Need your next great idea? Try this!

A few years ago, after reading Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months, I created my go to story idea generator; my Plot-o-Matic. The Plot-o-Matic is a set of three different colored cards: green = Subject (person or occupation), yellow = Conflict (something the subject wants or needs), and blue = action (something the subject does to achieve that goal or overcome the conflict). When I’m looking for a story idea, I pick three cards, one of each color, and see if the story I want to write comes together. I have used that Plot-o-Matic to come up with many short story and flash fiction ideas. It’s a fun and useful tool and it was free, other than paper and printer ink.

When I became a blogger, I started searching Amazon for fun things to recommend for you, writers and readers, and noticed there were Plot-o-Matic-esque products on the market like The Storymatic and The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the ‘Write’ Side of Your Brain. Then, when shopping for a game for my nephew, I noticed Rory’s Story Cubes among the games and bought a set to try them out.

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Rory’s Story Cubes

The game and how to play

Rory’s Story Cubes are six-sided cubes with simple images on each side. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by human symbols. They dominate my fabricglass art and my puzzle design. I love looking up symbols in symbol dictionaries and dream dictionaries. How people express so much meaning through a simple shape over eons is exciting to me. So this game is  right up my alley.

There are different ways to play. The instructions page provided with my set provides 3 ideas:

  1. Roll all 9 cubes and look at the face up images. Pick an image that will be the starting point for your story. Beginning with “Once upon a time . . .,” make up a story that somehow links together all 9 face up images.

  2. Think up a title or theme for a story. (Examples: The beach, My fantastic vacation, Dream.) Then roll all 9 cubes and try to tell a story that relates back to the title or theme.

  3. Divide the cubes evenly among the players. (It’s ok if some get more than others.) Starting with one player and continuing in a circle, take turns rolling the cubes and adding to the story based on the face up images. Stop after all 9 cubes have been rolled, or continue rolling for additional rounds.

Rory’s Story cubes also offers more inspiration on their website.

Let’s Play

So let’s test it out. Can these story cubes inspire my writing? How will they compare to the Plot-o-matic?

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What story does this roll give us? Hmm. Who’s my protagonist?

A happy man examines a letter that says he has to come home right now, so he jumps out of the plane, but on the way down a bee stings him. While sucking on the sore sting on his hand he does not pay attention to his magnifying glass that sets fire to his parachute. Luckily he lands in a tree, but he walks with a limp from then on and has to use a cane.

How about another one?

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The hour was getting late for saving the earth, so the alien came disguised as a rainbow to alter the magnetic poles, but when it did, the water flowed upside down confusing the fishes and killing the bees and now the earth is overrun by scarab beetles.

Here’s one for you. Please leave your stories in the comments.

story cube 5

Now let’s play another way. One cube at a time.

story cube 7

Sasquatch, of course.

story cube 8

took a trip to Egypt to visit the great pyramids.

story cube 9

A freak storm surprised him. Lightning almost hit him, so he found an opening and hid inside the pyramid.

story cube 10

He pulled a flashlight from his backpack and began to look around the small chamber in the pyramid.

story cube 11

While examining an intricate spiderweb, he felt a chilly hand on his shoulder and roared turning around ready to attack.

story cube 12

But it was only a friendly mummified pharaoh who wanted to meet the furry large guest in his home.

story cube 13

The pharaoh asked if the bright light and crashing sound outside had been a meteor or an asteroid. He hoped it was the gods come to join him in the afterlife. Sasquatch hated to disappoint him,  but  told him it was only a bad storm.

story cube 14

Sasquatch pulled his favorite book out of his backpack. It was a book about the pharaohs of Egypt. He gave the pharaoh his flashlight and a sharpie. “Hey, could you find yourself in my book and sign your pic?”

The pharaoh started leafing through the pages. He started laughing. “I’m not in here. They haven’t found my chamber.” He shined the flashlight around the room. “See,” he said, “Not discovered yet.” He held the book and pen out to Sasquatch.

Sasquatch shrugged. “Wanna sign it anyway?” he said. How about right in the front?”

story cube 15

After the pharaoh signed his book, Sasquatch climbed to the very top of the pyramid, waited for a large gust of wind and opened his parachute. The giant wind, helped along by the ancient pharaoh’s good wishes took Sasquatch all the way back to his home in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s a video from the Rory’s Story Cubes website showing another story inspired by the story cubes:

Analysis

My stories inspired by story cubes tend toward the silly and ridiculous, but I had a lot of fun and wasn’t using them to work on anything in particular.

The Plot-o-Matic also lends to the silly and ridiculous. I’m seeing a trend here. It may not be the tools, but the user. Hmm.

