Monday, April 25, 2011

T and U are for Thank U

Today is U-Day for the A-Z Challenge - it's the home stretch!

Obviously I'm running out of steam since I'm late posting T and U. I still need to write Artie's story for the Happy Acres Tales, and I'll get that done this week. I'm just in a big huge tizzy to get my MFA thesis all put together and mailed to the division office before the deadline or else I don't get to graduate. Ack!

Plus there's the whole job hunting for both me and Hubby, plus Hubby's graduating and oldest son is graduating from high school, so we're kind of hectic here.

But....the T and U of Thank U (which is admittedly a tad of a stretch for T and U) are for my followers. I appreciate your attention and comments, and I love meeting new bloggers and finding new and worthy blogs to follow.  So Thank yo(U) for being you and for being my followers!

I totally promise to have Artie's story done this week...probably Wednesday. And after the A-Z Challenge I'll announce the day of my 200-Follower Blogfest when you'll get the chance to create a character to add to the Happy Acres family.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Simon's Tale

Today is S-Day for the A-Z Challenge. How many challengers out there are running out of steam? Hang in there! We're heading into the home stretch!

I've got two more stories to go for the Happy Acres Tales, and today is Simon's. Enjoy!


Simon's Tale

"So," Simon said. "You want to know how I ended up here?"

I rolled my eyes. "Um, yeah. That's the whole point of this tale-telling thing." I wanted to add 'duh,' but resisted the urge.

"All right, I'll tell you. I'm an international spy. Well, a double agent actually. I work for a recognized government, but I'm also the head of an underground movement to reinstall a monarchy in Scotland. I'm the rightful heir to the throne, you know."

We all nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Simon's insistence that he's the king of Scotland is old news around here. I heard somewhere that if you tell the same lie long enough and with enough conviction, people will start to believe it. Here at Happy Acres it's more like if you believe in your own delusions strongly enough, and repeat them with enough conviction, we all just accept it as fact.

"Scotland hasn't had it's own monarchy since sometime in the 17th century," Artie said. Since he was new to Happy Acres, he hadn't yet acclimated to Simon.

"Too true, my good man," Simon said. "And long past time to reinstall a monarch, don't you think?"

Artie looked at me, confused, unsure how to answer. I just nodded, indicating he should go along.

"I was undercover on a mission," Simon continued. "My cover was as a brewmaster running a distillery making fake Scotch whisky. We were trying to break a distribution ring. But it was also the headquarters of my underground monarchy movement."

"Ooooh," Tessa said. "International intrigue!"

"Quite right. I realized there was a mole in my organization and in my effort to flush him out things went bad and the distillery blew sky high. Needless to say, along with the whisky, my cover was blown."

"Scusies again, but if you're a super secret James Bondy type, why are you here?" Mia asked.

"Some stoolie ratted out my monarchy plans and because I posed a threat to the crown and the status quo, I was carted off and institutionalized," Simon said. His usual air of confidence had deflated into a pout.

"If you're a real spy, aren't you supposed to keep all your missions and identity secret?" Bill asked.

"Of course, but who'd believe any of you if you told them my story? You're all a bunch of lunatics. People will think you made the story up."

"Hey, I take offense at that," said T-Bone.

"As it turns out, Happy Acres is the perfect new base of operations for my monarchy movement."

"Right," I said. "Because everyone in Scotland is going to want a king who lives in the nut house."

"Britain has never had a shortage of mad kings," Artie pointed out.

"For perfect!" Mia said. "You fit right in, Simon!"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Q and R are for Quite Right

Today is R-Day for the A-Z Challenge. I totally missed Q-Day so I'm going to combine them here.

Back to Happy Acres....


"So," I said. "Who's next? Simon or Artie?"

"I was the last one here, so I'll tell my tale last," Artie said.

"Well, then. I suppose that leaves me, doesn't it?" Simon said.

He rose from his chair and sauntered to the doorway where a fire extinguisher was mounted on the wall. Unfazed by all of us waiting for his tale, he fisted his hand and knocked once on the wall panel beneath the extinguisher. The board popped out and inside, balanced neatly on a two by four brace, was a fifth of Sobieski vodka and a shot glass.

"It's against the rules to have alcohol in here," Artie pointed out.

A sly smile spread Simon's lips as he opened the bottle and poured himself a shot.

"Rules are meant to be broken, my friend," he said, throwing back the shot.

He replaced the bottle and the glass, then closed the panel.

"Now we know where your stash is," I said, triumphant. Simon is, after all, my Happy Acres nemesis. I'm always looking for ways to get the upper hand in our ongoing battle of wills.

"Quite right, good lady," he said, crossing his arms and leaning against the door jamb. "But wouldn't I be foolish to keep all my eggs in one basket?"

"You have more hidden hooch?" T-Bone asked, surprised.

Simon just smiled and watched as everyone's eyes scanned the room and considered where else he could have hidden goodies.

"Just what else do you have hidden around here?" Artie asked.

"Oh!" Tessa said. "Like cupcakes?"

"No cupcakes," Simon said with disdain. He clearly thought himself above pastry.

