Collaborative Storytelling


I’ve been playing Dungeon and Dragons every other week with some friends for a couple years now.  And recently, I was reading back through some fanfic that I wrote with a friend, and it got me thinking about collaborative storytelling.

I’ve actually been collaboratively telling stories since I was a kid.  That was one of the ways my best friend and I played.  We’d act out stories with various stuffed animals, plastic figures, or other toys.  It usually worked in a way where we each had one (or several) characters that we ours, and we talked through what was happening and who was saying what.  And that’s basically what table top roleplaying games are, except there are dice and rules for resolving combat and other contested interactions.

I’ve realized that’s how I did my collaboration with a writer friend several years ago as well.  She liked a magical power I’d given someone in my own fanfic and wanted to use a character with that ability in hers.  So instead of her borrowing the idea with my permission, I came up with a couple characters and we wrote the scenes together.

It was a ton of fun to sit around her living room trading documents back and forth (this was before Google Docs had really taken off…) and working through the scene together.  It’s the kind of collaborative storytelling my RPG group tends to engage in.  We’re all coming up with ideas and taking turns and steering the story in various directions.  It’s the kind of collaborative storytelling I most enjoy.

There are a lot of opportunities out there for this kind of collaboration.  From table top RPGs to text-based online RPGs to working with a real human being on a story.  I think I’d like to continue making time in my life for this sort of collaboration.  How about you?  Do you like participating in collaborative storytelling?  Where do you do yours?

Image Prompt 061 – The Face of a Cat


I chose the image of the black cat in the black back pack for my twenty-minute sprint today.  I set this in the same world as my books, with a student at Black Ashe University, the Wiccan University in Fort Madison as my main character.  I hope you enjoy.


The Face of a Cat:

Kyle padded out of his room into the kitchen, starting the coffee maker more by feel than sight.  He’d been up late last night finishing up his essay on metaphysical translation spells.  He’d thought this was going to be one of those boring, reading dusty old tomes kind of metaphysics classes, but the professor was new, and was actually having them research spells, discuss how the mechanics worked and how they could potentially rework or recombine different mechanics for different spell effect.  It was the most fascinating class he’d taken as Black Ashe University so far.

Once the coffee was brewing, Kyle stopped in the bathroom, then returned to the kitchen, actually turning on the light this time and opening the fridge.

There was a soft noise from near the door, almost like there was an animal outside growling.

Kyle straightened up and looked toward the door.  He had the food for his late class in a bag hanging behind his backpack so he wouldn’t forget to pack it.  They were taking turns providing snacks so everyone had something since they met during normal dinner hours.

The noise came again.

Kyle walked toward the door, and when he came around the counter, something in his backpack moved, eyes shining in the dim light from the overhead.

“You better be a raccoon that broke in or some such,” Kyle muttered under his breath, grabbing the emergency flashlight from the counter.  He turned it on and shone it at the bag.

There were eyes, and a mouth, and they looked like they were part of the backpack.  They were on the front, where his initials were embroidered.  The bag had been a gift from his grandmother, complete with customization and extra straps.

Kyle approached the bag slowly, still hoping whatever animal would either duck down to hide, or jump out to try to get away.

No such luck.  He was crouched right in front of it now.  The bag had been made mostly of nylon fabric before, but now it looked more like suede in most places, and a little more like actual fur around the face.

“Are you friendly?” Kyle wondered, reaching toward the bag just to see what happened.  The bag made a noise, and Kyle really wasn’t sure if it was a purr or a growl.  The face on the bag looked mostly feline.  It had that sort of triangular shape to it that he associated with cats anyway.  Kyle touched the bottom corner of the bag.  It was soft, softer than most suede, and warm.  Like body heat warm.

“Okay,” Kyle said softly, meeting the eyes of what used to be his backpack.  “I’m going to call my professor now.  Hang tight.”

Kyle shuffled backward still in the crouch before standing up and retrieving his phone.  He took a quick picture of the cat bag, and attached it to an email so he could send it to his professor easily if needed.  Then he found the number on the syllabus for emergencies related to class.  He dialed and waited for it to ring, still looking at the bag.  He’d been talking in his paper about how to leverage the mechanics of a spell designed to make a book able to defend itself, and how that could be applied to a variety of objects.

“Hello?” someone answered.

“Hi,” Kyle said.  “Is this Professor Scriven?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“It’s Kyle, Kyle Melbourne, from your Metaphysical Research class.”

“Is something wrong?” Professor Scriven asked.

“Maybe,” Kyle said.  “I finished my paper last night, and I was postulating about some things,” Kyle said, giving a very brief explanation of the book defense concept and the possible applications.  “And when I got up this morning, my backpack appears to have changed.  It has a cat face, and it’s either growling or purring at me.”

“A cat face?” Professor Scriven asked.

“Eyes, mouth, fur, I think there’s a nose but it and the bag are black and the lighting isn’t great in my apartment.  The bag used to be nylon and now it feels like super soft suede and it’s warm to the touch.  I have a picture I can send you.”

