Saturday, October 6, 2018

An Opportunity to Help Me Write

The Goldtown Beginnings series is officially a go. The first two books release next November (2019). Those books are already written, thank goodness! When I turned in my proposed book titles and summaries, I got a little fuzzy toward the end. So, while I have 2 books written, and I have two book summaries that I can work with, my mind is a complete blank for books 5 and 6, which will come out November 2020.

Lest you think I have plenty of time, I have to turn in the finished stories next fall 2019. I sure could use some help. You don't necessarily have to have read the Goldtown Adventures books to give me plot ideas, (but it would really help!)

To sweeten this deal, if I use your idea to create the story, you will "win" the book you helped me create. I will also send you $10. This is a great opportunity to get involved with the hardest part of the writing process: coming up with the story plots.

I will do my best to make sure your name is included on the copyright page as: "A special thanks to ____________ for giving me the idea for this story."

Your idea must be more than "Jem has an adventure in the woods with his dog." It needs to be at least a 250-word plot summary that includes a story problem (it doesn't have to be earth-shattering). Send your ideas to me at

Don't leave your ideas in the comments. This post will travel down the page and I'll forget to look at it. Here is an idea of what kind of summaries I am looking for. You can title your book idea whatever you want. Kregel will either keep the title or change it. (They changed EVERY ONE of my Stepping Stones titles.)

Spring 1860

Goldtown, CA, is nothing more than a collection of canvas tents. Jem and Ellie pan for gold alongside their pa. Mama bakes pies on Saturdays and does the miners’ laundry the rest of the week to make ends meet.

Jem doesn’t know how he can get Will Sterling, the mean rich boy, to stop picking on him and Ellie when they deliver Mama’s pies around town. Will’s teasing one day results in the pies getting squished and ruined. This is terrible. The Coulters have very little money and ruined pies mean less income.

Not long afterward, their prospector friend Strike-it-rich Sam shows up with a scrawny, half-grown (golden retriever) pup. He is dirt-encrusted, full of brambles, and hungry. The kids love the dog, but Mama and Pa won’t let them keep it. They have enough trouble feeding their family without feeding a dog too. It’s Strike’s dog, but the pup prefers the kids and follows them everywhere. It is also a bit of a pest and into everything. (This is the same dog as Nugget in the Goldtown Adventures.)  

One day the dog follows Jem and Ellie on their pie delivery route. Will pesters them, as usual. However, this day is different. The dog intervenes. He growls at Will and bites his pant leg. Will gets scared and runs off. Jem realizes that he has yet to strike it rich in gold, but he has really struck it rich with the dog. Jem names him Gold Nugget. Pa and Mama agree the kids can keep the dog. He’s a real gem for protecting the kids. 

Spring 1860

The owner of the café tells Jem he’d sure like some frog legs for his customers. Jem is excited to have a source of income, since his gold-panning efforts never yield much. He convinces Ellie to come along to Bullfrog Pond, and he’ll teach her everything he knows about catching bullfrogs. Trouble is, Jem knows next to nothing about the process. Ellie insists she doesn’t need any instruction. Soon Ellie falls into the swamp. The frogs are scared away. The children sell Mr. Sims two frogs.

The next Saturday Jem is determined to do it right. Ellie tags along but makes too much noise in Jem’s opinion. She scares away the frogs, and she and Jem get into a big argument about the whole frog-catching idea. Jem yells at Ellie. She stomps off crying and disappears.

When Mama asks where his sister is, Jem is sure she’s mad and hiding from him on purpose—just to get him in trouble. He’s convinced she’ll come home when she gets hungry. His parents don’t agree. So Jem sets out to look for her in all the usual places. He feels guilty for yelling. He’s the big brother and Mama trusts him to watch out for Ellie.

The day goes on. Soon it’s late afternoon and still no Ellie. Dozens of friendly miners are out looking for Ellie. Sundown is coming. Now Jem is really frightened. Ellie’s running off is all his fault.

Jem talks with Strike, who comes up with an idea. Give Nugget Ellie’s ragdoll to sniff. Maybe the dog can do what the miners can’t. Pa and Mama are out looking for Ellie, so the claim is deserted. It’s up to Jem to take Nugget and find Ellie.

Success! Ellie has fallen into a coyote hole (a miner’s prospecting hole) and is fast asleep at the bottom. Jem thinks she’s dead, but Nugget barks and Ellie wakes up. She was yelling for help for hours but got tired and hoarse. Jem and Ellie make up, and Nugget proves his worth ten times over to the Coulter family.

Late spring 1860

Jem is blamed for taking things that belong to the other students at school, and he must clear his name. As usual, Will is the instigator. He brought his coin collection to school, and one of the silver dollars is missing. The other students agree that Jem was the only one in the building during lunch. Of course he was! He’d left his marbles and went to get them. But the accusations pile up. More things disappear. There is also a rash of robberies in the gold camp. Everyone is nervous and worried. There are also new students because of the gold rush. And many students (like Jem’s chum Charlie) have moved to other camps. So life is not good for Jem right now. A few older boys and two girls join the schoolroom for the last few weeks of school. They are the likely suspects, but they deny stealing anything.

Jem is determined to find the missing items and clear his name. He is also determined to find the thief and make him or her ’fess up. The friends who would have believed him have moved away. Will is not a friend and makes the loudest noise about getting his coin back.

