Today we're visiting with author J. D. Pooker on her tour with Bewitching Book Tours for the middle grade fantasy novel, "The Ifs".
J. D. answered many of my prying questions -- thanks!
Why Middle Grade fiction? What draws you to it?
I write both middle grade and YA fiction. I enjoy writing it because I love thinking about what things kids are worried about nowadays. With two kids of my own, I know they are going to face tough times, and I like to imagine how they would react in those situations and give them some guidelines in my story about what to do.
What books were your favorite as a youth and why?
I LOVED Christopher Pike novels. Such a fantastic writer!
What’s your favorite sweet treat?
I really don’t say no to any sweet treat, unless it has nuts in it. Bleh. I’m a huge brownie fan, so I’ll eat any type of brownie. I also love orange soda.
What superpower would you love to have? Why?
The ability to multiple myself. Then I could accomplish everything I need to accomplish in a day.
Favorite class in high school. Why?
English. My teacher was a huge influence on my writing. I’m thankful for his inspiration to create.
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Publisher: Little Devil Books
Date of Publication: April 23, 2013
Number of pages: 146
Landon and Broden are brothers. Some days they DO NOT get along very well. They spend most of their time fighting, arguing and plotting ways to get revenge on each other.
Then, strange things start happening…
Noises in their room that are not the cat.
Homework is mysteriously finished.
A broken shoelace repairs all by itself.
Clothes are put in the hamper on their own. The brothers want to share their weird experiences, but they don’t know if they can trust each other. But when they find out who’s behind all the strange things around the house, they are called to battle.
Battle? Whoa! Right there in the forest by their house! A battle with the most unusual creatures and wildest of beasts. And when the battle turns more dangerous than they imagined, Landon and Broden must face their fears, put their grudges aside and learn how to work together.
Now Enjoy Chapter One:
“Good night, boys. I love you.” Mom smiled slightly as she blew each of the boys a kiss.
“Love you, too, Mom,” the brothers said in unison.
She clicked out the light and closed the door.
Landon settled into bed and closed his eyes.
He dreamt that he ran through the forest. His breath came in pants, his legs were heavy and hard to move. Something stomped behind him, breathing on his neck. When he glanced over his shoulder, there was nothing but trees. He turned back just in time to see a branch in front of his face. He ducked just before hitting it, but the movement shifted his weight and threw him off balance. He fell forward, rolling through dirt and leaves. As soon as he stopped, he held his breath and listened. The footsteps still sounded behind him. He tried to push himself up, but he couldn’t move. A puddle of mud surrounded him, and he sank into it. He grabbed at the tree roots in an attempt to save himself. Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. Landon quit struggling and glanced around. The forest grew darker, and someone laughed—a low, menacing laugh, like a villain in cartoons. The renewed desire to pull himself out overwhelmed him, but his movements caused him to sink faster. When the mud was about to cover his face, he jerked awake.
His foot connected with something on his bed, and it thumped onto the floor before scurrying across the room. Landon wiped the sweat from his forehead and rubbed his eyes. Cautiously, he glanced over the edge.
“Tiki?” he whispered. “Tiki is that you?”
He waited for the meow, but it never came. He shrugged and hopped off the bed, walking to the bathroom to get a drink of water. As he came back to his room, something clinked. What was that? He squinted in the darkness, hoping the gesture would allow him to see what made that sound.
“Tiki?” He walked to his bookshelves. He was sure the sound came from that area. “You know you’re not supposed to be up there.”
He stood in front of the shelves, patting each shelf with his hand, looking for the cat. A meow sounded behind him. Tiki stood in the doorway. Something thumped in the closet to his right. His heart began to beat rapidly, and he jumped back into bed, throwing the covers over his head. It was a zombie, he knew it. Mom and Dad told him they didn’t exist, but he was sure they did. What else would have made that sound? It was going to come out of the closest, its eyes glowing red and teeth dripping with spit, and eat him. The only protection he had was the force field created by his blankets. Hopefully, they kept him safe.
