When Things Go According to Plan: Tree Edition

You’ll recall a few weeks ago, a big part of the huge silver maple in my backyard fell down, knocking out my power. (Actually, it looks like that’s already been 1.5 months!) In the aftermath, we looked around at various tree services, finally settling on Hidden Hills Tree Service. They gave us a *much* better estimate and committed to cutting and splitting the wood from the tree for us as well. (When you burn wood and have a big tree fall down on your property, you might as well get some BTUs out of it, right?)

Even then, we still had to arrange for the power company to come and drop the power line so the work could be done, and that took much more finessing than we anticipated. They’re busy people in the summer, it seems. There was one morning that they had open until mid-August, so it was then or much later.

Thankfully, the stars all aligned for that one day to work. However, it was also yesterday, the day I had to be in Orono for a library development day. Denisa’s gone to Slovakia with the kids, so all of this would have to happen without anyone there to make sure it all went smoothly.

I left in the morning, hoping that

  • The power company would come as promised at 8am to drop the line
  • Hidden Hills would come to cut down the tree
  • No trees would fall on my house or anything else important
  • The power company would come back to hook the power back up at 2pm

The whole time I was in Orono, I was checking my phone, waiting for the call that told me things weren’t working. The phone never rang.

I came home at 5:00pm to find this:

For once, it all went as planned. I didn’t have to do anything or be involved at all. It was wonderful. Our birdhouse took a direct hit, knocking the steeple off, but I’m okay with that.

Today, if all goes according to plan, the cutting and splitting will happen. It’s raining, though, so I think there’s a chance that gets delayed.

Still, it’s great to have down. I’m really surprised just how sunny the back yard is now. That tree was very large. I’m sad it had to go, really. I’m a fan of trees, but it had to happen. We’ve been worried since we moved in that it might hit our house or drop a limb on a child. That worry is gone now. Looking at the interior of the wood, it’s clear it had quite a few problems. Lots of bugs and rot.

Anyway, here’s to things working as intended for once. (Knock on wood.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Flying Solo

Well, it’s official. I dropped off Denisa and the team at the bus station about an hour and a half ago. They’re off on their way to Slovakia. It’ll take them about 25 hours total to get there. (Drive to Augusta, bus to Boston, flight to Budapest by way of Zurich, taxi to the Budapest train station, train to Bratislava, drive to Trencin.) So if any of you want to spare some good thoughts for Denisa in the next day or so, I’m sure she could use any she can get.

I’ll follow later, but for now, I’m holding down the fort at home. As much as I wish I could just sit around eating brownies and binge watching Netflix all day, I have a number of things I’m going to at least try to get done.

  • Stack 2 cord of wood
  • Clean up the entire house
  • Speak at a Young Single Adult conference on Sunday (9:30am at UMF, if you want to come hear me)
  • Repair the damage the lightning strike did to my electronics. (Seriously not cool. I’ve discovered it essentially arc through the phone line into my DSL router, taking out my router, my printer’s network card, my VOIP, and my ethernet expander in one fell swoop. I’ve spent hours trying to fix all of those, but I think some just are beyond repair, and I’ll need to buy new. Sigh.)
  • Mow the lawn at least once
  • Keep on top of the other chores
  • Not get too lonely and depressed to get all the rest of that stuff done.

The final point is going to be the sticky one. I remember when Denisa left last time (seven years ago), there was a fair bit of moping that went on. It’s just a lot easier to be on my own when I’m out and about at conferences, with a ton of things I have to do, and new experiences to distract me. Being at home alone when my entire family is gone isn’t as much fun.

That said, I also remember there was one lovely difference: whenever I cleaned a room, it stayed clean. And then I only had to clean the mess I had made myself. I discovered before that I’ve generally become a much neater person. (Current condition of my office at work aside.) Or maybe I just felt like a messier person because of how often my kids would leave messes around the house.

