Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Jeri Baird Genre: Middle Grade Magical Realism Title: THE ADVERSITY TREE
The day the preacher called me cursed, his words burnt into my brain the way lightning scorches a tree. It didn’t exactly kill me, but it sure did sting.
Mama and I stood at the front of the church ready to escape into a sunny April day meant for cut-offs, kites, and lazy bike rides. I shook Preacher Glenn’s hand and had one foot out the door, when he bent to whisper in Mama’s ear, “Rose, that daughter of yours is cursed the way she brings trouble to our little town.”
Mama turned bright red, but she raised herself tall and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “My Lily is not cursed.” Then she narrowed her eyes and gave him the look that Daddy says when you see it you’d better run. “I think we’ve had enough small mindedness in this church. We won’t be back.”
I’d never seen Mama with so much fire in her which made me think that some part of her thought he might be right. Mama marched me right out the door, and by the way she stomped around, I could tell she was still mad when we got home.
I asked her about it, but she said, “Lily, it’s ridiculous. This is 1989. I think we’re past believing in curses. Preacher Glenn’s an old man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She flipped her blonde hair with a flourish. “We’re not discussing this.”
I wished she would have let me talk about it. I had to swallow my fear where it settled in my belly like a serving of Mama’s Brussels sprouts (no cheese). That was the day my stomach started hurting and no amount of pink Pepto-Bismol helped.
I decided right then to never again listen to my gut, no matter how insistent. You can imagine my consternation when the very next day after school, I got that flutter. My head went to war with my gut, but lost quicker than a snow cone in July. When I had that feeling, I had to go, and wherever I ended up, trouble would be waiting. Always. And if the preacher was right, it would be my fault.
I jumped on my bike and shot down the street. I should have grabbed my jacket. The wind whistled clean through my New Kids on the Block t-shirt.
Cursed, cursed, cursed floated in the air.
Tanner Wilson pedaled after me. “Hey, Lily. Are you looking for trouble?”
He was usually the one causing it, so Tanner liked to follow me if he thought there was some coming. He seemed more interested than usual, which made me think he’d already heard what the preacher said, even though Tanner had snuck out after Sunday School.
When you live in a town as small as Blue Springs, news zips around faster than Michael Jordan going in for a lay-up. And if it’s something you don’t want told, it’s like a slam dunk – exciting for everyone but the person who got schooled.
I stood to pedal faster. “Shut up, Tanner. You know I don’t look for it.” I got my bike for my tenth birthday, and since my legs were almost two years longer, it jerked back and forth.
Tanner paced me on the beat up bike he’d found at the junk pile. He could have bought a new one with the money he’d spent on his Air Jordan high-tops, but he was pretty proud to be the first boy at school to get them. His bangs flopped in his eyes until he untwisted the Nike sweat band from his wrist and tamed them.
We skidded into the playground just in time to see Nick Fuller go sailing off a swing. He rolled on the ground, crying, and holding his foot. Nick was part of our gang of friends, but only because there weren’t that many kids in Blue Springs. I threw my bike down and ran to help, but Nick kicked at me.
“Leave me alone, curse girl. You jinxed me.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh because that was so ridiculous or cry because he believed it. What I wanted to do was yell at him. What I wanted to do was kick his good foot. What I did was grab my bike, knowing Tanner would help him.
As I rode away, I heard Tanner say, “Dude, that was awesome. You should have seen yourself flying through the air.”
That was Tanner for you.
I took my time going home, needing to ponder my fate. I was used to being different. Daddy was black and Mama was white. It didn’t bother me being the only family in town that wasn’t all white. But being proclaimed cursed? That bothered me a lot.
I peddled past my best friend, Belinda’s house, but didn’t feel like stopping. Her daddy was one of the people in town who gave me “that look” - the kind that made me feel like I forgot to wash my face or had my shirt on inside out. Daddy said it would make me grow up strong, but Mama had another opinion – an opinion she said I shouldn’t repeat.
At the edge of town, I rode in a circle while my thoughts went round and round. Nick would tell the kids at school I was cursed, and I already got called names I didn’t dare tell Mama. Daddy called her feisty, but I called her embarrassing. If I told her about Nick calling me curse girl, whoo-eee, I don’t know what she’d do.
Shadows fell across my porch when I parked my bike at the side. After I explained why I was almost late for supper, Daddy said, “Lily Kathryn Taylor, you’re led to trouble like tracks lead a freight train.”
My daddy was right about me and trouble. It got to be that sometimes no one wanted me around, they were so afraid of trouble coming. Except I didn’t bring trouble – it brought me. Unless the preacher was right. What if all those times I’d been rushing to help, I’d been rushing to make the bad things happen?
The next Sunday, we stayed home from church. That was fine with me. I never liked sitting that long, listening to a grown-up man wearing a dress, telling me I was going to you-know-where, unless I repented my sins and got dunked clean under in the water of baptism. Especially one who thought I was cursed.
Tanner’s mom made him get baptized, on account of him being so much trouble. He bragged about how he made sure one pinky finger didn’t go all the way under. I didn’t think I’d brag about going to you-know-where for lack of one finger getting wet, but then I wasn’t Tanner Wilson.
While Daddy cooked breakfast, I crawled into bed with Mama. We snuggled under the pink and blue flowered comforter and stole a few extra winks of sleep. Then, Daddy brought in a white wicker tray, like the room service at a fancy hotel I saw in a movie. We punched up the pillows and sat there eating pancakes and fruit salad and drinking big glasses of SunnyD orange drink.
Daddy prayed over those pancakes. “Dear God,” he said. “Bless this food and this family. Amen.” That ought to count for something.
Mama called Daddy a natural-born story-teller. We laughed until orange drink squirted out our noses