Jem decides to keep a private watch on the classroom. The items always go missing during the dinner hour, when Miss Cheney leaves the room. Jem watches for several days, keeping what he thinks are valuable items in clear view to attract the thief. He even convinces Ellie to let him use her special locket for bait. She agrees when he offers to “rent” it for a pinch of gold dust a day.

But the locket remains safe, out in the open on Jem’s desk. He is getting desperate to catch the thief. School will close for the summer holiday in another week, and what if everybody still thinks he is the thief? He must solve the mystery!

Rain has kept the school windows closed for several days. Then . . . when the classroom is being aired out and the windows are wide open, Jem sneaks inside and hides in a corner to watch. Sure enough, there is a rustling at the back window—the one farthest from sight. Something big and black settles on the window sill. Jem’s heart pounds. It is not a human thief. It is the largest crow he has ever seen (or a raven). Jem holds still as a fence post. The raven hops down from the sill, down the aisle, and perches on a desktop. His black eye blinks. He turns his head. An instant later the raven hops to Jem’s desk, picks up Ellie’s locket, hops back to the window sill, and then flies out the window.

It’s not enough to discover the thief. Jem must find out where the raven is stashing the items. He climbs out the window and follows the raven out of the schoolyard, not caring if he’s late for the afternoon session. He watches the raven fly into the branches of a huge oak tree. Jem scrambles up the tree and finds the raven’s nests. It is overflowing with all sorts of treasures—Ellie’s locket, Will’s silver dollar, rings, shiny buttons, and even an expensive looking necklace. Jem returns late to class, his arms loaded with the goods. His name is cleared, Ellie gets her locket back, and Will his coin. He also finds out that the expensive necklace belongs to Will’s mother. Jem returns it and is rewarded. 

4-STRIKE IT RICH (This summary is too short, but it's the best I could come up with for my proposal)
Summer 1860

Jem is turning 8. As an answer to his birthday wish, he is allowed to go on a prospecting trip with his prospector friend, Strike-it-rich Sam, before school starts. The old miner and young Jem have their share of misadventures, like encountering a rattlesnake, having to track Strike’s runaway donkey, etc. Strike and Jem even “strike it rich.” A vein of gold is seen glowing yellow in a remote cliff side. But the two get turned around. Strike stumbles and wrenches his ankle, and they get lost for a few days. When they finally return from their prospecting trip, neither Jem nor Strike have any idea where the gold vein was or how to find it again.   

5 -[TBD] (This means "to be determined"0
Fall 1860

Okay, here are some things you can brainstorm and see if you can make a story out of it:

--Jem's Chinese friend from the Adventures, Wu Shen, arrives in town with his family. They've been run out of Chinese Camp (a real place) and settle here. Wu Shen is seen sneaking around the schoolhouse. Why? (He's trying to listen so he can learn how to read). Jem takes it on himself to teach the boy to read. [Okay, this is an example of a nutshell of an idea, but it really needs to be expanded into 250 words, with some plot points, to make it fly. If you can do that, it counts as giving me a story!]

6- [TBD] (This means "to be determined")
Winter 1861

--Well, it could be a really cold winter and the deer and game migrate down to the elevation of Goldtown. The predators follow (cougar?). Sounds great, right? Well, I can't write a story just on that. I need plot details, people! And an overall story problem that Jem can help solve. Good luck.

Note: I had a story idea about the Coulters getting their horse, Copper, but my editor wants fresh plots (the "horse" theme having been pretty much worn out with the Circle C stories). So, no HORSE stories, please!

--Claim jumpers stories work, so long as Jem is not kidnapped (that happens in Badge of Honor). That's why it's good if you've read the Goldtown Adventures.

KEEP IN MIND THAT JEM IS JUST TURNING EIGHT YEARS OLD IN THE LAST TWO BOOKS. His adventures need to be age appropriate. Animals in the story are always welcome!

READY, SET . . . GO! 

Thanks a bunch!


  1. Hard, but I love challenges!


  2. This is cool! How old is Ellie? five? six?

  3. Cool! I'll definitely think of some ideas! Do you have a time frame you need them by??

    1. Good question! By next April 2019, so I have time to write them.

    2. Ok! Now, is his dad still the sheriff in these beginning books? And how many ideas can we send in? :)
      Thanks! Can't wait to start brainstorming some ideas! :)

    3. Jem's dad becomes sheriff in the first GT adventures book.
      Here he's just trying to make a living panning gold. They manage to get by because Mama bakes and sells pies to the miners. She also does laundry. that is how many women actually became wealthy "mining the miners" for gold. LOL
      When mama died before the opening of Badge of Honor, the family gets very, very poor.
      Pa hasn't bought the ranch yet either.

    4. so, they live in tents? And would mama die in the last book or would that happen after?

    5. Sandrina,There is no way I would let Jem's mama die in a book for young children. It will be hard enough if I have to kill off a cougar or something. I might have to just scare it off. So, Jem's mom dies sometime between the end of this younger series and before the beginning of the GT Adventures, where Jem is 12.

  4. Thanks for finally talking about >"An Opportunity to Help Me Write" <Liked it!

  5. I'm super excited because I've received some fabulous ideas in summary form already, just like I asked. This is like . . . better (and easier, I bet) than the Circle C writing contest. :-)

  6. This will be fun!!! Thank you!!
    How many can we send in?

    1. As many as you want. I got 4 ideas from one person yesterday. :-)


Let Andi know what you think!