Fiction and Non-Fiction Creative Writer

children's book author, writer, social media coachWelcome!

I’m Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan. I’m best known as a fiction and non-fiction writer for children. I’ve written for magazines like Highlights for Children, Appleseeds and Family Fun.

Recent awards:

I love working with children and I am available for school visits, classroom and community workshops.

 

In addition to my children’s writing, I also provide freelance services including:

  • Editing and e-book production
  • Creative consultation and promotion
  • Business writing and blogging
  • Social media coaching

Creative writers get ideas from many places. As a runner and triathlete, I find that a tough physical challenge is a great way to spark incredible ideas.

As a mom, I know the value of humor and patience. My own children keep me on my creative writer toes and offer endless inspiration. Need help with grumpy kids? Picky kids? Want to dance with a dinosaur? Grab a book below!

Contact me at 412.837.9499 or onesweetwriter[at]gmail.com if you need:

I’ve written for magazines for adults including Family Fun, PTOToday, and Thrive. I’ve also written for websites like SchoolFamily.com, PopCity, Kidsburgh and mom.me. I also write for and e-newsletters like Writer’s Weekly and Children’s Writer. My poetry has appeared in Leading Edge Literary Magazine.

I have my MA in American History and have been a science educator, stage performer and worked with non-profits for over 10 years. When I’m not training for an upcoming road race or triathlon, I’m exploring the world with my husband and three children. I’ve been to 31 out of 50 states and 3 continents and counting!

I tackle each writing assignment with enthusiasm and would love to apply my skills to your project.

I encourage you to review my extensive writing samplesview my testimonials, visit my Amazon.com Author Page, and visit my LinkedIn profile.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Six Things I Learned in New York City

I never go anywhere without learning something. So while we were in New York City for three days, I crammed a lot of new information into my brain. Here are six things I learned in New York City that I didn’t know before this visit.

  1. Polynesian sailors made star charts out of sticks and shells to guide them as they traveled the seas at night.
  2. Meteorites contain the oldest parts of our universe.
  3. Animals like dugongs and manatees are called Sirenians.
  4. Hooved animals are called Ungulates. Whales are ungulates. Yes, they don’t have hooves but evolutionary evidence shows they had ancestors with hooves.
  5. Litter causes fires, and subsequent delays, in the New York City subway.
  6. The oldest wood in trees is deep inside the trunk and is called the heartwood. Trees grow wider by producing new cells closer to the outside bark.

Polynesian Star Chart

I learned some other less interesting things, like random puddles on the sidewalk are most likely dog pee, and lunch is really expensive. I almost witnessed a fight on the subway, and didn’t see any celebrities that I recognized. I was reminded that Sambuca tastes like licorice and that driving in New York City is a brush with death. It was a great trip.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

A Little Free Library – Finally!!

We finally have a Little Free Library in Tyler Park! About a year ago, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for a volunteer conference. While I was there, roaming around the very flat city, I walked by my very first Little Free Library. I had heard of these delightful book boxes, but never seen one.

As you can guess, I was incredibly inspired by the idea of sharing books with the community. I promised myself then and there I’d get one in our park. And it happened. Sure, it took over a year, but I never said I’d do it fast.

The Dream

First, I mentioned the idea to my neighbor on the board of our neighborhood association. Then I emailed the info to the board. After they approved the idea, they got approval from the township to install it in the park. Then I selected the design and ordered the LFL. It arrived in early June…and sat on my back deck for several months. I was sad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not skilled with digging holes and pouring cement and I did not want this to be installed poorly.

I dreamed of the day the LFL would be ready. My husband and I visited the park often and debated where the best place would be to put it. We settled on a spot near the playground and the driveway. I often looked across the park and pictured it. But every time I tried to line up installation, scheduling or weather got in the way.

So at the bus stop one morning, I mentioned my dilemma to some other families, and a dad volunteered to help me out. And that Friday, we met at the park and dug in!

Installation

We had a little helper who loved to measure.

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While the LFL shipped with basic installation instructions, the steps were a lot more involved than I could implement at the park. We didn’t have electricity for sawing wood. So I purchased the installation materials based on a useful blog post I discovered at Hugs and Kisses and Snot. Their idea was genius in my opinion. All we needed was two mail box posts, cement and screws. I did a very good job holding the mailbox posts in place.

lfl5

It was so great learning tips and tricks from my very skilled neighbor. After we leveled the posts, I assumed we’d have to mix the cement in the bucket, but he pointed out it was just as easy to mix it right in the ground. That smoke is like magic!!

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We let the cement set for a day. Bright and early Saturday morning my neighbor secured the LFL onto to the posts with a kind of construction glue and screws. Then the kids, my husband and I hustled over there with our big box of books and loaded it up.

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Little Free Library Opening Day

We didn’t have a huge Opening Day celebration. But the Little Free Library worked like a charm. My kids saw books that looked interested, grabbed them out of the LFL, and cracked them open. Perfect!lfl3It was very hard and very easy to make this dream come true. The Little Free Library is open in Tyler Park. I’ve checked on it every day since it opened. (Yes, I’m over eager) It’s exciting to see that people have taken books and left new ones! We even got a thank you note! It’s pretty thrilling.