Anyway. We’ll see if I can get all of that done. Wish me luck. (But more luck to Denisa, naturally.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Unlikely TV Recommendation: GLOW

I have to start off this review with a very large disclaimer. There are a large number of you who will not like GLOW. Not because it’s a bad television show, but because the content is simply too adult. It’s rated TV-MA for good reason, so if that’s something that turns you away, then by all means turn.

On the surface, it seems an easy enough show to dismiss. A comedy-drama focused on the beginnings of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) in the 1980s? It just sounds too preposterous to work. It sounds, quite frankly, terrible. As in “a show I would never watch.”

I’d heard good things around it, though. Great things, even. I heard it had great plots and writing, and super characters. That the setting and premise was more just background to tell a super story. I looked at the show once or twice on Netflix, just to see how it was described. No amount of “it’s really great though” could get me over that initial “This looks stupid” bump, however.

But then the second season came out, and I heard the same good things. The buzz was, it was even better than the first season. And it was nominated for an Emmy for best comedy series. And it racked up nominations for the Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globes, Writers Guild, and a slew of others.

That was enough for me to give it a shot, despite the content. My personal line is “I watch good media,” but “good” can mean a whole range of things. I pay a lot of attention to writing, directing, acting, character development, and the like. I want to watch and read artists at the top of their game. So I gave GLOW a shot. It’s a half hour per episode show. I could watch one episode and dismiss it.

Except it was un-dismiss-able. That one episode was pretty riveting. I breezed through both seasons in a week and a half. I gave the first season a 10/10. It was seriously That Good.

The humor is spot on. The characters are compelling. You really feel for these people far more than you have any right to. Because while the ladies wrestling is the thing that brought all of them together, and it’s as over the top and ridiculous as you’d expect, in the end these are all people, each with their own story. They realize the wrestling is outlandish, but for each of them, it’s really their last hope at having something like a job or a life.

For example, we first meet one main character as she tries to land an acting job. Any acting job. She takes her craft very seriously, commiserating about it with her best friend, who’s also an actress. She’s failing, however. And then we see she’s had an affair with a married man. And then we see who exactly that man is married to. In the space of a half hour.

I don’t want to say much more than that. If this sounds like it might be something up your alley, it almost definitely is. I gave the second season a 9/10, by the way. It had a touch of a rocky start for me, but it ended even stronger than the first. Just really fantastic television.

Already seen it? I’d love to hear what you think.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

First Book, First Chapter, Sixth Draft

I blogged yesterday about the first draft of the first chapter of the first book I ever took a real stab at. Today, I want to share what the first chapter looked like after I’d worked on it for a few years. This is from the sixth draft. (The last one I did.)

Right off, you’ll notice the biggest change: it’s actually in-scene. Early on I struggled with narrating too much. Instead of actually showing the action unfold, I would have my narrator talk about it unfolding. It’s like the difference between watching an episode of your favorite TV show and watching a character from your favorite TV show summarize that episode.

Being in scene is, generally, much better.

Other differences abound. As I recall, I lopped off a ton from the beginning of the book, so this probably takes place whole chapters later in the first draft. Real revision is like that. Huge, big, text-altering changes. It’s not spell checking or running a grammar check. It’s fixing the story and making it as good as possible.

Anyway. Hopefully this is interesting to you. Have a great weekend!

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Chapter One

Into the Elevator

 

Dad shook me awake. “Get up, honey—it’s time to go.”

The sun was already out—I had overslept. “Already?” I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.

“What do you mean already? I’ve let you sleep in an hour longer than I said you could. What time did you go to bed last night?”

The memory of the key adventure came rushing back. “I can’t remember,” I lied. “Can’t I sleep a bit longer?” We wouldn’t be going anywhere, anyway.

“Are you kidding? Come on. Out of bed, or else I’ll have Jacob come wake you up.” He smiled as he left the room.

