The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow
Randy Ingermanson 

Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at


aka Randy Ingermanson

My critique group picnic had been in full swing for an hour when I heard a horn honking repeatedly from the direction of my house. The honk had a familiar tone—it goes with a certain truck that’s been to my house far too often in the last year. The truck belongs to my plumber, Sam, who was not invited to this party.

I dashed up the slope from our firepit to the house, raced around the side, and skidded to a stop in the driveway. Sam’s enormous pickup truck had backed all the way down my driveway. His niece Samantha was driving a small forklift off the back of his truck. She gave me a cheery wave. “Nice to see you again!” She was wearing a bright pink pair of coveralls with the words, “Samantha Strong, Author of Samantha Gets The Guy,” in bold red letters across the chest.

“Um, hi.” I strode past her to Sam. “What the devil is going on here? I don’t recall that we had a plumbing emergency today.”

Sam gave me a broad grin. “Did you catch the new logo on my truck? Me and Samantha are branching out with a new service — we seen a need and decided to plug it up!”

I studied the door of Sam’s truck and read out loud, “Sam and Samantha’s Plumbing And Branding Services.” The logo underneath was three-dimensional — a real plunger crossed in an X pattern with a real branding iron.

Samantha hopped off the forklift and joined us. “Uncle Sam got the idea from me, since I’m such an expert in author branding. Isn’t it cool?”

“Well, it’s . . . unique,” I said. “I do hope that branding iron is just a metaphor.”

Sam grinned. “It’s a three-dementianary visual representation of the . . . um . . .” He shrugged his massive shoulders and turned to Samantha. “You tell him, I keep fergitting.”

“Of the ontological and epistemological basis for our expertise in a broad range of services.” Samantha smiled. “The plunger represents Uncle Sam’s soft touch and steady hand in tight situations, while the branding iron evokes my steely determination and commitment to sound marketing best-practices.”

“Oh, right, I had pretty much guessed that,” I said. “Well, um, great of you both to come by and tell me about this, but I’ve got some guests and I really —”

“That’s why we’re here,” Sam said. “Heard you was having your critique group out for a day of fun and frivolitousness, so we figgered we’d come give a demonstration of our services.”

I shook my head vigorously. “No, sorry, I can’t allow that. We’re not doing business today, it’s just fun. I promised my critique group that today would be just for us and our families.”

“Well, see, that’s just the thing,” Sam said. “We brung along a bunch of free goodies for yer critique friends. A bunch of wood for your firepit, and everyone can take home a buncha logs for their fireplace. They all got our logo branded into the ends of ‘em, see.”

Samantha pulled the tarp off the pallet on her forklift, revealing an enormous pile of firewood. Seared into the end of each log was a tiny logo of a crossed plunger and branding iron.

“Plus, we brought food,” Sam said. “Hope you like marshmallows, because we got a hunnert pounds of ‘em, along with half a pallet of chocolate and graham crackers. Do yer friends like them s’more thingies?”

I know Sam well enough to know there’s always a catch somewhere. “Listen, Sam, this isn’t a good time —”

“Wow, is this the famous Sam we keep hearing about?”

I spun around to look. My entire critique group had come around the side of the house and were staring at us. I tried to wave them off. “It’s all a mistake!” I shouted. “Wrong house, wrong —”

Samantha revved up the forklift and scooted it around in front of my writer friends. “Free firewood for everyone!” She hopped off the forklift and sashayed up to the three young men in the group, flipping back her long blond hair with a careless wave of her hand. “Do you guys like to keep warm in winter?”

I noticed for the first time that she had two garish red hearts sewn on the rump of her coveralls, one on each side.

“Anyone like chocolate?” Sam bellowed. “Got a whole bunch right here!”

The rest of my group surged forward and surrounded Sam. My wife joined me, and she wasn’t smiling. “What’s Sam doing here?”

“He just . . . showed up,” I said. “I have no idea how he knew about this. I only told my critique group. I didn’t blog about it, didn’t Twitter about it, didn’t breathe a word on Facebook.”

“Um, Facebook?” A guilty look crossed my wife’s face. “Isn’t that just for friends?”

“Yes, and I’ll bet you forgot you friended Sam, right?” I sighed. “Okay, well he’s here and he’s got something up his sleeve, but I have no idea what it is.”

“You’re not mad at me?” she said.

“It’s water under the bridge,” I said shortly. “Just keep an eye on Sam.”

In a few minutes, the entire group returned to the firepit. Sam and Samantha brought their load of goodies. Soon enough, the party was back in full swing. Samantha had brought an enormous Samantha Gets The Guy blanket, which she spread on the lawn. The three young guys in the group took turns bringing her food and getting marketing advice from her.

