In this spotlight edition, we get to meet John Berkowitz!
I found John’s story extremely interesting. First of all, he is a father helping his young daughter become a published author! How cool is that? Together they are co-writing a book. On top of that, John works two full-time jobs. Talk about a busy schedule, eh?
So let’s get to know some more about him…
1. How did you and your daughter come across the idea to write a book? Did she ask you? Did she talk about it in school? Or did you suggest it?
The idea for this story started out as a thought exercise to make my daughter laugh. She must have been about eleven at the time. She was always pretending to be a fairy princess or a mermaid or some such, and one day I asked her what she would do if it turned out after all of this time she found out she really was a fairy princess … but not because her mother was a fairy, but because her father was a troll. It occurred to me that that was a great premise for a book, and after about a year of mulling it over and trying to develop a plot, I started writing it. My daughter and I have been collaborating on plot points, characters, how a 12-year-old-girl would react to given situations, etc. ever since. I described this exact thing in one of my blog posts.
2. As a father, do you encourage your daughter to dream big? And if so, how do you go about helping her to accomplish them? Or do you just observe what her interests are, and offer suggestions from there?
Of course! In fact, my primary motivation for making her a co-author of The Last Princess was to get her interested and familiar with the writing process and, should our book eventually sell, to give her a foot in the door if she chooses to write her own books. She has, in fact, started writing her own YA novel. She hasn’t shown it to me, yet.
3. How is the writing process with your daughter? Does she come up with the ideas and you write them? Or is it a total collaboration?
I am doing the heavy lifting with regards to putting words on paper, but I consult with her all the time for advice on how kids her age act and react, and what’s funny and so forth. I also rely on her to tell me if what I’m writing works or not. Her acceptance and enjoyment of my writing has given me a lot of confidence. She’s also come up with many of the names of characters and quite a few of the jokes. She’s responsible for the name of our villain: Melvin Francis Gaylord.
4. What has been the most rewarding part of this process?
If nothing else happens with the book, other than we share a manuscript between us and it never sees the light of day, we have had an amazing bonding experience. Plus, we’ll have a story that is essentially based on us. The family in The Last Princess is essentially our own family, if you sort of squint and look at them sideways.
5. What has been the hardest part? Have you and your daughter ever disagreed about where the story was headed? How did you come to a solution?
We’ve never strongly disagreed about anything major. I have definite ideas about how the plot should go and the major themes and character arcs, and she doesn’t always see the big picture, so I think she sometimes feels like I ignore her suggestions. But I take every one of them very seriously. Sometimes I just can’t make her ideas fit, but sometimes I can’t make my own ideas fit either. I think probably the most difficult part to write so far has been the chapter I just finished. It’s the scene just after the main character figures out her father is a troll, making her a troll, too, and she confronts him. She tells him she hates him, and I wanted the scene to be heartbreaking. But that is a very complex set of emotions to convey to a young audience. Plus, to my knowledge my daughter has never hated me, so neither of us really had the personal experience to draw from.
6. Are you going to seek representation from a literary agent? Do you have any specific ones in mind? Or is self publishing the way to go?
We most definitely want to go the traditional publishing route, and will be seeking an agent as soon as we get through the beta reads and make our final edits. That’s a few months away, so I’ve only just barely started looking into agents. We definitely have some favorite books and authors who we have been inspired by, so I will probably seek out the agents that represented those books and put them high on the list. I would only self-publish as a last resort. I certainly don’t have the time or energy ‒ or connections ‒ to make any headway promoting a book on my own. What we really want to do is pitch and sell this as a series. We have at least two more books roughly outlined, and potentially several others. There is a long-term character arc we would be working to.
And now a bit about YOU
1. When you were younger, did you want to be a writer? Or have your children inspired you to start?
When I was in high school, Star Wars was new and very big, and I tried my hand at a number of things inspired by the makers of those films: I tried sculpting alien heads as molds for rubber masks, I tried building miniature spaceships and so forth, I tried painting like the amazing matte painters, I even made a few short 8mm movies. But I didn’t think it likely that I would ever be able to break into the business. So I turned to writing, because that way I could include all of my visions in the story. I started my first novel at about 17, and didn’t finish it until almost 20 years later. But I did finish it. It’s not nearly good enough to try to sell (and it’s 250,000 words) but I did learn a great deal about who to write a book in the process.