That was playing dirty—threatening to turn Jacob loose on me. He’d probably try dousing me with water. I grumbled as I sat up, resigned to the fact that I’d at least have to get going, even if I didn’t have to go off to Magnifica. I didn’t change out of my pajamas—that would have required admitting this might work, after all. I had packed my bags last night before I had taken matters into my own hands. Now that things were taken care of, I could afford to be more casual. I slipped on some flip flops, put my hair up with a clip and went downstairs until the key was found “missing.” At the back of my head, though, there was a little voice asking if the key had won, after all. I was tired enough to ignore it.

Dad was running around like a madman—taking out the trash, making sure the dishes were done. We had an okay house, but it was known to have cockroaches. I lay down on the couch and tried to sleep some more until Dad came and prodded me.

“Jacob. Jacob!” Dad yelled upstairs to my brother. If I knew Jacob, he was upstairs trying to cram in some last minute time on the computer. He practically lived on strategy games—he claimed he was pretty good at them. Like I cared. What was the point in proving you were better than some machine? It wasn’t like he was going to be directing any armies any time soon.

After a few minutes—just enough time to shut down a computer—I heard Jacob come bounding down the stairs.

“Come on—we’re ready.” My dad prodded me again, and I opened my eyes. He had a sport jacket and tie on. On another man, they might have looked flashy and hip. On my dad, they emphasized his growing belly and lack of hair. He had put on weight since Mom’s death, and his hair was definitely not as dark as it used to be. He looked at me. “Aren’t you going to wear something more appropriate?”

“Come on, Dad—you aren’t actually going through with this, are you? I mean—trying to travel somewhere by elevator? Who do you think you are—Willy Wonka?”

“Oh get over it, Suze,” Jacob said from his corner of the room. “You’re a girl—why don’t you act like it?”

“Listen, Jake—I don’t need the whole feminine lecture from you again, alright? You can—”

“Enough you two,” said Dad. “In the car—no more questions.”

The next thing I knew I was sitting in the back seat in my pajamas, having not gotten ready at all and on my way to the Holiday Inn. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. What had happened to the key?

“Uh, Dad?”

“Yeah?” He was right in front of me in the driver’s seat, and he looked at me in the rear view mirror.

“Do we have everything?”

“Sure do.”

“Everything everything?”

“Yes—I even made a list. We didn’t forget anything.”

“You have my suitcase?”

“Yes.”

“And my backpack?”

“Yes—and you should thank Jacob for hauling all that stuff out to the car for you.”

Jacob, up front in the passenger seat, turned around and stuck his tongue out.

I rolled my eyes. “Grade school, Jake—very. What would Tiffany say if your face stuck that way?” He was a year older than my fifteen, but he only acted it when he was around people he wanted to impress. I hadn’t been one of them since elementary school.

“What would you know, lazy? Next time I’ll throw your junk out with the trash.”

“Right.” I looked back at Dad. “You got the key?”

Dad paused for a moment and turned to Jacob. “Do you still have the key?”

Jacob sat there and looked clueless—he stuck to his strengths. “You didn’t give me the key.” He lay back in his seat and shoved his baseball hat down over his eyes. If he ever took the time to dress right, he might have had potential—as long as he didn’t speak. T shirts and jeans weren’t a great fashion statement, though.

We pulled up to a red light and Dad started patting his pockets. I relaxed and got ready to go back to sleep while he patted some more. The car was already back to speed when Dad said, “Of course. I put it on my key ring. You had me really worried there for a minute, Susie.”

My eyes shot open as I lunged forward to look around my dad’s chair at the ignition. There on Dad’s key ring, right next to the cheesy “I love reading” charm, was the golden key, shining gleefully despite its tarnish. And it was in one piece. Last time I had seen it, I had just finished sawing it apart.

“Whoa! Are you a little nervous?” Dad asked as I realized my face was practically right next to his.

Jacob elbowed me in the side. “Sit back, doofus—you’re waking me up.”

I leaned back, dejected. “Where—Where did you find it?”

“On the kitchen counter,” said Dad. “It took me a minute—I thought I’d put it in the bathroom. But there it was, right in the open. Isn’t that like me?”