“That would probably be helpful.  Your paper draft too if you can.”

“It’ll be two emails,” Kyle said.  “Hold on a sec,” he added, pulling his phone away from his ear to send the picture.  “The paper’s going to take a minute since it’s not on my phone.”

“That’s the bag you usually bring to class?” Professor Scriven asked as Kyle pulled up an email.

“Yeah,” Kyle replied, typing in the professor’s email and attaching the paper.  “There used to be initials were the face is.”

“I have a colleague who has postulated that this kind of application would be possible,” Professor Scriven said.  “But she’s never tested it.”

“Mostly I just want to know what I should do now,” Kyle replied.  “Is it dangerous?  Do I need to feed it?  Should I never use it as a backpack ever again?”  That would be a shame.  He really loved that bag.  It was super versatile and really comfortable.

“Let me just scan through your paper,” Professor Scriven said.

“This bit is on page three I think,” Kyle offered, turning back to the cat bag.  He wondered what his grandmother would think when she saw it.

Image Prompt 061 – Cat in a Backpack and Water by Ancient Wall


It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 061-002 - Welsh Dragon05-05-07 054

Image Prompt 061-001 - Valentine's Day2009 015

Winter Travels


I don’t usually do much traveling between the Christmas holidays and spring, but this year my parents needed some help moving my grandmother from her apartment to a room in the main building of her continuing care retirement community.  She’s still in pretty good health for a woman in her 90s, but she doesn’t move around as well as she used to and needs the support of being in the main building and regularly checked on by the nursing staff.

So the husband and I set out from North Carolina to Pennsylvania last Friday and returned home on Monday.  We helped sort through things in my grandmother’s old apartment that wouldn’t fit in her new room, saw my great uncle and his wife, and did what we could to keep Gramma occupied and less morose about the move.  She was disappointed to lose the apartment and the space, but what hit hardest was having to give away her cat.  The pretty ginger tabby was previously owned by one of her friends who passed away, and she’s passed him along to another friend in the community, so at least she’ll be able to go visit him.

It’s always great getting to see family, and I’m glad I could visit to help brighten my grandmother’s weekend.  The long drive was hard though.  I have a lower back issues that pinches my sciatic nerve when I sit.  On a good day, it’s a little achy, uncomfortable, or numb.  On a bad day, it causes sharp shooting pains through my hip and down my leg, sometimes all the way to my heel.  I have physical therapy exercises I’ve been doing daily for almost five years, and some strategies for being in the car with less pain.  It’s only in the last few months that I’ve gotten to the point where I can sit without pain or discomfort for one or two hours instead of for ten or fifteen minutes.  I’ve never been so glad to spend 30-60 minutes a day on exercises before.

This trip lead to my usual habit of taking pictures of various things I find interesting (this is the source of most image prompt pictures).  I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting photos I took during the course of the trip.

From the trip from NC to PA:

Random Objects:

Some from my Great Aunt and Uncle’s place, and some from my grandmother’s (only two of which I ended up taking home with me).

Other interesting images from the trip:

The journey from PA back to NC:

Sewing Flannel Pants


For my holiday gifts this year for my family, I made everyone flannel pants.  It was fun to pick out just the right fabric and make sure I made the right size for everyone.  I know my mother and my sister will appreciate that they’ll be the right length for once.  It’s hard to find things in the perfect length when you’re petite.

I tried out a free patter from a blogger, which you can find here.  It was very simple to make, even with the added complication of pockets.  I was able to finish a pair in only a few hours once I was able to sit down and devote the time.

I did make one mistake, which is sort of in keeping with home-made gifts from me to my family.  Every since we first got Print Shop and started making our own homemade cards, I’ve almost never managed to give my parents one without a spelling error.  This was accidental at first (as spell check wasn’t a thing in Print Shop), but has since become a family joke, so I always include one on purpose now.  So this year’s goof for the holiday was that I forgot to cut out the one-way fabric correctly for my dad’s Steelers pants.  So one leg has the word going in one direction and the other leg has them in the opposite direction.  Oh well, it was too late to fix it once I cut everything out.

Full disclosure, the only pair that was finished in time for Christmas was my niece’s pair.  I finished the other three over the past two weeks.  I have material cut out to make two pairs for me, and then after that I’m going to make a few pairs for my partner.  I may remake the pattern for his so I can do side seams and easier pickets, but we’ll see.  If I do make a new pattern, I’ll probably post that here.

Here are a few pictures of my creations.

2019 Writing Year in Review


A lot of writing happened this past year, and a lot of good work toward my writing goals both generally and on specific projects.

I made a Get Your Words Out habit tracking pledge of 240 days for 2019, and missed it by 17.  Considering I’ve gone months without writing in previous years, I think that’s pretty fantastic.  I’ve made the same pledge for 2020, and have confidence I can push through and make it this time.

