Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011!

Well, these are the last few minutes of 2011, so I thought that (like most other bloggers) it was time to write up a year-end blog post.  Considering that I don't read most year-end blog posts, I don't expect a lot of people to read this one, but I'll continue nonetheless.

This year has been a great year for me and my family.  My wife and I took a great vacation, we bought a new house, I got a new job, and we got a new car.  That's just the short list.  I've written about each of these things in this blog.

Of course, there's always some bad that comes with the good.  This year, my wife found out that she was Hyperthyroid.  She went in and got a radiation treatment to calm down her thyroid.  It turned out to have calmed it down too much and turned her Hypothyroid.  So, now she has to take a pill every day for the rest of her life.  It's been difficult for us and particularly for her.  Of course, it could be worse, so we'll get through this.

For myself, like I said, I got a new job.  So far, I'm happy with the change.  Also, I've been doing this thing called Story a Week.  I've been a little lax during the holidays, but so far, I've written 40 stories and I LOVE doing it.  Most of my stories fall into part of one of a few story arcs that I've been working on.  That wasn't my plan when I started the project, but overall I'm happy with what I've done.  In my opinion, the experience has really improved my writing.  It has also allowed me to share with you all some of the stories that I've had floating around in my head.

So, now's the part where I make some resolutions.  It's also the part I hate the most about New Years.  But, it's a tradition, and I do like the sentiment of it.  So, here's a list of resolutions from me:
-I will finish a novel this year.  I have a few started, and I could probably turn some of my storylines from Story a Week into novels.  I'd also like this to be separate from my attempt at NaNoWriMo this year.
-I will get healthier this year.  I've already started this by joining the YMCA and I've even gone a few times in the two weeks we've had the membership.  I have medium-high cholesterol and I'm a little bigger than I'd like to be, so that's pretty much why I'd like to do that.
-I will be less crabby this year.  I've been turning into a crabby old man and I need to stop that before it's too late.
-I will attempt NaNoWriMo again.  I can't do much worse than the 3,000 words that I got to this year.  I think that I know what I need to do differently; I need to do my research first and write about something that flows easier.

I think these are attainable goals.  Plus, this year I've documented them on my blog, so I have more motivation to stick with them.  Hopefully.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Story a Week 40 - Candy Land 7

Welcome to another edition of Story a Week!  This week is another episode of the Candy Land series.  We've rounded the bend and are coming up to the end.  I think maybe three more stories after this one, though I'm not quite sure yet.

I haven't posted a plain blog post in quite a while.  I think that I'll think of something to write and do that this week or next.  Maybe something about the holidays.  Dunno, we'll see.


I was dazed.  "How did I get here?" I asked.

"I don't know for sure," the woman replied.  "Some strange things have been happening around here lately.  The Queen of the Baked Alaska Islands has ordered her float-illa mobilized to patrol the sea.  You appeared out of nowhere on the flagship.  As long as you don't cause any trouble, I won't have you confined to the brig, yet."

I looked around the ship and saw many sailors standing with weapons ready.  I must have been coming out of my daze as I realized that the sailors had been ready to leap on me if I made a wrong move.  I took a deep breath to steady myself.  I'd never been on a ship before and I was starting to feel a little queasy.  I said, "I'm sorry to drop in like this, but I assure you that it was against my will.  I think that it was pure luck that I dropped onto your ship rather than into the sea."

She looked me over and said, "Well, good or bad luck remains to be seen.  Tell me who you are."

I could tell by her tone that her patience was running thin.  "My name is Ap LePie," I said.  I told her my tale from that fateful call from Plumpy all the way up to being teleported to her ship.

After I was finished, she nodded and stared at me for a moment.  Finally, she said, "Okay, Mr. LePie.  I believe your story.  Follow me."

She walked back towards a door at the rear of the deck.  We went through the door to a large cabin.  Within was a large table with a stack of maps, a desk and a bed.  The woman walked over to the table and began to shuffle through the maps.

I looked around the room and asked, "Are you the captain of the ship?"

She continued to look through the maps as she said, "No.  The captain was nice enough to let me use his cabin while I'm aboard.  Ah, here it is."

She pulled out a map and spread it out on the clear part of the table.  The area it represented wasn't familiar to me.  She said, "Based on what you've told me, I think that I know where your king is."

Her news sent waves of excitement through my body.  I couldn't believe that I'd stumbled on someone who knew where the king was.  "Really?  Where is he?  How do you know?"

She laughed and said, "Calm down, Mr. LePie.  Let me tell you a story of my own.

"The people of the Baked Alaskan Islands love the sea.  We trade with everyone who lives on the shores of the sea.  From the Peeps Tribes on the northern shores to the Gummy Bear Tribes on the south shore.  There is only one set of people that refuse to trade with us.  The Molasses Monsters are a Xenophobic people who live on the western shores of the sea in the Molasses Swamp.  However, lately we've had some contact with them and they've told us a tale of a castle appearing out of nowhere in the Butterscotch Plains to the west of the swamp."

She pointed at the map.  "Here is the swamp.  And here," she moved her hand west, "is the plains.  Your king and his castle must be there."

I stared at the map in disbelief.  I was finally getting close to finding the king!  "Well... wait.  I don't even know your name yet."

She looked me over once more and said, "Okay, I think that I can trust you.  I am Queen Frostine III, the Queen of the Baked Alaskan Islands."

"Oh," was all I could say.  I felt a little silly, so I said, "Thank you for the information, your majesty.  But...I think that I have a favor to ask you."

She nodded, so I continued, "Well, would you be able to drop me off at the swamp so that I can make my way to the castle?"

The queen looked down at the map for a moment, then back up at me.  "Mr. LePie, I'll do you one better.  I will accompany you through the swamp to the castle."

"You majesty!" I burst out.  "You can't do that!"

Queen Frostine scowled at me.  "Two reasons that I will be going with you."  She stuck out a finger and said, "One, I'm the Queen and you can't tell me what I can or cannot do."  She stuck out a second finger and said, "Second, you're going to need help.  The Molasses Monsters don't know you and won't let you through their swamp without me."

I could tell that she wasn't going to be swayed.  I sighed and said, "All right.  You may come with me."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Story a Week 39 - Candy Land 6

Hello everyone!  I had a dream this week about how a movie studio wanted to use my stories to make a movie.  Ever since, I've been thinking about who might play some of the roles.  My thoughts so far:
  • Ap LePie - Joel McHale
  • Plumpy - Patton Oswald
  • Lord Licorice - Jeremy Irons
  • Princess Lolly - Cherize Theron (sp?)
I think that Jolly and the bears would have to be CGI.  That's all I've got so far.  Do you have any thoughts on who would play some of the roles?


It took some time for the tribes to agree, but they finally did and the combined kingdom and tribe forces assembled outside of the woods.  It took a couple of hours, but once we were all assembled, I led everyone back towards the Peanut Brittle Patches.

Princess Lolly, Circu S'Peanut and Lemo N'Drop walked with me.  I said, "Gramma Nutt has promised to lead us through the patches so that we don't have to chop any of them down.  I promised her that we wouldn't do anything to harm them.  Can you spread the word among the troops?"

The three of them nodded and spread the word.  About an hour later we arrived at the edge of the patches, and, as promised, Gramma Nutt was there waiting for us.  The four of us walked over to her and I said, "It's good to see you, Gramma Nutt.  I've shared our agreement with the forces here."

Gramma Nutt glanced around as we approached and gestured for us to be quiet.  She came in close and whispered, "Lord Licorice has sent spies into the patches, following you, Mr. LePie.  A dozen or so Swedish Fishmen are now wandering in circles through the patches."

I smiled at her.  "I don't know how you do it, Gramma Nutt, but I'm glad you're on our side."

She glared at me and said, "Let's get this straight, bucko; I'm not on your side.  I'm on my side."  She pointed her finger at Princess Lolly.  "I want an agreement signed after all this is over that says your kingdom will build a new road that goes around the patches instead of through it!"

Princess Lolly glanced over at me and I slyly nodded.  She said, "Of course, Gramma Nutt!  I don't know why we never did that before!"

Gramma Nutt grunted and without another word she turned and headed into the patches.

Princess Lolly and I shrugged at each other and followed her.

To this day, I don't know how we did it, but we managed to get through the patches in just over an hour without losing anyone.  We emerged from the patches and the commanders set about counting their troops.  I turned to Gramma Nutt and thanked her for her help.  She grunted and said, "If I don't get what I want from your kingdom, no one will ever get through the patches again.  Don't you mistake me, Ap LePie, I don't intend on killing anyone.  It's just that everyone who enters will find themselves leaving the same side of the patches that they entered after a couple of hours of walking.  Understand?"

I nodded and said, "Princess Lolly will make sure that a new road is built."

She shrugged and nodded then turned and walked into the patches.

I turned and found Princess Lolly and the Gummy Bear chiefs.  After another moment or two we had the army moving on its way again.

It wasn't long before we had Licorice Castle in sight.  Everything looked much as it had before I left.  Colonel Crunch must have seen us coming as he was coming out to meet us.  When he got in speaking range, he said, "Please tell me that the bears are here as allies and not guiding a defeated army home?"

I thought about teasing him about it, but I thought better of it.  Instead, I said, "We've asked them to help us convince the Lord of the error in his ways and they've agreed."