Sam turned out to be an expert chef, turning out an endless supply of burgers, hot dogs, roasted corn, and baked potatoes, all the while cracking jokes and humming an unidentifiable tune.

Dusk fell and the stars began coming out and Sam switched gears into s’mores mode. I couldn’t believe how well this party was going.

When it was fully dark, Sam cleared his throat. “Guess you all know that me and Samantha has launched a little branding service for writers.”

All my senses went on alert and my heart began thumping. “Sam, I thought we agreed —”

Sam raised his voice a notch, effortlessly drowning me out. “We’re

gonna give away a free session with our brand-new Insta-Brandomatic service. It’s branding for the unbrandable writer. Know anyone like that?”

I looked around the circle of writers. Connie writes women’s fiction and is already getting a lot of attention from publishers for her blend of romantic tension and quirky humor. Jeff likes futuristic fiction with a bleak, dystopic edge. Peggy Sue is writing a novel set in Africa, where she lived for several years. Sorin is writing fiction for young guys in their twenties. Honestly, I was pretty sure all my friends were well on their way to having a brand lined up.

For some reason, everyone was looking at me.

“Sam, why don’t you show us how you’d brand our Fearless Leader?” Connie said.

“Great idea!” Jeff said. “I have no idea what his brand is.”

“Yeah, I’ve been wondering that myself,” Peggy Sue said.

“He’s got a brand,” Sorin said. “He writes . . . um, you know. Weird stuff.”

Sam pulled a large log into the center of the circle and pointed to me. “Looks like you’re the lucky winner. Just sit yerself right here in the hotseat and me and Samantha will get you branded in no time.”

I sat cautiously on the log. Samantha sat in front of me and fastened her glittering green eyes on me. “The first step in the Insta-Brandomatic process is to make a list of all the things you’ve written so far.”

I shrugged. “I wrote a non-fiction book on the alleged Bible code years ago, and showed that there isn’t much to the alleged codes.”

“Wow, how interesting!” Samantha scribbled something in a little notebook. “So you must have written a bunch of nonfiction books since then.”

I shook my head. “Nope, haven’t written a one. After that, I wrote a time-travel novel set in ancient Jerusalem about a plot to go back in time to kill the apostle Paul.”

“How cool!” Samantha crossed something out in her book and wrote more words beneath it. “So I guess you write about time-travel in every book, right?”

“Well . . . no. My next book was about Mars.”

Samantha frowned and stared at her little notebook. “Mars? Okay, we can work with that. I hope you did a bunch more Mars books.”

“One,” I said.

“And more time-travel?”

“A couple more of those.”

Samantha was smiling now and drawing something in her book. “Great, anything else?”

“I wrote on quantum computing,” I said, feeling like an idiot. “I guess there just isn’t a common thread in my writing, is there?”

“Quantum computing?” Samantha squealed. “With qubits and entanglement and multiple universes and all that?” She looked over my shoulder at the firepit where I could hear the sounds of another s’more under construction and Sam humming tunelessly to himself. “Uncle Sam, how come you never told me about the quantum computing? You said he wasn’t very bright.”

“I told you he don’t know diddly about low-flush toilets,” Sam grunted. “He’s bright enough in his own way. He just don’t know useful stuff.”

Samantha tore out a sheet of her notebook and threw it toward the fire. She began drawing something again, her pen moving in short, frantic lines on the page.

Finally, she finished, tore out the page with a flourish, and handed it to me. Your brand is really simple. You write about life at the intersection of Science Avenue and Faith Boulevard!”

I stared at her. “But . . . I already knew that. That’s nothing new. That’s been on my web site for the last ten years.”

Samantha smiled. “Well, that’s your brand, anyway. It’s okay if you didn’t know it. Sometimes the toughest things to understand are the things we knew all along.”

My mind was spinning. I hated to admit it, but Samantha might be right.

“That’s the beauty of the Insta-Brandomatic method,” Samantha said. “It’s simple, even if isn’t easy. I think we’ve nailed your brand. Uncle Sam, have you got that ready?”

I stood up, wondering if Sam was going to add a hefty fee for this Insta-Brandomatic service to his next invoice. Knowing Sam, I wouldn’t put it past—

A dazzling, white-hot pain burned through the seat of my pants and sizzled into bare flesh. I collapsed in agony, unable even to scream. I couldn’t breathe. A muzzy curtain descended inside my head, and I knew I was going into shock. My vision faded to blackness, and I could hear the screams of my critique group growing more and more distant.

As I lost consciousness, the last thing I heard was Sam bellowing in glee, “Score another one for the Insta-Brandomatic! Who wants to be next?”

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