The Complete Guide to Creating Quality Photostories

I think my blog is best known for its photostories, and I guess having won Doll Mag’s “Best Posts From a Doll’s Perspective” award in 2015, and “Best Photo Stories” in the 2016 Paisley Awards proves it. So I’m compiling my (almost) five years of knowledge on writing photostories to help you make yours the best they can be.

A photostory is a short story where the writing is broken up by pictures of your dolls. Mine are usually between 1000-2000 words, but of course yours don’t have to be nearly that long. There’s no set length for a photostory. It can be as long or as short as you need to get through the plot.

There are also photostory series, which take a lot more effort, time, and planning than your basic photostory. Series have the plot spread out through multiple installments. My longest photostory series was The BFF Wars, which had thirteen segments, plus two half parts.

When planning a photostory, the first thing I do is pick which doll will be the main character. Who I choose is influenced by several different factors, such as the type of story I want to tell, which doll hasn’t been featured lately, the doll’s personality, etc.

For example, let’s pretend that I want to do a photostory set at the beach. Whoever stars in the story will determine where it goes from there. If I picked Caroline, who has a motherly, compassionate personality, the story might involve her forcing sunscreen on her sisters or helping them out of stupid situations they got themselves in. With inquisitive Ellie as the main character, the focus would be on her discovering a new species of fish while studying tide pools. Or if it was told from fantasy-loving Parker’s point of view, it would be about her search for mermaids and sea monsters.

Which leads me to my next tip: make sure your dolls have well-developed personalities. When each doll has set hobbies and traits, it makes it easier to write from their perspective and have them interact with other characters. You wouldn’t want to read a book where the MC is flat and boring, so make sure your photostories aren’t like that.

As someone who’s loved writing since third grade, I know just how hard it can be to come up with exciting, unique characters. And whenever I get a new doll, I struggle with making her have her own personality instead of being a copy. To help you flesh out who your dolls are, find a simple questionnaire. Google “character questionnaire,” find one that you like, and fill out the information for your doll.

Now that you’ve picked a doll and given her an engaging personality, the next step is to create a plot.

The way I come up with plots is by picking something that the MC is passionate about. For example, Parker is interested in the paranormal, so I made two photostories from her point of view about a haunted house and an all-knowing magic eight ball. Then I come up with a dilemma for her to face, like when Ellie was worried about being on the naughty list in my 2017 Christmas special. From there, the rest of the story is usually about the MC trying to solve the problem.

In need of inspiration? Read through my photostories by clicking here. Maybe something will spark your creativity!

Now you have two options: write out your story or take the pictures for it. There’s no right next step, it’s really just a matter of preference. Personally, I take the pictures first, because I usually continue to develop the plot while photographing. And I find it easier to write when I already have my pictures to go off of.

But you should do what you want! This is a creative process and I don’t want to tell you exactly what to do. In fact, this whole guide is just suggestions, and if something doesn’t work for you, then go ahead and ignore it.

It doesn’t matter if you decide to write or photograph first; the story part of a photostory is inevitable. Some of you might love writing, and you won’t need any advice on it. But there are others who want to make photostories, but are hesitant because writing isn’t a strength of theirs.

I can’t teach you how to write, but I can offer a few simple tips.

Make sure you use proper grammar! Please read over your story a few times before you publish it to catch those grammar mistakes. Sometimes previewing it can help you spot them, because having your writing in a different font can make them stand out. Or get a friend/parent/guardian to look over it for you.

– Nothing is more confusing than switching perspectives, so pick a point of view and stick to it. I almost always write my photostories in first person (I/my), but you can also do third (she/her) or second (you/your). If you’re doing first person POV, you could try changing who’s telling it (i.e. going from Molly being “I” to Emily), but if you do that, make sure it’s obvious when the shift happens. Try adding a heading at the start of the paragraph with the new character’s name.

– Look up synonyms on Thesaurus. Use varied sentence lengths. Describe the setting and characters, even though the pictures will convey that, too. Keep in mind that your photos shouldn’t altogether replace parts of your writing, they’re just there to enhance the story. Do whatever you can to keep your writing interesting.

You might not be the best writer ever, but don’t let any fear or doubt keep you from sharing your photostory. Don’t compare yourself to others, and if you’re proud of what you’ve created, then it’s good enough.

If you’re a doll blogger, then you probably have some experience with photographing your dolls. Photo shoots just come with the territory. But taking pictures for a photostory is slightly different, as it focuses less on beauty and more on moving your story along. Try taking more dynamic photos that give the idea of motion. And if it fits your story, use lots of props to fill in the frame.

If you wrote the story first, you can pick sentences to base your photos on. It gives you a guide for what you need to photograph.

One problem I run into when making paranormal/fantasy photostories is not being able to show magic in my pictures. You know, like being able to shoot fire out of your hands, or having a magical item give off a mysterious glow. You can experiment with light all you want, but I’ve found that the most practical way around this is just editing the pictures afterwards.

Say you’re trying to edit a fairy into one of your photographs. Your best bet is to find free clip art with a transparent background, save it to your computer, then upload the clip art and your photo into Canva. If anyone attempts that and can’t figure out how to make it work, I’d be happy to share a more thorough walk-through.

Here’s a tip: if you’re photographing outside, gather your dolls and props and put them in a tote bag or sturdy cardboard box. Whenever you move locations, just stick all your stuff inside so you don’t have to make lots of trips back and forth with your arms full of dolls.