"Then what?" Bill asked.

Simon headed back for his chair where he settled in, crossing his legs and behaving every inch the king he claimed to be. When he didn't answer, I just sighed in exasperation.

"Never mind," I said. "He's just going to jerk us around and laugh while we scurry around trying to find stuff he may or may not have hidden."

"Like some twisted Easter Bunny," T-Bone said.

"I love jelly beans," Tessa said.

"Just tell us your tale and be done with it," I said to Simon, glaring at him. Not that at this point I wanted him to have any more attention. But we'd already started the tale-telling and there was no getting around it now.

"Well," he said, then teased us with a long pause. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

I scoffed at him. "Yeah, I'd like to see you try."

"Be careful what you ask for, good lady."

"What're you going to do, Simon, charm me to death? Or maybe drink me under the table? Or bore me to death by reading Hemingway aloud?"

"Don't tempt me," he warned.

Before I could deliver my comeback, Mia cleared her throat. "Scusies, but the zombies are impatiently waiting for a tres totes peachy tale. So maybe you two can, you know, perhaps square off after the tale-telling?"

Simon squirmed briefly in his seat, his gaze scanning the area around Mia, then quickly returning to meet her eyes. Simon is uncomfortable around Mia's zombies.

"You're quite right, Mia. It's story telling time. Don't want to upset the zombies, now, do we?"  He chuckled uneasily.

Tessa tossed a handful of rainbow confetti. "Yay for stories!"

"So," Simon said, "you want to know how I ended up here?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Perseverance and Pluck

Today is P-Day for the A-Z Challenge. I'm taking a little break from the Happy Acres crew, today. There are only two tales left to tell - Simon and Artie - and I need to ruminate over those for another day or so.

I wanted to talk about perseverance and pluck today because I'm trying to summon them myself. All writers get to the point where they're just so frustrated they want to give up, right? Especially once we've started querying, because at that point we think we have a perfect shiny manuscript and it's depressing when the first agent you query doesn't jump up and down and *squee* with delight, shoving a contract in your face and begging for the right to represent you.

A friend of mine just had her memoir accepted for publication at a small press after (get this) 39 rejections from agents and larger presses.  This woman is a brilliant writer and her memoir is amazing. And she still got 39 rejections.  And here I am feeling down in the dumps because I've received fewer than 10 rejections from agents I've queried for my paranormal romance.

So here I am summoning perseverance - the drive to continue polishing and revising my manuscript (because nothing is ever perfect), and pluck so I don't lose patience and slide into the doldrums.  I figure, as long as I learn from any comments I receive from agents and/or contest judges, and I'm able to make my manuscript better because of it, then at some point an agent is bound to *squee* for me!

How about you?

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Onward

Today is O-Day for the A-Z Challenge. Can you believe we're at O already? April has flown by!

So today I'm going to continue the Happy Acres Tales wherein all the characters are telling how they got to be at Happy Acres.


Mia's Tale

"The zombies wanted to dance a mambo at Burger King?" Artie asked. I couldn't blame him for being confused. It takes some practice to keep up with Mia.

"Oh, yes. That is where the main conflict arrived," Mia said. "But firstly, the tale comes in two parts. Me and the zombies were not always a team. There was a day when I was zombie-free."

I couldn't imagine that. Mia and zombies went together like cupcakes and sprinkles, Shaggy and Scooby, pork and beans.

"They just showed up one day on my doorstep," she continued, "and the longer I looked the more I began to like them and tadaa! Somehow we all decided to stick together. That, and after I saw the note pinned to their foreheads that said, 'take care of us,' I needed to. Defs. So that is how it started."

"And you took them to Burger King to dance and eat the customers?" T-Bone asked.

"Oh no. It was all just a big out of context misunderstanding, you see. The zombies like to mambo, and they like the shiny paper crowns at Burger King. So anyhoodles, it was the thing to do! But of course the local werewolves were there, because they are addicted to Whoppers with extra cheese."

"Werewolves," Simon said.

"Most defs. But werewolves have a longstanding dislike of zombies and vice versa. And we can see where this is going!"

Tessa nodded gravely, because clearly she saw where this was going. The rest of us just hung on for the Mia-ride.

"When the fight broke out, there was much chaos and fighting and me in the middle of it," Mia said. "The fries were flying and ketchup splattered and growling everywheres. And this is where it turned into not the zombies fault at all. When the authorities arrived, everybody disappeared, except for me, of course. Zombies are tres fabsies at hiding and werewolves are like ninjas. So I was a little, 'heeheehee, those sillies,' and all covered in ketchup and maybe with a golden paper crown, and with all the overturned tables and such, they might have taken it out of context a little."

"How could they not," Simon said.

"Apparently invisible werewolves are a hard idea to swallow, so they stamped me as delusional and maybe with a touch of madness, and sent me here. But for certain the zombies had a safety plan. I knew it when they showed up here with crayons and cupcakes and ready to settle in."

"The way I understand it," Artie said, "aside from finding humans tasty, there are some legends that claim zombies are attracted to people with dark pasts."

