My Visit to NYC: A Numbered List (with pictures)

I’m only just back from an absolutely lovely visit to New York, and I’m already packing for the next trip into a deep, dark, snowy wood where I’ll be incommunicado for a few days. BUT, I wanted to give a brief run-down of my NYC trip, because it was lovely and inspiring and productive. Here is a list, in no particular order of what I did:

1. Took the q-101 from Queens into Manhattan. Sat next to this guy. http://www.retro-housewife.com/images/men/1970/1970s-man.jpgExcept his jumpsuit was purple velour with pale blue piping. Also he had a bit of a belly. Okay, fine, he looked nothing like this guy, but this picture is so SWEET that I had to include it.

2. Made it to the office of one Genevieve Valentine, who took one look at my wan, post-traveling wobbliness and ordered me some quesadillas STAT. (and they were delicious).

3. Dessert http://www.mydessertsolutions.com/yummy/Italian_Cheesecake_800.png

4.  Genevieve’s reading at the KGB bar.

She did a brilliant job reading from a particularly heartbreaking and wrenching story that was set in the same universe as her novel, Mechanique, A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti. http://pics.livejournal.com/glvalentine/pic/000f95qw

5. Since it was my job to hand out raffle to people who came in (and by “hand out” I mean shove into their hands whether they wanted them or not (sidenote: they all did. But I was particularly bossy)) I pretty much met and chatted with every single person in the bar. Even the people who just wandered in by mistake. Which meant that I had the chance to chat up a FRICK LOT OF WRITERS. Which was fun, and something that I don’t usually get to do.

6. MOAR FOOD.

7. Bank Street Awards followed by a visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. http://www.dioceseny.org/system/image/file_name/production/143/long/cathedralnave.jpg?1227565368Which was so stunningly beautiful that I got teary-eyed and trembly.

8. Met the AMAZING LADY who first bought my book. Nancy Conescu – woman of grace, talent, beauty and spirit. She’s no longer my editor, as she’s gone off to be some sort of fancy executive editor at Penguin (also, I think she’s well on her way to becoming Empress of Publishing, and will one day rule us all with benevolence), but it was wonderful to meet her in person at last. She’s AWESOME.

9. Saw circus performers in a warehouse in Brooklyn, performing all sorts of aerialist stunts with no nets and sometimes hovering above the audience. They’re called The Sky Box, and they are AMAZING.

22142_1311413754783_1513813011_30807824_22615_n 

And so on. Insanely beautiful people doing insanely beautiful things with their bodies, and yes, I’ll admit it, I *may* have forgotten I was a married woman for a little bit. Pearls were clutched. Face was fanned. Heart palpitated. If any of you are near NYC at the time of their monthly variety shows, I absolutely insist that you go. Best ten bucks I ever spent.

10. LITTLE, BROWN!!!!! I had an absolutely amazing lunch with my new editor – the lovely and talented Julie Scheina – and got to pick her brain endlessly about the book that’s coming out and the book that she and I will work on together. And she is RIDICULOUSLY SMART! And she gets my work on a profound and intuitive level, which makes me very, very happy. Plus, I got to meet the rest of the LB crew – my publicist, the guy who designed my book cover, a bunch of other editors, the library ladies, and what have you. What a bunch of total smarty-pantses! (and lucky me to have the chance to work with the lot of them)

11. Sushi

12. Bought a dress.

13. Discovered that my awesome black boots do not work well on the long blocks of Manhattan.

14. Bought bandaids.

15. Bought a second pack of bandaids.

16. Went to the Cloisters. And it was stunning – not only for the art and the architecture, which were truly amazing, but for the audacity of the project from the beginning.  Essentially, the architect of the building – being funded by Rockefeller, used architectural elements from ruined cathedrals and monasteries in France, Spain and Germany (typically buying them off some farmer who saw them as nothing more than a pile of old stones and carting them all the way over to New York), reshaped the pieces into a new building inspired by the old designs. It’s a preservationist’s nightmare and so very typical of the Gilded Age – because if you were wealthy enough, all you had to do was think a thing up, and you could make it happen with total impunity.

Still.

http://www.columbia.edu/~nad7/images/cloisters.jpg
There’s no getting past the fact that the place is beautiful.
And the collection itself is beyond stunning.
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2010/08/31/nyregion/sendoffcloisters1/sendoffcloisters1-blogSpan.jpg
http://www.storyboardtoys.com/gallery/The-Hunt-of-the-Unicorn-5-L.jpg

Plus: UNICORNS!!!

17. MOAR FOOD!

18. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Not much was growing, but the greenhouses alone were worth the price of admission. And the scent of the just-opening magnolias was the sexiest thing I’ve ever inhaled.