I laughed weakly. “Go figure.” What was I supposed to do now? The Holiday Inn was about a half hour away, but with the key on the key ring, there was no way I was getting my hands on it. Even if I could, what would I do? Swallow it? It would reappear anyway.

Plan after plan went through my mind, each more outlandish than the one before. I could grab the keys from Dad’s hands and make a run for it before we entered the hotel. I could slam on the brakes now and throw the keys through a passing car window. Or I could get stuck in an elevator on my way to Magnifica. Which was the most likely possibility, assuming the key did its job. I could see the Holiday Inn sign peeking through the trees ahead.

The seconds rushed by, and I was still clueless. Worse yet, I was going to have to get out in public looking like some ogre in training. My hair was a mess, and I was in teddy bear pajamas. Pink teddy bears! Struggling with my dad in the parking lot over a key ring would make my crazy woman ensemble complete.

I felt like I was on a roller coaster, hearing the clinkety-clink as we got closer and closer to the top where all that waited was a big long drop to the bottom. And I wasn’t sure if there would be the invigorating swoosh back up once the bottom came. Dad opened the door and got out, Jacob right after him. I numbly got out myself, still conscious of how underdressed I was.  What in the world possessed me to buy let alone wear teddy bear pajamas? We unloaded our bags from the trunk, and I threw my backpack over my shoulder. I could run away and let Dad and Jacob deal with it, but the thought of my dad kicking back Prozac in the bathroom shattered that idea. He would need my support.

The automatic doors opened and closed behind us, and we made our way through the lobby, getting some weird stares from the front desk. They were used to people checking in first, I supposed. My dad pressed the up button, and I watched the digital numbers go down. 5 4 3 2 With a ding, the elevator doors opened to a green and tan, and we stepped inside. Now I could practically hear the sound. Clinkety clinkety. Dad got the key and looked for a hole. There it was, a janitor’s control below the button for the lobby. It was way too small for the skeleton key. This would never work—it was impossible. But so was a key reappearing and a package coming out of thin air. Dad reached over to put the key in.

“Wait!” I grabbed his hand, inches away from the keyhole.

“What is it?”

“We shouldn’t be doing this.” I was hysterical. “We don’t know—”

“Stop being silly—you’re imagining things. This probably won’t work anyway—that keyhole’s way too small. Here, look.” Dad shook free of my hand and touched the skeleton key to the hole. The metal around it seemed to melt and the key slid in as smooth as a knife into butter. Dad’s mouth dropped open and his hand jerked free from the key. It turned in the hole all by itself, and the button for floor 5 lit up. With a lurch the elevator started moving upwards. Clinkety clinkety—the top was getting near.

Even Jacob looked surprised by the recent turn of events—though he seemed more along the lines of the surprise you have when you open up a present and get an unexpected but long-hoped-for gift. Dad looked confused. Time seemed to slow down as we stared at the numbers—this time going up. 2. Clinkety clinkety clink. 3. I could stop this somehow. 4. I lunged for the key to take it from the lock, but it felt like my hand hit a brick wall inches before it could grasp the key. I cradled my arm to my body, surprised by the sudden pain. The elevator slowed down and halted with a jerk. 5. With a ding, the doors opened, and the noise in my head stopped.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

First Book, First Chapter, First Draft

We’ve been workshopping for the past few days in the fiction writing camp I’ve been running. And since I wanted to set an example for how it would run, I submitted something as well and went first. I didn’t think it would be quite fair (or useful) for me to send something I’m working on now, so I went back in time and submitted something earlier. The first chapter of the first draft of my first novel, written all the way back in . . . 2003? Something like that. So writing from 15 years ago.

And because I like to share with you lovely people, I thought I’d slap it up here today for you to read. Tomorrow, my plan is to put up the final draft of the first chapter, just as a contrast to how things changed over the drafts. Even if no one else thinks that’s interesting . . . I do.