2. Will you write books on your own once you are done helping your daughter/youngest son?
Who knows? If The Last Princess sells and does well, I can see myself doing this series and another one for my son for the next 10 years or more. Who knows what else I’ll think of in the meantime?
3. What did you go to college for?
I got a degree in English with a minor in Communications.
4. How did your parents encourage (or maybe discourage) you when you had dreams? Does that influence the way you help your children today?
Let’s just say they were patient.
Now just some random fun facts:
1. Any pets?
No family pets. My daughter has a couple of frogs and fish.
2. Favorite color
Mine is blue. Probably. It’s hard to say; I do graphic layout and design for a living, and I work with a lot of colors every day. I like a lot of colors under different circumstances. It’s hard to choose a favorite.
3. Kindle or traditional book, and why?
Never a Kindle. I have a very hard time with Amazon as a company, particularly with regards to how they undercut e-book prices and how they treat authors. I think Amazon is toxic to the book industry. I do enjoy the convenience and portability of e-books, however, and I have quite an extensive collection on my iPhone. Plus I have a pretty massive physical library that I have been amazing for most of my life. I’m fifty, so that’s more than a few books.
4. Favorite genre to read
It seems to be fantasy, right now. Although I love good sci-fi, too. And history.
5. Favorite genre to write
Both of my novels have been fantasy.
6. Any weird, quirky writing habits?
Yes. I work two jobs and have a full family life, so I have had to learn to write the way a soldier learns to sleep: standing up and for 15 minutes at a time. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of this novel written using my iPhone and a Bluetooth keyboard, in the break room during lunch.
As a girl who used to pore over fairytales and middle-grade fiction, I really enjoyed learning about John and the story he is crafting with his daughter. I can see this selling BIGTIME once it is completed. I would read it, and I’m well over the middle-grade age.
Take a look at the first chapter:
Princess Broken Wire
Have you ever seen a little girl twirling in the middle of the supermarket, a tutu over her jeans and a plastic tiara on her head? Unconcerned with the world around her and humming a song from a princess movie?
I was that little girl. And if I’d known then what I know now I’d have traded that tutu and tiara for a thick skin and some karate lessons. Because if I’d ever really looked at myself in the mirror I would have realized that I’m not that kind of princess at all. And I was going to have to become a whole lot stronger to survive being what I really was.
Before everything changed my happiest moments in life were always spent elbow-deep in modeling clay, because those were the moments I got to spend with my dad. Dad made ceramic flower pots and Mom grew plants to put in them, which we sold at our shop, Brökkenwier Boutique. Between you and me I thought a potted plant had about as much magic as a cold, half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich. But give me a lump of wet clay and I’d be sculpting a frog prince or a unicorn before you could say, “dirty fingernails.”
Dad was lucky; he got to putter all day in his workshop, his big clumsy hands spinning beautiful pottery. Meanwhile I was stuck here in the living room doing my seventh grade history homework. Granted, I was drawing Windsor Castle for my project on medieval society, but history isn’t the same as fantasy. I tried to pass the time by pretending I was a beautiful princess living in the tallest tower. Princess Brökkenwier….
“Look at me! I’m a superhero!”
Meet my little brother, Thomas. He jumped off the couch in a heroic leap and landed right in the middle of my drawing, sending glitter pens flying everywhere. Thomas is like a miniature version of Dad who swallowed a whole herd of kangaroos. He’d had his fourth birthday last week and he still hadn’t taken off his new red mask and cape.
“Thomas! Knock it off!” I growled. “You’re wrecking my project!”
“Hey!” He balled up his fist and struck his fiercest warrior pose. “You’re a bad guy. Fight with me, bad guy.”
“I’m trying to do my homework. Mom!”
From the kitchen Mom’s calm, diplomatic voice called, “Thomas, you need to leave your sister alone, please.”