I have more to say about this trip, but alas, I must pack. The forest awaits! There will be bears, I am sure. And cougars. And trolls and elves and fauns straining under the weight of the parcels, led by the snowy light of a lamp post in the deep, dark, wood.

On Bossy Children, or How I Was Forced to Read HERE BE MONSTERS!

My eight-year-old child, a girl of spirit and well-organized opinion, a girl of details, of schedules, of things done on time, approached me the other day.

“Mom,” she said. “I’m giving you a job.”

“I have enough jobs,” I said.

“Mine’s more important,” she insisted. She handed me a book. This book, specifically:

Here Be Monsters! (Ratbridge Chronicles, The)

“Here be monsters?” I asked.

“I want you to read it. The whole thing. Here’s your assignment schedule.”

And then she handed me a hand-written schedule of what pages I must read by what day.

“Um,” I said. “Thanks?”

“Don’t mention it,” she said brightly. “You’ll thank me later.”

And you know what? I totally did. This book rules. Also, the website is fantastic. Check it out!

Now, Alan Snow is an illustrator whose work I’ve admired for years.

Take this image for example, http://kellybarnhill.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/alansnow1.jpg?w=300

Or this: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/519S92MQ8JL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Or this: http://www.oup.com/oxed/images/manhole.jpgI love this guy.

And I love my daughter for forcing me to read his book.

 

Dear Alan Snow,

Your biggest fan has recruited a new convert. Congratulations.

Love,

Kelly

 

Even more student work!

Today’s story comes from Megan O. at Epiphany School. A very interesting fallen-angel story, with wonderful realistic details – grounding a story focused on the Extraordinary in the context of the Ordinary, reminding the reader that even everyday occurrences can signify larger and stranger things. Very well done, Megan!

 

Why She Lives

 

She lives, because I died.

 

Some people would think that was heroic, what it really was still scares me today even though it is in my past. It was a trip to Hell. Literally. It made me who I am today. I died that day for her but I came back. I know what you’re thinking, “He’s a vampire!”  I am not though. I do not have fangs, instead I have wings. Now you are thinking I am an angel. You are correct-partly. I am an angel, just not one from the light. I am from the darkness. Let me take you back to the last few days of my life, as a human that is.

I used to be the basketball player at my high school and as captain I had to be at every practice. I was a Lion from Galileo High School in San Francisco. I remember this day clearly for two reasons. First because it was the day I met Stacey, and second it was the day before my death. I was playing scrimmage with my team mates on our school basketball court, when I felt a sharp pain in my chest. The pain was so intense and sharp I had to get Coach’s attention to substitute someone in for me. Coach blew the whistle and sent in Trey Dogg for my place. When I came out I sat in the chair next to Coach breathing in quick gasps. Coach knew something was terribly wrong because I never came out of a game for any issue. Once I feel and broke my ankle but there was only 5 minutes left so I pulled my strength together and toughed it out for the rest of the game.

 

“Are you alright Ethan?” Coach said with concern.

“I don’t know,” I said between gasps.

“Do you feel any pain?” Coach asked.

“Yeah in my chest,” I felt like I was about to be cut off of oxygen.

In my peripheral fog of my vision I saw Stacey, a very studious student who helped in the school office a lot, walk in.

“Hey Coach Simmons I have this note for you from the office,” Stacey said before she saw me doubled over in pain. “Is he alright?”

“No he isn’t. Could you escort him to the nurse please?

“Sure, anything for you Coach! Okay Ethan, can you walk?

She actually sounds genuinely concerned. I mean don’t get me wrong, I have talked to her before but it was usually just a casual hello. She sounded like a close friend that was scared I was going to pass out. She was very pretty with long blonde hair that went to the small of her back with beautiful blue eyes that seemed as deep as the ocean. She was also a very good size, not to skinny but not fat at all.

“I think so,” I said to her after a few breaths. Man, she must think I am drooling over her because of how long it took me to respond to her. As soon as I looked into her eyes I felt a sudden numb over the pain I felt a few seconds ago. “Actually I feel better now; I think Stacey is my medicine!” Wow what a cheap attempt at a flirt, I thought.

“You should at least see the nurse,” said Coach.

“Should I still help him there now.” then locked her gaze on me, “He seems just fine now.” She looked at him with a look that he could not read, before it was quickly gone.

“Just so we know he will get there without passing out or anything,” Coach said.

“Come on then Ethan,” Stacey said while trying not to look him in the eye.

“I am just fine Coach! Really-” Then I saw the seriousness in Coaches eyes.

“If any pain occurs in the chest is always good to get it checked out, just let the nurse check then you can come right back. We still have and hour and a half of practice.”