Once you’ve got all your writing and photographs formatted the way you want, preview the post and check for errors. If everything looks good, then congratulations, it’s time to publish your photostory and share your creative efforts with the world!

Photostories can be extremely time-consuming, but they’re rewarding, a favorite of readers, and so worth it.

If you follow this guide and post a photostory, feel free to drop a link to it so I can check out your hard work!



Three Friends in Search of a Skate Ramp at a Yard Sale Find Something Better | Photostory

I am out of bed at an ungodly hour in the morning, shuffling down the road with my hands stuffed in my sweatshirt pockets. Eve’s friend at the skate shop texted her earlier about a skate ramp at a yard sale, and she convinced me to go looking for it with her. Caroline sent Nevaeh with us because she doesn’t trust us together.

Jogging after Eve on her skateboard, we cruise down the street past flourishing flower beds and kids playing basketball in their driveways. The chill of the 8 a.m. air makes my legs prickle.

“Almost there,” Eve tells us, swerving lazily around rocks.

“This is the one?” I ask as we slow down in front of a sign advertising clothes, dishes, sports gear, etc.

Eve glances down at her phone, checking the address. “Yep.” She jams it into her back pocket and glides into the driveway. Nevaeh and I trail after her.

I haven’t been to many yard sales in my life, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect. I’d much rather sleep in on weekends than spend my morning digging through other peoples’ stained, mothball-scented junk. But who knows, maybe I’ll find something that makes up for my missing hours of sleep.

The yard sale has already attracted a small crowd. A young woman is rifling through the clothes while a child digs through a box of dolls. A middle aged lady in a bathrobe, probably the person in charge of the sale, sits in a chair and idly sips her coffee while staring at something in the distance. She looks like she’s still half asleep. I bet Eve could pick up the skate ramp and carry it away without paying and the woman wouldn’t even blink.

“There it is!” Eve exclaims, pointing at a scuffed ramp beside one of the tables. We hurry over to get a closer look. Nevaeh drifts off along the way to examine a handmade tea set.

“Pretty nice,” I say, nodding and pretending I know things about skateboarding. “It’ll be cool to have your own ramp so you can practice tricks at home. That way you won’t make a fool of yourself trying something new at the skate park. You know, like you’ve been doing.”

Eve rolls her eyes. “Nice try, Parker. I’ve never made a fool of myself. Ever.” She tucks her board under her arm and heads over to purchase the ramp from the bathrobe-clad woman.

I join my other sister by the table. She’s moved on from the tea set and is now checking the price of a cactus in a terracotta pot. Piled precariously on the overflowing table is a rusty watering can, a dented bike helmet, and a box of wrinkled magazines, but what catches my eye is a tray of cheap toys. I prod at the little plastic figurines with my finger. In the back, half covered by a mini telescope, is a black orange-sized ball. I scoop it up; it’s smooth against my palm.

“Hey, Nevaeh.” My empty hand fumbles to the right and tugs on the strap of her sparkly gold purse. “Look at this. A magic eight ball.”

“Oh?” She sets down the plant and peeks over my shoulder. “Those things are fake, Parker. It’s just coincidence if it’s right.”

“No way. I’ll believe anything a magic eight ball tells me. They know. It’s right in the name, see? Magic eight ball.”

“I’m just saying –“

“Magic, Nevaeh!” When she scowls, I hold it out between us and suggest, “Let’s ask it some questions. To prove to you that it really works.” Shaking it up and down, I say dramatically, “Magic eight ball, is Nevaeh sick?”

I peer anxiously at the window in the ball as the octahedron rattles around inside. Despite not believing in it, Nevaeh is holding her breath, too. The ball settles on maybe.

“I’m not si –” Her protest is cut off by a violent coughing fit.

“Amazing!” I yell, giving the magic eight ball a quick kiss. “Nevaeh, we need to get you to a hospital right away. You could be dying.”

I take her by the hand and haul her to the edge of the driveway. She’s still hacking away into her elbow and looking thoroughly embarrassed when the woman in the fluorescent robe calls after us with a scratchy voice. “Hey! Are you kids going to pay for that?”

Something flutters around uncomfortably in my stomach. I almost stole something. Sure, it was an accident, and for a good cause, but it would’ve made me a criminal. “I don’t have any money,” I whisper to Nevaeh as we slink over to the woman.

“It’s OK,” she promises, and wheezes again. “I’ll pay for it. I have money from babysitting.” She fishes her floral wallet out of her purse and hands over two dollars. “Thank you, ma’am, have a nice day,” she mumbles to her feet.

The woman grunts and takes a long sip from her coffee.

I grab Nevaeh’s shoulder and guide her back to the road. “So. Hospital?”

She isn’t one to fight too much. I can tell that she still thinks her coughing fit is a coincidence, but she goes along with it anyway. “Um, sure. Go tell Eve, please?”

I jog over to where Eve is admiring her new skateboard ramp. She’s running her fingers lovingly over the scratched surface of it.

“Hey, Eve, check it out. Nevaeh bought me this super cool magic eight ball. I know it works because I asked if Nevaeh was sick and she started coughing a ton — like, wow, a ton — and now I’m going to walk her to the hospital or something. Isn’t that neat?”