"Oh, that is tres truthful, Smartie Artie, but something else is that zombies are loyal protectors too. Give them some hotdogs and cupcakes and after that human flesh is no thank you for them, and they will be your friend forever. So we are here to hide from the head honcho werewolf dude. He is non too happy about us disrupting his peaceful Burger King meal."

"You can hardly blame him for that," Tessa said.

Mia nodded. "I agree. Burger King meals are better uninterrupted. It was all a big misunderstanding. But werewolves are notoriously unforgiving. Thankful goodnessly, werewolves are allergic to the smell of hospitals and all places medical, so see? The zombies were heroes for thinking of this plan!"

"Well, I for one am glad you and the zombies are here, Mia," I said, giving her a squeezy hug. "Happy Acres would be nearly intolerable without you."

Mia blushed. "It is the best place to be, for perfect."

"So," I said. "Who's next? Simon or Artie?"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for New Blood

Today is N-Day for the A-Z Challenge. I'm taking an intermission in the telling of the Happy Acres residents' tales to give you all a heads up.

I reached 200 followers this week and I thought it would be fun to have a contest/blogfest to celebrate.  I wondered, hmmm, what could I do for said blogfest?

I've been thinking recently that Happy Acres needs new blood. I need more characters to work with.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Happy Acres saga, it's an ongoing serial I've been working on which originated with the Invasion of the Bloggy Snatchers blogfest back in August 2010, where the idea was to write a blog post using other bloggers as characters. Happy Acres is set in a mental institution, and I've morphed some fellow bloggers into inmates.

I often write new episodes for other blogfests, and for the A-Z Challenge, letters I through M have so far been Happy Acres tales.

I thought it would be fun to have a contest/blogfest where you can enter for the chance to have a namesake character in Happy Acres! I haven't worked out all the details yet, but it will definitely take place after the A-Z Challenge when everyone has more time. I'll probably have you write a short piece describing how your character came to be at Happy Acres.

So stay tuned for more details! Because you know you want a namesake at Happy Acres. I'll have more information for you as soon as I work it all out.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the residents' tales of how they came to be Happy Acres. (You can catch up on the rest of the episodes at the "Happy Acres Episodes" link above, and I to M of A-Z).

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Meringue

Today is M-Day for the A-Z Challenge, and Wendy Ryan's Blogaversary Blogfest. Since I'm powering through the Happy Acres tales, I'm going to try to combine them. For Wendy's fest, participants are supposed to incorporate these M-words: misty, mambo, moon, musk(y), mongrel, myth. I asked the Happy Acres characters' namesakes for ideas about how their characters ended up in Happy Acres, and they've come up with some pretty great tales! So read on....

Tessa's Tale

"Okay, Tessa. Tell us your tale," I said.

"Though I suspect it will be difficult to top puppets," Artie added.

"Oh, nosies!" Mia chimed in. "Do not mistakenly underestimate Tessa! I think her story will be fabsies!"

Still standing in the middle of the room, and with all eyes on her, Tessa sighed and smiled as if remembering a fond memory in the misty past, not one that landed her in the looney bin.

"It all started with a poppyseed raspberry rum meringue tart," she said. Tessa used to be a pastry chef. "Most people believe the perfect tart is just a myth. But I know better. And my dream was to create perfection"

We all nodded dutifully.

"But they can be very, very tricky. I'd been working at it for hours. First, I tried the ground poppyseed dough, but the first attempt was a stinky musky mess. Too many poppyseeds. But after I finally got it right, the raspberry custard refused to achieve the proper consistency. AT ALL!" she said, stomping her foot. A little red glitter drifted from her pocket to the floor.

"Did you get it fixed?" I asked.

"My boss told me to leave it, that I was taking it too personally," she said, crossing her arms. "But I had to get it right, didn't I? I mean, I'd already used like a gazillion eggs. I couldn't waste it now. Besides, it was me or that silly tart, and I wasn't about to let the tart get the better of me. No way!"

"I can totes relate to that, for certain," Mia said.

"So even though it was after midnight and the moon was mocking me, I had to try again. And I did. But this time it turned into eggy raspberry jello! Completely useless! I tried again and again, until sometime the next day, I finally got it right. But then Jeff happened."

"Who's Jeff?" Bill asked.

"My boss's mongrel nephew. He's a big stupid head and used some of the egg whites I needed for my shiny meringue, FORCING me to weigh the eggwhites to figure out how much sugar I needed. Can you imagine? But I kept on going. And the tarts would be magical when I was finished. I just knew it. So I whipped those eggwhites to perfection, plopped them in a bain marie until everything was a beautiful shiny whiteness, and I teased up loverly soft peaks."

She closed her eyes and sighed her delight. I could almost picture the tarty goodness. But when she opened her eyes again, her brows came together and I knew something big and bad was on the way.

"But then when I reached for the little torch I use to make my meringue a perfect golden color, that awful evil Jeff had stolen it off to whatever lalaland he'd vanished to. I was left torchless! Two days. Two days I'd been working on these tarts, only for Jeff to ruin everything. Well, I wouldn't accept defeat. Uh uh. So I tried the oven, but I couldn't control the temperature and...."