Landon listened intently, waiting for another sound to permeate the darkness, but nothing sounded. He relaxed. The zombie must have moved on. It knew it couldn’t get through his shields. His heart rate slowed; he took a deep breath.
Eventually, he fell back asleep.
His alarm woke him the next morning. He poked his head out of the covers and glanced at the clock. 7:00. He folded the covers to his waist and rubbed his eyes. He didn’t feel very rested. In fact, he was incredibly tired. He wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep. Landon finished rubbing his eyes and glanced down. Tiki lay at the end of his bed, staring at him and blinking slowly. Landon huffed. Dumb cat caused a lot of issues during the night, and she looked at him like she was innocent and did nothing wrong. It was her fault he was so tired. But what could he do? He had to go to school, and Mom would be mad if he hurt the cat. The only thing he had to look forward to was that it was Friday. He jumped onto the floor and turned to Broden.
“Hey.” He shook Broden’s shoulder. “It’s time to get up. We have to get ready for school.”
Broden rolled over and swatted at his brother but missed. Landon backed out of the way.
“I’m up, I’m up,” he said.
Landon felt ornery and punched him in the arm before running down the hall. Broden yelled at him from the bedroom. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but Broden needed some motivation to get up. As he turned to go downstairs, he heard Broden right behind him. Landon glanced over his shoulder, smiling. He took the stairs two at a time and went into the kitchen. Mom sat at the table, checking her email and eating a bowl of cereal. Phew! Landon was safe.
“Good morning,” she said between bites.
Landon was about to answer when Broden burst into the room. He tried to smack Landon on the head, but Landon blocked it, and the two started a slap fight. Broden must not have noticed Mom at the table, or maybe he didn’t care. With her there, Broden could get into a lot of trouble for starting a fight. After all, Mom didn’t see Landon hit Broden in the bedroom, so she couldn’t punish him for that.
“Boys,” Mom called over the melee. “It’s too early for that. Knock it off.”
“He hit me,” Broden whined.
“No I didn’t,” Landon protested.
“I don’t care who did what. Knock it off before I hit you both.”
The two settled down and grabbed a bowl and a box of cereal out of the cupboard. As they sat at the table, they kicked at each other. Landon tried to whack his brother good, but he missed and hit the table leg. He jammed his toe and yelped in pain. Broden laughed. Mom just stared at him, her lips pursed.
“I hope that teaches you a lesson,” she said and stood, taking her bowl to the sink. She walked out of the room without saying another word.
Landon put his foot on the chair and examined his toe. It was red and throbbing, but there was no blood, so he would be fine. Still, it upset him that Mom didn’t get Broden in trouble. She was there, she saw him start the fight. Landon didn’t know why he wanted Broden to get in trouble. He was tired and grumpy, so it sounded like a good idea. Maybe he wanted Broden to feel as bad as he did. Either way, it didn’t work out, and that made him angry. He wouldn’t have hurt his toe if it weren’t for Broden. That made him even madder.
“See, that’s what happens when you mess with me.” Broden smiled.
Landon flipped milk at him. There was no other way to retaliate. Plus, he knew it would upset Broden. He’d be sticky and dirty for school.
“Mom! Landon’s throwing food!”
“No I’m not!”
“Boys,” Mom called from downstairs, “you don’t have time for this. Did everyone finish their homework?”
Landon’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, yeah. My math.” He scarfed down the rest of his cereal and ran upstairs.
The night before, he’d been having a hard time solving a math problem. He agonized over it and tried several way to find the answer, but he never did. The paper was stained gray from him erasing his work so many times. He was determined to finish it, but he never got the chance. It was bedtime. His only hope was that when he went upstairs, a new idea would come to him and he would be able to solve it.