I like the story cubes. They feel less rigid than the Plot-o-matic, as the different images can symbolize the subject, conflict and/or the action. The story cubes also seem more conducive to group writing and play.

As you can see, like the Plot-o-Matic, story cubes are a fun, playful, idea-conjuring resource with a vast array of outcomes, but what if some of the images don’t work for you and/or you would like something more specific to your story idea?

Rory’s Story Cubes has created a variety of different cube sets to address that issue. You can choose from:

Rory’s Story Cubes Actions

Rory’s Story Cubes – Voyages

Rory’s Story Cubes Bundle with Original, Actions, Voyages, Prehistoria, Enchanted, Clues, Intergalactic, Medic & Score 

But what if you want something very specific to your story that all those almost infinite possibilities didn’t symbolize?

How to personalize your Story Cubes

I came up with a quick DIY project for you to get the most out of your Story Cubes.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A pen
  • White label stickers
  • Scissors
  • OR for those who cannot read their own drawing
  • A printer
  • ink
  • printer paper and tape (double-sided preferred)
  • or printable sticker paper

I’m pretty sure you get where I’m going with this, but since I want to draw little symbols for my cubes . . .

Instructions:

  1. Measure one side of a cube (height and width to cover image)

three story cubes, a ruler, a pen and some white stickers

 

I don’t think I need an abacus, a teepee, or an L in a box (?) so I’ve chosen to replace these three symbols with symbols more pertinent to my story.

 

2. Take the sheet of labels and draw out a square that matches those measurements

3. Draw your preferred symbol within the square you drew

Drawings on sticker paper. A goatman has been placed over the teepee.

To be more specific to my stories, I’ve drawn a volcano, an alligator and a goatman. I’ve already cut out the goatman and placed him over the teepee.

My symbols may not curb the silliness of my stories, but they are more specific to what I’m writing.

4. Cut out the square and stick it over the side of the square you want to replace

5. Repeat until all unwanted symbols have been replaced

Three story cubes with hand-drawn symbols

6. Roll cubes

And there you have it. Three unique and fun stories to write. I would love to see what you come up with in the comments.

I found that when I rolled with my story-specific tiles, the game changed for me. The symbols became more of a What If game. What if the alligator is afraid of his own shadow? What would happen if the goatman got a bee sting? Do I want to bring magic into my volcano story?

I may be onto something. Adding personal symbols to the story cubes may be a more powerful writing tool than I thought.

I look forward to reading your interpretations of the story cube rolls.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

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Book Spine Poems: Happy #NationalPoetryMonth

This morning, I came across an article in School Library Journal called

Here’s How You Make a Book Spine Poem with Your Students/Patrons by Travis Jonker

The concept is simple, fun and it inspired me. Here are my poems, created from my bookshelf in celebration of National Poetry Month. I hope you will join me and link to your poems in the comments.

Blind Sided: a short poem made of stacked books

Blind Sided

Beyond good and evil

Back roads inside the criminal mind

Blind side our kind

Mothers Talk: a poem in three books

Mothers Talk

In the company of cheerful ladies

The devil’s teeth serving up the harvest

Paper and Fire Don't Mix: a poem in three books

Paper And Fire Don’t Mix

The people of paper

Civilization and its discontents

The girl who played with fire

The Happy Evening News: a poem in four books

The Happy Evening News

Who’s writing this

furiously happy

evening news?

Bad monkey!

Stained Glass Death Switch: a poem in five books

Stained Glass Death Switch

The book of illusion’s stained glass death switch

Crowns what the dead know

The Unforgettable Photograph: a poem in eight books

The Unforgettable Photograph

The unforgettable photograph:

point zero; nowhere wild.

Chop wood, carry water

where there is no doctor.

When you are engulfed in flames,

teach yourself to dream the dream of Scipio.

Creativity For The Fun Of It!

The Diva Pest Repeller

I have begun so many blog posts lately only to feel uninspired and forced, like it was pure drudgery. After starting yet another one this morning, I gave up and asked myself, how can I make this fun for me? Then I heard cheers of laughter from next door.

I went out to witness the joys of snow engineering. My neighbors were creating a sledding ramp with a jump at the bottom. The kids weren’t getting air off of the jump, so the ramp had to be steeper. This was achieved by turning two garbage cans upside down as a launch platform and then building the ramp to the top of them. The project was a ton of fun for everyone, especially Riot the dog.

When the sledding had exhausted the kids and they headed in for cocoa, I decided to continue my happy snow day by attempting the mini-masterpiece assignment for the coursera.org online course Ignite Your Everyday Creativity from SUNY (The State University of New York).

The assignment was to turn a household item, they used a light-switch plate as an example, and decorate it any way you would like. I didn’t have a spare light-switch plate, but I did find an old ultrasonic spider repeller.