“Never!” He whacked me on the head with his “sword,” part of a foam rubber pool toy he found in the garage. “Ha!”
“Ow!” I really wanted to hit him back, but I knew he would just think I was playing with him and then he’d never leave me alone. This happens about nine hundred and forty-seven times a day.
That’s when we heard the heavy, stomping footsteps coming closer from down the hall, and a gruff, gravelly voice: “Did I hear there’s a superhero in here spoiling for a fight?” Dad lumbered into the room like a pot-bellied giant, his bushy eyebrows pushed together and his chin jutting out. “Come here, hero!” He winked at me.
Thomas squealed with laughter and started dancing around, beating on Dad’s shins with his sword until Dad lifted him up over his head. “Come on, hero. Let’s let your sister finish her homework.”
“No, I’m an airplane!” Thomas dropped his sword and spread his arms out to the sides as Dad flew him out of the room. Thomas’ airplane noises faded down the hall.
Sigh. I started gathering up my glitter pens.
“How’s your homework coming, Catherine?” Mom came into the living room drying a ceramic bowl with a kitchen towel.
Now my mom could totally pull off being a fairy-tale princess, if she wasn’t so busy being a perfect mom instead. She’s beautiful, cheery, has a total green thumb, and can magically transform any combination of leftovers or ordinary groceries into a feast fit for a king. She can make her strawberry-blonde hair cover-girl perfect in about five minutes, while mine stays stubbornly straight no matter how much I threaten it.
In other words, Mom and I have almost nothing in common. Oh, and she’s completely over the whole fairy-tale thing.
“Are you finished with your drawing?”
“Almost. I just have to finish coloring in the wings.”
“The dragon’s wings.” I had drawn a glittery green dragon flying over Windsor Castle, breathing fire at the princess in the tower.
Mom closed her eyes and sighed.
“It’s only a little dragon,” I muttered.
“It’s a beautiful drawing of a dragon, Cat. But this isn’t the time or place for your fantasies. This is schoolwork.”
“I did the report, Mom. I closed my eyes. “Windsor Castle was built in the eleventh century in the county of Berkshire, England. The home of the British Royal Family, Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied palace in Europe. More than five hundred people live and work—”
“Okay, okay.” Mom smiled, pleased despite herself.
“It’s already typed and in my folder for when Misty comes next week.” Misty is my teacher, but Mom home schools me, so Misty only visits to grade my work every two weeks.
“Good job, Catherine. I’ll check it later.” She tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear and out of my face. “Why don’t you finish … that, and then you can go help your dad in the workshop until dinner.”
I grinned. “Thanks, Mom.”
“You can hang that in your room. But I’d like you to draw another one without the dragon before Misty comes. Alright?” Mom reached for the bowl she had been drying.
“I have to draw another—?” I stopped myself. “Sure.” I sighed. “Is that bowl from Dad’s latest batch?”
“Mm-hmmm. What do you think?” She held it up. It was a little bigger than a soup bowl and mostly muddy brown. Dad had painted a sky-blue glaze around the top, outlining the shape of mountains below, and had carved little trees and ridges into the clay mountains. There was even snow on the peaks, painted on with white glaze. “I was going to plant one of the bonsai’s in it for the fair, tomorrow.”
“Perfect. Anyone who doesn’t buy that is a birdbrain.”
“Hmmm. Maybe so. But you can’t go around calling all of our customers who don’t buy our plants ‘birdbrains.’” Mom glared in mock anger. “Again.”
“Hey, if they don’t buy anything then technically they aren’t customers.”
I’d only done it that one time, and the lady hadn’t heard me. I don’t think. But she’d fluttered around our booth for twenty minutes with her beak-like nose and a look like she’d just eaten a worm, then told Mom her ferns were wilted. Besides, she looked like one of those nasty bird-women from Greek mythology – a harpy.
Anyway, I’d do it again. People should be more polite. My family works hard. Besides, as long as Mom doesn’t catch me what’s the problem? I just need to be sneaky.
I’m good at sneaky.