“Alright Coach,” I said feeling a sudden spurt of excitement at the thought of being alone with Stacey.

Stacey walked two feet away from me while we walked out of the gym. Well, this was officially awkward. What to say, what to say. Oh, I got it! I fell in to step with her, while we walked to the nurse’s office, to attempt and start a conversation.

“So, why do you work in the office so much?” Dang it, that sounded like I was judging her. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and found her watching me. When I locked me eyes on her she looked away blushing. It seems like my good looks never fail to prevail. My black hair and dark brown eyes that were almost black always seemed to be my good traits, including my toned body.

She cleared her throat, “I want to learn how an internship would be before I start one.”

“Oh, well that’s cool.” Another awkward silence lay between us.

“How long have you played basketball?” For once he was truly surprised. He had never heard or seen Stacey start a conversation with him or anyone else. Besides her friends of course, she was not a complete loner!

“Ah, since I was four years old, my Dad said I caught on to basketball quickly. I have always felt it was my calling. I might want to do it in college and maybe get into the NBA if I can qualify.” I’m babbling! Why are you so nervous all of a sudden, he asked himself in his head.

“Well that’s cool too!” Was she mocking me for my lame attempt at conversation before?

“Yeah, what sports do you play?”

“I am on the girl’s Varsity basketball team, and in fall o play volleyball. I also play baseball in the spring.” She said all this with a matter-of-fact voice.

“Don’t you mean softball? I mean not to be sexist but don’t girls play softball?” Did I gear her wrong or does she really play baseball with the guys, I wondered.

“No I play softball. I have tried out for softball but the coaches always say I am too good and put me in baseball with all the guys.” So I didn’t have a hearing problem.

“Wow, that’s cool.” I had nothing else to say but I did have a question. I felt this connection to her so I wanted to see if it was for real. “I was wondering would you like to, ah, go to the movies with me tomorrow?”

Stacey blushed again. I couldn’t stop myself from noticing when she blushes it makes her look more beautiful. “I would like that,” she said. She pulled a crumbled piece of paper out of her jeans pocket and wrote down her address then handed it to me.

“I will pick you up on Friday at 7, see you then,” I said quickly before I walked into the nurse’s office.

The next day after school I was in my closet and couldn’t figure out what to wear. On any other date I would wear a pair of jeans and a t shirt, but for this date it felt different. When I looked into Stacey’s eyes yesterday, it felt like we knew each other so well already. It felt like she was already my girlfriend, and it didn’t seem like we would ever stop liking each other. I went with a blue plaid shirt and a pair of jeans.

When I got to Stacey’s house my first thought was “Is this the wrong house.” It was a modern home but right next to the beach and was five stories high. Then I saw standing with no shoes out side her door, Stacey, and knew I was at the right place. I was also struck by how beautiful she looked. She was wearing a yellow thigh length dress that showed how slim she was.

She got into my Lamborghini Murcielago and I complimented on how she looked all the way to the theater a few blocks from where she lives. The whole car ride she kept repeating thanks, complimenting me, and a whole lot of blushing. When we got to the theatre I saw only one guy leaning against the theatre wall in complete black clothes. I noticed Stacey stiffen in her seat when she saw where I was looking. She got out of the car swiftly and went to confront the guy, and I followed right behind her. I didn’t know what was going on but when I saw the fear in Stacey’s eyes I felt a sudden urge to protect her. I pulled her behind me and faced the guy making her scared.

“Whatever you want from her you have to go through me to get it.” I said this with a little bit of uncertainty cause this guy looked stronger than me with his biceps bulging through the sleeves of his hoodie.

“Who is he?” The guy asked Stacey completely ignoring me.

“I am right here! I can answer for myself,” I practically yelled.

“This is Ethan, my date tonight,” Stacey said quietly.

“Who is he?” I asked

“His name is…Daniel.”

“Well didn’t you remember you had a date with hell tonight?” he said this like he was a servant from this dumb kid that thinks he is so bad he call himself hell. “Say goodbye so we can leave.” What does he mean by ‘a date with hell’ anyways? Is hell a kid who Stacey had a date with but ditched for me? He couldn’t even come to get her himself? He has to use someone else?

“She is not going anywhere but the movies with me tonight so go tell Hell she won’t be there tonight.

He laughed in my face after I was done. Why would he laugh?

“He doesn’t know who you are, does he?” he asked Stacey. “Well I guess I will tell him myself!” Stacey here was a bad girl a long time ago so she had to…leave, let’s say, from where she was staying before. The High Power didn’t think she deserved to live in this area so she was sent to a lower place. She was a good girl when she got there so we let her come back for awhile, but today is when she gets the final notice if she can stay here forever.” While Daniel was telling me all this, Stacey stood as still as a statue.

