Short Story: Brownie takes on Tag-a-longs

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a short story featured on another blog last October.

Which was a lie… it was October 2017… because I can’t time well I guess.

Anyhoo, my lovely friend, Melanie, put together this month of creature features leading up to Halloween, and (because I’m a goon) I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share one of my favorite mythological creatures: the Brownie.

I’m relatively obsessed with mythology in general (sorting out Celtic/Irish/Germanic is an on-going battle since the Romans destroyed so much of those ancient cultures, grr), but for whatever reason, the creature that brings me the most joy is the British Brownie, which is somewhat adjacent to goblins or fairies (specifically house elves – think Dobby in Harry Potter).

But before I ramble on too much, here’s what happens when a brownie faces off against Girl Scouts…


Brownie takes on Tag-a-longs

Brownies are one of those few creatures that maintain a benevolent relationship with humans. They attach themselves to homes and to families and take pride in taking care of both. From cleaning to baking, Brownies take responsibility, so when someone or something invades their space, they tend to go a little crazy.

Enter Barry. Barry the Brownie has been with the same family for years, and nothing has ever swayed his confidence in them… until he returned from the grocery store one day to find a box of cookies sitting open on the counter.

As you can imagine, Barry struggled with this. His family didn’t buy cookies. He baked them. He’d always baked them. There was no need to buy pre-made pre-packaged cookies. So he set the bag of groceries down and picked up the box. At the top was the logo of his enemy: Girl Scouts. Every year, those little girls in their brown sashes and gappy smiles knocked on the door selling their blasphemous goods. Usually, Barry’s there to send them packing. But they must have come while he was out. Evil little demons.

He turned the red box over in his hands. Tagalongs. The box had already been opened, so someone in his family had already tasted non-Barry baked goods. Irritation reddened his cheeks as Barry pulled the plastic wrapped tin out. Three cookies were missing. Three! Who’d betrayed him? Was it Frank? Frank never appreciated the work Barry did. It was probably Frank.

Barry opened the trashcan to throw the box inside, but curiosity stopped him. Well it wasn’t so much curiosity as it was hubris. He needed to be 100% positive that his baking was superior, so he took out a Tagalong and bit into it.

The box dropped from his hand. The cookie was delicious. Peanut butter. Chocolate. A tiny touch of buttery shortbread cookie. It was perfect. And Barry hadn’t made them.

Panicked, Barry rushed to the cabinet and took out everything he though he would need – peanut butter, butter, flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate – and began experimenting. He started with the shortbread cookie because he knew shortbread. But once he had to turn his attention to the peanut butter filling, that’s when things took an unfortunate turn. Over and over again, he mixed peanut butter with powdered sugar, peanut butter with granulated sugar, peanut butter with brown sugar. Nothing worked. Through the French doors off the kitchen was the family office. Barry stared at the computer a moment, then shook his head. No. Brownies don’t use Pinterest. Only humans resort to Pinterest. So he tried the filing again, returning to the first mixture of peanut butter and powdered sugar, added a touch of vanilla extract. Closer.

He swiped some of the filling onto each of the cookies and began to melt some chocolate on the stove. When he took it off, he went to dunk his first cookie and the filling separated under the heat. Barry hadn’t ever been violent, but he wanted to throw the bowl of chocolate at the wall. He restrained himself, put the cookies into the freezer, and tried his best to calm his simmering temper. He failed.

For ten whole minutes, he sat on the floor in front of the freezer, glaring at it, cursing the box of Girl Scout cookies that still sat on the counter. When the filling was finally set up, he dunked each cookie in the melted chocolate and set them out to dry.

Have you ever watched chocolate set up? No? Well, it’s the baker’s equivalent of watching paint dry. It’s useless, nonsensical, and Barry did it anyway. All the while, the red Tagalong box mocked him in his peripherals.

He kept his hands away from the chocolate (he didn’t want fingerprints on the cookies). But the wait was excruciating. Were his cookies better than the Girl Scouts? Or would he need to hang up his Brownie apron forever? Barry didn’t know what he could do outside of being a Brownie. Taking care of his human family home was his pride and his joy. Stupid Girl Scouts. Stupid delicious Tagalongs.

With the chocolate coating finally set, Barry picked up one of his cookies and took a bite. It was delicious. The buttery shortbread. The sweet peanut butter. He’d out done those evil Girl Scouts. He just knew he had. Still, he took another Tagalong from the package and bit in.