Dad was just putting his latest batch of planting pots into the kiln for firing when he elbowed a stack of saucers on the corner of the workbench. The crash of shattering ceramic made me jump.
“Nice one, Dad!” I called from the worktable where I was trying to sculpt a mermaid.
Oh, for the love of…!” He made an angry grab for the broom and missed, knocking it to the floor. “Really?!” He glared at the broom as if it had jumped out of his reach.
I snickered. Dad’s temper often got the better of him. I called him my “stark raving dad,” but not to his face. I said sweetly, “Would you like me to hand that to you before you kill yourself, Dad?”
“I don’t need any comment from you, thank you very much.”
I flared my nostrils in an imitation of his rather large nose – which he hated.
“Oh.” He smiled sarcastically. “So nice of you to volunteer to sweep up my mess and help out your old, clumsy father.”
“Hey!” I crossed my arms and refused to move.
He handed me the broom. “Thanks, princess!”
I wasn’t going to get out of this. I knew I’d better do it before he piled on more chores. But I didn’t have to like it. “Grumble, grumble, mutter, mutter.”
“Watch your language, young lady,” Dad scolded. “No daughter of mine will curse like a truck driver.”
I humphed as I stood up with the broom. “Well, I can’t exactly curse like a princess, can I?”
Dad stroked his stubbly chin. “Yeah. You’ve got a point.”
I started sweeping the broken shards and noticed the larger pile that already occupied the corner of the workshop. “It looks like you break more than you create, Dad.”
He looked up from where he was cleaning the pottery wheel. “Hey, I didn’t break all of those. Thomas helped. A little.”
“Right.” I continued sweeping and noticed that a lot of the pieces were reddish-orange, the perfect color for my mermaid’s hair. “Dad? Can I have some of these scraps?”
“Uh, sure. What for?”
After I explained my idea, Dad helped me grind up some of the red clay shards into dust. I sprinkled this over my mermaid’s hair and added water with a spray bottle to make it stick.
“Nice,” Dad said, looking over my shoulder. “I can’t wait to see how that turns out after we fire it.”
“Hey, guys.” My older brother, Alex, stuck his head into the shop. “Mom says dinner is ready.”
“Tell her we’re just washing up, son.”
Alex nodded and smiled at our mess, then withdrew. Alex is in college, now, and no longer very interested in the family business. He says girls don’t like dirty fingernails. I don’t understand what he’s talking about – I’m a girl and I have no problem with dirty fingernails. So now Alex spends most of his free time at the gym working out because he says girls do like lots of muscles. Again, I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Dad and I washed up quickly and headed to dinner and some of Mom’s yummy cooking. We needed to eat fast so we could pack up for the craft fair the next day.
Yay. Another day surrounded by plants and rude customers. Maybe I could find a way to sneak some excitement into my day. What would Princess Brökkenwier do?
Saturday morning and the Rockford Craft Fair and Farmer’s Market was about to open. You could get anything there from home-grown vegetables to truck parts. We had a permanent booth with our name, “Brökkenwier Boutique” painted on a big wooden sign and everything. Besides Mom’s plants and Dad’s pottery I sometimes tried to sell my sculptures, but hardly anyone ever bought them. Maybe because Mom kind of hid them behind other stuff. Or maybe they just weren’t very good.
Alex had just unloaded the last box from the van and set it down by the big potted ferns. “Okay, Mom, that’s the last of it. I’ll be back at six to help load up.”
“Thank you, Alex.” Mom smiled from where she was counting money into our antique cash register. “Have a good day at work.”
“Mom, can I go with Dad to park the van?” I wanted to listen to my new CD, a boy band called The Perfect Storm.
“No, Catherine. Customers are starting to arrive, and I need you to unload that last box, please. Then comb your hair.”
Thomas got to go with Dad. Harumph. “Sure,” I sighed. I bent over and started to lift out the little cactuses. Cacti. As I arranged them I watched the trickle of early customers as they walked by.
Some people like to look up at the clouds and find elephants and pirate ships and bunny rabbits. Me, I can look at people and see fairies and dwarves and goblins. It’s so obvious!