“Who is this ‘Higher Power,” I asked with obvious quotation marks in it.

“He is the creator of all human kind,” Daniel spit out like it was poison.

“You can’t say it, can you,” Stacey said provokingly.

“You can’t either!” roared Daniel.

“God, God, God, God, God, God!” Stacey chanted over and over again. “I haven’t been one for long so I can still say it.”

They started to argue, but I didn’t pay attention to either of them, I was too deep into thought. What does God have to do with this, I wondered. “Someone tell me what is going on,” I yelled at them.

Daniel looked at Stacey pointedly. Stacey sighs. “I used to be an angel of the light but I did some bad things and I was cast down to earth but God thought the punishment was not good enough for me, so he sent me to hell. The devil sent me up because I was annoying him by being good to the others down there, and today is the day I have to go back to see if I can stay on Earth forever.” I was waiting for her to say this was all a prank my friends set up to get at me, but she didn’t.

“She has not been very good thou, so I doubt she will ever return.”

“You’re kidding me right?” I asked Stacey.

“Sadly, no.” she said this like she was sad she brought me into this.

“Well you’re not going back then!” I saw the look of surprise on Stacey’s face because of how easily I had taken it. “He can’t take you against your will!”

“Oh, he can. And I can’t do anything about it.” She looked so miserable about this, and I felt the law I was born upon come surge me. The law was to treat all women with respect no matter what, and never lay a hand on women.

“Is there anyway I can go in her place,” I asked. I saw the surprise on both of there faces this time. “There has to be a way.”

“There is no way that I am letting you take my place in hell.” She said it like that was the final verdict. I guess she didn’t know me well. I am a fighter.

“Please tell me if there is a way,” I asked Daniel, completely ignoring Stacey’s demand.

“You are willing to give up your whole life for this girl?” Daniel said this with surprise.

“Of course I would. Were you never taught to respect all women?”

“Then you can go, but you will have to give up your life for her and become a dark angel.” He said.

“I thought you said the Devil was going to tell her if she could stay!” I yelled.

“First of all,” Daniel said calmly, “the devil won’t tell her if she can stay, his council will. And secondly by her record there will probably be no chance for her to return.” He said and it sounded like one thing he wasn’t telling us. I did not care thou, because whatever the risk is I will do it for her.

“I did not agree and I believe both of us have to before this exchange can happen!” Stacey said.

“Actually all you need is someone willing to take your place, and they can decide.” Daniel said.

“I am that person and I am willing to go,” I said with as much confidence as I had in me from all of my body.

“Then let us go then. And may He,” by the way he said it you could tell he meant God, “Crash and burn under the control of Satan!”

 

Epilogue

 

That day Stacey took my humanity, and she gave me her dark wings. Before I could get them I had to experience death first.  That is what Daniel did not tell Stacey and I that day when I took her place. It was a painful experience, because I had to burn to die, but I would do it a million times over for Stacey. One thing she does not know is that I was sent to destroy the Earth with all my other dark brothers. We will succeed, not that I want to destroy my old home, but because I am not strong enough to take on all the other dark angels to save my home place.

She lives, and if I can save her even more than I did by taking her place, she will live forever. I will forever stay by her side, but hidden in the shadows.

 

 

 

Next week at KGB!

This amazing lady:

(Genevieve Valentine, Ladies and Gents, in a photo taken by Ellen Wright.)

will be reading from this amazing book:

(and isn't that a gorgeous cover?)

And I’ll be there! In NYC! Handing out tickets and chatting up the locals. And I’m ridiculously excited about it. If anyone else is going to be anywhere near the KGB Bar next Wednesday (March 16), come on over and have a listen.

And prepare to have your socks knocked off.

(PSA: I will be collecting any wayward socks and reuniting them with their owners after the reading.)

Gas

This morning, while reading to my kids as we waited for the carpool, I had a sudden realization: I was sweating my brains out. When I checked the thermostat, I had another startling realization: someone had turned the heat up to 78 degrees (my house had hit 73 at that point). (Normally we keep it at 65.)

“WHO,” I roared, “TURNED THE HEAT UP TO 78?”

“Hee hee hee,” my eight year old giggled nervously, “ha, ha, ha.” She raised her hand. “Well,” she said. “I was cold.”

“Do you not understand what a waste that is?” I said. “Not just the money (though it’s expensive to heat a house) but it wastes energy. Do you have any idea how much gas we use to raise the temperature that high?”

My son sniggered.

He slapped his hand on his face.

He sniggered again.

“Gas,” he said.

He fell on the floor in a fit of the giggles.

“You said gas,” he snorted.