A crease appears between her eyebrows as she takes in everything I said. After a moment, she glances at something behind me and says, “Nevaeh looks alright to me.”

I sigh. “Yeah, sure, but I swear it works. Watch this.” I pump it up and down again and ask, “Magic eight ball, will Eve fall the next time she rides her skateboard?”

Most likely, it announces.

“Yeah, right,” Eve huffs, stepping onto her sticker-covered board. “I’ve been skating since I was twelve.” She makes to push off, but the second her sneaker leaves the ground, the skateboard shoots out from under her and she’s lying on her back, groaning.

“What did I tell you?” I grin down at her smugly. As an afterthought, I add, “Oh, and are you alright?”

She touches her arm gingerly. Flecks of blood and asphalt stick to her fingers. “OK, so maybe it works,” she growls.

Nevaeh is at Eve’s side a moment later. “What happened?” she gasps, helping Eve to her feet.

“The magic eight ball was right again,” I explain.

“Maybe you should get rid of that thing,” Nevaeh suggests nervously, wringing the hem of her sundress. “I still don’t really believe in it, but . . . I don’t know, it seems dangerous.”

I laugh, tossing the ball from hand to hand. “Get rid of it? Nah, I could predict the future with this thing! Plus, you’ve already payed for it, so . . .”

We both turn to stare at Eve, who shrugs and starts texting. “I don’t care either way.” Her phone dings with an incoming message. “The guy who told me about this yard sale is going to help get the ramp home. We need to stay put for awhile until he gets here with his truck.” She plops down on her skateboard and keeps messing with her phone.

Fifteen minutes later, Eve’s friend, a shaggy-haired, tattooed boy, shows up in a graffitied truck. Eve and I help him lift the ramp into the back. He says he has extra seats and offers to drive two of us home, so Nevaeh and Eve cram in beside him. Pop music blares from the radio as they drive off.

I walk home by myself, rolling the magic eight ball around in my hands. I love this kind of magic, but deep down, I secretly agree with Nevaeh. Her coughing fit and Eve’s fall were probably just coincidence. But part of me wonders if there’s more to it than that, if there’s something else going on. If it really is magic.

I tilt my head back, letting the morning sunshine warm my face. There are clear blue skies as far as the eye can see.

“Magic eight ball, will it storm today?”

Off in the distance, there’s a roll of thunder. I shiver despite the heat.

The BFF Tag With Saige & Isabelle

I adjust the camera on the tripod, hit the record button, and dash back to resume my casual position on the bed. The clicking sound of the camera’s shutters tells me that it’s started filming.

“Hey, darlings! It’s Saige Copeland,” I chirp, shooting the video camera a winning smile that would put any Hollywood star to shame.

Today, my crazy schedule has a rare blank space: no parties, no dates, no riding competitions, just a blissfully boring day to relax. I’ve decided to spend it creating content for my popular YouTube channel, SaigeVlogs.

“My favorite person in the world, Isabelle Palmer from IzzySquizzy, is joining me for the BFF Tag! And by the way . . .” I trail off, biting my lip. My lip gloss tastes like bubblegum. “Being in the spotlight makes her nervous sometimes, so be nice in the comments, mkay?” I give the camera a determined, no-nonsense look. “If I see any hate, that user is getting b-l-o-c-k-e-d.”

The first time Izzy agreed to make a video with me, someone had made fun of her outfit, saying she looked like a kindergartener. Pictures went viral, and she’s been reluctant to appear on my channel ever since. I’ve vowed to do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again, even if that means scrolling through every single response and deleting any hurtful ones.

“Izzy!” I call, waving her into the room. “Say hi to my fans.”

Hesitantly, she walks into view and introduces herself to the camera.

“Move the sign and take a seat,” I instruct, gesturing at the chalkboard I use to announce all my videos. “And, babe, you look adorable today.”

She blushes as she puts the sign on the floor, her hazel eyes scrunching up happily. “What’s the BFF Tag?” she asks, curling up on the bed with me and wiggling her toes nervously.

“It’s simple,” I begin, more for the audience’s benefit than hers. “You read some questions about our friendship from the laptop, and we answer them together. Ready?”

She nods, balancing the computer on her leg. “OK, number one . . . ‘How did you first meet?'”

I grin at her, recalling one of the most bittersweet days of my life. “It’s a funny story, actually. Our mom announced that she was adopting a girl, and everyone was super excited, except me. I already had four sisters, I didn’t want another one! Then Mom got back from D.C. with this girl in the backseat . . .”

Izzy takes over. “Saige was kind of a brat, honestly. No offense!” she exclaims, holding up her hands defensively when I stick my tongue out at her. “There was a welcome party for me with presents and everything, and Saige was off in the corner huffing and rolling her eyes.”

“We had a rivalry for awhile, since both of us are into fashion. I wanted to be the best dressed, and so did she. It was ridiculously dumb, but eventually we figured out how similar we are and became best friends.”

“I’m so, so glad we got over that,” Izzy murmurs under her breath, and I nod.

Thinking about how petty and childish we had been makes my stomach hurt. Over her shoulder, I read, “Next: ‘Do you have nicknames for each other?'”

“Of course! Saige’s is Red Riding Hood, because of all her red hair,” Izzy says.

I tug on one of my braids, showing off my silky locks. My unique hair color has always been a source of pride for me. “And Izzy’s is Sleeping Beauty,” I add. “It’s her dream ballet role, and if no one wakes her up, she’ll sleep all day!”