Take that blonde girl, for instance. She was tall and thin and had her straight platinum hair tucked behind her ears, which made them kind of stick out. Actually her ears and her green eyes seemed a little too big for her face. Totally an elf. Obviously.
And that really tall muscular guy carrying the sledge hammer he just bought? Giant, right? You can see it in their faces if you know what to look for. And in the way they dress and walk and everything. If you know your fairy-tale creatures. And I know them all. Most people just look like people, but certain people stand out.
“Cat?” Dad was back, carrying Thomas. “I’ve got to give Little Man his breakfast before you watch him. Can you help Mom with the customers for a few minutes?”
I glanced up. Mom was helping an older couple pick out a fichus. A lady and a boy my age were hovering near the entrance. The boy had mean little eyes and big ears, just like a goblin. He picked his nose and stared at me.
I shuddered. “Sure, Dad.”
“Thanks, princess.” He looked me in the eye. “Be nice.”
As Dad took Thomas to the private back area of our space I forced myself to smile at the creepy boy and his mother. “Hi! Can I help you?”
“Mom, this place bites,” the boy griped as he skulked. “Let’s go find the video games.” He spied an insect on the ground and stomped it flat with practiced accuracy. He wore a satisfied smirk as he ground it into the dirt.
The mother smiled indulgently at her boy then glanced at me with tired eyes. “We’re just looking.”
“No, we’re not, Mom. We’re leaving. C’mon!”
“I just want to look for a minute. Can’t you wait for one minute?” She wandered further into the booth.
“You’re buying me two games, then.” He glared at me as if I was the cause of all his woes, then produced a small pocket knife and unfolded it. His venomous eyes never left mine as he began carving something into the wooden counter, daring me to stop him.
How am I supposed to be nice to that … that cockroach? I wanted to step on him. I had never hated anybody this much in my life.
Finally bored with his idle vandalism he put away his knife and looked up at our sign. Then back to me. “So, ‘princess,’ what kind of stupid name is Broken Wire, anyway?”
My smile slipped but I slapped it back on again, over clenched teeth. “It’s Brökkenwier, actually. And it’s Scandinavian.”
He tilted his head exactly like a dog trying to understand human speech. “You made that up. There’s no such thing as a Scandia navy.”
I blinked but he just stared back at me with that same vacant look. “You’re right,” I said. “I made it up. Hey look! A helpless animal” I pointed.
The boy whipped around. “Where?”
“You just missed it! It ran into the food court. There’s no way you could catch it, now.”
“Wanna bet?” He dashed into the growing crowd.
“Yes, actually!” I said to the empty air, then spun happily on one toe to re-enter the booth.
And bumped into Dad. He had his arms crossed and was staring down at me with a face that looked like it had been carved from stone.
“Uh, oh,” I said and instantly wished I hadn’t.
“Catherine Brökkenwier! You are going to apologize to that lady for making her son run off. Then you’re going to―”
Mom put her hand on Dad’s arm. “It’s alright, Richard. I’ll take care of this. You go watch the shop.”
Uh, oh. I swallowed.
Dad glared at me, then squeezed Mom’s hand and stomped over to the cash register.
I lifted my eyes to Mom’s, expecting the worst. The furthest thing Mom’s face ever got from a smile was mild disappointment, but on Mom that was like a thundercloud about to burst.
But then I saw the corner of her mouth twitch with suppressed laughter. When I snorted from trying to stop my own giggles she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. She put a finger to my lips and hissed, “Shhh!” then turned so Dad couldn’t see our faces. She took my arm and marched us both to the other side of the booth.
“That was uncalled for, Catherine.”
“Did you see him?” I grinned. “He was such a little goblin!”
“Just don’t.” Laughing Mom was gone. “We’ll talk about your punishment later, young lady. Your dad and I will watch your brother. You need to take a walk.” She picked up one of Dad’s empty bowls and handed it to me. “Take this to Mr. Goldschmidt at his booth and thank him for his help last week. Then come back with a better attitude, please. Now go. Out of my sight.”
I hurried out of the booth carrying the bowl. As I headed around the corner I could hear my mom’s fading voice: “I’m very sorry, ma’am, I think your son left without you….”