Colonel Crunch nodded and smiled.  He said, "Good.  We'll array them in the front flanks with the siege ladders that we've been making."  He glanced up at the sky, judging the time.  I noticed that it was getting dark.  "We won't have time to properly set up our lines tonight, so the bears can camp wherever they like that is behind the front line.  Princess Lolly, your troops can camp with mine."

We all agreed on Colonel Crunch's plan and set things into motion.  When everything was moving, Colonel Crunch said, "Princess, Ap, let me show you the preparations we've been making."

The princess and I followed him to a large tent in the center of the camp.  Inside the tent was a large table with a map and figures on it.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that the map was of the castle and surrounding area.  The figures on the table represented some number of troops.  There were three giant-shaped ones and a dozen or so smaller pieces.

Colonel Crunch pointed to the table and said, "Sergeant Ers and I have come up with a plan to attack the castle.  I knew how many troops you had, but I didn't know that you'd be bringing reinforcements with you.  We'll have to redraw up the plan, but I think that the basics will remain the same."

Suddenly, a soldier ran into the tent and up to the colonel and saluted and waited.  Colonel Crunch barked out, "Report!"

"Sir!  The drawbridge has lowered and Lord Licorice is waving a white flag.  I think that he wants to parley, sir," the soldier said quickly.

Crunch looked over to me and Princess Lolly.  She looked at me.  I said, "I think that I should go alone.  I don't want either of you where Licorice can easily get them."  I chuckled and said, "I'm not that valuable of a hostage."

I walked out of the tent, then the camp.  I could see Licorice waiting for me at the gate to the castle.  When I got to the edge of the drawbridge, I stopped.  We weren't in speaking range so we just glared at each other for a few moments.  Finally, he shook his head and chuckled.  He confidently walked over to me and said, "You are one stubborn man, Ap LePie."

"What do you want, Licorice?  The army and I are preparing to storm your castle," I retorted.

The smirk disappeared from his face.  He growled, "This castle isn't going down that easily, LePie.  Even with your pet Gummy Bears."

It was my turn to growl as I said, "I disagree, Licorice.  I'll see you soon, Licorice.  On the inside of your castle's walls!"

I turned to leave and Lord Licorice quickly grabbed me before I could react.  He pulled me close and said, "I don't think so, LePie."

I was beginning to think that he was going to kill me rather than let me go back to the camp.  Instead, he dropped me and pulled out some sort of wand.  He waved it at me and I closed my eyes.  That's when I felt the magic hit me.  It felt like I dropped a couple of feet onto something soft and squishy.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a beautiful woman.

"Wh-where am I?" I managed to stutter.

She extended her hand and I took it.  As she helped me to my feet she said, "You are aboard the Queen Frostine, sailing on the Ice Cream Sea."

I looked out and saw several other Ice Cream Floatships sailing with the Queen Frostine.  Somehow, I'd been transported a couple of hundred miles to the Ice Cream Sea.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Story a Week 38 - Candy Land 5

I wrote this story last week at the same time that I wrote the last one.  Actually, they were meant to be the same story, but it had gotten too long.  I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving.  My family did.


Without saying another word, the bears pushed me forward.  Orange walked in front and the yellow one behind me as they led me through the woods.  About fifteen minutes later, the led me to the edge of a clearing.  I looked into the clearing and saw a palisade built from the trunks of the Lollypop trees.  I asked, "The Cookie Patrol is in that makeshift fort?"

The two bears nodded.  Orange said, "You better go out with a white flag.  Whenever one of our bears leaves the protection of the woods, he comes back with an arrow embedded in his body."  The two bears laughed.  "Of course, that doesn't hurt us much."

I looked and saw several puncture wounds on both the bears.  I took my hanky from my pocket and held it up as I walked out of the woods.  No arrows flew in my direction, but after I came within a dozen yards of the palisade, I heard, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

I yelled back, "Uh, my name is Ap LePie and I've come from the Candy Land Kingdom.  I need to speak to Princess Lolly."

I faintly heard the sound of voices on the top of the palisade, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.  After a moment or two, the same voice called out.  "Come to the gate."

I turned to look back at the woods, but couldn't see the bears anymore.  I walked around the wall until I found the gate.  It was open just a crack.  One the other side was Princess Lolly.  "Mr. LePie.  What do you want?"

I could tell that she remembered me.  Even so, she didn't seem happy to see me.  I replied, "We need to talk about your father and why you're here."

She made a frustrated sound and growled, "I'm here because these bears know where my father is.  I was hoping to quickly beat them as they weren't terribly organized, but there are just too many of them."

Her comments made me quite confused.  I said, "I don't know where you got your information from, Princess, but the bears are innocent.  Lord Licorice is the one responsible for making your father disappear."

She stared at me blankly for a moment.  "They can't be.  I got a ransom letter from them the same day he disappeared."

I didn't know where the letter might have come from, but I had some ideas.  I said, "Well, princess, I don't know what to say about that, but I do know quite a bit about the situation.  I have Colonel Crunch's garrison besieging Licorice Castle while he waits for your army.  The Gumdrop Giants are helping, for now, but they aren't comfortable with the situation.  I think that your royal presence might convince them that the alliance with us is worth fighting for."

She replied, "But what about the bears?  We've been fighting them for a couple of days now and I don't think that they're just going to let us go back through their woods."

I knew that she was right.  The bears were very unhappy about what had transpired the last few days.  I gave it some serious thought for a moment, and then inspiration hit.  "Well, your majesty, if you'd be willing to come with me to the edge of the woods, I think that we can work something out."

She looked at me doubtfully and said, "You're going to have to give me more than that, Mr. LePie.  I think that those bears are just as likely to shoot me unarmed as they are to look at me right now."

I glanced back over my shoulder at the woods and said, "Tell you what.  How about I bring a couple of them, unarmed mind you, to the clearing and you come out too.  We can have some peace talks out there in the open where everyone can see."

She gave the matter some thought and finally nodded.  I turned and walked to the edge of the woods and saw an orange and yellow bear waiting there for me.  "Are you the same bears that brought me here?" I asked.

They laughed at me for a couple of moments.  The orange one said, "I like you, Ap LePie.  My name is Circu S'Peanut and this is Lemo N'Drop.  We're two of the cheiftans of the Lollypop Gummy Bear Tribes.  What did your princess say?"

"I've arranged for her to meet us in the clearing to discuss terms of peace," I said.  "If you don't mind coming unarmed, of course."

They nodded and proceeded to leave their weapons on the ground and followed me out into the clearing.  Princess Lolly left the fort a moment later, also unarmed.  We met in the middle of the clearing.  When introductions were complete, I said, "Now that we're all here, I'd like to fill you all in on what's been going on around Candy Land."

I told them my tale all the way from my office to that very moment standing there with them.  Afterwards, I said, "So, my idea is to form an alliance between the Lollypop Gummy Bear Tribes and Candy Land Kingdom to defeat Lord Licorice."

Princess Lolly nodded right away and said, "I think that sounds like a fabulous idea!  The Candy Land Kingdom agrees."

The two bears looked at each other.  Circu shook his head and said, "We certainly empathize with the situation that your kingdom is dealing with, but we don't think that we will help you.  Helping you would put many of our tribesmen into danger needlessly."

I quickly responded, "It may seem like that now, sure, but you both don't know the troubles that the Candy Land Kingdom has been internally facing the last few years.  If Lord Licorice has his way and succeeds in toppling the legitimate King and his family, he won't stop there.  The kingdom is running out of viable farmland and the Lord knows it.  Before he started his little coup, he had been urging the king to expand the frontier.  To widen the kingdom's borders.  Do you know where those borders lie today, Circu?"

Circu and Lemo looked thoughtful.  Circu said, "We don't have a formal border with the kingdom because we haven't much needed one, but the Peanut Brittle Patches would be it, pretty much."

Lemo nodded and added, "Yes, and if you push the border much this way, you're getting into the Lollypop Woods."

Circu and Lemo looked at each other again and Lemo nodded to Circu.  Circu turned to me and said, "We'll have to discuss this with the rest of the tribes, of course, but I think that we'll agree to help you.  Afterwards, though, we'll want to formalize a border and such in a treaty."

Princess Lolly agreed and the two bears went on their way.  She turned to me and said, "Thank you, Mr. LePie.  I think that you just saved the kingdom."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Story a Week 27 - Candy Land 4

Week 37!  I had this story (and the next one) finished yesterday, but I forgot to post it this morning before we left for my grandmother's birthday party.  Man, what a drive.  For those who don't know, I live in Minnesota and we had a nice freezing rain/snow shower this morning on our way up north.  Also, blizzard-like conditions on the way back.  Ugh.

Anyway, enjoy this week's story!


After leaving Lord Licorice's castle, I headed west towards the Peanut Brittle Patches.  If you've never been there, the patches are a large field of Peanut Brittle Bushes.  The place is like a maze.  Every now and then, the Cookie Patrol chops out a path that roughly follows the original path of the Candy Land Road, but the bushes grow back quite quickly and travelers can get easily lost in there.  I just hoped that I didn't fall victim to that as well.

The plus side of going through the patches was that the food was plentiful.  I hadn't eaten since leaving the Gingerplum Forest and I was quite hungry.  I picked some brittle and ate it as I tried to navigate the patches, but it was hopeless.  Each turn I made looked exactly like the one before it.  Pretty soon, I was all turned around and couldn't tell which way I was going.  To make matters worse, a fog had started to roll in; hiding the sun from me so that I couldn't even tell which way was west or east.