The next question is “Who is her favorite singer?”

“Hey Violet!” we chorus as I whip out my phone and start playing music. We belt the lyrics to O.D.D. together — “I’m the girl in the back of the class, pink hair but I’m wearing all black.”— while Izzy flips around her magenta hair extensions.

“‘What’s her favorite color?”

Another easy one. “You love gold, which your eyeshadow makes pretty obvious,” I point out, and she flutters her eyes, showing off the sparkly makeup.

“You know it,” she smiles. “Your favorites are the primary colors, right? Because you’re an artist.” She says the last word in an exaggerated French accent. I can feel her relaxing and acting sillier as we go on, and it makes me happy.

#5: How long does it take for her to get ready in the morning?

I grin smugly. “Well, I’m smart enough to pick my outfit the night before, so not that long. Izzy, on the other hand . . .” I shrug, like What can you do? “Her room constantly looks like a tornado went through there. One time I found a discarded T-shirt caught in the fan.”

“Fine, but at least I don’t spend twenty minutes doing my makeup.”

“That’s because you do a simple look, and I go all out,” I object, crossing my arms. “Remember the first day of school? My eyeshadow was the school colors. It looked amazing, admit it.”

She rolls her eyes. That’s fine; I know I did an incredible job. My back-to-school picture on Instagram had gotten thousands of likes.

#6: What’s her dream job?

“Oh, we’ve had this planned forever,” Isabelle gushes, and we share a knowing look that’s full of excitement for the future. “We’re going to move to New York so I can join the NYC Ballet, and she can find a modeling agency. We’ll have a cute apartment and go to Fashion Week together every year.”

#7: What’s your favorite memory together?

We burst into laughter, so hard that we can’t manage any words. It’s such a wild story. Catching myself before I snort on camera, I wipe joyous tears from my eyes and recall that fateful day in the summer of 2015.

“Izzy and I were hanging out with our sister Savannah when she suggested we become spies,” I begin. “So we made up a group called the TSO.”

“Tween Spy Organization,” my best friend clarifies helpfully.

“Right. So we got dressed up in tight black clothes and snuck through the house, taking pictures of anything suspicious. Later, we confronted our family about their weird behavior, but it turned out they all had excuses, and we had just jumped to conclusions.”

Thoughtfully, Izzy adds, “We seem to do that a lot.”

#8: What’s always in her bag?

Izzy claps her hands together cheerfully. “Oh, I know this one!” she exclaims. Springing eagerly off the bed, she rushes off to find our purses.

I call after her teasingly, “I hope you know what’s in there — you’d better, after all the times you’ve snooped through it trying to steal my phone.”

Skipping back into the room, she gives me a guilty smile. “Oops?”

Our favorite bags are tossed onto the bed: mine from New Mexico, decorated with a traditional Navajo pattern; and hers, glittery, gold, and modern.

Counting on her manicured fingers, Izzy lists my necessities. “Well, you always have your mini art kit, with the watercolors and tiny little paintbrush. And some emergency makeup, plus that teeny tripod for your phone in case there’s a vlogging opportunity.” She shoots me a wondering look, silently asking if she’s named everything. And of course she has.

Now it’s my turn. Izzy tends to space out a lot, which means she’ll sometimes stuff things in her purse without realizing it. It’s crammed with candy wrappers and hair ties and notes I’ve slipped to her during class, but I know I’m supposed to guess the things she carries around purposefully. “Your Metro Card, those disgusting fruit snacks you’re addicted to —“


“— and you always seem to have gift cards with you. Where do you get those?”

“I’ll never tell,” she smirks, and winks.

#9: What’s her favorite sport?

When Izzy doubles over, giggling, I brace myself for what comes next: “The only sports you do are Netflix marathons.”

I roll my eyes. “I exercise,” I protest. “Sometimes while I’m binge watching Stranger Things. It’s called multitasking.”

She doesn’t, Izzy mouths at the camera. I knock my sock-clad feet against hers, like Shut up!

“I’m actually an athlete,” she announces. There’s a proud glow on her cheeks. “I do ballet. And anyone who says it’s not a real sport is just jealous.”

“OK, Izzy, last question,” I say, peering at the laptop screen. “You ready?” After she nods yes, I read aloud, “‘What do you like most about her?’”

“Oh, that’s a hard one!” she gasps. She knits her eyebrows together as she considers it. “But, hmm, I think . . . I like everything about Saige. That’s my answer.”

I feel my cheeks start to grow hot, so I clamp my hand over my mouth, as if that’s going to hide it. “I love how sweet you are,” I manage to croak out from between my fingers. “Just like that.”

Recovering myself, I throw my arm around Izzy’s shoulders, and we beam at the camera. “Thanks for joining us! Make sure to check out my BFF’s channel, IzzySquizzy, and like, comment, and subscribe. Stay fabulous!”

Catching Claus | Christmas Special

I strain my ears in the darkness, hoping to hear the jingles and clops of reindeer landing on the roof. It’s one in the morning on Christmas day and Santa Claus has not visited my house yet. I’m beginning to get nervous.

I’m not worried about Santa’s well-being, in case anyone’s wondering. No, I’m nervous because if he doesn’t show, all my preparing and scheming will have been in vain.

I snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag, gazing at the tree through half-closed eyelids. The lights wink at me from between the branches. Rotating slowly, glittery ornaments throw bits of colored radiance around the living room. Humming a carol to myself, I resolve to stay awake until Santa arrives. My plan won’t work unless I am ready to move when he gets here.

On Christmas Eve, before camping out in front of the tree, I left some nasty gifts for Santa around the house. Several drops of sleeping potion lurk in the milk set out for him, powerful enough to make a man drowsy in less than a minute. Jacks are scattered across the carpet, their sharp tips yearning for an unsuspecting foot. And, finally, a snare attached to the rafters. Step in it, and you’ll be jerked off the ground, dangling upside down from the ceiling.

Listen, I’m a good kid. Look on the Nice List and you’ll find my name, Elise Larkin, right at the top. That’s how it’s been in the past, anyway. But I’m afraid that I might have become naughty this year, thanks to a haywire science experiment that ended up killing several butterflies in cold blood. There’s no way I’ll be getting presents this Christmas after committing such a serious offense.

So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands.

After staring absently at the star topper for what must have been hours, something upsets the gentle stillness of the night. The pitter-patter of tiny objects falling, the sound of crusty ash raining from the chimney as someone wiggles their way down.

Santa is here. The fun can begin.

Slowing my breathing to a steady pace, I pretend to be asleep. Through one open eye, I watch silently as a large man creeps into the room. The front of his bulging scarlet jacket is streaked with soot from the fireplace. He notices the traps laid out on the floor — in plain sight, I realize, too late. Carefully, he tiptoes between them, lugging a giant sack behind him.

Santa reaches the table where the gingerbread cookies and poisoned milk are on display without accident. Grabbing an iced cookie with callused fingers, he takes a big bite, spewing dark crumbs onto his snowy beard. Once the gingerbread is all gone, he hungrily snatches up the cup of drugged milk and chugs it down.

Refreshed, he gets down to business, extracting trinkets from his voluminous sack and tucking them into the lined up stockings. There are stuffed animals and candy canes and plastic toys and other wonders that cause my young heart to fill with glee.

As Santa moves toward the sparkling Christmas tree, he suddenly pauses and presses a hand to his great belly, the other on his head. Behind his circular glasses, his eyes flash with discomfort. My sleeping potion is doing its job.

Santa stumbles back, so dizzy that he can barely control where his body goes. Unable to avoid my traps this time, he slips on the jacks, yelping. Then, pitching forward, his thick black boot gets caught in the snare. With another holler, he’s swept off his feet. My prize — his sack — waits for me just out of his reach.

I spring out of my sleeping bag and lunge for the bag. Giving Father Christmas an innocent smile, I drag it over to the tree and dig in. Presents done up in festive paper and shiny bows stack up around me.

It seems like Santa is trying to tell me something, but his words, muffled by his beard and slurred from the potion, are impossible to make out.

I give him a cheery wave before turning back to the gifts. Counting them in my head, I quickly realize that there aren’t enough for me and all of my sisters. This just won’t do.

I march over the Santa and jab at his stomach. “Hi, Mr. Claus, I’m Ellie. Big fan of yours,” I say sweetly, tugging on my braids. “So I was wondering, do you think you could get a few more presents for my family? Christmas will be just awful if we don’t all get something.”

Hanging by his ankle, he spins in slow circles. Sometimes I’m speaking to his face, then to his back. It’s rather disorienting.

“Naughty!” he sputters from beneath his beard. Then he promptly falls asleep.

As he twirls upside down in lazy circles, something wriggles out from under his belt and thunks against the carpet. It’s a phone with a tacky case.

I frown at it. Who would Mr. Claus ever need to call?

Ah. I scoop it off the ground and scroll through his contacts until I find what I’m looking for.

Calling Mrs. Claus . . .

In the North Pole, a high-pitched elf exclaims, “Mrs. Claus, Mrs. Claus!” Lilliputian feet scuttle across the kitchen and the elf holds up a phone, from which “Jingle Bells” is playing. “Call from Santa,” the elf explains, offering the device to the rosy-cheeked woman.

“Hello, dear!” Mrs. Claus chirps into the phone, setting down a tray of hot cookies. “I’ve baked some treats for you, whenever you get home. Gingerbread, your favorite.”

“This isn’t your husband,” I tell her coolly. Keeping the thrill of talking to Santa’s wife out of my voice is a struggle. “I have him tied up and I’m keeping him for ransom. If you want to get your dear Saint Nick back, fill a sleigh with as many presents as will fit and deliver them to my house before morning.”

I end the call.

Tucking the phone back into Santa’s belt, I imagine what must be going on in the North Pole right now. Mrs. Claus is pacing the reindeer stables, observing the elves as they load a spare sleigh with gifts for me. She has a soft hand pressed to her mouth, chewing on her nails as she worries about her husband.

Once the sleigh is stuffed, she climbs in and the reindeer take to the sky.

An hour later, I hear scuffling on the roof again. Down the chimney comes Mrs. Claus. She gasps when she spots her husband ensnared in my trap. Crying, she slashes the rope and catches him in her trembling arms.

“Will the elves be bringing down the presents?” It may sound like a question, but it’s really a demand, and Mrs. Claus knows it.

She nods weakly, cradling a drowsy Santa against her chest. “You naughty girl,” she spits at me. “I’ll see that you get coal the rest of your life!”