Mr. Goldschmidt was a clockmaker, but he’d happily take apart any gadget you put down within his reach. Last week he’d helped Dad fix our old cash register. When I told him what Mom had said and handed him the bowl Mr. Goldschmidt tipped his cap, revealing his bald head, and smiled through his thick red beard. “You’re velcome, you’re velcome!” Gold teeth flashed as he spoke with a thick German accent.
Dwarf, I thought to myself as I left the booth.
Or maybe not. Maybe Mr. Goldschmidt is just a funny-looking man. And maybe I’m just a girl with a funny-looking name who’ll never be a princess.
“There,” I muttered to nobody in particular. “Is that a better-enough attitude?”
Nobody answered, of course. I took that as a “no” and kept walking.
It isn’t often I get to wander around the fair without some errand to run or some message to deliver. I pretty much know the whole place with my eyes closed – from food alley, with the delicious smells of turkey legs and sweet cakes, to the brightly-colored clothing and blankets aisle, to the noisy booths near the back where they sell music and toys and army surplus.
But today my shuffling feet lead me to the other end of the fair, to the artisan’s district. Somewhere around here was an old lady who carved unicorns and mermaids and dragons out of wood, and right then I really wanted to see them, to make sure I wasn’t the only one in the universe who still believed in magic. Then I turned the corner and there it was.
Mrs. Dalyrimple looks exactly like one of those dried apple dolls you sometimes see around Christmas time. She’s tiny and has a little round head with so many wrinkles you’d think her body shrank but her skin didn’t. I think she’s been selling her wood carvings here since about the time they discovered wood, and they probably just built the craft fair up around her.
She was sitting in a big wooden rocking chair with a pile of walnuts in her lap, cracking them in her hands and eating them. I stood and watched for a minute before I’d gotten close enough for her to see me, because I didn’t understand how such a little old woman could possibly crack a walnut in her tiny bare hands. What she did was this: she picked up a walnut and cupped it in both of her palms. Then she just opened her hands and there lay a pile of shells and two pieces of walnut, which she popped into her mouth and chewed happily.
Her eyes met mine. “Cat Brökkenwier. Right on time. Nut?”
I blinked, then intelligently said, “Huh?”
She tossed a walnut at my head. I just managed to regain my senses in time to duck out of the way. She looked sadly at the walnut lying in the dirt behind me and tsked. “Waste of food. Well, come inside before the sun bakes that pretty little head of your’n.”
I obeyed, looking around. Suns and moons hung on the walls next to beautiful little shelves, each with a carved animal resting on it. Some were so lifelike I half expected them to turn and look at me. Suspended from above, birds in flight shared the air with butterflies, pixies and, of course, dragons, all beautifully carved from wood. On the wall right in front of me hung an amazing carving of a tree. It had dozens of branches and hundreds of leaves, and every one of them looked perfect. But there was something else, too. You know those drawings that look like a vase if you stare at it one way, but if you stare at it another way you can see it was a face the whole time?
“You see her, don’t you?” Mrs. Dalyrimple croaked.
“Huh?” I tore my eyes away from the carving. I was at my very wittiest, today.
“The dryad in the tree.” She pointed a knuckley finger at the sculpture and squinted. “Most people just see a tree.”
But it was so obvious. It wasn’t a tree at all, but a beautiful young girl with leaves woven into her long, wind-blown hair.
“You can see things others can’t, eh, missy? See what’s really there.” She winked and chewed another nut.
A ripple of guilt sliced through my belly. I was supposed to be back at our booth by now. I was supposed to be there, very carefully not seeing things that nobody else could see. I shook my head at Mrs. Dalyrimple. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just a dumb tree. I don’t even know what a dryad is.”
Mrs. Dalyrimple smiled and brushed walnut shells from her lap. “I see things for what they really are, too, missy.” She sucked her teeth, never taking her eyes from mine. “You can lie to me if it makes you feel better. But you know, a lie don’t do no good if the person you’re lying to can see it’s a lie.”