I found myself trying to decide if I should keep trying to navigate the patches, or wait for someone to try to find me.  The only problem with the second option was that no one was looking for me.  I stood there for a couple of moments before I heard someone humming.  I drew my revolver, and quietly headed towards the person.  After a rounding a couple of corners, I saw her.  It was the legendary Gramma Nut!  I say legendary because not many people have ever met her.  She's mostly thought to be a Candy Land Myth, but here she was in the flesh!

I stood there for a moment, not sure how to proceed when she said, "You can come out from hiding there, dearie.  I won't hurt you."

I instantly felt foolish and came out into the open.  I asked, "How did you know I was there?  You have your back to me."

She turned and gave me a big smile, "Oh dearie, this is my patch.  I know everything that goes on in them.  I know that you've been wandering around in circles for over an hour.  I thought you could use some help."

I was still a little suspicious.  I didn't know which side of the conflict that Gramma Nut would be on.  After all, she did live awfully close to Licorice Castle.  I said, "Would you help me find my way back to the road?  I need to get to the Lollypop Woods and find Princess Lolly."

Gramma Nut frowned.  She said, "That Princess and her army came through here a couple of days ago and cleared out a lot of my bushes.  It took me hours to set things right again.  I don't appreciate people tearing down my precious bushes."

She sure wasn't what I expected.  I said, "Well, Gramma Nut, when I find the princess, I will tell her how you feel about the matter."

Gramma Nut waggled a finger at me and responded, "Now, sonny, if you're planning on bringing that whole army on back to destroy my Peanut Brittle Patch again, you've got to think again.  I don't want those ravagers back in my bushes!"

I thought hard for a few moments about how to handle the situation.  Finally, I shrugged and asked, "Well, Gramma Nut, how can I convince you to let us through your patches?"

She smiled sweetly at me and replied, "I never said I wouldn't let you through.  You'll just have to have me guide the army through so that I can keep an eye on them and you all make it through safely."

"So, if I bring the army back later today or tomorrow, you'll be here waiting to guide us through the patches?"

Gramma Nut smiled and I couldn't help but believe her.  "Okay, Gramma Nut.  You have a deal."

She smiled at me and indicated that I should follow her.  We walked for an hour in absolute silence.  I followed her through twists and turns and I knew that without her, I wouldn't have been able to find my way.  I might have been lost for days without her help.  The most amazing part of it all was that the fog just got thicker and thicker, but it didn't even faze her in the least.  An hour or two later, it was hard to tell without being able to see the sun; we reached the northern edge of the Peanut Brittle Patches.  I thanked Gramma Nut and followed the road to the northeast towards the Lollypop Woods.

I entered the woods and found myself wondering how to find the army.  The woods were quite large and I had never ventured this far along the Candy Land Road before.  I also didn't know much about the woods or who might live there.  I was thinking these things to myself when I suddenly found myself hanging upside down a couple of feet from the ground.  I looked down, or up rather, at my foot and saw a rope wrapped around my ankle.  I mentally kicked myself for not paying closer attention to my surroundings.  I started to formulate a plan, when I saw movement out of the corner of my eyes.  I looked over and saw two gummy bears whispering to each other and pointing at me.  I mentally shrugged and called out to them, "Hey, can you help me down?"

They walked over and I saw that they were armed with crude bows and spears.  One of them was yellow and one was orange.  The orange one said, "No, I don't think we'll do that, quite yet.  You'll have to be interrogated first."

"Interrogated?" I said.  "For what?"

The yellow one laughed and said, "As a spy for Princess Lolly, of course."

"I don't know what's going on," I said.  "I'm not a spy for anyone; I just need to talk to Princess Lolly to bring her to help fight Lord Licorice!"

The bears looked at each other for a moment.  The orange one said, "Who is Lord Licorice and why would you want to have the princess fight him?"

I sighed and said, "Lord Licorice is the one responsible for the King of Candy Land's disappearance!  We currently have his castle under siege, but we don't have enough forces to take it from him."

The orange bear nodded to the yellow one who pulled a dagger off of his belt and cut the rope.  I landed quite roughly on my shoulder and lay on my back for a while trying to breath after the fall knocked the breath out of me.  The two bears stood over me for a moment before roughly pulling me to my feet.  Orange said, "If you're serious about getting the princess out of our wood, we'll help you.  However, if you are deceiving us in any way..."  He ran a finger over his throat to make sure I got the message.

I nodded to indicate that I understood and said, "Right.  Well, I don't know what possessed the princess to bring the Cookie Patrol out of the Candy Land Kingdom, but I'll talk her down.  Where is she?"

The two bears smiled viciously at each other.  Yellow said, "You might say that we've got a little siege of our own going.  Come on."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Story a Week 36 - Candy Land 3

Hello everyone!  Sorry about the post being a day late, the family and I were out of town for the weekend.  As you probably know, we bought a new van and this weekend it was scraped by someone at the hotel we were staying at.  Ugh.  We've only had the thing for six days!

Anyway, enjoy this new installment of the Candy Land storyline!


After I left Mr. Mint's Royal Peppermint Forest, I headed north around an arm of the Gumdrop Mountains and up into them following Candy Land Road.  I arrived at the predetermined meeting place where Gumdrop Mountain Pass met the road a couple of hours before dawn.  The platoon was nowhere in sight, so I decided to catch a catnap while I could.  I chose a spot not far off of the road so that the sounds of the platoon marching would wake me.

The sound of a deep rumbling woke me and I was startled to find a giant standing over me!  The rumbling had been the giant laughing.  As I was trying to figure out how to not be eaten by the giant, he bent down towards me and said, "Not to worry, little one!  I am Jolly, the Official Gumdrop Mountains Greeter!"

Confused, I sat up and leaned against the tree that was behind me.  "Official Gumdrop Mountains Greeter?  I've never heard of that before."

Jolly stood up and nodded.  "Yes, I get that a lot.  Or, I would if more people took the road through the mountains rather than taking the Rainbow Bridge.  It's a rather new position.  I just signed a treaty between my people and the King of Candy Land last week.  We are to guarantee that the Gumdrop Mountain Pass and the Candy Land Road stay clear and our people will maintain good relations and trade with the King."

"Okay, Jolly," I said as I stood up.  "I think that I will have to invoke that alliance right now, then.  The King has disappeared, along with his castle, and the Kingdom is in danger."

Jolly looked taken aback.  He stuttered as he said, "Um, well, you see... W...we're not exactly the w...warrior types.  We're peaceful Gumdrop Giants.  We've never fought anyone before."

I had an idea, but it wouldn't work without the giants.  I said, "Well, Jolly, if all goes well, there won't be a need to fight.  All I need is for you and your tribe to get together and follow the platoon and myself to Lord Licorice's castle."

Jolly looked a little skeptical, but he nodded all the same.  "Follow me, then and..."

He didn't get a chance to finish as another Gumdrop Giant came running up calling his name.  When he arrived, he was out of breath and tried talking, "Jolly!  There's the pass!"

Before Jolly could answer, I said, "Do you know if the platoon from the garrison in the pass made it through?"

The other giant shook his head and said, "No, but the avalanche is blocking their path."

I turned to Jolly and said, "Do avalanches happen a lot in the pass?"

He shook his head.  "Not really, one every couple of years, I guess.  They almost never block the entire path.  We've already had one this year too, so this is strange."

I was wondering if Lord Licorice could be involved, but I didn't have any ideas on how to find out.  I said, "Let's go to the pass and clear it out."

Jolly and I headed for the pass and the other giant went to their village to get more help.  As we walked, I spent the time trying to figure out how Lord Licorice seemed to be staying one step ahead of us.  Before I could figure out the answer, we arrived at where the avalanche was blocking the path.  Jolly started grabbing large chunks of ice and snow and moving them by hand.  I waited and watched until the other giants arrived with shovels.  They even had one my size.  With the whole tribe working, it didn't take long at all to clear out the path.  Sergeant Snick Ers and the rest of the platoon were waiting on the other side.  I shook hands with Snick when the path was clear.

He said, "I was about to suggest to Colonel Crunch that we start back and go around using the Candy Land Road when we heard you all digging."

He led me over to where Colonel Crunch was giving orders.  "Congratulations on your promotion from Captain, Colonel," I said.

He thanked me and asked, "What's going on, Ap?  I see you have the giants with you."

"Yes I do.  The Gumdrop Giants have agreed to escort us to Licorice Castle.  If there's any fighting though, they haven't agreed to that.  We'll just bring them along for the intimidation factor," I said.

He nodded and said, "Let's move out, then.  Sergeant, give the order."

We marched out of the path and to the Road.  A couple of hours later, we arrived at the castle.  It was obvious that the Lord had prepared the castle for a siege.  There were Bitter Chocolate Bats and Black Licorice Crows flying above the castle; Black Jellybeanmen on the ramparts armed with bows and spears; and the drawbridge was up.

Colonel Crunch, Sergeant Ers, Jolly and I spoke while the platoon and tribe were getting arrayed on the field outside the castle.  I said, "I don't think that we have enough forces to take the castle."

Colonel Crunch nodded his agreement and said, "We'll array our forces in a siege around the castle, well out of range of their bows, mind you, Sergeant."

I nodded and said, "Good, I'll head up the road to the Lollypop Woods and see if I can convince Princess Lolly to come back here with the rest of the Patrol."

