGGAR Progress

I’ve been remiss in updating.  I wanted to post Monday and completely spaced it.  Why?  Because I’ve been working!

I haven’t added any new words to the work-in-progress.  This bums me out.  On the other hand, I have spent literally days on Kickstarter plans!  And despite my lack of updates, I have, in fact, made good on my BEGGAR challenge.  Most days, I’ve been planning and plotting and marketing and researching.  I’ve gotten in 30 minutes every day since we started.  So even though I was really wanting those 30 minutes to be actual writing, I’m perfectly happy with 30 minutes spent on my writing career. 🙂

That’s my progress; how’s yours?

And just in case you need the extra fun, here’s a challenge!

This week (near-week, as I’ll check in on Monday), compile a list of story ideas.  We’ll make it 8 ideas for the shorter week.  They don’t have to be complex ideas, just seeds from which you might grow a story later.  I often find that what I think are new story ideas are actually ideas that can be worked into my current story in a fun, unexpected way.  And if not, at least it gets the creativity flowing!

My example for today: A little girl discovers a fairy hiding in her Christmas tree.

‘Tis the season!
See you Monday!

The BEGGAR

Every December, agent Nephele Tempest challenges her blog readers to write every day for a month.  She adds mini challenges to make it more exciting, more creative, and to get the words flowing.  When I ran an online writing group, I also ran a challenge.  I called it the NILE – the Noveling In Limited Epic.  It was essentially NaNoWriMo a month or two later, except participants could usually choose their own end goal.  That writing group is now defunct (though I’m proud and elated to say that three of us have begun to craft careers out of writing – yay us!), so I can’t rightly run the NILE anymore.  But I still like to refocus my efforts in the cold, dark months of our Northern Hemisphere year.  All the cold and snow generally makes me more productive.  So I should just batten down the hatches, close up all the windows, and get to it, right?

: /

I’m a Virgo.  I like structure.  Just snuggling into my chair with a cold keyboard and a hot cup of cocoa isn’t enough.  I need boundaries, guidelines, goals.  These are my writer quirks, and I’ve learned that the best way to boost productivity (and my chances at success) are playing to them, not against them.

I don’t want to write 50,000 words this month (well, of course I want to, but I don’t want that to be my goal).  Rather than the NILE, I give you:

The Best Effort Given Grants Achievement Rewards (B.E.G.G.A.R.) Challenge

The BEGGAR’s purpose is to create a habit.  It can be any habit, really.  All you have to do is set aside 30 minutes each day this month (including and especially Christmas!) to focus on your chosen habit.  It doesn’t have to be in a single chunk.  You can break it down wherever it fits into your day.  Have five minutes sitting in the drive-thru at Starbucks every morning?  Use it to think about your writing.  Finish your lunch early?  Take ten minutes to stretch out your muscles.  Whatever your chosen goal area is, find or make 30 minutes across each day to work on it.

Before you begin, you also need to set a reward at the finish line.  I’m not really achievement-oriented, so I can’t say whether it’s better to pick something related to your new habit, or if it’s better to be something you really want.  I suspect it varies from person to person.  Whatever it is, set it down in writing.  Post it where you will see it.  Like this:

Today, I will spend 30 minutes on _____.
On January 6th, I win _____!

That’s it!  I will come back with a couple focus challenges throughout the month.  You can join me in them or not, that’s up to you.

30 minutes.  30 days.  1 new habit and a prize!

For me, I’m going to be working on my writing for 30 minutes each day.  Writing new words, editing old ones, brainstorming, plotting, and all the wonders and marvels of being a writer.  One day each week I will dedicate to the publishing side – marketing, research, blogs (both reading and updating), social media, etc.  When I complete the month, I will post an excerpt of my next novella, The Shot Heard ‘Round the Planet.  I get to share, you get to read, everybody wins!

If you choose to join in, please feel free to comment along the way.  Writing is a lonely business, and I like the company!

Good luck!