Ultrasonic Pest Repeller

Large, black, monstrous wolf spiders think my house is the greatest. I, however, do not enjoy their company. After much debate, I thought we had come to a truce, when I agreed they could live in the shop, but they don’t respect boundaries. So a while back I invested in a few of these supposed wonder-gadgets. When plugged into the wall, they make a noise  humans don’t hear that repels “pests.” Obviously, my wolf spiders did not consider themselves pests because they weren’t bothered at all.

My creative idea was that perhaps the spiders aren’t drawn close enough to the gadget to hear its lovely song. This inspired my “mini-masterpiece.” Using a few odds and ends I had in my art supply bin, I got to work.

Art supplies

As I worked, my mind happily wandered to my writing projects, and as I waited for the glue to dry, I jotted down some notes. Right here is the real purpose of this post. While I was making my spider diva, I was having fun while my mind continued to work. It’s important to enjoy other creative outlets instead of solely focusing on your writing, or its possible to suck all the fun out of it. This fun, silly project made me want to write a blog post, plus I am pretty pleased with my results.

I wanted my spider  to be reminiscent of the wolf spider to draw them in, so I looked up some close-up images and replicated the three-rowed eye configuration, the long, scary arms and the furry looking body. As you can see from this close-up of the finished product:

Close-up of the finished spider diva.

The finished Spider Diva still fits in the socket and the light came on, so it still “works.” I haven’t seen any wolf spiders approach it, but it’s supposed to repel them, so I’ll assume I’ve fixed the product.

Happy Creating!

A Quick #Movember Update and a game of #pessimisticmoustache

To raise money for Prostate Cancer Research, people all over the world are growing mustaches this month. If you haven’t seen Adam Garone (the founder of Movember)’s Ted Talk, I recommend watching it. It’s a fun story.

To create Movember awareness, Diana Rose Wilson and I have turned my game Pessimistic Moustache into a twitter hashtag game only about mustaches. We would absolutely love you to jump over to twitter and join us at #pessimisticmoustache. The rules and background of the game are found in my original post:

The Pessimistic Moustache Game: Avoiding cliche description

How to play #pessimisticmoustache for #Movember: The quick and dirty version:

1. Look at a picture or GIF of a mustache

2. Pick an ism that you think would describe said mustache

3. Warp that ism into a descriptive sentence and tweet your sentence using the hashtag #pessimisticmoustache

4. (optional but greatly appreciated) Add your own picture of your, or your friend’s Movember mustache

5. Invite your friends to play #pessimisticmoustache and shout out your favorites

Based on a great description in an Agatha Christie novel, the game challenges you to match an ism to a body part. For the month of November, it’s all about mustaches. Having a list of isms at your fingertips makes the game easy. I enjoy the list of Philisophical Isms at Phrontistery. Phrontistery is a wonderful site for word lovers. I highly recommend spending some time exploring.

So Let’s Play!

Here’s an example:

Andrick is participating in Movember. He let me take a picture of his mustache growth.

Man looking at camera with small amount of mustach growth

One Week’s Growth – I see a lot of potential

When I look at this mustache, I see future possibilities: It could go Tom Selleck; It could go Snidely Whiplash. So, in that sense, this is a futuristic mustache. I could write: A futuristic mustache betrayed his grim smile.

Or it could be a euhemeristic mustache, meaning that his mustache explains mythology as growing out of history (I go for the sophisticated, layered mustache meanings). In this case I might Tweet: The man with the euhemeristic mustache walked as if he had wings on his heals.

I like fortuitism for this mustache. Fortuitism is the belief in evolution by chance variation. See, it ties into the idea that at this point the mustache is in a formative stage. Could a gust of wind, or some jam on the lip steer it from a Tom Selleck to a Snidely Whiplash?

Now, I need to change my chosen ism into a description. Fortuitistic- this may not actually be a word, but it is closer to my meaning that fortuitous, so I’m going with fortuitistic -artistic license and all that. So, my tweet will be: The fortuitistic mustache skipping across his lip expressed his whimsy, or was it loose morals?

Need a break from #NaNoWriMo? Hop over to #pessimisticmoustache for some fun and to show your support for Men’s health, then do some word mining at Phrontistery.info. There you have it, my simple formula for happiness.

 

Happy Halloween!

happy-halloween

This is the first year Gator McBumpypants and his friends decided to get dressed up for Halloween. You can tell it was all Dee Dee’s idea, but I think Herman’s going to have the most fun.

happy-halloween1

This year’s jack-o-lantern won “Best in Show” and “Most Creative” at the annual pumpkin carving party. I won this adorable Witch’s Brew glass.

Feel free to share these Halloween greetings with friends and family.

I hope you get more treats than tricks.