We all agreed on the plan and I continued on the road to the west.  Before I got too far the sound of the drawbridge of the castle coming down stopped me.  We all turned and saw Lord Licorice standing alone on the bridge with a white flag in his hand.  Colonel Crunch indicated that I should come with and he and I walked to the edge of the bridge.  Lord Licorice and I just stared at each other, contempt on our faces for a few moments.  Finally, he said, "It looks like you all have decided to pay me a little visit.  What, pray tell, has brought you here?"

I had had enough of his pretentions.  I said, "You know full well what has brought us here.  The King is missing and you know where he is.  Tell us where, or we'll level your castle with you in it."

Lord Licorice glanced over my shoulder and laughed.  "With that pitiful rabble?  You wouldn't even get to the walls."

I glanced over to Colonel Crunch and he said, "You might be right about that, Licorice, but we're going to siege you anyway."

The Lord glared at him and growled, "You do that.  It won't make any difference and it won't help you find the King.  We're done here."

Colonel Crunch shrugged and turned back towards camp.  I said, "You won't get away with this, Licorice."

He smiled evilly at me and said, "I will see you soon, Mr. LePie."

He turned his back on me and walked into his castle.  I growled and turned away in frustration.  Colonel Crunch and I returned to the army and relayed what happened to Snick and Jolly.  I told them that I had to get on my way and said my goodbyes.  I knew that I would have to go through the Peanut Brittle Patches to get to the Lollypop Woods.  I hoped that I could navigate my way through the patches without too much trouble.  They were like a maze and the Road wasn't clearly marked.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's a New Car!

2012 Honda Odyssey
Last night, my wife and I did our civic duty to improve the economy by buying a new 2012 Honda Odyssey.  We had buying experience and I wanted to share it here.  Before I delve into the story, I need to tell you that my wife is the negotiator in our family.  She's good with money, finances and figures, plus she doesn't take any shit from anyone.  I cave in negotiations at the first sign of a struggle.  Not to mention that if you add a dollar sign in front of a number it transforms somehow into an unintelligible figure for me.  I'm good with numbers, but not money.  Not a good thing.  Also, she's a really awesome negotiator.

Our experience started on Saturday while the kids were staying over at their grandma's house.  We knew that we wanted to get an Odyssey, so we headed on over to Walser Honda in Burnsville.  We walked in and were immediately greeted.  We were told that they are a best price dealership.  That means that they don't negotiate on price.  Okay, that's cool; we don't like high pressure sales pitches anyway.  So we saw a couple of Odyssey's and test drove one.  We were already sold on the idea of buying one, and we were trading in our 2004 Honda Accord.  We gave them the keys and they drove it and looked it over and came back with a very low offer.  Well, we thought that this was where the wiggle room was and my wife told them that we needed a certain amount to make this work.  They "reminded" us that they are a best price dealership and didn't negotiate.  Well, long story short, we left without buying the van.

We were a little disappointed by not having a new van, so later that day (with our kids in tow) we headed over to Inver Grove Heights Honda.  My mother-in-law bought her Civic Hybrid from there and we'd had our Accord serviced there a few times, so we thought it would go smoothly.  Ha!  It started out good enough.  The kids were behaving well and we saw a good Odyssey and the kids seemed to love it.  They literally climbed over every inch of the interior.  Next came the negotiation part.  The kids were starting to get restless, so I took them to the little kids area that they had there while my wife negotiated with the sales guy.  So, I wasn't there during the negotiations, but from what my wife tells me, the guy was forceful and conniving.  At one point, he made her initial a hand written note that she would accept a certain price so that he could bring it to his manager.  Guess what?  He came back with a price higher than that!  She called it quits then and he tried to rally with "one more attempt" to talk his manager down.  Well, guess what dude, you had your chance.

By now, we were frustrated with the whole process, not disappointed.  We talked it over on Sunday and decided that come Monday, we'd try one more time at Walser.  Monday came and my wife called them and asked them if they had a certain color Odyssey and they confirmed that they did.  After I came home from work, we went there (sans kids, thanks to grandma again).  We walked in and wanted to take a look at the van and the same sales guy we talked to on Saturday went to get the keys.  About ten minutes later he came back and said that they couldn't find the van.  Apparently, sometimes the computer gets updated to say that the car is on the lot even when it hasn't arrived yet.  How stupid is that?  They literally had no idea where the vehicle was or when they'd get it.  UPS can track packages and tell you within the hour that they'll arrive, but a car dealership can't tell where their $35,000 car is?  Well, after discussing the color options (which were not satisfactory), we asked if they would let us have a loaner for the weekend if the van hadn't arrived by then.  They said no.  No negotiating power at all.  What a waste of time.  We left as frustrated as before.

On the way home, my wife called the third dealership that's relatively close to our house and asked if they had the color we were looking for.  They didn't, but they told us that the Hopkins Honda had two.  We drove the ~20 miles to Hopkins.  My wife was on the phone with the sales guy so that he would have all the paperwork as ready as he could for when we got there.  We were hoping for a relatively quick process with no negotiations involved.  We had two prices for the van and trade-in and she told the guy upfront what they were and what we were expecting.

So far, we'd had two extremes.  We had Walser which wouldn't budge on anything price-wise.  We had the Inver Grove guy who was getting to the price we wanted, but only after jumping through hoop after hoop.  We got to Hopkins and found something in between.  They are also a "best price" dealership, but the guy wanted to sell us a car, so my wife did a little negotiation with him on price and we all agreed on a price and trade-in value in record time.  We had to wait on a finance person, so I unloaded the car seats and other stuff from the Accord and put them in our new Odyssey.  Once the finance guy was ready, we went in and signed everything and drove off in our new car just before the dealer closing time.

Overall, I'd say that we saw a wide range of strategies regarding negotiation.  We had Walser, on the far end of the spectrum with absolutely no negotiations.  Then we had the far other end of the spectrum with over-negotiations at Inver Grove.  Finally, we had a good mix at Hopkins Honda with limited negotiations in the middle of the spectrum.

When we bought our G6 two and a half years ago, the dealer had the same kind of strategy that they used in Hopkins.  We were in and out in a couple of hours and everyone was happy.  While we ended up with a good deal and a good van, the experiences that two of the dealerships gave us were anything but good.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Story a Week 35 - Candy Land 2

 Even with my efforts to write a story for NaNoWriMo, I've managed to take the time to write another Story a Week.  This is a continuation on the Candy Land storyline.  It's quite a bit longer, coming in at around 1,600 words.  I tried to edit it down a bit, but I didn't even get as far into the story as I would have liked with this chapter.  Oh well.  I hope that you enjoy the story!


I returned to the Candy Land Road and started heading east towards the Royal Peppermint Forest.  It wasn't long before I ran into trouble though.  After a few minutes on the road, I turned a corner and was ambushed by some Black Licorice Crows.  They must have been sent by Lord Licorice to slow me down.  They swooped down at me over and over again, but about the only damage they did to me was to take my hat.  About the only thing that accomplished was to make me mad.

I pulled out my revolver and took aim at a few of the crows.  Before I could get a shot off, a net flew up into the air from behind a bush at the side of the road.  The net caught most of the crows, including the one that had my hat, and dragged them to the ground.  I cheered when the two or three remaining crows flew off to the north.

I was still on guard, though.  Whoever had trapped those crows hadn't yet come into sight around that bush.  I kept my revolver out, but pointed it to the ground as I called out, "Thank you!  Those crows were a real nuisance."

Two gingerbread men from the Cookie Patrol strolled out from behind the bush and I breathed a sigh of relief.  I even recognized one of them as Sergeant Snick Ers.  I waved and said, "Sergeant Ers, it's good to see you!"

He waved to me and indicated that I should come over to the net.  He was directing the other member of the squad to tie down the net as I approached.  He grabbed my hat from under the net and handed it to me.  He said, "Well if it isn't Ap LePie.  What are you doing wandering the Candy Land Road?"

I was wondering if the patrol had gotten word of the King's disappearance.  I wanted to be discreet, so I said, "I'm looking for the King."

Both of them stopped what they were doing and gave each other a concerned look.  Snick said, "So, you know about that, huh?"

"Yeah, Snick," I replied.  "Plumpy called me after he found out."  Something else was puzzling me though.  I asked him, "If the Cookie Patrol knows about the King's disappearance, what are you doing here?"

Snick took me by the shoulder and led me away from the crows and his subordinate.  Once we were out of earshot he said, "Look, Ap.  The kingdom appreciates everything you've done for us in the past, but I think that this one is a little over your head.  Princess Lolly has taken command of the Patrol and has lead most of the army to the Lollypop Woods to search for the King."

"The Lollypop Woods!" I yelled.  "What is she doing up there?  Doesn't she know anything?"

"Hold on, there Ap," he placed his hand on my shoulder to try to calm me down.  "What are you talking about?"

I sighed and told him about Plumpy and the Plumpa trolls.  Afterwards, I said, "You know that the crows are working for Lord Licorice too, don't you?"

Snick glanced back at the crows, then at me.  He said, "Yeah, but we just figured that he was up to his old tricks, not trying to take over the kingdom."  He looked thoughtfully at me and said, "Where are you heading, Ap?"

I thought about it for a moment.  My run-in with the crows proved that I couldn't take on Lord Licorice by myself.  I said, "Well, I had planned on going to Licorice Castle to confront the Lord, but I'm not so sure that it's a good idea to go by myself."

Snick nodded and said, "Yes, it's too dangerous for you to go alone.  Tell you what; I'm going to head up to the garrison in Gumdrop Pass.  I'll tell the commander there about the news that you've given me.  I'll meet you where the pass meets the road on the northern side."