I spent a good deal of time working on the second book in my series as well.  I spent almost as much time on revisions for that as I did on my November novel draft, which is pretty impressive since I spend most of my free time working on the novel in November.  I also spent almost as much time on book three.  That leaves book 2 very close to ready for final copy-edits and book three ready for a major revision similar to what book 2 has been through.  I’d like to release them fairly close together and if I’m able to really focus on the project during the first few months of the year, I’m confident I can get things much closer to publish ready sometime this year.

I experimented with planning before drafting this year, both with the major revision (basically full rewrite) of book 2 and my attempt during NaNo to have a plan and outline before writing my first draft.  These had varying levels of success.  Book 2 is so much better for it (and all the wonderful feedback I got from beta readers).  The NaNo project is a bit meh at the moment, but it’s also not finished, and I didn’t manage to stay with the outline the entire month.  But the two attempts left me feeling confident enough that planning can work for me that I’m trying to develop an outline for book 3 so it will come out better than book 2 did pre-outline-driven-rewrite.

I worked on 19 different projects over the course of the year (with smaller things like the blog’s image prompt responses counting collectively as a single project).  Most of these were novel drafts of some form or another.  Many were in the same world as Strong Fort Spathí.  I spent over 200 hours on my writing over the course of the year (at least as far as rough tracking goes).  I’m willing to bet that’s more time than I’ve spent on writing in a single year since before I got a full-time job.  I’ll be curious to see if my total will be significantly different for this coming year, especially if I make the 240 days of writing goal.

Overall, I’m proud of the work I’ve done in 2019.  But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to rest on my laurels and not keep working.  My priority goal for 2020 is book 3, so that I can polish up books 2 and 3 and get them published sooner than later.  I’d also like to continue trying out planning and outlining before I write or shortly after I start to see if that improves the quality of my first drafts.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing bits and pieces about both of those goals as the year unfolds.

Do you have any writing goals for 2020 you’d like to share?

Image Prompt 060 Response – Familiar


I chose the picture of my black cat, Locke, looking out the kitchen window for my story prompt this week.  This is the product of a twenty-minute sprint and a quick copy-edit.


Midnight had her paws up on the kitchen windowsill so she could see outside.  Amanda smiled as she got out of the car and saw her familiar watching for her arrival.  She hurried to grab the bags out of the trunk but walked carefully up the steps.  It had snowed again today and she needed to clear them off again, maybe put down some more salt to keep things from getting slippery.

Amanda unlocked the door and pushed it open.

“Hello my lovely,” she greeted Midnight, who was now sitting on the counter right beside the front door.

Midnight meowed happily, brushing her head against Amanda’s arm since her hands were full.

Amanda chuckled and set her bags down, petting Midnight with one hand as she closed and locked the door.  “All’s well?” she asked.

“No callers or intruders,” Midnight informed her.

“Good,” Amanda replied, stroking Midnight one more time before turning to deal with her bags.  “I’m glad no one bothered you today.”  Some days there would be salesmen, or someone looking to hire Amanda would find out where she lived.  She didn’t like when they came to her home and bothered Midnight while she was gone.

It only took a few moments for Amanda to put away the groceries she’d picked up on the way home, and set her work bag and her little backpack by her desk in the second bedroom.  She came back to settle on the couch and Midnight jumped up to sit beside her.

Amanda stroked Midnight’s soft fur and sighed happily, relaxing into the cushions.  It was good to be home.  She missed Midnight on days she couldn’t take her familiar with her.  Some clients just didn’t understand the bond between a witch and her familiar, so they requested she leave the cat at home, like it was just some kind of pet.  At least this job had only taken a couple days and was close enough she could come home each night.

Sitting here with Midnight beside her again, Amanda could finally relax.  It was stressful on both of them when she was away.  Maybe she’d stop taking jobs that asked her to leave Midnight behind.  She could change her contract, make it state that Midnight was to be allowed to accompany her for all portions of her work instead of having a question asking if Midnight could accompany her.  Work was pretty steady now, unlike when she’d first started out.  She didn’t have to take every job she was offered just to make ends meet.

Amanda looked out the back window, watching snow begin to fall again, the swirls of snowflakes lit by the streetlamps.  The world was hushed and quiet now that night had fallen, the blanket of snow muting any sound there might have been.

“Tomorrow we leave for the next job,” Amanda said softly.

“We’re helping someone ward their home, correct?” Midnight asked.

“Yes,” Amanda replied.  “A very nice family,” she added.  They’d been very gracious about the entire thing.  They’d even asked if they needed to keep their own cat sequestered while she was there.  It was rare for anyone to even think to ask about things like that.  It was much more common for a client to ask her to keep Midnight sequestered or on a leash or something equally ridiculous.  Midnight would be at her side where she belonged.  “I think you’ll like them,” Amanda told Midnight.  “And if you’re feeling frisky, they have a cat you might be able to entice to play.”

“That would be nice,” Midnight replied, nuzzling Amanda’s leg.  “It’s been a while since I had a chance to play with another feline.”

Amanda smiled.  She’d amend her contract.  There was no reason to be so accommodating of those who didn’t understand her bond to her familiar.  If they wanted her services, they’d just have to accept that Midnight came too.