I swallowed, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
Mrs. Dalyrimple levered herself out of her chair with a carved wooden cane and walked around me in a slow circle. She only came up to about my chin, but I felt certain she could knock me down with that cane if I dared make fun of her size. “You’re a special one, you know that? You have a gift you ain’t learned to use, yet.”
I’m going to get into such trouble if I listen to this lady. I shook my head in irritation. “I have an imagination. So?”
“Oh.” She nodded sagely. She shrugged and shuffled back to her chair. “So you don’t want your gift, is that it?” She lowered herself into the cushions, then frowned up at me. “Then there ain’t nothing here for you, Cat Brökkenwier.”
But I could see the dryad in the tree carving. Plain as day. What did that make me? Heart thumping, I took a step forward to try to catch Mrs. Dalyrimple’s eye―
I spun, a pang of guilt hitting me like a bucket of ice water.
Mom was rounding the corner at full steam. “This is where you’ve been? I told you to deliver that bowl and come right back. Your father and I can’t watch the store, the customers the cash box and your brother all at the same time.” She stopped so close I could feel the anger coming off her in waves. “Thomas knocked over a table of bonsais in your dad’s new bowls when you were supposed to be watching him!” I had never seen Mom so angry … or so scary.
“I’m sorry! I just― I thought―” My mouth went dry and refused to form words.
“No, you obviously didn’t think.”
Her words felt like a slap in the face. At first I thought she was mad at me because I’d snuck off to look at some fairy-tale carvings. But then I pictured all of the ruined bonsais and broken pots back at the booth and a new thought struck me like a punch in the stomach. Those things were as important to Mom and Dad as my fantasies were to me. They poured their hearts and souls into them every day. In fact, they were more important, because those things paid for everything we owned in the Real World. And a bunch of them just got destroyed because I had to go looking for magic.
Mom’s eyes darted over my shoulder to the carvings of dragons and fairies, and I stiffened.
“Not another word, Catherine.”
She stepped around me and walked over to Mrs. Dalyrimple, who looked up at her, lazily chewing. “Mrs. Brökkenwier.”
“I would appreciate it if in the future you would not encourage my daughter. She has a job to do and doesn’t need to be loitering here getting any ideas.”
I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from speaking out.
“As you say, ma’am.” Mrs. Dalyrimple nodded.
Mom turned and looked me in the eye. “Why are you still standing there?”
After we got home from the fair, Mom and I had our talk. Well, Mom had our talk and I listened.
She said I was almost a teenager, now, and it was time I started acting more like an adult. Then she said I was too old for fairy-tales and a pang of shock and panic exploded in my belly. But Mom didn’t even slow down.
She said no more drawings of leprechauns on my homework, no more pointing out that old Mr. Perrault across the street looked like an ogre. She said I was old enough to be my own person instead of always wanting to be somebody else, and that I needed to see the world for what it truly was, not what I wished it would be.
Fine, I thought with my last scrap of defiance. If I can’t look for magic in the world any more, I’ll just have to find it in my books. Those were my real friends; Hans Christian Anderson and Aesop and the Brothers Grimm, and all the rest. Just because the Real World didn’t have magic didn’t mean I couldn’t have any, right?
But Mom still wasn’t finished with me. Not even close.
I did not cry when she put all of my books in a box and taped it shut. I didn’t even cry when she took my princess night-light and fairy dolls and put them in another box. But when she wrapped her arms around me and snuggled me close I totally lost control and sobbed and snotted into her shoulder like a little girl.
Cheese! Mom’s right, I do need to grow up. First my foolishness turns my perfect, even-tempered mother into a monster who rips half my life away, then she smothers me with love because I’m hurting? Even after I ruined months of her work? Who am I kidding, anyway? Some princess I would be!
I suddenly felt very selfish. So I pulled myself together, blew my nose, washed my face, and helped Mom carry my favorite childhood possessions into the garage. Then I lifted my chin, squared my shoulders, and marched back into the house determined not to let Mom down again. I was going to be a perfect lady, with manners, good study habits, and grown-up interests. Just like Mom.
And I did a really good job of it, too. For almost a whole week.
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