The Making of
Time Traveler Tours:

by Sarah Towle

I published a story this month. Not just any story. It's a true tale narrated by Michelangelo wrapped around a walking tour of Florence all packaged inside an app so it's always with you – on your phone or tablet. There's nothing else like it. Elizabeth, who acted as Art Designer on the project, asked me to share how it came to be…

The seed was planted in April 2014. My friend Mary Hoffman, an author with a love of Italy, pitched me an idea for an interactive storyapp following the format I'd pioneered in 2011 with Beware Madame La Guillotine, a mobile story and tour of the French Revolution brought to life by Charlotte Corday. It was a critical success, but a commercial flop. So while I was thrilled at the prospect of producing a second Time Traveler Tour, I was daunted by the mundane and unavoidable question of finance.
I'd done a Kickstarter to cover some of the cost of that debut StoryApp, but this time I was determined not to spend any more of my daughter's college-tuition fund. So I turned again to the crowd, thinking if they were willing to support the project, I would do it. On June 26, 2015, they came through.

Cash now in hand, the pressure was really on. While Mary got to work on her manuscript, I focused on how we were going to make this app. Beware Madame la Guillotine failed commercially because of a rookie error: I built one app to tell one story. I should have developed an app publishing engine to produce myriad stories. And while $41,500 was a major Kickstarter windfall, it was not even close to what I needed to create software.
Necessity being the mother of invention, I sought an app-publishing company willing to partner with me to build a BookApp creation tool on their technology. With both money and a development team now secured, the project put down roots. For the past two years, I nurtured them with the help of many talented collaborators. Along the way, we changed narrators, titles, and covers, while working farmers' hours. But we kept our eye on the prize: to make the drama and excitement of history come alive for youth… and the young at heart.

In the waning days of 2015, Mary delivered her story treatment, then called In the Footsteps of Giants. Now came the task of transforming her tale into a Time Traveler Tour: a story that transports you to another place and time, and makes both narrative as well as logistical sense. In February 2016, I landed in Florence to figure out how best to weave Mary’s treatment into the city as it was 486 years ago, in 1530.
Fortunately, Florence is Mary’s home-away-from-home, and her knowledge of Michelangelo’s era is encyclopedic. So she set me off on a good start. I wore out my hips and a pair of shoes walking those cobblestoned streets. I visited every museum and site Mary suggested, and then some. I befriended a Michelangelo scholar who helped me jump queues and get past gatekeepers to visit the off-the-beaten-track places little known to tourists. I drank a lot of espresso. I ate a lot of pasta. I gorged on Michelangelo's life and art.
In April, I was back in Florence, this time with Mary, to verify that both story and tour wove seamlessly together while we hunted for the artifacts that would comprise the app's treasure hunts and games.

That’s when we moved into production mode. We returned to the crowd to source our vocal talent. A reward for $100+ backers was the right to audition for the lead role. We got lucky: our Michelangelo is both voice actor and audio engineer. We added a photo editor to the team; drilled down on the user experience (UX) design; then brought Elizabeth in to wire everything together with the gorgeous user interface (UI, i.e. graphic design) that you can hold in your hand today.
To find our StoryApp and Tour, open the app store on your mobile device, search for Time Traveler Tours, locate Buried Alive, install, download, and let Michelangelo transport you to Renaissance Florence.

While there, if you have an idea for a Time Traveler Tour, we are actively seeking submissions. Click here to view our guidelines. I hope, too, you’ll give it an app store review.

Now, unless you have a full-time cook, nanny, and dog walker, can function on a few hours of sleep many nights on end, and don’t mind riding an emotional roller-coaster, I'd avoid crowd-sourcing your financing. But if you really want to try it, FYI, I run a crowd-funding consultancy that helps keep the lights turned on at my now independent app-publishing house: Time Traveler Tours. Feel free to reach out!

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