And then he lost it. The Tagalong was still superior. Screw impulse control. Barry threw the box. It hit the wall and cookies went flying, littering the yellow paint with spots of brown chocolate. Barry flinched at the mess, then realized he didn’t need to clean it up. It was no longer his job to. His family had replaced him with pre-made, pre-packaged witchery. So the flour bag went flying. Then the sugar. The chocolate chips. The carton of eggs. Everything sitting on the counters – sans his cookies – got thrown into the air.

A gasp stopped his tirade. Rebecca, the mother of the family, stood at the edge of the kitchen, eyes darting around, trying to take in the mess. Barry straightened himself, fixing his plaid vest and retying his moss green bow tie.

“Barry?” was all Rebecca said, looking for an explanation.

Barry pointed at the Tagalong box near her feet.

She sighed, picked up the box, and walked it over to the trash. A weight lifted from Barry’s shoulders. Rebecca hadn’t even checked to see if any cookies remained. She then turned to the tray of Barry’s cookies on the island, grabbed one and popped it into her mouth.

Barry waited in anticipation. Regardless of being replaced, he still ached for his family’s approval.

“These are delicious,” she said after swallowing.

“Not as good as Girl Scouts,” Barry scoffed.

“Is that the reason for,” Rebecca motioned her hand toward the rest of the kitchen, “all of this?”

Barry nodded.

Rebecca shook her head but said nothing as she went to the closet and retrieved the broom.

“I guess I’ll get my things,” Barry said, defeated.

“Now why would you do that?”

“You’ve replaced me with Girl Scouts.”

Rebecca laughed.

“You think this is funny? I’m being serious. You don’t appreciate me.”

“Oh Barry,” she began, putting the broom down. “No box of cookies could ever replace you.”

“But I failed.”

“How?”

“My cookies. They’re no good.”

Rebecca took hold of Barry’s hands. “Okay. One: you know that’s not true. And two: you’re family. Anything you make will be better than something bought simply because you made it.” She let go and walked to the office. She lifted a wrapped box from her desk drawer and handed it to him. “I was going to wait to give this to you next week on your anniversary with us, but I think now is a good time.”

Barry – not wanting to destroy the wrapping paper – glided his finger beneath each of the tape pieces and unfolded the wrapping from the box. A new digital kitchen scale rested in his hands, capable of reading both grams and ounces.

“I noticed your old one was fritzing the other day and thought you’d appreciate a new one.”

“So you’re not trying to replace me?”

Rebecca shook her head. “Of course not. Like I said, you’re family.”

Barry clutched the scale to his chest. “I’m sorry about the mess.”

Rebecca shrugged. “I worried when my coworker gave me that box to bring home.”

“So you didn’t buy them?”

“Nope.”

Barry looked around at the mess he made. “Sorry.”

“I tell you what: I won’t bring outside cookies home again if you promise to not jump to conclusions. Deal?”

All Barry’d wanted was his human family’s appreciation. That stupid red box had just burrowed beneath his skin and discredited everything he’d ever done for them. He hadn’t slowed down long enough to even consider how those cookies got there. Brownies weren’t exactly known for their rationality. Still, Barry nodded and helped Rebecca clean up the kitchen.

Moral of the story: if you’re lucky enough to house a Brownie, don’t bring home baked goods… especially not Girl Scout cookies.


Thanks for reading!

– Bree

Theatre, adulting & other nonsense

So… I’ve been up to a few things since last we spoke, dear internet. Mostly good, a little bad, and a shit ton in-between. Questions is where to start? 

Let’s go with theatre. Three musicals, one play, a revue, a showcase, and a mini-concert for Pride racked up my evenings and weekends. I had the pleasure of acting alongside some incredible people while learning plenty of new skills in the process. 

The highlight? Playing Wednesday in the Addams Family Musical at the Postal Playhouse in Le Mars. Not only did I get to use my [vocal] belt in a musical for the first time, but I also obtained my first experience applying prosthetics. 

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Thirteen hand-made bald caps later, I couldn’t be prouder of that show, especially the cast. We had a lot of high school students in Addams, most notably the actors playing Pugsley and Uncle Fester (pictured above). Our stage manager and make-up assistant director were also both high schoolers and they carried themselves with so much maturity – just incredibly impressive. 