Tears rolled down her face and her shoulders slumped, just before she collapsed into a heap on the floor. We all rushed to her side.

"What? Tessa, what happened?" I asked.

"They burned," she sobbed.

"You ended up here because you burned some meringue?" Artie asked, confused.

"I think someone decided it wasn't so healthy that three days later I was still trying over and over to make the perfect meringue," she said, wiping her tears. "But I never gave up. Even when they traded my pretty white chef coat for another pretty white coat, I was still determined."

"You have seen the enemy, and it is meringue," T-Bone said.

"It is Jeff," said Simon.

"Maybe I should have just made cupcakes," Tessa said, defeated.

"Or donuts," I added.

"It is tres okay," Mia said. "You are safe from the evil meringue monster in here with us. The zombies will for defs be super happy to protect you. It is what they do, after all."

"Is that how you ended up in here, Mia?" Artie asked, "because of the zombies?"

"Oh no, it was totes not their fault," Mia said. "All they wanted was to dance a little mambo at Burger King."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Looney

Today is L-Day at the A-Z Challenge, and, of course, today is another day of the Happy Acres saga. When last we left our crazy friends, they were sharing the stories of how they came to be at Happy Acres. I apologize for how long this episode is. It got away from me.

Bill's and T-Bone's Tale

"I choose to wait for my turn," Simon said, putting on his best monarchical air. "As king it's my prerogative."

Mia snorted. "That is no way any kind of truth. We all know it except for maybies you. The zombies are totes convinced that you are simply what they call a duck."

"Don't you mean a chicken?" Artie asked.

"Oh nosies," Mia said. "Poultry is in no way involved."

Artie's brows came together in confusion.

"Just go with it," I said. "She means Simon is ducking the potential discomfort of revealing anything about himself."

"If Simon's ducking out," Tessa said, looking around the room in earnest. "Then who's next?"

Another awkward silence settled while we all watched each other, waiting for a volunteer. T-Bone and Bill exchanged a glance, and Bill sighed in resignation. "We'll go next," he said.

Bill and T-Bone had been here before me, so I was curious to hear their tale.

"I'm afraid of puppets," Bill said, then stopped. I think we were supposed to infer the rest.

"Then why do you wear one on your hand?" Artie asked when Bill didn't continue.

"The story's a lot longer than that," T-Bone said. "Ya see, when Billy was a boy he was ascared of puppets the same way some folks are ascared of clowns or monsters under the bed."

Mia shuddered. "Zombies are for defs afraid of the crawly things under the bed. And in closets. Very not good."

"Then one day in school," T-Bone continued, "the teacher put on a puppet show teachin the class about proper dental hygiene. He asked Billy to stand in front of the class and let the puppets show the other children, on him, how to properly brush teeth."

Bill whimpered behind T-Bone, and T-Bone patted him on the shoulder.

"Billy dint care for all those puppets all up in his face. Billy don't really like to have his head touched by anyone, truth be told, but least of all puppets. It was a lil more than he could handle, and his poor little self just kind of went blank inside. He ran screamin and hollerin out of the classroom and the school nurse finally found him curled in a little ball in the girl's bathroom. That's when I showed up to rescue him."

"So Bill's been here since he was a kid?" Tessa asked, in awe.

"Naw. I helped him through that rough spot, along with the aid of some professionals. He was fine for a while, but refused to live in houses with closets, and always kept his bed directly on the floor. No bed frames to allow for space underneath, ya know? And a'course he stayed away from puppets of any kind. Had a bit of a tough time with the Muppet Show, but with my help he got through it."

"So how'd he end up here?" I asked.

"Billy grew up to be a teacher, convinced he could do a better job protecting little souls than his teachers had. One day he took the children to the art museum, wantin to enrich their hearts with art. Unfortunately, he picked a time that the museum had a special exhibit on the history of puppetry. Taken unawares, Billy led the students into the room, not knowin what evil lurked therein. When faced with the horror of puppets hanging from the ceiling, in glass cases, lounging on tables, and waiting to pounce on him from curtained windows, well, Billy lost it big time."

Mia's eyes were wide, and she leaned into the story, hanging on T-Bone's every word.

Tessa swallowed hard. "What happened to him?"

"The door was blocked by all the children, so he was trapped in the room with no escape. His eyes rolled up into his head and he muttered to himself as his knees buckled and he went to the floor like a sack of rocks. When he came to, I was there protecting him from all the hideous beasties. But he couldn't cope out there in a world full of puppets, so we came here."

"Wow," Mia said. "The zombies are totes in awe that you survived a puppet apocalypse. That is no easy feat at all, no sir."

"Zimbabwe," Bill whispered.

"What's with Zimbabwe, anyway?" Simon asked. "I could understand calling upon Scotland in your times of need, but Zimbabwe?"

"Billy is convinced that Zimbabwe is the only corner of the world free from puppet influence," T-Bone said. "Other than Happy Acres."