The Clauses are whisked away, replaced by mounds of alluring gifts. I sit cross-legged in front of the tree, admiring how beautiful they are and how clever I am, to have gotten so many presents straight from Santa’s workshop.

As the sun rises on Christmas day, I sigh contently. I rip the snowflake wrapping off the first box, singing to it, “Baby, all I want for Christmas is you.”

Merry Christmas from Happy House of AG! I hope you have a good one. :)



Day in the Life of a Writer | a NaNo Photostory

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I’m a writer! And I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month for the third time — you can learn more about my project here.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to make a photostory showing what my life is like in November. Really, this is just another way to procrastinate writing my novel. I’ve spent about five days putting off writing by working on this photostory instead. But that’s beside the point.


I wake up on the couch where I’d fallen asleep the night before. A blanket is tangled around my legs and my laptop sits on my chest. Stale food from yesterday’s midnight snack lies on a plate on the floor. I stretch, rubbing the gunk out of my eyes.

What will I do today? I wonder. Maybe I’ll go skateboarding with Tracy or work on my Tumblr blog.

And then: NaNo. The thought crashes down on me and I scrunch up my eyes, like not being able to see will make it go away. It doesn’t.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo from a boy in my English class. “You write a novel in a month, and then you have the rest of the year to edit and think of a new story.” He’d made it sound so easy, as if it wasn’t a big deal. And maybe it wasn’t for him. Apparently, he’s participated — and won — every year since sixth grade. But I’m finding it quite difficult to make myself write everyday. The month is almost over and I’ve still got a few thousand words left.

I moan. I don’t want to write today. Just twenty-four hours to rest my mind and fingers, is that really too much to ask?

Maybe taking a shower will help clear my head. Eyes half closed, I flop off the couch and plod upstairs to the bathroom.

The hot water welcomes me like a hug. Steam rises around me, making dew appear on the tiled shower walls. I’m almost fully relaxed, water drumming on my shoulders, worries washing down the drain, when I begin to count the droplets as they plop against my skin. Five, ten, fifty, a hundred. I imagine that each one is a word I have to write. Soon, all my anxiety about not finishing in time pours back over me.

I shut the water off. I need to get back to my laptop and fictional world.

Wrapped in a towel, I pad into my room and sit on the bed. Water drips off my hair and trickles down my spine, making me shiver.

Write! my brain urges.

Procrastinate, I reply, grabbing my phone from the bedside table and scrolling through social media. The first post I see is by the legendary writer in my class: “Just finished #nanowrimo with a few days to go! #writer #50k” I groan, shoving my phone under the pillow so I won’t be distracted by it. I should be happy for him, but the update just reminds me that I’m falling behind on my own novel.

Coffee might kickstart my creativity. I throw on some clothes, toss my phone and wallet into a bag, and head to the front door. I grab my skateboard from a bin in the hallway before slipping out.

Cruising down the sidewalk on my skateboard, I picture my characters in my head. There’s Taz, an alien with long blue hair who will do anything to help his twin. Zen, his brother, who becomes infatuated with a girl from Earth and crosses the galaxy to find her. And, of course, their best friend, Lulu. She’s brilliant and a bit eccentric, and goes to the new planet with the brothers to keep them out of trouble.

I know and love these characters, so why can’t I get put their thoughts and adventures on the page?

The chilly November morning offers no answer.

I prop my skateboard up on a bike rack and stroll into the cafe, inhaling deeply. The aroma of coffee and cookies is heavenly. A bored girl stands behind the counter, sighing and tapping the surface with her glittery fingernails. She perks up immediately when she spots me. “Hi, I’m Claire, what can I get you?” she recites, smiling.

“Hey.” I study the menu mounted on the wall behind her. The special today is peppermint hot chocolate. That sounds delicious. “Can I have the special?”

“Sure thing!” she beams. “It’ll be just a moment. Can I have a name for the order?”


“Wow, that’s such a nice name!” she gushes. “It fits you perfectly.” This girl is so friendly, I can’t help but like her already.

“How’s your day been?” Claire asks while she fills a paper cup with cocoa. She sounds genuinely curious.

“Oh. I’m a little stressed,” I confide, fishing a few dollars out of my wallet. “I’ve got to write a lot today for NaNo. Have you heard of it?”

Claire’s eyes light up. “Oh, yeah! They’re doing a NaNo thing today at the library. A lady came over this morning and order a ton of drinks.” She points to a flyer on the wall that promises free coffee and snacks. “You should check it out. I was going to do NaNo this year, too, but I’ve already got work and college taking up all my time.”

Free food? I’m definitely going to stop by the library on my way home. It’s just a block away. “Yeah, thanks, I’ll do that,” I say, taking my cocoa. I raise the cup to my lips. Chocolatey, minty goodness fills my mouth. “Have a good day, Claire.”

The library is quiet, as always, and nearly empty. There’s just a girl browsing and a middle-aged woman on the couch with a notebook in her lap. A writer, I guess, here for the refreshments. A plastic cup rests on the cushion beside her, and a repulsive plaid bag leans against the couch by her feet.

I cross the room, the thick carpet swallowing the sound of my footsteps. There’s a table with plates, cups, and a box of teabags by the shabby couch. To my dismay, all that’s left is a bruised apple and a half-eaten granola bar. I wrinkle my nose. There’s no reason to stick around.