The mini-concert I put on for OC Pride was the other performance highlight for my year. I can’t begin to express how grateful I was for the opportunity to perform during this weekend celebration (clip of “Wish That You Were Here” by Florence and the Machine below). In my corner of the country, homophobia and general bigotry run pretty rampant, so the ability to celebrate love and gender representation with some of the most beautiful souls I’ve met was an absolute blessing I’ll cherish forever. 

Moving on… since ya know… I kinda abandoned y’all for a year. I began working full-time again. I was given the opportunity to write for a local paper. I’d forgotten how much I loved journalism. Everyone has a story to tell and getting to tell those local stories was an utter joy. I’ll link some of my favorite assignments below. 

One million and counting

King says goodbye to LPD

Fire chief takes mental health program on the road

I have since been offered a job at another company doing more administrative work (journalism pays pennies). It’s been a better transition for the puppy. 

This past year has also seen a fair amount of travel. Two anime cons and one writers’ workshop and your girl is exhausted. I love cosplaying and fangirling as much as the next nerdfighter but I’m tapping out at four cosplay creations between Katsucon and Anime Midwest. Though I’m not gonna lie, cosplaying Aziraphale from Good Omens with my best friend as Crowley was definitely the highlight of my year. 

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And I launched a podcast! Today. My bestie, Melanie, and I launched “The Shiny Squirrel Podcast” today, July 15! Season 1, episode 1, can be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Podbean. We’ve also released an off-topic pod (normally accessible on our Patreon during the off-season) and an Anime Midwest special episode to celebrate the launch. 

Last but not least, I’ve kept writing (do I even have the option of quitting at this point?). I finished book one of the Aeon series [adult edit] earlier this year and sent it to beta readers. Now, I’m polishing the beastie for querying later this fall. I’ll have to do a complete separate post on this project’s evolution because otherwise you’ll be reading a novella-length blog post. 

Along with the novel, one short story was featured last October in another blogger’s Halloween series, and I’ve since applied for one anthology and plan to apply for another this week. I’m only mildly terrified, guys. Okay, super terrified but whatever. 

So what have y’all been up to? Hope 2019 is treating you well despite the psychotic political climate the US of A has managed to contort itself into. 

Much love!
Bree

 

Loving your story through rejection

 

Hi all. So I’ve been querying for quite some time, and safe to say, it is not going well. I had one spark of optimism during PitMad when my dream agent liked my pitch… yeah, that didn’t go anywhere.

But I’m not going to lie, querying has been this long roller coaster of dread, doubt and despair. Yay, alliteration.

As the rejections keep piling up, it gets harder and harder to stay motivated to keep chasing this dream, or to even think that I’m even worth achieving the dream. Cue tears. So I’m trying desperately to keep writing, keep pushing forward, and most importantly, keep loving my stories.

Because here’s the thing: If you don’t love your stories, who else will? GUARDED (the book I’m querying) means the world to me. Writing that story made me feel like my PTSD had a purpose, like there was a reason I went through that trauma. The MC Kjersten took on my MH struggles and was able to learn how to cope with them to create meaningful relationships with people, something I can only dream of one day being able to accomplish.

Somewhere along the lines, I’d forgotten these things because the rejections convinced me that the story was worthless, which in a roundabout way, meant that my trauma was meaningless, which of course lead down a deep, dark rabbit hole of awful. Woo!

Luckily, I have a brilliant friend who entertains my rants regarding what the industry deems “sellable.” Because that’s legitimately what publishing comes down to. You could do everything right. You could go to the conferences, take the webinars, take part in critique groups, enlist beta readers, and revise, revise, revise. But at the end of it, if whomever you’re querying doesn’t believe your story is sellable, it’s a rejection. Plain and effin simple.

That’s not a reflection on your writing or your story. And as difficult as it is to accept that – because believe me, I know that struggle – you can’t let those rejections tarnish your love for that story or how important that story is to you.

Wishing you the best,
B

An Update on Life, Writing, and What’s Next

Hey all,

So it’s been a couple months since I last checked in, and quite a bit has happened. I finished the latest version of GUARDED (book 1 in my YA series), went to NerdCon: Stories, and I was cast in a musical.

But here’s the thing about suddenly doing all the things after months of simply surviving: constantly attempting to be a “real person” exhausts you to the point that there’s very little energy to overcome those pesky PTSD symptoms. Which is why I fell off the blog bandwagon… again.

Recovery. It’s a slow process.