So anyway. Here you go. The first chapter of MAGNIFIA PERIL. (I’ve gotten a smidge better at titles in the intervening years. Not much, but every bit counts . . .

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Chapter One
Magnifia

Everything had gone wrong ever since they tried to make me a princess. Don’t go judging me right off the bat, though. One thing I can’t stand is people judging people before they give them a fair chance. If I had become a princess in the normal fashion, I’m sure I would have been perfectly fine with the whole deal. All the girls who became princesses in fairy tales certainly didn’t seem to have that big of a problem with it. You didn’t catch Cinderella complaining about having to leave her fireplace, or Sleeping Beauty whining about being woken up. Snow White seemed quite glad to be saved from eternal death, as a matter of fact, though they never mention if she was happy to leave the dwarves behind or not, so I suppose that particular story is still up for debate. In any case, the bottom line is that regardless of all those other princesses, I got a raw deal. You see, I wasn’t born a princess–my father’s not a king. He’s a librarian–or at least he used to be until he tried to switch career lanes. Of course it had to come right before I entered High School. Fathers never take their daughter’s lives into consideration. That’s probably why Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty had such an easy time with it–they never had to deal with their dads all that much.

If he could have just stayed a librarian–we would have been fine. He’s always been worried about money, though. Can you imagine that? I mean, if he was so interested in having cash, what in the world did he go and become a librarian for? Maybe if he dealt in expensive rare books or something–do you have any idea what it’s like to have to bring your dad to “bring your dad to school day” and tell everyone that he’s a librarian? Johnny Esterfield’s dad was on a Cops episode–as a police officer, not a criminal, although I admit that with Johnny you can’t be too sure. Rebecca McFarland’s dad sued Burger King for millions. My dad can research the mating habits of the blue whale, but I hardly think that’s going to get him any serious money. Who knew that that stupid ad in the paper would turn out to be for real?

It hadn’t worked before–dad had tried all of the get rich quick schemes. There was that one where he could have made thousands of dollars a month–if he could lick enough envelopes, that is. He tried it though–he’s a librarian, not a mathematician, I guess. Then there was the other deal that had him recruit people to recruit other people to recruit–you get the picture. The whole thing practically screamed pyramid scheme, but did dad pay any attention? No way. There was nothing that he wouldn’t give a fair shot to. It all comes from the librarian in him–he believes anything he reads.

So when he read the ad that said “Wanted: One King to Rule Over Magnifia. Salary Negotiable. Some Experience Required,” he was scrambling for a pen and paper to write down the address quicker than you can blink. Naturally they didn’t have a phone number–those kind of ads never do, and when they have one, then it can’t be traced. It’s true. Rebecca McFarland told me so, and if her dad’s a lawyer, then she should know. You don’t win millions by being an idiot. So anyway, I tried to tell my dad that he’d better be watching out for some kind of scheme, and I tried to remind him about all those other times in the past that we’ve gotten packed, but he just kept feeding me the “fair shot” line until I gave up. In a few years, I’d have my own job and I’d be out of that house. He wouldn’t have to worry about me, and I could take a break from worrying about him for a while.

I have never been a believer in my dad’s ideas, so when I came home from school the next day, I was stunned to find a package lying on the kitchen counter. I’m the first person home every day. Dad is usually at the library until six or seven. He loses track of time pretty easily when he’s reading or researching, and since that covers pretty much all of his time at work, I usually don’t even worry about him until nine or ten. There was one time when he didn’t come home until past midnight, and I was pretty steamed with him. He’s the kind of guy who has to be kept in check–remind him to eat dinner, breakfast–that kind of thing. Not that I care about him that much or anything. I mean, if he didn’t keep those paychecks coming, I’d probably starve.