Once in his room, he pulled on his clothes, ran into the bathroom to brush his teeth, then sat at his desk. The anger and frustration from the morning faded away, replaced with determination to finish his assignment. He opened his math book and pulled out the paper. He grabbed his pencil and scanned down the paper, stopping on the problem he had been working on before bed. Determination was replaced with confusion. He was sure he hadn’t finished the problem, but as he stared at the paper, there were numbers filled in on the page. The writing was crooked and light, as if whoever had written it had a hard time holding the pencil. He scrutinized it for a long time.
Broden came into the room and pulled him out of his stupor. Landon placed the paper back into his book. He looked at his brother.
“Did you do my homework?”
Broden stopped getting dressed and looked at him. “Why would I do your homework?”
“I don’t know. To mess with me. The writing is all sloppy.”
Broden cocked his head to the right. “Landon, if I wanted to mess with you, I wouldn’t do your homework for you. I’d flush it down the toilet.”
Landon shrugged. “Well, someone did it.”
Broden pulled on his pants. “Maybe it was Mom.”
Landon nodded. “Maybe.” He placed his book in his backpack.
“Boys,” Mom called from down the hall, “are you getting ready?”
“Yes,” they answered.
“Mom,” Landon yelled, “did you do my homework?”
“Did you do my homework?”
Mom poked her head into their room. “Why would I do your homework for you?”
Landon shrugged. “I don’t know. ‘Cause you felt sorry for me?”
Mom rolled her eyes. “First of all, sweetie, I didn’t even know you were having trouble with your homework. Secondly, I’m busy sleeping at night, not sneaking around in the dark finishing people’s homework. Maybe it was the homework fairy.” Landon chuckled. “Mom! You know there’s no such thing.”
“There is if you believe.” She knocked on the wall. “Now, c’mon, we’ve got to get to school.” She left the room.
After the boys were dressed and ready to go, they met their mom in the living room. They piled into the car and backed down the driveway. The ride to school was silent. Mom pulled in front of the building and turned to face the boys.
“Have a good day, angels.” She smiled. “Go straight home after school. Your dad will be waiting for you.”
“Okay, Mom,” they said as the climbed out of the car. “Love you!”
“Love you, too!”
Landon turned and waved as he walked toward school, but Broden was already half way to the playground. They played until the bell rang, then headed into their classrooms.
The first thing Landon’s teacher asked for that morning was the math homework. Landon turned it in, feeling pretty proud of himself that he had finished all of it, even if he had a little help. He came to the conclusion that he must have gotten up in the middle of the night and finished it in his sleep. It was the only way to explain it. Surely, the zombie in his closet didn’t do it, so who could have? And it would explain why he was so exhausted.
He went through the rest of his day without giving it a second thought. By the time lunch rolled around, the only thing he thought about was getting onto the playground and playing kickball. He ate his turkey and noodles as fast as he could, then ran outside. On his way, his shoe came untied. While retying it, the shoelace broke. He held the string in his hand and stared at it.
“Landon, c’mon!” his friends called.
He put the lace in his pocket and headed onto the field. He’d have plenty of time to worry about it later. Right then, the most important thing was the game.
Landon’s team was up by two points, and it was his turn to kick. He was easily one of the best kickers in his class. The game would be won by the bell. There was a runner on second, and Landon was sure he could get him home. He lined himself up at the plate and eyed the pitcher. The boy watched him for a few seconds, his eyes narrowed to slits, before winding up his arm and tossing the ball. Landon steadied himself and watched the ball approach. He took one step forward and kicked. His foot connected with the ball with a thump, sending it sailing over the other player’s heads, along with his shoe.
At first he didn’t notice, the excitement of the great kick overwhelmed him, but when he started running, the gravel dug into the bottom of his foot. Still, he wasn’t going to let it slow him down. The runner on second base took off; Landon had to get to first. He would, even if he had to limp. He was half way there when he turned to see where the ball was. The shortstop was crouched down with his arms out. The ball bounced and he scooped it up, shifting it quickly to his right hand to throw. Landon quickened his pace. If he didn’t hurry, he would be out. As his shoeless foot came down, he stepped on a rock. Pain started in his heel and traveled up his calf, causing him to almost lose his balance. He wanted to yell, but the pain took his breath away. That, and he had to get to first base. There wasn’t time to yell. The shortstop cocked his arm back. Landon braced for the blow. Before it could come, the bell rang. Landon stopped in his tracks, and he and the other kids groaned with disappointment. He turned to get his shoe, then headed back into the building.