"How lucky you ended up in Happy Acres!" Tessa said, bouncing in her seat, a little cloud of golden glitter floating from her pocket. "Of all the places you could have gone, what are the chances you'd end up at the one puppet-free safety zone?"

"Yeah, it defies explanation," I said.

"Well," Artie said, clearing his throat. "That is quite a tale, Bill. And, er, T-Bone."

Tessa jumped off the couch and twirled. "This is so much fun, I can't stand it," she said. "Can I go next? Please, oh please oh please?"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Kindred

Today is K-Day for the A-Z Challenge, and I'll be continuing the Happy Acres saga. Yesterday's post must have been too depressing, because nobody commented. Unfortunately, mental institutions can't be all fun and games! But we're going to continue on our journey, learning how each of the crew found themselves at Happy Acres.


"Okay, wait a teensy jiffy here," Mia said, standing from the couch and pacing to the window. "That story was all kinds of sadness. I need a..."

"Cupcake?" Tessa asked.

"No," Mia said. "I need air."

"Cuz I'd like a cupcake," Tessa said, ignoring Mia's plea. "Cupcakes fix everything. No matter what."

"I told you this was a bad idea," I said, glowering at them, not at all ready to let anyone off the hook for making me go through this. "Why do you think we don't talk about this stuff in group?"

"It's scary," Bill said.

"We's all bat-shit crazy," T-Bone added.

"Indeed," Simon said, cocking a sardonic brow. But still he fidgeted just the slightest bit, knowing he was next.

We sat quietly, absorbing my story. In short order I'd just undone all the hard work I'd put in since getting here, working at coming off as flip and maybe even tough. Nothing like a suicide attempt to strip you bare.

Nobody met my gaze, finding other things to see, and I could only imagine they were scrambling for excuses to avoid taking their turn. But Artie surprised me.

From his chair in the corner, he regarded me. "That took courage, Em. You should be commended. You and I? We're kindred spirits, despite our obvious differences." He dropped his gaze and studied his hands in his lap. "I understand how loss can send a person over the edge."

His kindness took the edge off my shame, and I sat up a little straighter.

"We're all kindred spirits," Tessa said. "Or we wouldn't be here."

"You're right, Tessa. We're all friends here..." I started.

"Family," Mia said from the window. "We're all totes family. For certain."

"Right. We're family. So let's get through this. I'm sure we'll all need a truck load of cupcakes and plenty of supplemental oxygen once it's done," I said, skeptical we'd even survive this exercise. I was already an emotional wreck.

Tessa's eyes glazed over as she stared into the middle distance, "A whole truck load of cupcakes!"

Mia clapped, making her way back to the couch. "Yay! Go, go, go, Simon! Your turn. Tell us your tale."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Jaded

Today is J-Day for the A-Z Challenge. My post is a continuation of yesterday's Happy Acres episode.

Em's Tale

"So how did you end up in Happy Acres, Em?" Tessa asked, kneeling on the floor at my feet like some strange supplicant.

I closed my eyes and remembered the long red ribbons that slipped from my wrists and puddled on the floor of the bathroom.

Opening my eyes didn't make the memory any less vivid. I cleared my throat. "I got depressed and it seemed like I'd be safer in here."

"That's it?" T-Bone asked. "A little depression and you go runnin' for cover?"

The last straw, the one that had broken my will to live, had been my cat dying. I'd spent years of careful and meticulous practice, burying the pain other people are so good at inflicting, until I was blissfully numb. But I loved my cat.

"I tried to hurt myself," I offered as added explanation. "My cat died. I couldn't help it."

In the bathroom after my cat died was only a formality. I'd already died a little bit every time my mother snuggled up to Jack Daniels and forgot I existed. And I'd died a little bit more every time my father chose work over his family. After I grew up, every time I forced myself to leave the house I died some more, hiding excruciating shyness behind indifference and bravado.

"You mind yourself, T-Bone," Mia said, waggling an angry finger at him. "Whatever brought you here hurt so bad it split you and Bill in halvsies."

"Zimbabwe," Bill whispered, his head dipped in contrition.

The funny thing was that I'd hoped the grief, and all the rest of the pain, would slide from my wrists like snake venom and I'd finally be cleansed and free. But the joke was on me, because the puddle got bigger, but the pain stayed the same. I tried adding tears, but even as they fell, I just couldn't drain myself enough to make it all go away.

"But how'd you get here?" Tessa asked.

I choked a kind of half laugh. "The landlord found me. Routine inspection or something. When I didn't answer the door, he let himself in. The rest, as they say, is history," I said, trying to lighten the mood from dangerously close to despair.

"Your cat died?" Simon asked, clearly not understanding all the subtext.

"I really loved my cat," I said. That was all the explanation I could afford. "If you think your story's so much better, how'd you end up here?"

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Ink Blots

Today is I-Day for the A-Z Challenge! I've kind of been goofing around with this challenge so far, but I've decided to dedicate a few of the days to more episodes of Happy Acres. For those of you new to my blog, Happy Acres is an ongoing episodic story involving patients at a mental institution. You can catch up with the rest of the episodes at the Happy Acres Episodes link above. I'll try to keep these A-Z Challenge episodes shorter, but sometimes the characters get away from me.