So Dad was pretty much out of my afternoon picture, and Jacob never got home until four thirty or five, assuming he wasn’t off playing DnD with his loser friends. He really had the life. He got to start school later than me, he never had any homework–at least none that he’d admit to–and he always had his nose in one of those fantasy books. Not that he was a goth or anything. He wasn’t antisocial, what with all his friends and all. I just wished he’d pick up a sport. All that dice rolling probably helped his forearms, but his skin could have used a bit of sun. It was bad enough having a librarian for a dad–having a geek for a brother was really too much. Of course, he was always telling me that I talked like a drunken dwarf–whatever that means–but what does a twelve year old know about, anyway?

With my family situation in mind, you can probably tell why I was so surprised to see a package on the table when I got home. No one would have been there to pick it up earlier. I thought at first that Jacob had skipped school or was sick, but my calls upstairs went unanswered as I put down my bags. So I took a little closer look at the package. It had no postage, was hand written, and smelled kind of funny. Sort of like one of those packages they tell you to watch out for because it probably has a bomb in it or something.

Carefully I picked it up and took it outside–away from anything flammable. Knowing my dad, he would just see the thing and tear it open. Cleaning up the mess afterwards wouldn’t be pretty. Not that I’m a neat freak or anything–I just like to keep things tidy. I went back inside and grabbed a pair of scissors. Have you ever tried opening a mail bomb before? It’s not something that comes up every day, but if you ever get the chance, you should do it. The feeling you get, not knowing if the next minute your hand is going to disappear or you’re going to black out or what. Looking back on it, I guess I should have waited for Jacob to open it. He’d probably know more about bombs, what with all the internet surfing he does. Plus, he’s expendable. I mean, if anything happened to me, no one would have a clue about what to do. At least I could call 9-1-1 for my Dad or Jacob. And I would know how to clean up afterwards. I guess it was really selfish of me to open that thing, not that it ended up mattering.

I cut along the end opposite the normal opening, away from any potential wires. The paper was pretty thick, and it took some effort to get the thing fully opened. When I did, I was a little disappointed to see that there were no wires or explosives or anything. Mail bombs are rather flattering, when you think of it, assuming that they’re not sent to you by some psycho in a hut. I mean, someone has to really dislike you to want to blow you up. It takes a lot to inspire that kind of emotion. Of course, this one was sent to us by a mail order response, and so it most likely fell under the “psycho in a hut” department, but it still would have been fun to tell my friends at school about.

In any case, instead of plastic explosives, the package had a travel brochure. That’s the best I can do to explain it. It looked like a travel brochure from some two-bit country–the kind of travel brochure Arkansas would send out, or maybe Kansas. “Come see the home of Dorothy”–that kind of line. Except this one was all about this place called Magnifia, and it was all hand drawn. At least that’s what it looked like, but it was probably just some snazzy laser printer or something like that. Magnifia–I thought it must have been one of those tiny European countries–they’re always changing their names. Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Inertia–it even fit in with the typical pattern. It was all written by hand in a script kind of like that old German style–the one where the s’s look like f’s, and the letters have all this extra curly stuff. The pictures even looked like they were hand painted. Watercolors showing rolling countryside and this massive castle with banner fluttering lightly in the breeze. I swear the thing almost made me want to write a poem, not that I’ve done anything that stupid since I went to middle school. Poetry was just a phase I went through in grade school–kind of like Barbies. The whole thing was probably done by a fancy laser printer, but it still made quite a first impression, and those carry a lot of weight with me.

The content of the brochure sounded pretty impressive. It sounded way too good to be true, and so I figured it probably was. Too good to be true, that is. I have a copy here, so I’ll just put it in so that you can judge for yourself.

Kindest Sir,

Greetings and salutations from the Subcommittee of Rites and Successions of the Committee of Rules and Regulations. With utmost gratitude we thank you for your interest in taking up the role of Monarch of Magnifia. We realize that this would involve much change on your part, and we hope that through this message, we may convey to you the many advantages and opportunities this land has to offer you.