My daughter started laughing too. “Mom needs gas,” she said.

Leo howled, laughing so hard that -

RRRRRRRIIIIIIPPPPPP

It was, in truth, a glorious fart.

“I think I just gave you some extra gas,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Want some more?”

Also, this: More Student Work!

As I mentioned before, some kids gave me permission to share their work on my blog. I’ll keep posting them as they trickle in. This is a selection from a longer work by eighth grader, Meagan P. Great work Meagan! I absolutely love the voice of this piece, and your characterization is just spot-on. I think we can expect great things from this young lady in the future.

 


Extraordinary

Prologue

Driving on a narrow, winding road through the forest, in a blue convertible, was a man of about 25. To the rest of the world he is just a regular man. But to me, he is my brother. And in less than 22 hours, he and the rest of the world will be dead. But not me.

My world is different than yours, and yet the same. People still love expensive things and those with money expect things of others and themselves. Animals are loved and hated. People are born and die. Tears are shed, and love is spread. But something happened. Something triggered the end. The end of everything. The end of emotions, animals, people, houses, buildings, and governments. The earth is at the end of her time.

The only people that will live are specially made. While the earth is crashing all around me, people screaming, fires raging, I will live because I am Extraordinary.

Chapter 1 32 days, 16 minutes

Jeremy, come back here! I have to wipe your nose off!” I said as the little boy ran off spreading disease all over. Jeremy was the troublemaker of the group of busy kids, and though he didn’t realize it, those germs would soon be all over. I’ve been trying to keep the kids healthy ever since the water started drying up. I worked at a daycare for children after school and sometimes on Saturdays when they needed me. All of the kids were running around playing tag, giggling as if they didn’t have a care in the world. I looked at them I wished my life could reverse back to days of imaginary friends and eating Playdoh. The other workers always wondered why I didn’t ever get sick. I guess I just must have a strong immune system or something.

Mary, the tattletale of the group stomped over to me, face scrunched in indignation, and said angrily, “Jeremy pulled my hair!” She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to make herself appear the innocent bystander. In reality, Mary was teasing him. She asked for it. As I wondered how to control the situation, Jeremy came marching over, a look of absolute indignation on his face. He knew what Mary was going to say. Before either of them could say anything I quickly stopped the brewing argument.

Mary, why don’t you help me put away the toys?” I said. Ever the helper, Mary happily started picking up the dolls and putting them in their proper spots. “Jeremy?” I asked.

Rissa?” Jeremy asked.

Yes?” I answered.

Can I go wash up for lunch?” Jeremy said, eyeballing the chore of picking up with reluctance.

That’s a good idea. But why don’t you let me wipe your nose first, okay?” I returned. I decided to give him a break after all of the trouble Mary caused him. “Hurry up, lunch will be ready soon.” I yelled at his retreating back.

I sighed. Life was not too difficult, just monotonous. Every day I go to school and then work, and usually do homework. Ever since the most of the water dried up around the world, rations have started and the scientists are trying to rapidly figure out a way to get more water. It has been devastating watching the news around the world of people dying of thirst everywhere. Back when we actually had water to waste, people would run it without bothering to turn it off, thinking it would never end. But it did.

The scientists say the earth is at the end of her cycle and is slowly dying. No one predicted this would happen so soon, people thought it would last forever. Water, the giver of life, is almost gone. And with it, everything will die. Sure, the scientists say they can fix it, but I’m ever the skeptic. They said we weren’t real. And here I am. I am something only a few people in the entire world know about.

They say I am immune to disease. Fire won’t burn me, water can’t drown me. If my bones break, they heal. I can regenerate organs and grow new tissue. Anything that can kill others, no matter what you name, can eradicate me. The only way I can die is of old age. There are some others, but not many. No one knows how it happened. Some people speculate that maybe it is a genetic mutation due to radiation or some other horrible cause of previous abnormal growths or disfigurations. Others think it is God’s way of saving the human race like in Noah’s Ark, but instead of a boat we have to rely on ourselves. Maybe it’s just evolution.

I look at these young children wondering when and how they will die. I lay awake at night, tangled in my sheets, trying to get through the night to see the dawn, hoping that tomorrow everyone will still be alive with me, and I won’t be alone.

—————–

I haven’t had these powers my whole life. They started about six months ago, when I was cooking. I was cutting carrots and cut a nasty gash in my finger. I quickly bandaged it up, and thinking I needed stitches, went to grab the keys to go the doctor. While I was waiting for the doctor to come in, (Why do they make you wait for a ½ hour in the room before the doctor actually comes? Why not just wait in the waiting room?)I took the bandage off and looked at my finger and there was hardly any evidence that there was ever a wound. There was only a slight pink pucker. The doctor came in and looked quizzically at my finger.

