If you follow me on social media you likely know that I recently completed the draft of a middle grade novel. YES, I FINISHED SOMETHING. I’m over the moon happy about it. And I really love the book.
I did not intend to write a middle grade novel or any novel other than the Egypt one I’ve been working on. This all happened because of The Picture Game. I was with Alethea Kontis and we decided to gear up for writing by doing a 10 minute picture game. I had the perfect image, one I’d recently come across on Facebook. I showed it to Alethea, I set the timer, and the stuff below just came pouring out of me. I thought I was maybe writing a short story, but after I read it to her, Alethea said: “You know that’s the first chapter of a middle grade novel, right?”
This is the curse of having writer friends. they’re always telling you that things are novels.
After much noodling over the idea I created a rough outline, then told the whole story to a roomful of people at WisCon. They all loved it and told me I had to write it.
So, I did.
I’ve been posting chapters of the first draft on Patreon — one per week. Chapter 10 just went live and there are 16 chapters total plus an epilogue. You can join my Patreon if you want to read all the chapters. One week after I post the epilogue I’m taking all the chapters down. So if you want a sneak peek of this book just know there’s a time limit.
To tempt you further, here’s the first part of the first chapter:
Ruby vs the Big Red Bug
Ruby loved bugs. She loved the cool-looking ones and the creepy ones and the pretty ones and the huge ones. The ones with six legs and eight legs and a thousand legs and no legs. She loved looking at them and talking about them and learning about them and picking them up. That last one was usually what got her in trouble.
“Take that nasty thing outside!” Gramma would say (after she was done screaming in fright) when she found them in the tupperware or the mason jars hidden under her bed or in the closet. Gramma had a No Tolerance policy when it came to bugs. Any sign of an ant in the kitchen, a housefly in the basement, spiders in the bedrooms, or stinkbugs in the attic, and she would hunt them down with no mercy, her homemade bug killing juice in an old spray bottle in one hand and a mallet in the other.
So when Ruby spotted the weirdest bug she’d ever seen in her front yard, she made sure no one – not the kids down the block, not Miss Annie across the street, not the postlady turning the corner – saw her scoop it up with a trowel and drop it into one of the mason jars she kept under the porch for just this sort of thing. Now no one could tell on her.
She slipped into the house by the side door so she wouldn’t have to go past the TV room where Gramma was watching her stories. Ruby went upstairs (without thundering like an elephant) and dashed into her room, locking the door. Now she had time to study the weird bug up close. It didn’t look like any of the species she’d ever seen before. It was a dull red color and had six legs (not a spider), big green eyes like a fly (no wings), and a pinchy mouth like an ant (no segments). She figured she should look it up to make sure it wasn’t dangerous like those emerald ash borer beetles she found infesting the wooded area behind the house. Her Gramma was happy she’d been out there “Messin’ with them bugs” that day.
No matter what keywords she put in her school tablet’s search engine the results never showed anything even close to what was in front of her. Her dad had given her a big book for identifying insects, arthropods, and bugs, with pictures of almost every known tiny creature with four or more legs discovered around the world. After a half hour of flipping through it, she still hadn’t found anything.
“What are you?” she asked it. The weird bug didn’t answer.
Finally, she took a couple of pictures of it with the tablet and logged into the secret Twitter account her parents didn’t know she had. “Anyone seen an insect like this before?” she added, then uploaded the pictures. She hit tweet, looked up from the tablet, and saw that the mason jar was empty.
The top was still on tight.
She picked up the jar and saw a hole – a perfectly circular hole – in the side.
A noise at the window made her look over. There was the weird bug, and it was using its front legs to burn a hole through the mesh screen.
It looked back at her, then leapt through the hole and outside. Ruby tore off downstairs – “How many times have I told you not to run around this house like an elephant!” – and outside, but she saw no sign of the green-eyed, six-legged, glass-cutting, metal-burning bug.
An hour later, Ruby was still sitting on the front porch trying to figure out how she was going to explain the hole in her window screen when three black sedans pulled up in front of the house and a bunch of white men in suits got out of them. This was never, never a good thing, even in this neighborhood.
“Grammaaaaaaaaa!” she shouted as she ran inside.
“What, girl, what is it?” Gramma asked, concerned, until she saw the men on her porch. Her body went stiff and her expression turned stony. “Can I help you?”
A white man with hair cut so short he was almost bald stepped up to the door, looked at his smartphone, then at Gramma, and finally down to Ruby. “Are you @LilEntomologist on Twitter?”
“She’s only twelve, she ain’t allowed on Twitter yet.”
The man kept looking at her.
“Yeah,” Ruby admitted in a mumbly voice. She could already feel the whoopin’ she was gonna get for creating another secret account.
PS — The image that inspired this story is “Fight with Whatcha’ Got” by Phil Dragash