First of all, may we reassure you that the death of our past Monarch was in no way suspicious. He did not die of poisoning or hexing, and there is nothing to any rumors you might have heard of an invading dragon. Such lies are preposterous, and are the fruits of vicious, narrow minds. King Frazzahr died quite simply of a nasty fall down the stairs. We do have plenty of stairs here at Castle Ellegahrt, and so the chances of this happening are much greater than they would be in your land. Have no fear, a committee has been appointed to look into ways we may avoid this unfortunate tragedy in the future, and we trust that an answer is forthcoming within the next few years.

Perhaps you would like to know a bit more about our country. We are not large in relation to the lands around us, but we have very good relations to all, and have had no involvement in disputes since the War of the Brothers in the year 2931. Our primary exports are centered around agriculture, though we have our fair share of lumber, as well. You need not concern yourself with the management of such affairs, as we have numerous committees overseeing practically ever area of government. You may of course make changes to these committees upon your appointment as king, though these changes must naturally first be authorized by the Committee of Change and Progress. But we digress.

There are far too many details for us to cover is such a brief correspondence as this, and so we invite you to bring your family for a week’s stay. Enclosed you will find a key. Please take this key to the nearest elevator. One in a building with more than five floors, if at all possible. Simply insert the key into any sort of a keyhole you see–usually we are told they have some for janitorial use, at the very least–and press the button for the top floor. We will have someone meet you upon your arrival.

Do not worry about sending word of your anticipated arrival time. Just bring enough clothes to last you for a week. We are currently in the summer months, so plan to dress accordingly. We look forward to your arrival.

SORSCORR Head Secretary

Charles Pluddersnop

Now, what would you have thought from that? I had to say one thing–it read like it was written by a committee–like those letters you always get to take home to your parents about this and that school rule change. The more people you have thinking something up, the less fun and original the end product is likely to be. Still, it did nothing to make me think that this wasn’t some kind of scam job. Travel by elevator. Elevator. Like the one you find in hotels or malls or something. Who did these people think they were–Willy Wonka? Besides, it’s not like we lived in the city, where there were five story buildings on every block. The closest one was the Holiday Inn, and that was like thirty minutes away. I had one guess about what would happen. My dad would file us all into the elevator, we would go to the top floor, the door would open, and a bunch of masked men with guns would rob us blind. Besides, the whole letter sounded like it was straight out of one of my brother’s fantasy games. It had the kind of crazy made up facts that only a man holed up with his computer for days on end could think up. The key idea was original, though. I took it out of the package to get a better look at it. Gold plated, skeleton style. The odds of it fitting into anything remotely resembling an elevator keyhole were slim to none. It looked very hand made, but I guessed that was just keeping in line with the whole theme of the brochure. How wrong I was.

When my dad came home, he was a mixture of emotions. I swear it was like I had opened up his Christmas presents early. I have to confess that I started the argument, but it was a matter of necessities. Never let parents get the upper hand in a discussion. They start trying to pull rank on you, and that kind of behavior can’t be allowed to take root.

“Did you see this?” My dad never notices anything unless it’s shoved under his nose, which was what I was doing with the package right then.

“See what? Oh–a package! Who’s it from?” That’s another thing about my dad–very poor short term memory, though I have to admit, his long term memory is killer. You can’t pull the wool over his eyes for too long, because sooner or later he remembers what you’ve been doing, and they you’re in for it.

“Who do you think, dad? That whole Magnifia deal you wrote to yesterday.”

“Magnifica? I don’t recall writing to–”

“Dad! It was just another one of your newspaper ad things. I’m throwing it away.” Original key idea or not, if I could get rid of this before my Dad read it, we would all be better off. Once he read something, it became as real as anything to him.

“Throw it away? Why would you do that? It’s my package.” He can be fast when he wants to, and he had that package out of my hands before I could blink. He turned it right side up to tear it open. That’s when everything else fell out the other side where I had carefully cut it earlier in the day. Poor memory or no, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice someone tampered with your mail. Dad didn’t take it all that well.