 

 

A great tool for research, inspiration and hours of fun

Cover of Roswell Daily Record from 1947

Sadly, I wasn’t able to lift images from Google News Archives. Here’s a pic of the original 1947 report of the Roswell Flying Saucer.

I recently received an email from nanowrimo nudging me to start preparing for this year’s novel. I have had my idea since April and decided to start doing some research. After coming up with very little on the internet, I found myself longing for easy access to world newspapers.

At my local library’s website, in the digital library section, I clicked on magazines and newspapers. In that list I found Google News Archive .  You do not need to be logged into the library to access the archive.

If you type a topic into the search bar at the top of the page, you get a list of related articles from their thousands of scanned newspapers.

This morning, I asked a friend what he wanted to read about and he wanted to see the original article about the flying disc found in Roswell, NM in 1947. I typed in 1947 flying disc and got a bunch of recent articles about debunking the Roswell find, so I tried again.

This time I only typed flying disc which brought up The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, Wednesday,  July 9, 1947. The headline read “‘Flying Disc’ in New Mexico Turns Out To Be Army Weather Device.”

After reading the article, my friend said, “After all these years, now I’m finally convinced.” Wink. Wink.

And the fun did not stop there. Just one column over, there was a small article about how UFO fever spread to Iran. Bright lights were seen in the sky that then exploded (secret weapons test?).

A blurb next to that said “Pennsylvanians Here” and went on to give the names of a couple and their children that came into town on the train and included the address where they would be staying. Next to that was another blurb entitled “No General Name” which informed me that the Tunguses of Siberia do not have a word for reindeer, but like the Eskimos and snow, have many words for specific types of reindeer like tame reindeer, wild reindeer and young reindeer.

I continued exploring this one day in 1947 and found:

  • Instructions on how to iron three different kinds of rayon
  • A wedding announcement for a couple married in Seattle
  • Lists of names of people staying at hotels and resorts
  • More announcements with names and addresses of people visiting
  • A picture of two girls at the piano with the headline “Cousins Enjoying Visit Together”
  • A fraternal order I had never heard of: the Knights of Pythias
  • the vitamins in cantaloupe are A and C
  • sauerkraut juice is good with dinner
  • The schedule for radio shows
  • Movie ads

Then I found “Husband Held in Los Angeles Silk Stocking Murder” that after talking about Mrs. Mondragon being strangled with a silk stocking lumps in the fact that she is the eighth woman brutally murdered in six months in LA including The Black Dalia. Honestly, this day in 1947 has everything.

I foraged only one day of one newspaper. Imagine what you can do with thousands of days of tens of thousands of newspapers. I hope you find this resource as exciting as I do.

Happy reading, writing and exploring!

The Pessimistic Moustache Game: Avoiding cliche description

 

 The idea and tools

I recently read The Hollow by Agatha Christie and one simple but unique description jumped out at me.

“He came in accompanied by Inspector Grange, who was a large, heavy built man with a down-drooping, pessimistic moustache.”

I love the idea of pessimistic facial hair and it really got me thinking. What other isms could be paired with body parts to make unique descriptions? I started a list of isms to join pessimism: optimism, skepticism, nihilism, liberalism, etc. I also wrote a list of often described body parts: cheeks, eyes, lips and so on.Once I exhausted my own ideas, I did a little hunting on line and found some useful sites for more ideas. For isms check out The Phrontistery. I printed out their amazing list of philosophical isms and their definitions. For a list of cliché body part descriptions head over to obsidian bookshelf.

The game

So how do you play The Pessimistic Moustache Game? To start, one player has a list of body parts or other physical descriptions (e.g. gait, scar, laugh, etc.) and the other player(s) has the list of isms. The person with the body part list chooses a body part and says it out loud. Then the other player(s) has to match it with an ism to use as a descriptor. The person who chooses the best ism for the body part gets to choose the next ism and the other player(s) matches it with a corresponding body part.

You can add another dimension to the game by printing out pictures of people to inspire the descriptions though that might limit the responses.

My experiences

To date, this game amuses me to no end. I find the exercise challenging and every match makes me laugh. Has it improved my writing? Have I found the perfect new way to create unique descriptions? Maybe not, but I’ve only played with one other person so far and the possibilities are endless. It sure does make me laugh.

Further development

A couple days ago, I was reading In the Beauty of the Lillies by John Updike and found another very interesting phrase.

“. . . its heavy sweet smell rose around him possessively . . .”

I hadn’t thought of a smell being possessive before. And if a smell can be possessive, why not someone’s fingernails, or lips? The list of isms could definitely be expanded to include other conceptual adjectives that one would not usually attribute to body parts.