Landon was thankful to be able to sit down. The heel he hit on the rock was on the same foot he jammed his toe. His whole foot felt like it was pulsating. He lifted his foot to his chair and slid his sock down. The heel was already bruised. A black circle surrounded by red covered part of his foot. That was going to be sore for a while. He was a little thankful that he couldn’t tie his shoe. The pressure might have made his foot explode. He replaced his sock and put his foot on the floor as the teacher handed back their homework from the night before. Landon looked at his grade. B. He shrugged. Not bad. He glanced down the page to see which problems he missed. The first one that caught his eye was the one he didn’t finish. Not only was it checked, but the teacher had written a little note beside the problem. It read: “Please make sure I can read your writing. This is a mess.” Landon shook his head and stuffed the paper in his desk.
After school, Landon met Broden at the monkey bars, as usual, and they headed home. They only lived a few blocks from school, but their mom liked to drop them off on her way to work. They didn’t mind because that meant they got to sleep in a little bit longer. They didn’t say anything the whole way home. Landon’s foot was sore from the rock, although it didn’t hurt as bad as it had earlier in the day, and he had to concentrate on walking so he didn’t lose his shoe. Broden was busy kicking a plastic bottle cap down the sidewalk.
When they got close to the house, Broden turned and kicked the cap at Landon. It hit Landon in the hand, and even though it wasn’t going fast enough to cause real damage, it still stung. Landon’s gaze flicked up from the ground. Broden smiled, then took off running. How dare he! He would pay for that! Landon tried to follow him, but his shoe kept falling off, preventing him from running. He would have taken it off, but that would make his foot hurt even more. It didn’t really matter. There would be plenty of time to get revenge. Broden didn’t have anywhere to hide.
Landon walked into the house and noticed Broden hugging Dad around the waist. He would have to wait to get back at his brother.
“Hey, sport,” Dad said. “How was your day?”
Landon set his backpack by the couch. “Good.”
Dad smiled. “We’re going to go play some football in the backyard. Do you want to come?”
He nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah. Let me change my shoes real quick.”
He ran upstairs and kicked his shoe into the room. Sitting on Broden’s bed, he took off the other one and pulled on a pair of old sneakers. He ran back downstairs and joined his dad and brother outside.
Playing with Dad was always fun, but Landon’s foot still hurt, so he wasn’t overly excited. Still, he tried his best. Broden caught the first throw, so Landon promptly tackled him. The second one was his, and Broden whacked him hard. Broden’s shoulder dug into his back, which hurt, then when he hit the ground, the air got knocked out of him. That was painful, too. It took him a few moments to get to his feet. When he did, his arm was around his waist to help with the pain. He thought about quitting and going inside, but then Broden would tease him. He could stick it out for a little longer.
Mom got home a few hours later, and the family ate dinner and watched a little TV. Broden didn’t tackle him hard again, and Landon was thankful. By the time they sat on the couch to watch cartoons, Landon was so tired, he forgot about getting revenge on his brother. Landon and Broden went to bed at 9:00. All night, Landon kept dreaming that someone was poking his foot, right where he stepped on the rock, with a small stick. At one point, they poked it so hard, pain radiated through his leg, causing Landon to jerk awake. His foot throbbed again. He rubbed his heel for a moment, barely able to keep his eyes open. Right before falling asleep, he couldn’t help but think something weird was going on.
Her sons are the inspiration for writing children's stories. She wants to encourage them to be readers and show them how powerful and exciting the imagination can be. She wants them to see that countless worlds exist, and all it takes to get there is a good book.