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KidLit

Here are two works in progress … soon to be submitted for publication

The second is my stab at a folk tale.

The first is an excerpt from a fiction book I’m rewriting for middle grade (8 to 12 year old) readers. It falls into the speculative fiction category — books with elements that don’t exist in the real world, often in the context of supernatural or other imaginative themes — because it’s somewhere inbetween sci-fi and magical realism.
In early August it was named a finalist for the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards.

First, the excerpt:
Who says that colors can only be seen and not felt – like a rainbow turning into giant swings?! Rudy and her four best friends will discover, with help from an extraordinary gemstone, that life isn’t always as it appears. And that sometimes, coming to accept the impossible leads us to unearth other beauties.
For Rudy, it means trying to find her mom who has gone missing while all the adults are saying she died in a car accident.
As she and her friends dodge menacing threats from a diabolical villain, their quest leads them on challenges to face their fears, to geological wonders across the United States, and ultimately to find Rudy’s place in the world, a family secret like no other.

In this excerpt, Rudy and her friend Zoo, a nickname for AmandaSue, have been zapped to a small city many states north of their hometown. It’s the first time that Rudy’s magical gemstone has teleported them to a new place. As the two try to figure out how and why this has happened, Rudy confronts her fears about secrets and honesty.

After catching their breaths and calming their racing hearts, Rudy and Zoo sat at a small table in the corner of the shop. By craning their necks, they could see a worker plop rings of dough into an enormous barrel of boiling water. Another worker pulled huge sheets of bagels out of a closet-sized oven. The salty, sweet smell of baking flour, sugar and yeast made their stomachs growl.

“I gotta eat. I’m starving,” said Zoo. “These are probably the best bagels ever. I mean, I heard that New York is the capital of bagels.”

“We’re in New York state, but not in the City of New York – where everybody says they make the best bagels. We’re in Rochester, roughly six hours north and west of there.”

“Wow. You’ve suddenly become a mapping program,” Zoo quipped.

“Well they make good bagels here too,” Rudy added.

“Wait, what? How do you know about their bagels. You’ve been here before?” Zoo asked, her eyebrows tilting inward. “Look, after I’ve ordered my New York state garlic bagel with lox and cream cheese, you’re gonna tell me how in the blazes you know where Rochester is located. And why you practically fainted when I read the Genesee Library sign.”

Rudy sort of nodded, stood and ambled behind Zoo to the counter to order her food. As she watched the plastic-gloved worker spread honey walnut cream cheese on her cinnamon raisin bagel, she hoped the worker would drop it on the floor and have to start over. Anything to put off answering Zoo’s questions.

“Want it cut?” asked the worker, startling Rudy out of her daze. She nodded yes.

Zoo used Applepay off her mom’s phone, and they returned in silence to the corner table. They chomped heartily, hungrier than they realized. Zoo murmured her delight in licking the cream cheese-coated paper that had covered her bagel.

Rudy took the quiet time to picture her mother plucking hot bagels out of the toaster oven. She could hear her caution: “Don’t touch the melted cheese yet, little love. It’ll burn your tiny tongue.” Now she wondered whether her mother had ever eaten in this shop.

Finally, with a quick rub of her pocketed gemstone, wishing it would bring her good luck, Rudy jumped into the frigid waters of explanation. She only hoped that by the time she was done telling everything she knew about Rochester, Zoo would stay her friend.

Rudy straightened her back and stared at the several raisins that had fallen out of her bagel. “I was born here,” she said. “I was born in Rochester. Right here in the Genesee neighborhood.”

Zoo shrugged her shoulders. “So. We’re all born somewhere,” she said and slapped the bagel paper on the table. “What’s the big secret?”

“Okay, yeah, there’s more.”

“I’m listening.” Zoo criss-crossed her arms over her chest.

“Um, I know I was young. Really young. I don’t really remember. I mean I sorta do but it’s mixed with all the stories I was told. There was this…”

BANG. CLANG. WHOOSH. “Watch out!” screamed a worker.

A river of boiling water flooded under their table. They jumped onto their seats and hovered over the steam.

“Call 9-1-1,” yelled another.

“No, no. Don’t do that,” shouted a third worker, rushing out from the back of the kitchen. “It’s just the barrel of bagel water. The leg broke on the barrel. It’s only under these two tables and in the kitchen. We can clean it up.”

Rudy looked at Zoo, noticing that the eight other customers had already dodged to the front of the shop. They both nodded in agreement, scooped up their stuff, and skittered through the shop and out onto the sidewalk.
They looked up and down the road, wondering which way they should go. “Quick. The bookstore,” said Zoo.

As Zoo hurried to the bookstore entrance, Rudy lingered on the sidewalk. She knew Zoo must think it’s silly to worry about a reaction to simply saying where she lived as a little kid. She felt embarrassed by that, scuffing her foot across the bits of worn concrete.