Then there is also descriptions of sensations (like smell) and perceptions. The Pessimistic Moustache Game could include matching senses to isms. What is the smell of materialism? What is the texture of postmodern feminism?

I hope you enjoy playing Pessimistic Moustache and it gets the neurons churning while you laugh and laugh. Please send me your favorite matches in the comments, so all my readers can play along.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Great News for Writers and Anyone Who Wants to Write!

No longer CohesiveSometimes things just go right. And when that happens, I get excited and want to share.

I got struck by the spring cleaning bug and in my sorting and tossing, I found a copy of Writer’s Digest that was part of the swag from an author meet I went to last year. Inside was an interesting article on planning your own writing retreat. I liked Steve Holt’s ideas, especially his daily schedule that broke up writing around meditation and exercise.

Believing that I can convince myself that I live in an ideal setting for a writing retreat, I started my retreat this morning and what did I see when I checked my email? Future Learn’s free eight-week fiction course started today. The timing couldn’t be better (except for the fact that I was so excited, I’ve already started week two).

The trouble I’m having in my writing has nothing to do with writer’s block. It is more about bringing new ideas to my table. I know what I want to accomplish with my novel, but an interesting story isn’t enough. Now, I have to make every page interesting, every sentence interesting, every word exactly what I want. And a lot of me wants to run. But I can’t. I have a deadline.

So, why would I take on a fiction class during my retreat? Because within just a few hours, I was inspired to write some interesting paragraphs I wouldn’t have written otherwise. The exercises were harder than I expected them to be. I over-thought them, but that was the thought I needed to write a section of a short story I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. And I invented three unique character sketches.

What does this have to do with finishing my novel? Each thing I wrote today helped me stretch my imagination and improve my observational skills. You can always build on a strong foundation, so I want everyone to give themselves the gift of free education. The course is self-paced and you don’t have to do it as an eight week course though I personally am going to try to make it last so I can keep the inspiration going over my Spring Retreat.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Five

Banner for Episode Five

She Only Touches What She Wants to Touch

 

When we last caught Moxie, Nettles had just accused her of wrong doing . . .

“What do you mean what did I do? What did you do? You just contaminated a crime scene! I saw someone in dark clothing with green eyes run out the back.” Moxie waved her arm up and down pointing out Nettles dark attire and green eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just got here and I didn’t see anyone leaving the castle. But never mind that. Call 911,” said Nettles.

“With what? I don’t have a phone,” said Moxie.

“Right. Stay here. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll run up to the front office. I’m going to tell everyone I see that you’re in here with the King’s body, so don’t even think about running.”

“But I—”

Nettles ran past the thrones, down the steps and straight up the hill.

Moxie felt adrenaline soaring through her body, her fight or flight response revved up to max. She did want to run and keep running all the way back to her apartment, but instead walked over to King Terrence’s lifeless body, careful not to touch anything. She tried to piece together what she had heard. She had expected a pool of blood and some bloody blunt object, but there weren’t any signs of an attack. The King’s face was slack. He looked peaceful like he was only resting. She really wanted to bend down and shake him, wake him up, but she didn’t dare touch him. At the moment, not having her fingerprints on anything at the scene was all she had going for her.

Nettles burst through the door then rested his hands on his knees breathing hard. “This,” he started but then took a few more breaths, “This is Harry Hawkshaw. He’s a detective.”

Moxie admired the tall, thin man; his black curls peeking out from under his floppy velvet hat framed his strong features. “Wow. That was fast,” she said.

“I was already here enjoying the fair with my family. Okay. Where’s the King?” said Detective Hawkshaw in a deep, buttery voice.

Nettles guided Mr. Hawkshaw to where the King lay crumpled next to his overturned throne.

“Did you rent that?” asked Moxie pointing at the detective’s fancy doublet.

“I am afraid not. My wife is really into this whole medieval life thing. She made it herself. It took her weeks.” Mr. Hawkshaw tugged at one of his thighs. “I really wish those poor blokes hadn’t worn tights.

“This is Moxie Sharpe,” said Nettles. “I caught her in the act. She almost bludgeoned me with that lute.”

“That is absolutely not true, Nettles. Well the lute part is, but I was defending myself from the real killer.”

“Ah, so you saw who did it. That’s great. A witness. It will be a while before the boys from the nearest precinct can get here, so take your time and tell me what happened. Let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing when the killer arrived?” Harry, to Moxie’s great surprise, pulled a small notebook and pen from a brown leather, drawstring bag hanging from his belt. He began to take notes. “Go ahead,” he said.

“I don’t think I was here when he arrived. I mean I think he was already here.”

“Wait. Back up. So you left and then came back?”

“Right. My fellow musicians left very quickly after the show. Nettles said a quick ‘On the morrow’ and was gone. I was excited about some free time, so I was hurrying back to camp through the woods when I noticed I didn’t have my jacket.”