“You, girl,” calls the woman on the couch. She has bangs cropped too short, unflattering coke bottle glasses, and a vibrant, busy sweater. She looks just like the kind of person who would write a 50k novel by hand and make you feel bad about doing yours on a computer.

“Me?” I take a step toward her. What I want to do is get out before she can begin her rant on how technology has ruined my generation, but I need to be polite.

“Are you a writer?” She blinks at me, her glasses magnifying her eyes to nearly twice their normal size.

“Yes, ma’am.” I angle my body toward the door, hoping she’ll get the hint and let me go.

“How far along are you?” she presses, leaning forward. Talk about nosy. “I’ve already reached my word count, but I haven’t finished the plot yet.”

 I’m too embarrassed to say that I’ve only written ten thousand. But if I suck it up and tell her, perhaps she’ll leave me alone. “10k,” I mumble.

When she scowls, she looks almost as ugly as the red schnauzer bag on the floor. “Hmm. You’re not going to make it, honey. It would take a miracle.”

I bite my tongue to keep from announcing that my goal is only 15k, so I’m actually not that far off. Instead, I nod, give her a forced smile, and get the heck out of that place.

At home, I stash my skateboard in the garage and curl up on the couch. I wake up the laptop and stare at the screen, at the blinking cursor that mocks me silently every time I let it sit there. Not today, cursor. My eyes skim over what I wrote last night before dozing off. The alien trio has just flown away from their home on the moon Titan.

What was I thinking? I cringe at a particularly poorly worded sentence, jamming the backspace button. Great, so now I’m even further from my goal than before I sat down.

I need a break.

While I’m wandering around the house, I spot Nevaeh’s guitar resting on Caroline’s duvet. Sometimes she’ll come up here and play a song for Caroline, to get her opinion on it. Nevaeh is really good, like some kind of child prodigy. I wish I could play guitar like she can.

Well, I tell myself, no time like the present. I sit on the edge of Caroline’s bed and settle the guitar into my lap. My fingers press the strings against the frets, plucking out a tune. It’s twangy and sharp and headache-inducing.

My mind drifts off, reminding me of everything I should be doing instead of messing with Nevaeh’s guitar. Chores. Homework. NaNo. I don’t want to do any of those, but I’m definitely going to save writing for last.

I decide to do homework first, so I don’t have to stress about it when I return to writing. I drag my backpack up to Caroline’s room, which I’ve dubbed homebase. Chewing on the end of a pencil, I spread my papers out in front of me and tackle the first problem.

Thirty minutes later, I’m nearly bored to tears. But anything, including homework, is better than facing that cursor, blinking at me like a smug cat.

Two girls decked out in flamboyant ballgowns swirl into the room, springing onto the bed. Their bouncing makes the guitar leap around with them.

“Parker!” Ellie and Emily sing together. “Come play with us outside!”

I climb to my feet, glad that my sisters interrupted me before I could get started on chemistry. “Sure! But outside? Won’t you be cold?”

“Nope! We’ve got cloaks and fire powers!” Ellie giggles, as if that explains everything. Her strawberry curls bob around her as she jumps. “Come on, Parker. We’re princesses, you’re the knight, and you’ve got to come kill a dragon before it kidnaps us!”

Emily and Ellie dash for the stairs, their voluminous skirts flying out behind them.

The “dragon” turns out to be Alaska, Saige’s mare. With an old-fashioned shawl around my shoulders, a toy sword in my hand, and childlike excitement in my heart, I pretend to fight off the dragon/horse. Emily and Ellie huddle on the ground behind me, fake crying, while Alaska watches us with curious eyes. She looks like a scientist observing a new species.

Once the game is over, the two princesses safely returned to their castle, I face my responsibilities once again. I finish my homework, clean my room, the bathroom, and then the entire first floor. Then I try to make myself a pizza, accidentally setting it on fire in the oven. I have a bowl of cereal instead. I distract myself with tasks all day, but the nagging voice in my head remains, begging me to write.

 Eventually, I’ve procrastinated as long as I can, and I find myself returning to the laptop. I give myself a pep talk: You can do this, Parker. Just a few hundred words. Meet today’s word count. It can be absolutely horrible. All you have to do is write. 

OK. I wake up the laptop, fingers poised above the keys. Write, write, write. And then I do, and the angels are singing. A word appears on the page: The. 

I wipe the sweat off my forehead, exhausted. I deserve another break.

So I just wrote nearly 2k. That’s great, but it probably should have been for my novel, not my blog. Oh well.

Have a good day!



The Haunted House | Photostory

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It was the night of the greatest Halloween party of the year. Our entire family had been invited, and in the hours before it started, the house was buzzing with activity. The bathroom was crowded with girls doing their makeup and face paint. Shouts of “Has anyone seen my shoes/hat/wings?!” rose above the cacophony every other minute. The excitement made the air electric.

When I say that the entire family had been invited, I really mean almost the entire family. Nevaeh was the only one who hadn’t received one of the pumpkin-shaped invitations. The kid was so quiet at school that the girl who was hosting the party probably didn’t know she existed.

I couldn’t very well leave Nevaeh at home by herself while practically everyone else in the entire school was at the party. So while the rest of our sisters bounded out of the house in their getups, I hung back. We could find something fun to do together. I didn’t really want to go to the party, anyway.