So what are you in for today, Nerissa?”I squinted at his name tag. It read, “Dr. Goldstein”. I quickly came up with a lie. I mean, how was I supposed to explain my finger? Even I couldn’t explain it.

Actually I have been feeling really bad lately.” I improvised. I then proceeded to describe the symptoms of a fake sickness. He checked everything and pronounced me healthy. I quickly thanked him and left.

When I got home I went into my room and plopped onto my bed. I stared at my finger, wondering what happened. Had I just imagined how bad it was because of all of the blood? No, I washed it and bandaged it. It was pretty gruesome. Just then I heard my mom come home and I put my wandering thoughts aside. My mom works at an attorney’s office and my dad is an artist. They love their jobs but still come home and make dinner almost every night. My brother is studying to be a doctor, and is away at school, which is kind of ironic now that I look back at it.

That night we have ice cream for dessert, which is my favorite kind of junk food. As I look back on how we laughed as my dad tells a story of how he played a practical joke on his friend at work, I wish I could freeze the moment to play over and over, even if my dad’s story will get old and I know how the joke ends.

————————-

It went on and on. I burned myself making macaroni. I dropped a shelf on my foot. I cut my leg shaving with a razor. I even got hit by a car walking home from the grocery store that’s a couple blocks away. Granted, it was more of a nudge, but it still hurt. I knew something was going on, but I was too freaked out to worry about it that much. I watched my parents to see if anything happened to them. My mom got a paper cut while working on a case file at the table while I was doing the homework. I got a band-aid for her and later asked her how her finger was.

Oh fine, honey.” She peeled the band-aid off her finger and showed me the small cut that looked about the same as it did a couple of hours ago. I asked her if she had had any weird experiences lately and she answered saying, “Nothing out of the ordinary, why?”

I brushed her question off by changing the subject to my latest test score.

I got an A on my history test today, mom.” I commented.

That’s nice honey,” she murmured.

Mom, are you okay?” I asked.

Oh, I’m fine. Just a little tired.” She looked up and smiled at me from her papers. She opened her mouth to say something but the garage door opened and my dad came in.

Hello dear family!” My dad joked. An ongoing joke since my childhood, his greeting came from an old black and white movie we watched a couple of months ago. In the movie the father comes home and greets his family, happily finishing up making dinner already, with a big smile and shouts, “Hello dear family!” His wife and two kids shout back, “Welcome home father!” or something else ridiculously formal compared to the “Hi’s” today.

My mom and I shout back “Dinner’s hasn’t even been started!” We all laugh. My parents, no matter how hard they try aren’t as cool as they think, I think to myself.

My dad works at a gallery and paints and sculpts in his spare time. At home he likes to carve wood into beautiful furniture that women fawn over. He is the most humble person I’ve ever met.

After dinner I go downstairs into my dad’s workshop. I see him sanding the leg of a chair.

Hey dad, could I ask you a question?” I ask him.

Sure, Red.” Red, his nickname for me because of my light brown/light reddish hair, was started after I said I looked like red riding hood when I was little, not knowing hood didn’t mean hair. Along with my different colored hair I have pale blue eyes and about regular height.

When you were growing up did you have any, um, abilities?” I asked tentatively.

If you mean puberty, I think we all thought we had powers.”He tossed a mischievous smile at me.

Daa-ad! No, I’m not talking about puberty. Did you ever get paper cuts or something and they would, well… just…heal?”

He looked pensive, trying to go back through all of his memories. “No, not that I can remember. But we all know how well my memory is, don’t we?” His eyes sparkled. “Any reason you’re asking?”

I hurried to pretend I was just curious. “Nope, I just wanted to know for a paper for school.” My dad seemed to take the excuse.

Well if I think of anything I will let you know, okay Red?”

“’Kay, Dad.” I went up to my room. My room is an organized mess. I know where everything is, well, um, usually…not. I clean my room and then don’t have the energy to put everything in it’s respective spot. Isn’t a room supposed to look lived in? My mom says I need to at least make a path from my bed to the door. I don’t know what she is talking about, there is clearly a path around the pile of clothes, over the socks, through the forest of pillows… Anyways, I finally dismissed my new powers as my imagination. But then I saw a boy fall of a building.

Chapter 2 29 days, 54 minutes

My mom had asked me to pick up something for dinner from the local fast food joint. I turned on the radio, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of the music, when I saw a boy about my age, around 17, spread his arms and jump right off the top of the Dairy Queen. I quickly stopped the car and ran towards his body. The weird thing was, he looked fine. There was only a cut or two, and no bones or parts of his body sticking at a weird angle.