I knew that I had to say something fast, or else I was going to be in big trouble, regardless of my selfless tendencies only hours before. “Dad, let’s not get all worked up about this thing. I mean, do you realize the ridiculocity of this situation?” If there’s one thing my Dad couldn’t stand, it’s grammar mistakes. One misused or made up word, and he would start lecturing you on usage. I swear–he was worse than Mrs. Fossile, my English teacher.

“Ridiculocity isn’t a word, Susie–you really need to watch your usage.” I thought I had him, but then he continued. “I can’t believe you’d go so far as to open my mail! If your mother were still alive–” Yada yada yada. For brevity’s sake, I think I’ll just leave it at that. You don’t want to hear all about how he got mad at me, or about how he threatened to ground me. It really wasn’t fair. After all, I was the one who risked my life for the sake of the family, and yet he didn’t even blink at the mention of “mail bomb.” He ignored the suspicious circumstances of the package’s arrival, and he didn’t find the key in any way threatening or odd. Sure, he said it was very “singular,” but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try it out as soon as he could. If anything, it meant he was all the more likely to go through with it. “Singular” is one of my Dad’s favorite words, and he only uses it when he gets really excited about something.

I still had an outside hope that Jacob would come through for me on this one occasion. He can be a real dweeb, but every now and then he surprised me. This wasn’t one of those times. He only “aggravated the situation,” as Mr. Yates, the school principal, would have said. He thought the brochure was “super cool,” and started debating with my Dad whether it was hand drawn or laser-printed. That’s just like them–the entire family is faced with the impending doom of a move and financial ruin, and all they care about is how the stupid brochure was made. I was still steamed at my Dad for ignoring my warnings, so I have to admit that I lost it at that point. To this day I still can’t quite remember what I said, except that I said what I really thought. In my case, that can be a tactical error. It’s not that I don’t respect my Dad. He’s a great librarian, and he’d be perfect if he just kept to books. The real world has a way of intruding in on his ideals, though, and he doesn’t like to have to face them. So when I told him what I thought of Magnifia and the idea of going to the Holiday Inn to get robbed, he started throwing words around like “grounded for life” and “ungrateful little.” Of course, I suppose I might have used some combinations like those myself–“shortsighted bookworm” bumps around in my memory for some reason, though I’m sure that I wasn’t that cold hearted.

I finally tried to just give him the whole ultimatum routine. In the movies, that always worked. Julia Roberts would give the guy the “my way or the highway” routine, and within moments he’d be doing whatever she said. Well, the movies never showed fifteen year olds trying it, because it didn’t work. I lived in America, the supposed land of the free, and yet I was told every waking moment by adults what I could or could not do. They told me what to read, what movies I could see, what I should wear, what I should think. And to top it all off, they told me where I had to go for a week with my family. To the Holiday Inn to get mugged. I knew that I was going to be the first girl ever to keep a mugging appointment.

When my rage started to subside–somewhere in the middle of my tantrum–I realized that this discussion was going nowhere, so I ran away. For some reason Hollywood presents running away as cowardly, and I guess it might be in war or duels or stuff like that, but in an argument–if you’re a girl–it can really be a great tool. “The best offense is a good defense.” That’s what the coach is always telling the football team while I’m at cheerleading practice, and what kind of defense could be better than running away? There’s no chance of you getting hurt that way. In an argument, all you have to do is leak a few tears and dash off to your room, and the male who just barely was ready to wring your neck is suddenly all hugs and concerns. It doesn’t always get you what you originally wanted, but it does seem to take care of some of those “grounded for life” phrases–at least it did with my Dad.

In my room I tried to regroup. Things couldn’t possibly be all that bad. Even if I had to go and get mugged, I didn’t have to bring any of my nice clothes or anything. Those robbers would be stuck with some blue light specials–no Banana Republic for them. Not that I had any BR–I was lucky to have what Gap clothes I did. But it was the principles that counted. On the bright side, my Dad might even learn a lesson from the mugging. It never even entered into my mind that any of that letter could actually be true.

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