I looked at him a little puzzled and asked, "Why don't I just go with you to the garrison?"

Snick laughed and said, "Well, Ap, that's a good question.  You need to stop by the Royal Peppermint Forest and tell Mr. Mint to step up the production of Peppermint spears, just in case we have a long drawn out war on our hands.  Who knows what kind of preparations Lord Licorice has already made."

I nodded to him and said, "That sounds like a plan.  I'll meet you on the north end of the pass where it meets the road."

He nodded to me and I continued on my way down the road.  The walk to the Royal Peppermint Forest took a couple of hours and was very uneventful.  When I got to the forest, I saw that all of the tree harvesting machinery was sitting unused.  I didn't see any lumberjacks around, so I went to Mr. Mint's foreman's cabin.  Now, before I go any further in the story, I need to mention that I'd never met Mr. Mint before.  Of course, I'd heard of him, who hasn't heard of the great lumberjack, Mr. Mint?  Even though I'd heard the stories, they really didn't prepare me for when I walked through that door and saw the contents of his cabin.

You probably know this already, but Peppermint trees can be used for pretty much anything.  As Snick had told me, they are used to make spears.  They also make good masts for ships sailing the Ice Cream Sea.  Mr. Mint likes to make wind instruments from them.  It's widely known that he has a large collection of these instruments.  When I walked through that door, I saw instruments everywhere!  I'm telling you that there were flutes on the floor, piccolos on the patio, clarinets stacked to the ceiling.  You get the picture.  In the middle of it all, there sat Mr. Mint whittling away at a piece of Peppermint tree with a knife.  He didn't even seem to notice that I'd entered.

I walked over to where he was sitting and cleared my throat.  He looked up at me and said, "Who are you?"

"My name is Ap LePie; we've never met, but..."

He interrupted me, saying, "Oh!  Ap LePie, the famous private investigator!  How nice to meet you!"  He waved his arm around the room and asked, "Have you come to purchase something?"

I shook my head and said, "Uh, no thank you Mr. Mint.  I've been sent here by Sergeant Ers.  He'd like you to start producing Peppermint Spears for the Cookie Patrol."

Mr. Mint scratched his head.  "I don't think that I can do that for you, Mr. LePie."

I was stunned; all I could say was, "Why not?"

He looked really confused.  I could see some sort of internal battle taking place in his head.  After a moment, one of the sides seemed to win the battle and he just shrugged and mumbled, "Dunno."

Frustrated, I turned and kicked a pile of piccolos that was nearby.  The small instruments went flying everywhere.  I was about to turn back to try and talk some sense into Mr. Mint when I saw something shiny buried in the piccolos.  Puzzled, I bent down and threw a couple piccolos to the side to uncover the thing.  It ended up being some sort of crystal ball.  I picked it up and felt an immense sense of apathy course through my body.  I dropped the ball and immediately felt more like myself.  Suddenly, Mr. Mint's refusal to help made sense.  Someone had left this crystal ball in his office that produced a feeling of apathy towards the world.  Mr. Mint coped by creating the things that he loved and ignoring the outside world.

I quickly picked up the ball and chucked it against the nearest wall as hard as I could.  The thing cracked, but didn't break.  Behind me, Mr. Mint let out a yelp.  I looked over to him and he was holding his head in both of his hands.  Angrily, I walked over to where the ball had landed and picked it up and smashed it against the ground.  This time it shattered into a million pieces.  Mr. Mint groaned and slumped forward.

I moved over to him and shook him awake.  I said, "Are you alright, Mr. Mint?"

He groaned again and looked up at me.  "You're Ap LePie, aren't you?  What are you doing here?"

He obviously didn't remember anything.  I told him my story and then about how I found him.  He looked about the room and said, "I guess that I've been busy doing all the wrong things."  He looked up at me with a fierce smile on his face.  "Mr. LePie, I'll get my workforce back to work and we'll start cranking out Peppermint spears before you know it!"

I smiled and slapped him on the back.  I turned to go, but Mr. Mint said, "Wait, Ap.  I think that I've got something that might help you on your way."

I turned and saw him go to his desk.  He rummaged through a drawer and pulled out a small, dark flute.  "Last year some of my workers found a Chocolate Peppermint tree deep in the forest.  Chocolate Peppermint trees are extremely rare and they turn into wonderful flutes that produce beautiful music."

He walked over to me and extended the flute out to me.  I looked and it was indeed a beautiful instrument.  "I don't think that I can take that, Mr. Mint."

He smiled and replied, "Please, take it.  Something tells me that you will need it before your journey is done."

I nodded at him and took the flute and carefully put it in the inner breast pocket of my coat.  "Thank you, Mr. Mint," I said.  I left his cabin and returned to the road.  My walk to the Gumdrop Mountain Pass would take most of the night and wouldn't be easy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


So, it's November already.  Man, this year has gone by really fast.  Well, it being November means that it's NaNoWriMo again.  You're probably asking what NaNoWriMo is?  Well, you should visit their site.  I really like the idea of trying to blast out a novel in 30 days.  It's a goal, much like my Story a Week thing that I do.  I'm going to try NaNoWriMo this year for the first time.  I don't know yet if I'll be able to write 50,000 words in 30 days (that's 1,667 words per day, for those keeping track).  It's hard enough to crank out ~1000 word stories every week.

I'm going to try though.  I have a story in mind.  Let me tell you about it.  A couple people know about my currently unfinished novel that I'm writing.  I've put the prologue on my blog.  I'm going to write the sequel for NaNoWriMo.  You might be thinking that writing the sequel before the first novel is finished is just plain wrong, but I assure you that the story for the sequel isn't really dependent on the completion of the first part.  In fact, I'll probably just make the first novel a prequel if I finish the second novel.

So, wish me luck.  I think I'll post an update in a couple of weeks.  Oh, and I'm not sure that I'll be able to write Story a Weeks, but I'm going to try to continue to do that.  It might help to keep the creative juices flowing to change it up every now and then.

EDIT:  You can track my progress here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Story a Week 34 - Candy Land

I've been playing a lot of Candy Land with my kids lately, so I got the inspiration to write up some Candy Land fanfic (fan fiction for those in the know).  It just occurred to me that with Halloween coming up that I should have tried to write something scary or spooky or something for the holiday, but at least the story has a candy theme to it.  Right?

My last story (The Road Warrior) received a lot of reads (it's my top read blog post now), so I hope that those of you linked from have returned to see what my Story a Week thing is all about.  I really enjoy sharing my writing with people on this blog and I hope that you enjoy my stories too.

If you're trying to figure out how to follow my blog, there are several options available to you.  My favorite way to follow a blog is through RSS.  You can also follow me on Twitter, where I post all sorts of stuff and a link to my blog when I make a new post.  Or, you can click the "Join this site" button on the right side below my Twitter feed.


So, you want to hear the story of the missing King of Candy Land?  Well, alright.  It's a long tale, kids, so you'd better have a seat.  It all started while I was walking to the grocery store and I got a call on my cellphone.  The caller ID said that it was Plumpy.  I hadn't spoken to the little troll in a while, so I answered it.  "Hi there, Ap," he said when I answered.

His voice sounded different somehow, like he was worried or scared about something.  "What's going on, Plumpy?" I asked him.

"Well, Ap, it's like this," he said, speaking very quickly.  He was definitely agitated about something.  "The King's gone missing."

I knew right away that this was serious business.  The kingdom had been in a bit of trouble as it was running out of viable farmland.  Without the King and his five year farm plan, things could go downhill quickly.  "You got more information for me, Plump?  That's not much to go on."

"Yeah, Ap, I got more..."  He hesistated for just a moment before blurting out, "The castle is gone too."

I almost dropped my phone right there.  I looked around, but didn't see anyone.  I didn't want to cause a panic by someone overhearing me.  "What do you mean the castle is gone too?"

Plumpy's voice got really quiet as he said, "It's just gone.  Someone's coming.  I've got to go."

He hung up on me.  I just stared at the phone for a moment before turning and running back to my office.  My receptionist was still there.  She was startled when the door flew open and I charged through.  She said, "Wow, Mr. LePie.  You really startled me.  Something wrong?"

I internally debated on whether or not to tell her what was happening.  He was her King too, so I guess that she had the right to know.  Plus, I could trust her to keep it quiet.  "Well, Ms. Snap..."

She interrupted me, smiling as she did so, "Mr. LePie, I told you to call me Ginger."

I appreciated her flirtations, but this was not the time.  "Ginger, then.  As I was saying, the King and his castle are missing."

My revelation seemed to utterly confuse her.  "Missing?  What do you mean missing?  How is that even possible?"

I strode across the room to the door to my office and opened it.  "I don't know, dollface, but I'm going to find out."

I crossed over to my desk and pulled out a couple of items: my trusty revolver, some toothpaste bullets, a notepad and pen.  I loaded the gun and started to leave when Ginger's voice stopped me short.  "You be careful out there, Ap."

I looked over my shoulder to her, smiling as I said, "Ap LePie is always careful."

I had to hurry to the Gingerplum Tree Forest and find Plumpy.  I got there as fast as I could, but when I arrived I found that the place was deserted.  Last time I had been there, the forest had been the happy-go-lucky home of the Plumpa tribe of trolls.  Now, it was a spooky and scary place.  Not a single Plumpa troll was anywhere to be found.  There were Gingerplums scattered all over the forest floor.  That, in itself, was a sign that something was wrong, as the Plumpa trolls were very good at tending their trees and wouldn't let a single plum sit on the forest floor without being harvested.  Yeah, they were like that.