“Didn’t you need to return your costume? I recognize it from the rental. We used to rent before my wife made our costumes. My wife wore that one a few times.”

Moxie looked down at her bodice and long skirt and imagined the hundreds of sweaty people who had worn this costume before her. Suddenly her skin crawled like she was standing in an ant hill. She unconsciously took a couple steps to her left running into a music stand.

Harry Hawkshaw tapped his notepad with his pen. “Miss Moxie?”

“When I came here for the second joust I had my helmet and my leather jacket on. I walked through the woods so no one would see me. I was taking them back to my tent the same way. Then I was going to return the costume. Well, actually, I hadn’t thought about returning the costume. Since I had to wear it tomorrow you know.”

Had to wear it tomorrow? So you think you won’t have to wear it tomorrow, now that the king is dead? Don’t you think the show must go on?” Nettles needled. He turned to Harry, “She never wanted to be here. She probably did it just to get out of her contract. I think she’s here under false pretense. I don’t think she ever even touched a lute before this morning.”

“You never complained while we were playing,” said Moxie, surprised that she hadn’t fooled Nettles after all. “But since you brought it up, what really happened to Sir Gerald, Nettles? I spent some time out on his patio and rock wall at his campsite. He put a lot of time and care into that space like he planned on spending time there. I don’t think he would just run off.” She turned to Harry. “The lute player I replaced has been missing for almost a week and no one seems to be looking for him.”

“Moxie doesn’t know what she is talking about. Gerald was a flake and a womanizer, Nettles said suddenly very professional. The previous whine in his voice had vanished. “When he didn’t show up for rehearsals, I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised.”

“How long had Gerald worked with you?” asked Harry.

“Eight years,” said Nettles.

“Seems a little strange to me,” said Harry, “just not showing up after showing up for eight years. Did you fill out a missing persons report?”

“No. Like I said, I believe he’s holed up in some motel with his latest fling.”

“Right,” Harry said lifting one eyebrow and tilting his head. “Well, I’ll talk to the local police about that as well, when they get here.”

“No,” Nettles exclaimed too quickly and too loudly. “I mean. There’s no reason for that. After I sent him a breach of contract complaint, Sir Gerald sent me a letter of apology. I have it on file in the front office.”

“And what did this letter say?”

“Oh, the usual. He’s sorry he let me down. He met this great girl and wants to make it work, so he’s giving up the minstrel life. He’s too old to live in a tent in the woods. That kind of thing.”

“I’ll need to see that letter,” said Harry. “As soon as we’re done here, I’ll follow you to the front office and get a copy.”

“The front office will be closed and locked by then. I’m afraid I don’t have a key. Do you want me to run and get it now? You can stay here and get Moxie’s story and I’ll run and get it before they close up.”

“No. That’s okay. You can send me a copy tomorrow. I’m more interested in getting both of your stories of what happened here while they’re still fresh. Since Sir Gerald isn’t actually missing, he is not my concern.”

Moxie heard Nettles’s huge sigh of relief. She wondered if Harry had heard it too. If he was any sort of detective, he had to know Nettles was lying. And if Nettles was lying about Sir Gerald. . . . Moxie had a sinking feeling that she was in more trouble than she could imagine.

“Moxie, let’s get back to your story. You came back to get your jacket and . . .”

“I didn’t notice anything until I had already walked to the other side of the room by that trunk. I put on my jacket and was ready to leave when I heard loud voices and a crash. I stayed hidden behind the wall, so I didn’t actually see anything.” Moxie suddenly realized that she didn’t know what had happened at all.

“But you saw the killer,” said Harry.

“Now that I think about it,” said Moxie, “I don’t know if that person killed the King. All I saw was someone in dark clothing with green eyes leaving the building. I think they saw me, but I’m not sure. They could have been looking at a shadow in the dark just like I was.”

“You keep saying ‘they’. Was it a man or a woman?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tall or short?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You said he or she was near the door. What was their height compared to the door?”

Moxie walked over to the door. She put her hand on the door to mark her height then stepped back and looked at it. “Taller than me,” she said. Then she looked at Nettles. “I would say Nettles’s height.”

“Oh shut it, Moxie.” Nettles walked to Moxie in two long strides. “Hold your hand still,” he said and stood up against the door.

The top of his head lined up barely an inch past her hand. “So you’re saying you can tell the person you saw was taller than you, but barely an inch taller, from across the room, but you couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman?” said Nettles like he was the prosecutor at her trial.

“Guess I’m not much a witness,” said Moxie. She walked back to Harry. “Sorry I can’t be of any help.”