Why did you do that?!” I yelled at him. “Are you trying to get yourself hurt?!” I hysterically screamed at him. He was wearing a red sweatshirt and jeans. He had blond hair and blue eyes and his face was contorted in pain. No, not pain, frustration. Frustration? Why would he be frustrated?

It didn’t work,” he muttered to himself.

What didn’t work?” I asked him, in a tone that I hope implied I didn’t think he was crazy, when in fact, I did think he was.

I thought I would at least break my legs,” he said in an irritated voice.

BREAK YOUR LEGS?! You should’ve died!” Okay, this guy was obviously crazy. Maybe I should run while I could. But I couldn’t just leave him there.

Okay, stay still, I’m going to call you an ambulance.” I told him.

No! Don’t do that!” He said sharply. His face changed and then he looked guilty. “I’m sorry, but I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine.” I looked at him dubiously. “Really, I’m okay.” He tried to get up and, miraculously, he stood right up. I looked at him.

What the…?” I said. Then a thought popped into a head. What if he was like me? “Wait!” I said to his retreating back. He turned around.

Um,…” What was I supposed to say? Are you a freak like me? Yeah, that would go great.“Have you, um, well, developed any special powers lately?”

His flashed with recognition, but he quickly turned his face impassive. But I knew that he knew what I was talking about.

Healing powers, like you get a cut and it heals up pretty fast?” I questioned him. I saw him hesitate and say, “Look, I don’t know who you’re working for, but I’m fine. Just forget what you saw and go back to your normal, unassuming life.”

Well, what a jerk!

Excuse me, you didn’t answer my question. Do you or do you not have special powers.” I demanded.

No.”

Oh, I think you do.” He looked so tired I almost felt sorry for him, but I was determined to know if there were others. “Please, I need to know.” I said. I think he saw something in my eyes because he said, “Fine, but you have to but me a burger.” And with that blackmailing, I let him lead me to a little diner where I bought him a burger and a milkshake and he told me his story.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

How I Became the Most Famous Woman Alive (in my head) (for one week)

Last week I did a fiction residency at Epiphany Catholic School in Coon Rapids, MN.

(Here’s me holding a whiteboard marker that I was about to start waving around as either a lightsaber or a magic wand. One or the other.)

On my very first day, after talking to a group of fourth graders about stories, and cheering them on as they wrote stories of their own, a little girl gave me a big hug, and said this: “You are as pretty as Sarah Palin.” She smiled. “Almost,” she added – yanno. To keep it real.

And while – most people who read this blog probably guessed this – I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the ex-governor, nor would I expect that she and I would agree on a single thing if we were ever in the same room – it was certainly evident that as far as this little girl was concerned, she was giving me the highest of compliments. And I appreciated it.

(though really…..the “almost” does sting. I could out-cute Sarah Palin with one arm tied behind my back and hopping on one foot.)

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that for one week – perhaps the only week of my life – I was a total rock star. There were posters of my serious-looking mug all over the school (like, about twenty of them), and the kids throughout the school knew that I’d be paying all of them a visit sometime during the week.

Whenever I walked by, children pointed. They gasped. They whispered in one another’s ear. They asked for my autograph (I didn’t have the heart to tell them that once I wrote on the paper, the autograph was worth less than the original paper it was written on. Who puts value on a scribbled piece of paper?). Kids ran up to me from halfway down the hall and gave me a hug. They squealed when they realized that my nonfiction books were in the library (“The library!!” they gasped.)

They listened to me read.

Okay, fine, they weren’t really listening at that point, because they were working so hard on the stories they wanted to share with me. And share they did. I have around seventy hand-written pages in my bag of student stories – lovingly written, then shoved into my hands. They giggled and blushed. They needed me to read them. Look how hard they worked! 

I’ve written here before how I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, cool. Still, for that week, those kids declared me cool. And I’ll hang onto it.

Student Work!

This week, I’ve been a guest writer at Epiphany Catholic School which is located a fair hike from my house (as a city dweller who can walk to most things worth going to, I have to admit that I’m daunted and confused by interstate highways, and am utterly mystified why anyone would chose to drive on them every day. And yet. There they were. Millions of people in their cars. A stunning sight. Anyway.). And this residency has been marvelous.

It’s been a bit of a departure from the normal set-up. Instead of working with four groups over the course of a week, seeing the same kids every day, in this residency I worked with each class only once, and therefore visited every classroom in the school. And let me tell you – I’ve felt like the most popular woman alive – a freaking rock star. And it’s been nice, because I’ve been able to meet everyone, and write with them, and listen to them, and hear their stories.