Suddenly, I heard a strange noise coming from up ahead.  I stopped and listened.  It sounded like someone was crying.  I quietly pulled out my revolver and crept closer to the noise.  As I approached, I heard the sobbing more, but it was often being interrupted by the sounds of that same person noisily eating something.  I crept behind a bush to get a clear view of the sobber so that they couldn't see me too.  As I looked, I saw Plumpy sitting against a tree, eating a Gingerplum and sobbing.  Littered all around him were plum pits and half-eaten plums.

I sighed and put away my gun as I walked around the bush to face Plumpy.  He'd always been a heavyset guy, but now he looked bloated from eating so many plums.  "How many of those things have you eaten, Plumpy?"

He looked up at me, shame and sadness in his eyes.  "Oh, who cares, Ap.  It doesn't even matter anymore."

I looked around again, where had the other trolls gone?  "Plumpy, you have to tell me what's going on here.  I want to help you, but I also have to find the King."

Plumpy swallowed the bite he'd been working on and wiped the tears from his eyes.  I'd never seen such a jolly guy like him be so glum.  "They're all gone, Ap.  All gone..."

That's when it dawned on me.  Whoever was responsible for the King's disappearance had made all the Plumpa trolls disappear too.  This was getting very dangerous.  I had to be sure though, so I asked, "What happened to your tribe?  Did whoever made the King disappear also make your tribe disappear?"

He nodded and picked up another plum.  I crouched down and held his hand before he could get it to his mouth.  "You have to give me more than that, Plumpy.  This mystery is getting more and more dangerous if the perp can make kings, castles and tribes disappear."

Plumpy sighed heavily and dropped the plum into his lap.  "He didn't make them disappear, Ap.  He turned them into Bitter Chocolate Bats."

"Bats?" I said.  I instantly knew who it was.  Only one person in all of Candy Land liked Bitter Chocolate Bats.  "Lord Licorice," I growled.

Plumpy nodded.  "He knows that I called you, Ap.  He's expecting you.  He left me here alone as a warning to you," Plumpy moaned as his eyelids fluttered.

I knew that this whole ordeal had been rough on the little troll.  I patted him on the head and said, "Sleep, old friend.  Sleep with the knowledge that everything will be right again when you wake."

I stood up as Plumpy fell asleep.  I only hoped that I wasn't lying to him.  It would be a tough journey to Lord Licorice's castle, but it looked like he was making a move for the crown of Candy Land and I would have to stop him.  I knew that there were only two ways to get to the Lord's castle, the Rainbow Road and Gumdrop Mountain Pass.  Unfortunately, on my way to the Gingerplum Forest, I saw that the Rainbow Road was out, probably thanks to the errant Lord.  I would have to take the long road through the Peppermint Forest and the Gumdrop Mountains.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Story a Week 33 - The Road Warrior

So this week is a little ahead of schedule.  You can blame John Scalzi for that.  He put up a post on with several story ideas and I took one and ran with it.  It's a little different from what I normally write, but that's nothing but a good thing.  I'll save the story that I was writing for this week for next week.  Enjoy!


My name is Bob Farley and I'm a car salesman.  A damn fine car salesman too, if you ask me.  I didn't earn the name The Road Warrior for not being able to sell cars, if you get my drift.  Anyway, I've got a story to tell you about the strangest customer I've ever had.  It all happened on a fine day in July of last year.  It was nearing closing time and my sales manager stopped by my office on his way out.

"Hey Bob, I'm heading home a little early today," he said to me.

"Alright, Jake.  I'll see you tomorrow," I responded.

He turned away to leave and stopped short.  Smiling to me, he said, "Bob, I think there's a man outside who needs the Road Warrior treatment.  Looks like a tough sale, but you could sell an ice cream truck to an Eskimo."

I smiled at Jake's vote of confidence as I stood to get a look at the potential customer.  Man, this guy just looked strange.  It must have been at least one hundred degrees on the pavement out there, but this dude was wearing beat up jeans and a black leather jacket.  He had on some of those shades you saw on the CHiPs guys in the 80s.  He looked like a tough customer alright, but I'm up for any challenge.

"You'll see a sales form on your desk in the morning, Jake," I said to him as I slapped him on the shoulder on my way to the lot.

"Good luck!" he called out as he headed the other way.

The guy didn't seem to be looking at any car in particular.  Normally, when I size up a customer, I look to see what they're interested in and see if they are longingly glancing at anything else.  This guy seemed a little blasé about all of the cars.  He just kept glancing around and shaking his head.

I got a couple of feet away from him, but he didn't seem to react to my presence.  This wasn't unusual in itself; most people ignore a salesman until he speaks first.  It kind of goes with the game.  So I said, "Howdy, friend.  Looking for anything in particular?"

The guy looked over his shoulder at me for a moment before turning his head back to look at the sports car in front of him.  He had one hand on his hip and the other in front of himself.  It looked like he was holding something, but I couldn't see what from where I was standing.  When he spoke, he had a strange accent that told me he wasn't from around here.  He said, "I'm looking for a man who calls himself 'The Road Warrior'."

I smiled to myself.  My reputation must have spread for someone to be seeking me out to have me sell them a car.  I said to him, "You've found him, friend.  Name's Bob Farley."  I extended my hand.

Suddenly, he whirled around and pointed a sawed off shotgun at me.  Shocked, I raised my hands and quickly stammered out, "Look, buddy.  We don't have any cash here."

The man frowned at me and growled, "I'm not here for money.  I'm here because you're soiling my reputation!"

I quickly went from scared to confused.  "I'm afraid that I don't understand you," I said.

The man threw his arms in the air in disgust.  "You mean that you haven't heard of me?" he yelled.

"Well, partner, not by just looking at you.  Maybe if you told me your name, I may have," I replied.

"I've been known by many names, Bob," he said my name with much disdain.  "The Road Warrior is one of them.  I've also been called Mad Max, and The Man With No Name."

He looked at me with anger and a little bit of hope in his eyes.  I knew that this man didn't really want to hurt me, so I put my hands down.  "Listen, Max," I said in as friendly a tone as I could muster.  "I'm married to the job, you know what I mean?  I don't get out much.  It's mostly just home to work to home again."

Max looked dejected.  I put my arm around him and said, "Listen, pal.  If it helps you feel any better.  I'll tell everyone to stop calling me 'The Road Warrior'."

He looked up at me with hope renewed showing plainly on his face.  "You'd do that...for me?"

I slapped him on the shoulder and said, "Sure thing, though you gotta do something for me in exchange."

Now Max looked a little suspicious, though I couldn't blame him.  I was about to throw him a pitch.  "What's that?"

I put as big a smile as I could on my face and threw a little wink out there too.  "Well, Max," I said, "you're going to have to drive off of this lot in one of these cars."

Max looked a little surprised and glanced around.  "Uh, I'm not sure..."

I interrupted him and said, "Now, now Max.  Let's not be too hasty here.  I'm not even going to ask you if you're in the market for a new or previously owned car.  Everyone is in the market, Max.  They just don't know it yet."

I let him soak on that as I turned him around to face the sports car that he was looking at earlier.  It was a two year old Corvette that we'd had trouble offloading because of how many miles it had on it.  "Now, take a look at that beauty right there.  What do you think?"

To his credit, Max really did check the car out before replying.  He said, "I don't think that this is the car for me, Bob.  It doesn't have any storage space, though I like how fast it looks."

At that moment, I knew that I was going to sell a car today.  He didn't outright refuse and he gave me some ammunition.  I fired away with, "Alright, Max.  Not enough storage capacity, eh?  How much do you need?  I've got some mid-sized and luxury cars around the corner, if you're interested."

I started to guide him towards those cars, but he wouldn't budge.  He shook his head and said, "No, I'll be travelling for quite a while, so I'll need to be able to haul a lot around with me.  Maybe a pickup?"

To this day, I'm not sure if I successfully suppressed the wince that wanted to fight its way onto my face, but either way, he didn't seem to notice.  The problem was that I'd just sold our last pickup the day before.  The dealership is in farm country, so we never keep good pickups for very long.  I thought quickly to try to figure out a way to spin this.  "Well, Max, I hear what you're saying, but I think that I have an even better idea for you, if you'll follow me."

He shrugged and nodded then followed me as I led him over to where our minivans were parked.  "Now, Max, if you're going to be on the road a lot, hauling things...sure, you could have a pickup, but there are a couple of problems with that."

I paused to let him soak on that and to make him ask, "What problems, Bob?"

"Glad you asked, Max.  One, I'm assuming that from day to day, hauling your goods, you're not going to be able to park yourself in a garage of any type, right?"  He nodded and so I continued, "Right.  Well, with a pickup, your goods would be right out in the open for just anyone to come by and scoop up while you're sleeping.  Am I right?"

Max stood there thoughtfully for a second, then nodded and said, "I guess so."

I smiled.  This was like shooting fish in a barrel.  "The next problem is the elements.  In an open bed truck, you've got rain, dust, hail, all sorts of weather getting all over your goods.  In an enclosed van, you don't have those issues."

Max nodded and looked over the minivans that were parked in front of him.  He looked unconvinced and said, "I see your points, Bob, but I just don't know.  A minivan?  Won't I loose style and cool points?"

I chuckled and said, "Shoot, no.  Just look at these beauties, Max.  The new style of minivans are sleek, stylish and have great gas mileage to boot!"