We surfed the web for Halloween activities and decided to go to a haunted house. I’m into creepy stuff — ghosts and zombies and that sort of thing — so it was kind of a no-brainer.

After paying and signing waivers, Nevaeh and I hung out in the brightly lit lobby, waiting for the haunted house guide to appear and lead us on the tour. The Ghostbusters theme played from speakers mounted on the wall. We sucked on peppermints from the bowl on the desk.

A door slammed open on the other side of the lobby, letting out a group of shrieking kids. A young woman followed the screamers and walked over to us. “I’m the guide,” she said, giving us a rehearsed smile. “Are you my next group?”

“We are. Nice costume, by the way. Very scary.”

She laughed, drumming her fingernails on the cardboard sign draped around her neck. Your grades were scrawled on it in black marker. “Thanks. It’s in honor of my report card.”

The woman told us to call her Kate and beckoned us into the haunted house. Dry ice curled around our feet. Nevaeh shuffled closer to me in the dim light.

We rounded a corner and my sister gasped. Dangling from the wall and ceiling were severed hands and a decapitated body. They spun slowly, scraping against the wall.

“This used to be a jail,” Kate whispered in a low, husky voice. “Those bodies? They belong to executed prisoners. Some people believe that their souls still haunt this place.”

A sudden gust of wind made the hanging body parts twirl on their strings.

Kate led us down the hall, where a spirit drifted into view. A beautiful snowy gown was draped over her bony body. When the shadowy form tilted its head in our direction, we could see that instead of eyes, there were just deep black holes in its face.

“Parker!’ Nevaeh choked, grabbing at my hand.

“That is Lady Amelia. She died on her wedding day, along with her soon-to-be husband. She wanders the earth at night, murmuring the vows to herself, longing to be reunited with her lover’s soul.”

The ghost of Lady Amelia floated toward us, hand outstretched. She vanished just before her wriggling fingers found my face.

With Lady Amelia gone, the hall was clear, and we followed Kate down it. Spiderwebs hung over our heads; bloodcurdling yelps could be heard from other victims of the haunted house.

Something was in the hallway with us: scuttling, scratching sounds could be heard around our feet. Three wispy white objects darted in front of us and disappeared into the gloom, giggling.

By my side, Nevaeh was so tense that if anything surprised her, I bet she would jump as high as a cartoon character.

We walked in sinister silence for awhile, bracing ourselves before turning every corner. I had begun to relax when a young girl in a dirty nightie stepped in our way. A holey sweater was wrapped tightly around her. She gazed at us with dull eyes, unblinking.

Nevaeh glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. Her mouth drooped into a nervous frown.

The girl pulled the sweater away from her side, revealing a huge wound in her side. The thin fabric of her pajamas was damp and red. She shivered. Cocked her head. “Please help me,” she croaked.

 We had to press ourselves against the cool, rough stones of the wall to get past. She watched us go with a gloomy expression.

Not even a minute after escaping the bleeding child, another fright appeared. A figure was hiding in a dark alcove, crouched over something white and still on the floor. The silhouette of a person looked over its shoulder as we passed, revealing a pale, angular face and blood-stained chin. It gave us a menacing grin with too many sharp teeth.

The white thing by its feet whimpered. I could now see that the shape was a tiny white dog with blood spurting out of a wound to its neck.

Past the vampire and its meal was a room with bones, feathers, and tribal masks hanging on the walls. A witch sat hunched over a cauldron from which came flashes of green, orange, and purple light. Pots, bowls, and woven baskets littered the space around the hag. They were filled with crystals, insects, critters, eyeballs, and other unpleasant things.

A desperate croak came from a frog dangling between the witch’s knobby, gnarled fingers. She dropped it into the cauldron and the mixture swallowed the struggling creature, belching and releasing an unsavory smell.

The witch’s cat snarled at us as we passed through.


I felt Nevaeh’s hand slip into mine. She was shaking.

She must be really terrified, I realized. Aloud, I whispered, “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon. Just keep holding my hand. Close your eyes if you have to.”

She nodded and tightened her grip. Her wide eyes flitted around the room. They glinted in the flashing colored lights.

Kate halted. She pointed to two girls who were standing with their backs to us. “Jenna and Elise were best friends hanging out at a Halloween party. They spent the night gossiping, dancing, and drinking punch. But it turned out to be the worst — and last — party of their lives.”

The girls whipped around and lunged at us. Their faces were sallow and their flesh was beginning to peel in some place. They moaned as the rushed toward us.

“Jenna and Elise were turned into zombies that night!” Kate exclaimed, stepping to the side as the undead girls careened down the hall.

Nevaeh screamed. She pushed past Kate and the zombies and sprinted for the door that would lead back into the haunted house’s lobby.

I raced after my sister and found her sitting on one of the stiff canvas couches, breathing hard. I slid onto the cushion next to her and draped my arm around her, squeezing her shoulder comfortingly.

“I’m sorry for making you go through that,” I said, staring at the ground. “I like scary things, but I see now that you’re not into that. I’m really sorry if I ruined your Halloween.”

She took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s ok, Parker. It was fun, actually.” She gave me a hesitant smile. “So thanks for making me go. It was better than going to that party, anyway. At least we’re not going to end up like Jenna and Elise.”

I laughed. “Yeah. Good thing I know how to cure zombification. We might need it, when our sisters get home.”


Happy Halloween from the HHOAG girls!