There is good news in all this though. I’m really, truly, only a round of revision plus polish away from sending queries out into the universe. It’s terrifying and exciting to finally be at this point. Especially after not being able to even look at the manuscript for so much of this year.

I promise I’ll do a whole post unpacking the phenomenal awesomeness that was NerdCon: Stories. I’m still recovering from all the socializing that was involved. Despite how exhausting it was, I’m beyond happy that I went. All the panels and talks were brilliant, I really hope they’ll do another one in 2017.

As for the future, I go to Chicago this week to meet up with a friend from Maryland for a Girls’ Weekend. I adore Chicago. It’s one of my two favorite cities. The other being Baltimore. Fantastic city plus fantastic friend. Should be a fantastic weekend. 🙂

Then there’s November right around the corner, which means National Novel Writing Month. Despite all the goings-on of this year, I am still planning on participating. And when I come back from Chicago, I’ll post what project I plan on tackling.

Hope everything is well with you all!

Bree

Community: Why it’s important for writers.

Writers. The majority of us tend to swing toward the introverted side of the social pendulum, myself included. If I spend too much time in a social setting, my energy reserves fall into the red.

But as exhausting as some social encounters are, I do think it’s important for us to get out of our own heads and here’s why:

Reason #1 – Your health.

I touched on this last week, but burning the candle at both ends = not a good idea.

As creative’s, we spend HOURS buried beneath our projects. From our characters and plot to the writing itself, we obsess over each sentence, paragraph and page. Being devoted to your work is awesome but you need to remember to take care of you! I’m speaking from experience on this one. I will push until I can’t push any more and I’m left with a migraine the size of the Pacific Ocean, pounding against my skull like tidal waves crashing to shore. My lovely business partner, Sookie, was a kind enough friend to tell me to stop being stupid and curl up with my dog and take a break! If not for her, I would have kept working through it, worse for wear, and our April Edition of our digital magazine, Today’s Man, probably would not have turned out as nice as it did.

If you’d like to see our hard work, check it out here. It’s free!

Reason #2 – The work will be better for it.

So yes, in order to have a clean, brilliant piece of work, you have to put in the effort to make it so. This is an undeniable fact. However, if during that time, you’re groggy or you’ve stared at the work so long the letters just look like shapes, you are going to miss some things. My YA Fantasy series’ first novel is currently with beta readers after I had spent two months just hacking away at it. Don’t get me wrong, I made a LOT of headway with those revision. However, I started rereading it last week (because I’m a glutton for punishment) and already have a laundry list of new revisions to make. Without that break, those issues would have gone overlooked.

Reason #3 – Your sanity.

For me personally, especially in the stage that I am in now, this is the No. 1 reason I need a writing community. A couple weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to have my query letter critiqued by Danielle Barthel of New Leaf Literary.

I received this opportunity by participating in Writers For Hope, an annual online auction, whose proceeds support RAINN, a campaign to fight sexual violence. Every ten dollars helps a victim of sexual violence, so if you can give, RAINN is an incredible cause! You can find out more about RAINN here.

I cannot express how thankful I am for Danielle’s notes. They were everything I had hoped they would be – helpful, encouraging and gave me insight into how I needed to clarify certain things to make my pitch as strong as possible! And on top of all that, she sent me the critique within two weeks! But that incredibly quick turn around didn’t keep me from itching with anticipation. If it weren’t for my CP’s Lynanne, Chelsea and Hanna, I would have surely gone mad (in the Hatter way, not the Hulk way). So if for any other reason, you should surround yourself with a community of writers to help keep you sane throughout the submission process.

Reason #4 – Did I mention that the work will be better?

A few posts ago, I talked about the importance of finding a writing buddy. I bring it up again because YOU SHOULD REALLY HAVE A WRITING BUDDY! Seriously, along with the sanity bit, since I found my writing community, my writing truly has improved . . . exponentially in fact. I still have issues with gerunds, but hey, that’s what revision is for.

On Friday, I celebrated [one of] my critique group’s fifth anniversary. The anniversary was so much fun. We talked about writerly things and caught up with each others lives. It also reminded me of how much I’ve grown since I joined a little over a year ago and how excited I am for my [hopeful] continued growth, personally and professionally.

Moral of all this, even though you could hold up in your laptop all by your lonesome, slaving away on your WIP, should you? Even if you’re super anti-social, I think finding a community, even an online one, is worth the additional effort. You’re way more likely to get a return on your investment than not.

Happy writing!