We all sat in the common room dutifully waiting for Dr. Rutherford to make his grand entrance for our group session. We knew he liked to be fashionably late, and he never fooled us with his excuses. For some reason he thought it added to his air of authority when in reality he probably needed group as much as we did.

Artie cleared his throat. "This is my first group session, what can I expect?"

"Well," I said. "Doc likes to ease into sessions, like we're just sitting around chatting."

"Like we's homies," T-Bone said.

Artie shot T-Bone a wary look, still uncomfortable with Bill's puppet alter-ego.

"Mostly, he starts off with how pretties the weather is outside. Like for today he will say, 'oh how lovely is the April day, 'tis warm and rain is falling freshly and the blooms are blooming and the birdies atweeting and all is right with the world,'" Mia said, a frown forming as she spoke.

"Which is fine for him," Simon said, "because he can leave here and enjoy it."

"But it's maybe the teensiest bit discouraging for us," Mia said in her little sad voice. "I admit, it makes the zombies sad."

I reached across the couch and gave her hand a squeeze. No one said anything, the moment extending as we tried to remember what it felt like to enjoy spring in the real world.

"I have an idea!" Tessa said, perking up. "Let's tell stories while we wait!"

"What kind of stories?" I asked.

"Well," Artie started. "I'd be interested to know how each of you came to be at Happy Acres."

"Zimbabwe," Bill said, all gloom and doom.

We all squirmed a bit in our seats. That question came a little too close to being therapeutic.

"I don't know about that, Artie," I said. "Can't we maybe talk about our favorite foods or something?"

"No!" Tessa said, jumping up from her seat and twirling amid a shower of sparkly glitter before settling between me and Mia. "I think it's a perfect idea. And whoever tells their story the best gets a prize!"

"What prize?" Bill asked.

"How about extra outside time?" Simon asked. "We can each donate five minutes of our outside time to the winner."

"Yay! That's a fabsies idea!" Mia said.

"Em?" Tessa asked. "Will you play?"

I groaned. Sharing wasn't something I liked to do. "Fine," I said finally.

Tessa clapped and glitter drifted to the floor. "So, who'll go first?"

If there had been crickets in the common room, they would have been chirping in the silence. Finally, I heaved a deep and pained sigh. "I'll go first," I said, as if volunteering to test the electric chair.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

H is for Hey! I missed H!

Yesterday was H-day  for the A-Z Challenge. Again, my title is a major cop-out, and for that I apologize.

I totally missed H-Day because I was traveling on Amtrak. A trip that should have lasted 12 hours stretched into 21.

Here's the thing: Spring in North Dakota inevitably means flooding. Apparently a segment of the tracks we were supposed to take was flooded so we were shifted to another set of tracks which was meant primarily for freight traffic. Because we were just visitors on the freight tracks, freight trains took priority. We ended up sitting on shunts for hours waiting for freight trains to pass. We were told that our "sister train," (the train that runs the same route we were taking, Chicago to Seattle) that had left 24 hours prior to us, still hadn't reached its destination and was 28 hours late. Not encouraging news.

However, I find that sometimes these kinds of situations can result in something unexpected, even if it's only that you meet people you never would have met otherwise. I met an interesting young woman studying opera on the west coast. She'd gone home for spring break in the midwest to visit family, and was heading back to school. We talked and she shared her extensive DVD collection with me to pass the time.

It was a brief little situational comararadie and, as any other writer knows, those kinds of things can be inspirational gold.  Sometimes you meet real people who are so much better than anything you could create on your own and they inspire new characters.

So although it was a long trip and by the time we reached my station I was exhausted and in desperate need of a shower, I didn't feel at all cheated or upset. I felt like I'd been given this secret little gift of suspended time and place.

Have you ever found good in a situation that could have been bad?

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Gah!

Today is G-day for the A-Z challenge.

My title is (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek. Yesterday I detailed how I am attending an early British literature conference this weekend.  Keep in mind that I am a creative writer and if pressed to identify a period of literature with which I most identify, or with which I have most experience, it would definitely be contemporary. Or at the very least, 20th Century.

I am way, way, way out of my league here.

I've read the requisite Beowulf, Chaucer, Gawain and the Green Knight. I've even read and written papers on some Arthurian romances, on The Seafarer, and even on Lady Mary Wroth's sonnet series, "Pamphilia and Amphilanthus."

But today was a seriously long day filled with tediously constructed papers on both the well-known as well as some fairly obscure early Brit lit. You know things are going downhill when, in a room filled with people for whom early Brit Lit is their lifeblood, you can look around and count the number of people nodding off.

I wondered if that was standard behavior for these kinds of conferences, having not attended many. Because once the day was over, all I heard was, "today was a great day," and "those were fascinating papers," and "I was impressed by the depth of research and discussion."  How would they know if they snoozed through parts of it?