The problem was that Rudy didn’t know much about her family’s background, especially on her mother’s side. Most kids knew their mom’s brothers and sisters, the grandparents and aunts and uncles and hordes of distant cousins. Or at least had heard a few stories and seen some photos of them. Rudy didn’t know any of that, and it made her feel awkward and different.

She didn’t like to think about it, so she didn’t talk about it, and when she played with her Barbies, Rudy would create huge families, everyone packing into Barbie’s backyard for a Saturday BBQ. But now, here with Zoo, there was no make-pretend. Her fingers felt tingly just thinking that she had to admit out loud that her family was one of those unusual ones.

Plus, making the whole situation really bad, there was that one super weird thing that had happened here in Rochester, the thing that her parents never wanted to talk about. So on top of almost no family, there was a massive secret. It made her stomach turn upside down.

Rudy hated secrets – like when she was in elementary school and her classmates acted like the stories they told were the biggest secrets in the world. As though they were hiding a dragon in the basement. They acted so powerful; and that made Rudy feel very small.

So she had avoided making and keeping secrets, and that’s how her friends came to know her. But now she had to admit there was one in her family, and it likely was the reason she and Zoo had mysteriously transported to this city.

Rudy gulped cold air. She didn’t know quite what she could tell Zoo, but she knew she had to try.

Zoo yanked open the bookstore door and darted inside. Rudy followed her in.

“Can I help you find something, girls?” asked the store clerk, a tall, thin man whose face was as white as the color of the book pages he sold.

“Why yes,” Zoo said, as politely as she’d been taught. “We homeschool and we’re doing a research project on the kinds of wildlife in that park across the street. We wrote down descriptions of interesting little critters that we spotted while we were there. But we don’t know all the names. Do you have a book that might help us?”

The clerk glared down at them. “We have lots of nature books, but reading ’em would take you girls awhile and we’re not a library. Maybe there’s something in the Rochester section.” He extended his bony arm and index finger. “Over there. Beside the section on Mr. Eastman.”

Rudy and Zoo looked at each other. That name sounded oddly familiar.
###

The Emerald Lizard, a folktale

There was once a wicked queen who had only one son. He had lived his life only in the castle among the riches and had never seen the world outside. He was clothed in the finest fabrics, served meals on the shiniest silver plates, and crowned in the most beautiful jewels. To him, all the world ate to their fill, drank to their pleasure, and received their every wish at the beckon of their servants.

One day, a green lizard crept onto his window ledge and called to the sleeping boy. “Wake, wake, for you have much to see today.” The boy startled abruptly, rose from his silk sheets, and wiped his eyes as he walked to the window. He looked out but saw no one. Again, he heard a voice call to him but the boy could see nothing there. “Kind sir, please, make yourself known,” replied the boy. “Look down to see that which you do not expect,” said the lizard in a most restrained manner.

Upon seeing the lizard, the boy jumped backward. It was not the size that surprised him, for it was no bigger than a quill. It was that the boy had never seen such a living creature. It glistened with a most striking deep green that radiated from its scales. “Now that you see me, haste young prince, before your servants come to feed and dress you.” The boy swiftly jumped out the window after the lizard wearing only his undergarment.He ran across the great lawn, down an embankment, through a stand of oak trees, and into a village. There, the lizard took him through the streets to see houses with dirt floors and tin roofs, babies crying for food, and children wearing torn, dirty nightshirts for clothing. Tears fell from the boy’s eyes. Astonished and heartbroken at the poor lives of these people who lived just outside of his rich walls, the boy begged the lizard to tell him why this was so. “How can they not eat or drink as do I, for they are my neighbor?”

“There was a time not long ago when the wealth of the land was spread among us all,” answered the lizard, and the boy became frustrated. “Then why is it not so now?” and as the boy spoke the words, he knew it was his mother who had done this. But he didn’t understand why. He knew she was sad all of the time, sobbing often in her bed chambers. But he did not see her as selfish. The lizard crept closely to the boy and whispered, “Look hard for you shall see the truth.” The boy stared at the green lizard, and for a moment its glassy appearance dazzled in the light and reminded the boy of the Emerald gems adorning his crown.

As the lizard crept closer, the boy could see it was not at all a reptile, but a human. It was an old man, who thus knelt beside the boy and looked deep into his face. “So it is now that you can see my face for who I am.” The boy gasped and embraced him, sobbing “Father, father, you are here again at last.”

“Your mother is not wicked,” said the king. “She is wrought with sorrow over my death. Take this and sneak it under her mattress.” He spat an Emerald the size of a crab apple into the boy’s lap. The son nodded to his father then hurried home and did as he was told. The next morning at dawn a forest-green glow cast over the boy’s bedsheets and when the people of the village arose with the sun, they found their cupboards overflowing with meat and fish and cheese and bread, their drawers stuffed with gold-laced gowns and purple tunics, and they sang and danced for all the days to come. And the queen never cried again.

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