When an elite squad of pumpkin-snatching goblins shows up at your house, they usually make off with your pumpkins before you realize it. That way, you can blame teenagers and don’t have to consider the fact that goblins exist.
This is the second preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book, Pumpkin Goblins. And the scene I read here is one of my absolute favorites. In it, Amber finds herself face-to-face with the three goblins who tried to steal her pumpkin. One of the first pieces of this story I wrote was the bit of dialogue in which the goblins think she’s named Ember (like fires), rather than Amber (like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago). There’s a story behind that.
Originally, Amber’s name was Ember. I think I had Elfquest on the brain, but it also seemed like a cool name, one that went with jack-o-lanterns and spooky forests.
The problem with cool names?
They set off Mary Sue alerts in my head. And since Amber is definitely not a Mary Sue, I thought it would be better to give her a “normal” name. Changing one letter was an incredibly time-efficient way to do this. But it works on another level too: my best friend growing up was named Amber. We usually played outdoors and sometimes went on adventures, so I think Amber is a fitting namesake*.
Here’s the transcript:
The goblin leader took one long step so that he was directly in front of her, close enough to grab the pumpkin and run. He locked eyes with Amber, and she felt aware, in a way that she never had before, of being human. Of having fat and muscle flesh out the gaps of her skeleton where the goblin had knees and elbows and all kinds of joints poking out of his wiry frame. Of having soft human skin with peach-fuzz hair where the goblin was the almost-smooth gray-brown of a birch tree. He flashed her a wicked little grin, his teeth neatly pointed. “What’s your name?”
“We like embers,” said the other two, bouncing their words off each other. “Because we like fires.”
“No, Amber, like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago.”
“Like dead bugs.”
“That’s a lovely name for a girl.”
The goblin leader turned around to the other two and announced to them, “I don’t think she’s going to help us. She obviously doesn’t care about Halloween.”
“I care. I care more than you! You’re trying to ruin my Halloween.”
“If we don’t get enough pumpkins, everyone’s Halloween will be ruined.”
The other two jumped in. “Ruined.”
“Ruined and wrecked.”
“Wrecked and wretched.”
Amber glared at the goblins.
“Look,” said the lead goblin. “This is all aboveboard and legitimate business, and we would be glad to show you identification, if we had anything like that.”
The tall goblin with the trench coat piped in, “We’re just like elves stealing toys, only for us it’s pumpkins.”
“Elves make toys, not steal them.”
“That’s what you think. Ever lose your favorite toy at the mall, and you swear you never let it out of your hand?”
“Well, yeah, but I think I just left it at the shoe store.”
“Oh, elves and shoes, elves and shoes,” muttered the lead goblin. “You said you’re having a bad Halloween?”
Amber glanced into the lit living room window, where her brother was playing video games with Sybil. “It’s the worst Halloween ever.”
The tall one leaned into her face ominously. “And it’s going to get worse still. Not just for you. For everyone. Summer-warm air. Half-hearted tricks. Reluctantly-given treats.”
Suddenly, the third goblin, the one with the sunglasses and fingerless gloves, the one who had spoken least, jumped up off the small garden rock she had been squatting on and waved the other two goblins into a huddle. They talked rapidly for a moment in language that was both higher and lovelier than Amber had expected, then turned again to face her.
“We have decided. You may come with us to the Goblin Oak and place the pumpkin there yourself,” announced the leader.
We’re a little over two weeks from the aimed-for release of Pumpkin Goblins. In between frantic editing and formatting, having a job, and enjoying fall, I’m planning to put out at least one more of these preview scenes, and also a recipe for goblin candy.
*Apparently, “namesake” can refer to both the person one is named after, and the one who received the name. No wonder that always confused me.