I'll admit that some of the papers were really good. But a lot of them I got lost in elevated language and grandiosity. And that's probably more a function of my lack of understanding or familiarity with the subject matter than the scholarship involved. I'm sure everyone else in the room followed along just fine. When they were awake.

I would much rather have gone to a writing conference than a literature conference. Unfortunately, I didn't find any nearby that I could afford or were interesting enough. Although after today, I may just have to adjust my definition of interesting.

So what's your experience been with these kinds of academic conferences?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Fun! (and Fasionably late)

Today is F-day for the A-Z Challenge, and as you can see, I'm Fashionably Late making my post. That's because I spent all night on an Amtrak train traveling to the Northern Plains Conference on Early British Literature.

If the train hadn't been 2-1/2 hours late so that I boarded at midnight, it probably wouldn't have been quite so bad. But now I'm at the hotel and I think a shower, food, and nap are in order before the Festivities begin.

Going to be lots of Fun times with all those wacky medievalists!

And for G-day tomorrow, in keeping with the early brit lit theme of the weekend, I may just post on Grendel...who knows. You'll just have to come back and find out!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for E-Mail

It's E-day for the A-Z Challenge. Because I haven't planned these posts ahead of time, I sat and stared at the letter E for a long time this morning, wondering what the heck to write about. And because I had kind of a crappy day yesterday, I was utterly without inspiration.

I considered and rejected dozens of E-words until I finally settled on E-mail.

E-mail has completely changed the face of communication. I'm old enough (just barely!) to remember life before E-mail and the internet, back when you had to sit down and write a letter on a piece of paper and wait days as the postal service delivered it, and then more days to receive a response. We didn't know it then, but it was agonizing.

E-mail has thankfully made communicating nearly instant. On the one hand, for those of us who tend to be chronically impatient, E-mail is a godsend. On the other hand, E-mail has taken the personal out of mail.

I can remember the excitement of waiting for the mailman, and receiving personalized mail. My best friend and most of my family lived in another state, so it was a real treat to get letters. And writing letters is a lost art. When you take the time to put pen to paper, you're giving someone a little of yourself.

I still have bundles of handwritten letters between my great grandmother and great grandfather, I still have letters from my best friend (who died almost 20 years ago), and I still have letters from my grandparents (who are all passed now). There's just something about recognizing a loved-one's handwriting, knowing that when they took the time to sit down to write a letter, for that brief amount of time, they were thinking only of you. It's like having a little piece of that person with you all the time.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't ever give up E-mail. I can't remember how the world functioned before E-mail and internet. It was excruciatingly slow, that's for sure. But sometimes in our rush for progress we lose sight of the simple, personal touches that keep us connected on a human level, and I think that's a dangerous place to go.

So what do you think? Does E-mail (and progress) cause us to be less compassionate? More distant? Or am I just being melancholy today? Can you remember the days of handwritten letters?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Dakota (the North one)

Today is D-day for the A-Z Challenge, and since I live in North Dakota, I thought it might be fun to give you a little insight into what it's like to live in the country's (almost) least populated state.

Total population:  (about) 672,000
Entered the union: 1889 (acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase)

State tree: American Elm
State Bird: Mosquito (ha! - not really. That's more like the state joke).
State Bird (really): Western Meadowlark.
State beverage (!): Milk (I would have guessed Bud Light)
State flower: Wild prairie rose.
State dance: Square dance.

North Dakota is the most rural of all the states with farms covering over 90% of its land. Recently oil exploration has been booming in the west of the state and there's an emerging wind energy industry as well.  We currently have among the nation's lowest unemployment at around 3%.

Some famous names from North Dakota:  Warren Christopher, Angie Dickinson, Louis L'Amour, Peggy Lee, Roger Maris, Eric Sevareid, Lawrence Welk, Sakakawea (the rest of the country pronounces it wrong).

So what's it like to live in North Dakota? Well, it's ultra-conservative here, the primary religions are Catholic and Lutheran, and people here take their religion very seriously. Hunting and gun ownership is high. And it's kind of freaky knowing that there are nuclear weapons planted all over the countryside.

As a left-leaning independent who doesn't practice any organized religion and doesn't own any guns, needless to say, I don't really fit in. I'm not native to the state...I grew up on the West Coast. However, there are pockets of more liberal thinking, mostly at the state universities.

That being said, North Dakota is a pretty cool place to live. The crime is ridiculously low and the geography is stunningly beautiful. The weather is extreme, but once you've adjusted to it, it's no big deal.  It adds to the beauty. And although I disagree with the ideology most people here live by, they are, for the most part, easy to get along with. Since I've lived here I have never once locked my car or house, and I feel safe giving my kids freedoms here I never would anywhere else in the country.

So although there are some trade-offs, it's been a pretty good place to live!

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Crunch Time

Here we are at day C for the A-Z Challenge, and the first c-word that comes to my mind is crap because I had a cool post all written for Crunch Time and then I pushed the wrong button and *poof* it went bye bye. Maybe that'll teach me to be prepared and write ahead of time. Naw. I doubt it.