I saw that I had piqued his interest.  "Really?" he asked.

I nodded and guided him towards one of the pricier model's sticker.  "Heck yes," I said.  "Look at that.  You can't beat that with a stick.  You certainly wouldn't get that kind of mileage with a truck."

Max looked it over and I opened the doors for him.  He sat down in the driver's seat and said, "Can I test drive it?"

With a big smile on my face I said, "Sure thing, Max.  Though you're going to have to put that pea shooter away.  Don't want anyone to think you're car-jacking me."

He blushed as he looked down.  He must have forgotten that he was carrying it.  "Oh, yeah.  Sorry about pulling that on you earlier, Bob.  You know that the damn thing isn't even loaded?  Hard as hell to find shells for it these days.  Even if it were loaded, damn thing misfires more often than not."

As confusing as he was, I knew that this sale would be closed within an hour.  During his test drive, I steered him towards a buddy's gun shop to pick up some 12 gauge shells for him.  He was elated.  My buddy even cleaned and fixed up the gun for him.

As he was leaving with his new minivan a little later he stopped and said to me, "You know what, Bob?  Keep the 'Road Warrior' nickname.  It suits you better anyway.  I'll stick with Mad Max."

I just laughed and waved as he drove off.  Strangest customer I've ever had.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Story a Week 32 - Propheteering 14

Welcome to yet another edition of Story a Week.  This week's story is clocking in at ~2400 words.  I wasn't meaning for it to make up for last weeks shortfall in word count, but this one just flowed out of me in a matter of a couple of hours.   I didn't know that it had gotten that long until I copied it into Word to spellcheck it.

It was nice to have the words flow like that again.  The last story I had to fight hard to get out, but this one the words seemed to write themselves.  As far as overall plot goes, I'm not sure how many stories are left before the conclusion, but we'll see.  I hope that you all enjoy the ride.


Rixi saw Cuddlington tackle Melbrid as she dodged to a corner of the tunnel away from the opening to the dragon's lair.  Meentha went the other way and Rixi couldn't see how she fared as she shielded her eyes from the heat and light of the dragon's fire.  A short time later the fire dissipated and Rixi helped Melbrid and Cuddlington get up.

"Here's the plan," she said as Meentha rushed over to join them.  "You three charge out and head left to distract the dragon.  I'll try to stealthily go right to try and sneak up on the dragon.  Cuddles, I need to know its weakness."

The dwarf bristled a little at the sound of the nickname he hated, but quickly calmed down.  "Me god told me that there's a break in its armor where its legs meet its torso."

Rixi nodded with a big fierce smile on her face.  "Good," she said.  "I can get there without much trouble, but you three will be in grave danger.  Please be careful."

They all nodded and without another word, Cuddlington let out a battle cry and charged out the door and broke for the left.  Rixi heard the dragon roar and a couple of stomps as Meentha growled and, with her bow drawn, charged out firing arrows.  Melbrid gave Rixi a weak smile as he walked out of the doorway chanting a spell.

Rixi took a moment to steady herself.  She was trying to be calm and confident for her friends, but her heart was pounding and her hands were shaking.  She slid over to the entrance and peeked out.  The dragon had Cuddlington pinned in one corner of the large room, but Meentha and Melbrid were trying to get its attention so that it wouldn't try to take a large bite out of the dwarf.  Rixi saw that this was her best chance to sneak out and she quietly crept out and to the right.

Rixi knew a little about dragons from her parents.  They had come to Telquirk not long after it was founded and there was still a green dragon living in the forest nearby.  Some of the townspeople banded together and eventually killed the dragon, but not before many of them died.  As such, her parents told her that the chromatic dragons, such as the green and red variety, were smart and ruthless, but not any smarter than the average person.  Rixi wasn't sure whether the dragon saw her in the tunnel or not, but it was likely to have forgotten or dismissed any sight of her when just three people came charging out of the tunnel.

That didn't mean that she could recklessly charge under the dragon and stab it in its belly though.  Its tail was moving about and that thing could do some damage if she couldn't avoid it.  She glanced over to the other side where the main battle was occurring and saw that Cuddlington had managed to get out of the corner and was trying to fend off the dragon in front of Meentha and Melbrid.

She saw that they had broken off many of the scales around the dragon's head and neck and she was happy to see that they were making progress.  However, Rixi knew that the three of them wouldn't be able to hold the dragon off forever, so she had to hurry if she was going to have a positive effect on the outcome of this battle.

From behind the dragon, Rixi watched the tail and saw that it was moving predictably from side to side.  Once she had the pattern down, she moved into position just out of reach of the tail.  She watched it pass once, then twice, and then ran for the underside of the dragon.  After five or six steps, she spotted some gore left from the dragon slaughtering the orcs.  It was too late though and Rixi's right foot slipped in the gore and she fell.  Luckily, the dragon didn't seem to notice her fall, but Rixi's ankle was sprained.

She was about to stand when the dragon's tail whipped by and almost struck her in the head.  Rixi decided that it would probably be best if she crawled the rest of the way and carefully began crawling towards the underside of the dragon.  She nearly got slapped by the dragon's tail a couple of times, but after a few moments, she was between the monster's hind legs.

Rixi checked on the progress of the main battle.  She saw her three friends still standing, battling the dragon, but she also saw a whirling mass of air and dust and she remembered that Melbrid had a gem that could summon an air elemental.  Things must not be going well if he'd had to do that.  She must hurry to help her friends before they ran out of tricks.

Gingerly, Rixi stood up on her feet.  Her ankle was in pain, but she could walk on it.  She looked up to see the dragon's armored belly was right above her head.  The armor here wasn't as heavy as on its back and tail, but she couldn't puncture it with her short swords or daggers.  She drew her swords and cautiously approached the dragon's left hind leg.  She immediately saw the break in the armor that Cuddlington was talking about and studied it for a second.  She knew that once she stabbed the beast, it would know she was there and try to kill her.  That either meant that it would simply lie down and crush her, or that it would try to strike her with its tail.

She thought a moment to come up with an escape route when an idea popped into her head.  She smiled at the thought and steadied herself to stab into the dragon's leg.  Quickly, she plunged her swords into the dragon's tender flesh two times and jumped out from under the dragon.  She ignored the loud roar that the dragon let out and sheathed her swords.  She saw that the dragon's head turned towards her as she quickly climbed the dragon's leg and got onto its back.  She saw the dragon open its mouth wide to release its breath weapon.  Rixi was shocked and didn't think that the dragon would do that to itself.  Then she remembered something that her parents told her about dragons.  They were almost always immune to their own breath weapons.

She had to think quickly and saw the dragon's wings up ahead of her.  Her ankle was very painful, but she sprinted up to hide behind the wing as a gout of dragon fire reached her.  As she had hoped, the wing blocked the fire from hurting her.  The fire dissipated and she heard the dragon roar twice as loud as it had before.  She fought to hold on as the dragon turned its body and head around.  The head tried to reach her, but she was still protected by the wings from its gnashing mouth.

The dragon realized this pretty quickly and smiled wickedly at her as it said in the elven tongue, "I hope you can fly, elf."

Rixi didn't have long to wonder what that meant as the dragon jumped into the air and its wings started beating.  She had trouble holding on as the muscles underneath the armor she was holding on to moved more and more.  A few moments after the dragon started flying, her grip slipped and she desperately clung on with one hand.  She saw that the scale she was gripping was starting to lift up so she quickly grabbed a short sword from its sheath and stabbed it under the scale.  The dragon roared again and its left wing couldn't keep up with its right.

She smiled in triumph, but that smile was short lived as the scale that she was gripping slipped off of the dragon.  She began to fall, and saw that the dragon was struggling to keep its height itself.  Even though she knew that she was falling to her death, she smiled to herself, knowing that with the help she had given them, her friends would be able to defeat this dragon today.

Suddenly, her fall slowed to a stop and Rixi found herself floating about a foot above the ground.  She looked upwards to where her friends were standing and saw Melbrid smiling at her through a look of concentration.  Cuddlington yelled, "Get moving girlie or that dragon's gonna come down on top o' ye!"

Rixi got her feet on the ground and limped over behind Cuddlington.  She turned just in time to see the dragon come crashing to the ground.  A moment later, it tried to stand, but its left hind leg wouldn't support its weight.  It roared and reared its head in the group’s direction.  Cuddlington charged forward with a roar of his own and Meentha began to fire arrows into the bare spot of back where the scale that Rixi had torn loose had been.  Melbrid pulled out the dark death ray wand and pointed it at the dragon's head.  Rixi, a surge of pride and adrenaline rushing through her, pulled out her hand crossbow and began firing.

Melbrid yelled out, "Down, Cuddlington!"  The dwarf threw himself to the ground as Melbrid yelled out the trigger word for the wand.  The black ray of energy surged out of the wand and struck the dragon straight in the head.  The dragon let out a final roar as its head staggered, then fell to the ground.

Cuddlington stood up and turned to Melbrid.  "Nice shooting!" he shouted and let out a victory whoop.

Rixi put a hand on Melbrid's shoulder and smiled at him.  Meentha walked over and examined the dragon's body.  "It's still alive," she said.  "Barrely, but it’s still breathing."

Melbrid smiled back at Rixi before moving over to where Meentha was standing.  "Dragons are powerful creatures and this one is no exception.  I'm not terribly surprised that it survived a Death Ray.  It won't be awakening anytime soon to be sure.  We should get out of here before it does."  He turned away and took a couple of steps.