“Actually, Moxie, you’ve been a great help,” said Harry. “Nettles, why did you say ‘On the morrow’ after the joust? Don’t the minstrels usually end the day after the evening parade?”

“That’s right. Nettles told me there was an evening parade, but I forgot all about it,” said Moxie.

“She must have misunderstood me,” said Nettles. “She had absolutely no familiarity with the vernacular.”

“Is this true, Moxie? Are you not familiar with Old English?” asked Harry.

“Not really. But I know an ‘On the morrow’ when I hear it.”

“I should fire you right now. Missing afternoon wandering and planning to skip the parade. I think I smelled alcohol on your breath at second joust.”

“I’m curious, Nettles,” said Moxie, “I came back to get my jacket, but what brought you back here after leaving in such a hurry?”

“I—”

Nettles was interrupted by the arrival of the police. Moxie, Nettles and Harry were quickly corralled into the musicians’ section. Once all of the new arrivals had entered and gotten to work marking the scene and removing the body, Harry introduced himself to the officer in charge leaving Moxie and Nettles to watch in silence.

Moxie expected they would be invited down to the station any moment, but the longer they waited, the more they seemed forgotten. Harry and the officer were talking casually, laughing and smiling. Their behavior didn’t seem appropriate for a homicide investigation.

Finally, when the other officers had cleaned up and left, Harry brought his colleague over to speak to them. “Moxie, Nettles, this is Officer Ormerod. He has some very interesting news for you. Go ahead, Jim, tell them.”

“I think the only crime here is a false report,” said Officer Ormerod, “but we’re not worried about that. You were just over-zealous. We’ll have to wait on the medical examiner’s results, but it appears this man died of a heart attack, or maybe an aneurysm or something. I would say natural causes. There aren’t any apparent signs of foul play.”

Harry patted Moxie on the shoulder. “Sorry you got such a fright, my lady,” he said with a wink, “but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“What?” Moxie exclaimed. “Are you sure? What about the person I saw?”

“Probably someone who saw him die or came across the body and was just as afraid as you were. Hopefully that person will come forward once he or she knows they are not a suspect.”

Moxie wasn’t convinced. She looked at Nettles.

Nettles gaze held Moxie. The pierced lips of his regular, strained expression slowly curved up at the ends into a sinister grin.

What really happened to the King? What is Nettles hiding? Tune in next week for another twisting, turning, action-packed misadventure.

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Four

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe banner for episode four

Episode Four: She Only Tastes What She Wants to Taste

When we left Moxie, she was buying shoes and overheard Nettles making mysterious plans . . .

 

Moxie signed her receipt with her well-practiced illegible scribble and hurried around the side of the tent, but Nettles and his conspirator were nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have an appetite for greasy fair food, so she decided to spend the rest of her break relaxing at her tent. She enjoyed the new spring in her step as she followed the footpath. The trees and underbrush thickened around her until it was almost dark in the mid-day sun. The first couple of tents she passed were obviously new and temporary employees—small tents with no sign of life around them. The further she walked, the larger the tents and more elaborate the living space. The camp across from hers had a full wood dining area with a table, shelves, two walls and a roof.

Moxie’s tent had been set up where Sir Gerald, the missing lute player, had lived every summer for the last eight years. The entrance of her three room, eight-person tent opened to a stone patio with a rock wall with little nooks for candles and outcroppings for coffee cups or bowls. Moxie imagined him spending all of his free time wandering the area alone searching for the perfect large, flat stones to plant in his patio and collecting shiny treasures for the wall. Then she remembered Nettles had said Sir Gerald liked the wenches, so maybe rock gathering walks was how he drew in his conquests. She now saw each of the prettiest rocks as a notch in Sir Gerald’s bedpost.

Moxie dove into her complete mess of a living space. Her bags had exploded, throwing her possessions everywhere, the moment she opened them. A slight smell of musk made her think that Pearl must have stuck her with some old, used tent. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet and put it on, buckling her chin strap just to feel normal. She unburied her leather jacket and hugged its thick leather to her chest before slipping her arms into the silky lining. The smell of motor oil and the grime of the road embraced her like a friendly hug.

Moxie believed that to be the best she had to always push her boundaries. That philosophy had led to many gnarly spills, so now she lived in constant pain. Walking up and down the hills of the fair on uneven ground wasn’t helping. She set up a folding chair on the stone porch and sank into it. The sound of frogs chirping in ecstasy bounced off the trees from a distant unseen pond. She popped a couple Tylenol 3 and washed them down with a swig from her flask. The warm burn finally loosened the knot in her shoulder and she took a deep breath of clean forest air which instantly threw her into a coughing fit.