Which brings me back to Crunch Time. As in, I'm currently in the midst of crunch time for my MFA thesis. It wouldn't be so bad, but I just realized yesterday that my thesis needs to be in the hands of the thesis committee 2 weeks before the end of the semester.  That leaves me, like 2 weeks to finish the revision so that I have at least a week to polish it, make copies, put it in thesis binders, take it to the post office and mail it priority mail.

Crunch Time.

Thankfully I have the first draft and a scene list to work from. A screenplay needs to be approximately 90 pages finished, and I'm at page 60 of the revision, so I think I'm in pretty good shape. But I can't dilly-dally anymore. Time to step up, get butt in chair, and git-er-done (a phrase I sincerely loathe).

I'm sure all you writer people are familiar with the idea of crunch time. Deadlines are common in writing, and I look forward to the day when I have an agent and must face all kinds of deadlines. Those crunch times will be good.

So are you a methodical and organized writer, or a crunch time writer?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Agent Pitch Redux

Credit: Margaret Dean
For those few of you who might show up here looking for my revised twitter-length pitch for Shelley Watters' Epic Follower Blogfest/Contest, below are my original pitch and the two potential revisions.

Original:   Fate has love and death plans for Holly McCray, whether she believes in him or not.

Revision One:   Fate has love-and-death plans for Holly McCray, but she's never been one to accept fate without question, and she's not about to start now.

Revision Two:  A fae warrior willing to risk his life to keep a promise, a woman bold enough to question Fate, and a prophecy that will bind them together.

Whatta ya think? Any better? Or back to the drawing board?

B is for Balloon - And Agent Pitch Redux

Today is day two of the Great A-Z Blog Challenge, and since we are following alphabetic themes, today is B-day. Anyone here for the Epic Follower Blogfest/Contest, I will add my revised tweet-length pitch to this post later today. Stay tuned!

There are now nearly 1200 participants in the A-Z Challenge. Amazing! I think I managed to read about 25 of them yesterday. Everyone's coming up with awesome ideas to write about. It's going to be a fun month.

So what's my B-subject? Balloons. That's right. Balloons. Why? You ask. Well, Balloons are my nemesis. Nay, Balloons are my archenemy.  Nemesis implies some sort of love lost, or some sort of potential for something other than outright loathing. There is none of that for me and Balloons.

You know how some people have irrational phobias against spiders (I hate them too, actually), heights, small spaces, open spaces, the number 13, and various and sundry other silly things? That's me with Balloons. They scare the crap out of me. I have no idea why. It's stupid and embarrassing and, of course, irrational. But I cannot be in a room with balloons or my heartbeat races, I get sweaty and panicky, I get all nauseous, and most of all I just want to escape.

I've been this way for as long as I can remember. Oddly, my mother has the same fear. I don't know if I ended up with it because it's a learned behavior from watching her when I was a small child, or some bizarre genetic twist of fate, but it is what it is. It defies explanation.

My kids have suffered through life never having owned a Balloon (as much as you can suffer from balloon deprivation - which I suspect isn't much), and my husband thinks I'm nuts (although he's so scared of spiders that when he sees one he screams like a girl, then swears like a sailor, and forces me to kill it).

But I can't help it. It's not something I can get over. I've tried. And, in the end, as it turns out, it's not so difficult to live a Balloon-free life.

So what's your phobia? C'mon, you know you have one. Everyone does!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for? - Plus Agent Pitch Contest!

Today is the first day of the A-Z Challenge, which means we're starting with an A-topic today. Because I'm spontaneous (*cough*) I'll be coming up with a new topic daily, on the fly.

Today is also the first day of the Epic Follower Blogfest/Contest hosted by Shelley Watters, wherein authors are to post a twitter-length pitch and hope to win a full manuscript request from Agent Suzie Townsend

1. In keeping with the alphabetic theme of the A-Z challenge, here is my Attempt at a twitter-length pitch for my paranormal romance, Faerie Fate:

Fate has love and death plans for Holly McCray, whether she believes in him or not.

It's only 82 characters long, so there's still wiggle room. Any comments or suggestions would be swell.

2. Back to the A-Z challenge. I thought about discussing Adverbs, but I figured other people could cover that. Besides, it's been overdone. We all know to avoid -ly adverbs and use stronger verbs.

3. Then I thought about discussing Anxiety. But this requires no explanation. We all understand. Please see #4.

4. Finally, I decided that Anticipation was a good subject because I've got a list of things I'm anticipating to the point of preoccupation:

1. I will graduate with my MFA in May. Halle-freakin-lujah.
2. Hubby will graduate with his BSE in May. Ya-freakin-hoo.
3. Oldest son graduates from high school in May. *sob*
4. I've sent queries to a bunch of agents. *bites nails* (see #2)
5. I've applied for a bunch of college/university teaching jobs. *ugh* *fidgets* *waiting....* (see #2)
6. Going on family vacation first 2 weeks of June. *can't wait*
7. Got a big tax refund. Waiting for the moolah. *taps foot*

Now, go read a few of the 900-ish other posts!

p.s. Another A-word: Award! Thanks to Christopher Ledbetter for this one.
He's so sweet for thinking of me!