Cuddlington and Meentha looked at each other and Rixi noted a slight nod exchange between them.  Cuddlington said, "Not so fast there, Melbrid.  We need to finish off the dragon."

Melbrid turned back and said, "What?  We defeated the dragon.  We can move on without having to kill the creature."

Rixi saw Meentha and Cuddlington glance in her direction to see which side she was going to favor.  Rixi decided to keep quiet and see how this discussion unfolded before she would chime in.  Seeing as such, Cuddlington plodded on.  "Melbrid, this is a chromatic dragon.  Such creatures are widely known as incredibly evil beasts.  All they do is eat, sleep and pillage.  Do ye know what they eat, young sorcerer?"

Melbrid was obviously startled by Cuddlington's ferocity.  He meekly said, "No, not really."

Meentha took this opportunity to chime in and said, "Everrything.  Literrally everrything.  People, livestock, buildings, animals, trees.  They eat for days all the while looting whatever treasure they can get their claws on.  When they've built up a large pile of treasure they use slave labor to bring it back to their lair, and then eat the slaves.  After that, they sleep for a couple of hundred years and do it all again."

Cuddlington let out a short laugh that was anything but mirthful.  "Yer lucky if they sleep that long.  The young ones sleep for a year or two then do it all again.  Their period of sleep increases as they age."

Melbrid gulped and stared at the dragon.  Even though he was a smart man, he let his naiveté show through when he asked, "All dragons do that?"

Meentha and Cuddlington smiled.  The dwarf opened his mouth to speak, but Rixi beat him to it.  "No, my friend, not all dragons do that.  There are good dragons in the world and there are neutral dragons in the world, though those are rare.  The good dragons often hunt their evil cousins and keep the loot for themselves."

Cuddlington and Meentha looked startled and confused that Rixi knew that fact.  Rixi smiled at being able to show her older friends a bit of her knowledge and past.  "My parents helped fight the green dragon that terrorized Telquirk when the town was founded.  I asked that same question to my parents when I was young."

Rixi looked towards Melbrid and saw that he was struggling with the decision.  She moved over to him and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  "It's alright, Melbrid.  You don't even have to be around.  One of us will take care of it."

The sorcerer took one last look at the unconscious dragon and solemnly nodded.  He weakly smiled at Rixi and turned towards the tunnel and walked to it.  Rixi turned back and looked a question at Meentha and Cuddlington.  Without any hesitation, Meentha said, "I'll do it.  You two may head to the tunnel."

Cuddlington nodded at the ranger and took Rixi's arm and guided her to the tunnel.  As they walked, he quietly said, "Ye surprised me back there, young lass."

A smile as wide as Rixi's face showed as she said, "In a good way, I hope."

Cuddlington smiled too and said, "Yes, lass.  In a good way."

Rixi took a step through the door to the tunnel and was startled as the tunnel transformed from the tunnel they had come out of to the dining room of the mansion that they had met Yif in.  Melbrid was standing not far from where Rixi and Cuddlington came through.  Rixi turned around and looked through the doorway they had come through and only saw the room beyond.  "Where's Meentha?  What just happened?"

She recognized the sound of Yif's voice as he said, "She'll be along momentarily.  She just finished off the dragon for you all."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Story a Week 31 - Propheteering 13

 So apparently I posted this last night and didn't remember doing it and didn't put my normal heading paragraphs in.  Silly me. :)

Here's another segment of the Propheteering storyline.  It's a little shorter than the others in the series.  Next week, unless I have inspiration for a different story, I'm planning on posting the next part of this storyline.  Enjoy!


Cuddlington heard a very quiet scuffling sound behind him.  He whispered, "Rixi, is that you?  Where did ye go lass?"

He saw her finally when she turned towards him thanks to the light from the dragon's chamber.  Before he could say anything further, Melbrid said, "Where did you get that?  It's practically glowing with magical energy."

The dwarf couldn't see the item that the sorcerer was talking about.  Rixi said, "Um, I found it here.  One of the orcs must have dropped it."

Her friends all looked at each other doubtfully.  Cuddlington dismissed it all with a wave of his hand.  "We have bigger problems.  Did ye see what's waiting fer us out there, Rixi?"

Rixi gazed out at the dragon.  It seemed to be sleeping after it finished slaughtering the orcs.  She said, "Yes I did.  I think we can defeat the dragon."

Cuddlington closed his eyes and shook his head.  He was about to spout out a witty retort when he opened his eyes and noticed that he wasn't standing with his friends any longer.  He was still in a tunnel of some sort, but instead of unnaturally bright white light coming from behind him, it was instead a dim golden glow.

Startled and wary, Cuddlington turned towards the glow with a hand on his axe.  He was startled to see a dwarf sitting on a glowing golden throne.  He immediately knew that this must be Kilzan Thunderhammer, the god of all dwarves.  "My lord!" Cuddlington exclaimed as he dropped to one knee.

"Oh fer Ur's sake, rise," Kilzan replied.  He spoke in a voice that was at the same time booming and quietly reassuring to Cuddlington.

Cuddlington, uncertain of himself, rose and looked in Kilzan's direction.  The throne he was sitting on was very ornately decorated with some of the most well-known exploits of the god while he was a mortal during the Gods' War around 1400 years ago.  Kilzan was smiling down on Cuddlington as he said, "Yer in fer some rough times comin' up here, young 'un.  That Yif has some plans fer ye and yer friends, that's fer sure."

Cuddlington nodded, he said, "Yeah, that's what I figured.  He hasn't been hiding that."

Kilzan laughed heartily and stepped down from the throne and approached Cuddlington.  "He ain't exactly subtle, is he?"

Shaking his head, Cuddlington replied, "Nope.  Subtle as a battle axe."

The dwarven god laughed heartily again.  "Well, I can't tell ye fer sure what he has planned for ye, but I can help ye on yer way a bit.  For instance, I can tell ye that one of yer friends has gotten assistance like this."

Cuddlington wondered which of his friends he was talking about, but couldn't think about it long as Kilzan was still talking.  "Also, the dragon has a weakness.  If ye can hit it, there's a join in its armor where its legs meet its torso."

"That certainly will help," Cuddlington replied.  Something was puzzling him though and he said so, "I don't really understand why ye're helping me.  The Gods aren't known for their direct assistance to individual followers."

Kilzan put a hand on Cuddlington's shoulder.  "Ye're a little different, Cuddlington.  If I might be a little blunt, I also have plans for ye and I'd like to see ye survive this ordeal that Yif is putting ye through."  Kilzan's smile disappeared and was replaced by a solemn look.  "There's a lot of stuff brewing up right now, Cuddlington.  Storms, hurricanes and... beer!"

Kilzan laughed again and Cuddlington followed suit.  Kilzan slapped him on the back and said, "I really wish ye luck.  Ye're gonna need it."

There was a flash of light and Cuddlington found himself in the darkness of the tunnel outside the dragon's chamber.  He felt a little disoriented.

He was startled when Rixi said, "Cuddlington!  You had disappeared!"

Cuddlington turned to where his friends were standing near the opening to the dragon's chamber.  "Yeah, it was strange.  Kilzan Thunderhammer took me somewhere and told me about a weakness that the dragon has."

When he paused, Melbrid burst out, "Well, what is it?"

Suddenly, Cuddlington heard movement in the chamber.  He looked and saw the dragon looking directly towards them.  To him it seemed like he was staring straight into his soul.  A hiss from Meentha startled Cuddlington, "You fool!  You've woken the dragon!"

Cuddlington looked back at the dragon just in time to see the dragon open its maw to release its breath weapon.  "Look out!" Cuddlington yelled.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Return to Java

 If you read my blog, you'll know that I just started a new job last week.  The new job is using Java and I've spent the last week getting re-familiar with the language and tools.  It's been a week of reading a lot of text books and using Eclipse heavily for the first time in several years.

The first thing that I've noticed again is how versatile Java is.  This week, I've played with some server side code, technical layer type code (API to a database) and client side code (web servlets, okay, not really client side, but web side anyway).  I get more and more excited about using Java again every day, even every hour it seems sometimes.  I've already got big plans to build a game engine and other stuff like that using Java.

When I started with Wyde, I had those same big ideas, but it just wasn't viable with the tools available.  First, just to develop with the IDE, you need a license.  That's fine if I'm using my work laptop, but I don't think that Wyde would have liked me getting a limitless license on my personal computer.  Plus, I'd have to compile it down to C++ using Visual Studio, which I didn't have access to on my own PC.

Man, Java is so much easier.  The best IDE (Eclipse) is free.  Most of the other good tools and frameworks are free.  Google has server space for your apps that is free.  Once again, I can't state how exciting this is.

Now, don't get me wrong, working for Wyde was one of the best experiences in my life.  I learned a lot about projects, business, insurance and myself during my time there.  I know that I can lead teams, run and participate in projects and design components in a larger application.  All of that I learned at Wyde.  Even if my knowledge of Wyde's proprietary language isn't particularly useful, the technical, personal and management skills that I learned there are invaluable to growing my career.

I think that I'm getting a little off topic, so I'd like to conclude this post by giving you all a link to my AppSpot and saying that you should check back there often.  Right now it's just a little "Hello world" app, but soon it will be so much more.  I'm planning something big that I hope you all will enjoy.  I will, of course, keep updating my blog with updates to the app that I'm building, but more frequent updates will come from my Twitter or Facebook pages.