A couple of kids have been kind enough to share their stories with me on this blog. They’ve written across genres, writing the kinds of stories that draw them in individually as readers. And it’s been fun!

Here’s the first story, titled “Those Hunted,” by Rachel S., a seventh grader.

Seth could feel the fear wrapping around him, clutching at his chest, gnawing at his soul.  A car drove by, flooding the alleyway with a blinding light.  The vehicle drove by, kicking up dust.  The smell of must and rot filled Seth’s nose.  He backed himself into the corner, feeling the darkness again surrounding him, a sure sign that the beast would be there soon.  Seth dared not breathe into the night.  His mother had named him after the mythical Egyptian god, Set, hoping it would grant him even the slightest of power.  Seth knew this would not be.

Seth knew he had disturbed the beast.  He closed his eyes, then blinked them open, seeing no difference.  He had been afraid.  It had been a simple mistake, just a fight he had gotten into.  To anybody who looked, Seth was just a beggar, though for some reason terrified out of his mind.  A street rat, a grimy boy with dark eyes that never stopped darting around.  That was the truth.  But there was more.  He had been in school.  In fact, that was where it all had started.

There was nothing, even though he waved his hand in front of his face.  The darkness bounced through Seth’s head, like an echo that never truly ends.  The same darkness that had happened when Seth had cracked into a sarcophagus, caused by a hard shove received by a boy that had labeled Seth as a “weakling”.  He had thrown a punch at the boy, even though he himself had started it.  Seth had heard the hard CRUNCH!!! and knew he had crushed the bones of a very ancient king, even considered a god to Egyptians.  He had felt something zap through his mind, tracking him down and vowing never to let him go.  Seth now had the guardian of a past pharaoh after him, a blood-thirsty sphinx the size of a bus.  He had pictured its cold eyes snap open in his mind, the cold reptilian glare it had given him.

All because Seth didn’t look American, which he wasn’t, the kids had pushed him around.  His father had left him, and his mother had recently been in an accident.  Or so he thought.  What she hadn’t told him was how it had happened, or why he was living alone running from apparently nonexistent creatures.  Seth knew it existed, because it had been watching his every move for the past three years.  Now there was nowhere else to hide, and it would never let him escape.

Although all born in America, his family had been labeled aliens and shipped to Egypt.  They had never even been to Egypt.  Seth knew it was no mistake.  He had been caught between two battles at once.  The most important, between his life and reality.  Neither of which were winning.  He wondered where his family was, and if they knew where he was.  He had been in Egypt, and woken up in Miami, somehow.  Seth felt hot breath down the back of his neck, and knew why.  The sphinx had brought him here.

Seth stood up and turned around, glad that he could not see.  Then a bright light danced across his face, a flashlight shined in his eyes.  The sphinx was here.  It stood there, staring at him.  There was nothing human about it.  It’s massive body was like a lion, including its face.  A serpent’s tail lashed out behind it, green and scaly, about five feet long.  The sphinx opened its mouth, displaying a set of sharp, crooked, angled teeth.  The lion’s face morphed into the face of the body who had shoved.  It screamed into the night, hot breath striking Seth in the face.

 

Seth woke up.  He stared at a white ceiling.  It was his own.  Seth was in his room, feeling weightless.  He thought to get up, but decided not to.  The only thing worth fighting was the temptation to fight back.

Fantastic work Rachel! I love the visceral details and the way you put the reader right in the body of the main character.

 

And here’s another story from fourth grader Caitlin S. called “J.T Walker”

It seemed like any ordinary Monday afternoon. The teacher was reading from the book, “Shiloh”. Then, it happened. The bell rang three times. I knew what this meant. A real lockdown, not the ones we do every month. We hurried to the back of the room and the teacher closed both the doors and the window shades. We waited for two minutes, but the intercom made not one little buzz. “Let me in!”, called a sickening, raspy voice from the other side of the door.

We all screamed. Well, we couldn’t help it! What would you do if some crazed maniac came to your school shouting at your door?

Suddenly, I had a great idea. I asked my teacher if it was okay, and it was. So, I first got a desk and a chair and pushed them to the door. Next, I grabbed our class’ pet, a snapping turtle, and put him on the desk. Then, I grabbed a textbook and also put it on the desk. Finally, I got the keys from the teacher’s desk. With Henry the turtle in my hands, I slowly unlocked the door.

Once he came in, I put Henry in the back of his shirt. He was jerking so much you couldn’t see his face! But just at the right time, I whacked that jerk, J.T. Walker, on the head with the text book, and he got knocked out. My class jumped for joy! I was a hero!

 

I love stories by fourth graders! Their innate humor always combines with their innate need for heroism. Great story, Caitlin.

There’s more work coming in, so stay tuned!