Finally feeling like herself again, Moxie took another swig from her flask and contemplated the events of the day. Sure, she was a stranger to the ways of the renaissance fair, but this place and these people seemed extra strange. She wondered what Nettles was up to. And the King and Queen were certainly worried about something. Maybe the Queen was the one talking to Nettles by the shoe tent. Or maybe it was Megan. Megan and Ryan were involved somehow. What about the angry jouster? What did the King do to make that actor so angry? Does any of it have to do with Sir Gerald’s disappearance?

Moxie caught herself imagining Sir Gerald looking similar to the angry jouster, flowing blonde mane, perfectly groomed facial hair, muscular arms and those abs. . . . Wait a minute. The jouster was wearing armor. She was fantasizing about the lead singer of Sex With Helmets. He was so hot. And she should be spending this weekend with him at Scandrum. Why Pearl, why?

 

Family of skunks

from hww.ca

Moxie’s thoughts were interrupted by a little grunt that sounded like a tiny pig under her chair. She froze when she saw the black and white critter waddle out only inches from her foot. She imagined she was a statue and held her breath. She had heard many horror stories of the consequences of startling a skunk. This place was bad enough without having to bathe in tomato juice for the next few days. The skunk sniffed and grunted along the little rock wall, circled her chair and waddled back under her tent. As it ducked under the pallets she saw a little family of eyes and noses welcome it home. Oh great, thought Moxie, not only do I have to worry about my fellow musicians, the King and Queen and a violent jouster, I get to live in fear of stepping on a skunk every time I’m near my tent. What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?

Moxie took a long swig from her flask and with a big sigh got up and left her camp. She walked down the path to the bottom of the hill near the frog pond and tromped through the woods to the back of the joust field. Her helmet protected her head and face from branches and leaves and her leather jacket protected her arms from brambles and thorns. She was thinking how well her motorcycle gear prepared her for life in the woods when she opened the door at the back of the castle.

“My lady, hast thou lost thine God given mind?” Nettles shrieked. He ran over to Moxie and tried to yank her helmet off of her head.

She pushed him away with one hand while undoing her chinstrap with the other. She calmly put her helmet under her chair and put her jacket on a trunk along the wall. “Calm yourself Nettles. I walked the back way. Nobody saw me, except a skunk and maybe some frogs.”

Nettles scowled and returned to his seat. “You were supposed to join us earlier as a wandering minstrel. Where were you?”

“I needed to buy shoes and then I needed to set up my camp. I’m sure you understand.”

“Indeed. However, you will be expected on the morrow.”

“Whatever you say Nettles.”

During the second joust, the angry knight was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by his squire who could barely stay on his horse and yet managed to win his joust. Everyone stuck to their script and their lines were stilted and emotionless. She wondered what happened to the King and Queen. They had been such amazing actors this morning, now they might as well be wooden cut-outs. She also wondered where the angry knight had gone. The show was completely lacking without him.

She planned to ask her fellow musicians after the joust, but they were packed up and out the door as soon as the last note finished resonating. She took Nettles’s brisk “On the morrow” to mean they were done for the day, so she grabbed her helmet from under her chair and hurried out the back of the castle. She happily skipped back along the path she had made through the woods thinking that this gig was actually not that bad. Then she felt a stinging, itching sensation and noticed scratches on her arms. She had forgotten her jacket.

Moxie hurried back the way she had come. She didn’t want to give up a minute of her free time. She didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone until after she put on her jacket. She recognized the King’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Look. I made a mistake. What do you want me to do?” he said.

She didn’t hear another person, but then something heavy scraped across the floor and she heard thuds and a crash like something or someone falling over.

Then the King begged, “Please, don’t.” She heard a grunt like someone was punched or kicked in the gut and then the King yelled, “Oh God. No.”

Then nothing, complete silence, so Moxie peeked around the wall. She saw the King lying in a heap on the ground and a dark figure at the back wall about to open the door. Before she could duck back behind the partition, the figure turned and stared through her with piercing green eyes. The figure paused. Had he seen her? Was he coming to get her? Moxie didn’t dare to look. She grabbed the lute, holding the body of the instrument to use the tuning pegs as deadly weapons. Just as she was sure the figure would be upon her, she saw Nettles.

“Lady Sharpe, what doest thou?” he said.

Moxie screamed and almost impaled him, but caught herself and put down the lute. She peeked around the corner. No one was there, except the motionless king.

Nettles followed her gaze. “What’s going on in here? Is that King Terrence?”

Nettles hurried forward and checked for a pulse. “Oh the realm is lost. The king is dead.”

“Really Nettles? This is real life. Could you stop?”

Nettles turned sharply. His green eyes bore into her like daggers. “Moxie what have you done?” he said.

 

Is the king dead? Who was the shadowy figure? Is Moxie a suspect? Tune in next time for another heart-pounding, thrill-a-minute misadventure.