Little Free Library

It’s funny, when I saw that Little Free Library in Minneapolis, I didn’t even open it. I remember I gazed at it longingly, but didn’t open the door or take out a book. I could have, of course, because the books in Little Free Libraries are available for anyone. But I realize now I thought those books were only for Minnesotans. So I declare now, if you visit  Tyler Park from you are allowed to take books from our Little Free Library!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest Results

Hooray!

Hooray!

Earlier this summer, I entered the WOW! Spring Flash Fiction Contest with my story “Sargassum.” In late July, the same day I learned about my Pen Parentis fellowship, I received an email from WOW! letting me know I was a Finalist! I was thrilled. The panel of first round judges loved the story. But I still had to wait and see what the guest judge thought of my story.

A few weeks later I learned I was in the top ten! Again a moment of delight. And then the winners were announced and I was so proud to be chosen a Runner-Up in the contest.

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I am in excellent company. I’ve read almost every story that won, and I love them. You can read through all of the Spring Flash Fiction winning stories here or skip to read “Sargassum” here. 

I can’t thank the team at WOW! enough. Writing fiction is hard. But the team supports writers with useful information and a chance to get their stories out there and get the encouragement to keep going. Just read the note they send with my Amazon gift card:

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I have participated in this contest several times and always find the critiques to be useful. If you are a fiction writer who enjoys writing flash, send in your story!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Summer Writing

Summer writing is different from school year writing for me.

This summer, it’s been hard to find time to sit down and write. For me, once I get in my chair, I tend not to get out again. I get sucked in, absorbed, and I neglect other things like eating, moving and people.

That kind of behavior doesn’t work really well when you have kids home with you. They don’t want to be ignored for eight hours. And I have trouble focusing on long, big projects like novel revision in short sections. I need time to deep dive. So this summer it’s been a focus on pitching to magazines, short and quippy essays for parenting websites, and interview based articles for e-zines.

My schedule is all over the place, too. I haven’t used writing prompts this summer, but I wish I had. I have an app on my phone called Prompts and I used to receive emails from Sarah Selecky every day with a writing prompt. (I don’t think she offers these anymore!) While I didn’t love all of them, quite a few sparked some fun stories. I’d like to use daily writing prompts again to inspire some journaling and brainstorming, but ideas really aren’t my problem. It’s making time and finding a place.

Writing prompts don’t require a long time commitment, but they do require a place to sit down and write or type, and that’s the other thing I’ve lost this summer. A place. Our house has been under renovation and my office, where I write, has been a kitchen, a storage place, and is now a clump of furniture piled in the middle of the room. Other places in the house have been overtaken by this project and I don’t have a room of my own to get into the headspace of my characters.

I know, I know – if I want to write, make the time and the place to write. But I didn’t stop writing, I just changed my kind of writing.

I’ve also skipped my critique groups altogether this summer. While I love the act of critique and find it valuable in so many ways, it can also be filled with lots of drama. It’s good to take a break from things once in awhile.

Things are slowly changing back. And I have lots of writing on my to-do list.

  • Revise Dare Club.
  • Finish Stalkers already!!!
  • Make that dummy for Digit.
  • Write that ‘rent a kid’ story.
  • Write that ‘rumpelstilskin’ re-write.
  • Revise “The Hunter Case” and send that out.
  • Figure out if Mission:Compostable still has legs.
  • Find an agent who believes in me and my work.

Plenty to keep me busy.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Pen Parentis Fellowship 2016-2017

Keeping it Real - fun

Keeping it Real – fun

I wanted to be a writer before I was a mom, and after I had kids I still wanted to be a writer. I think writing influences me as a mom, and being a mom influences me as a writer. That’s why I’m so proud to have been chosen the Pen Parentis Fellow for 2016-2017.

I still laugh when I read this part:

…she’s able to create surreal, clean, sharp, hilarious, strange, moving, wonderful fiction, despite the demands of her three kids!

I’ll take hilarious and strange. And yes, sometimes it’s hard to believe I get stuff done with kids around.

I’m still in awe about this whole thing. I’ve entered their fellowship contest before and not won. I’ve entered lots of writing contests actually, and I am no stranger to rejection. But I’m also learning what it feels like to be accepted! It doesn’t seem that long ago that Highlights for Children bought my submissions for the first time. That was in the fall of 2015. And I still remember the thrill when I learned FamilyFun wanted to buy my essay on helping grumpy kids, all the way back in 2012.

But this award is something else entirely. It’s only awarded to writing parents, and that’s why it feels so special. If you read my bio, you’ll see I’m a writing mom on the run. That first sentence describes some of the major parts of my identity and how they influence me.

And the story I submitted is a little different from these other pieces, too. When I submit to magazines, I try very hard to imagine what the readers want and what the editors want. But this story was something I wanted to write purely for the joy of writing. While I am proud of every piece of writing that’s been published, this one wasn’t sent in for commercial purposes. It was a bit of pure fiction I wrote for the sole reason that I wanted to write it.

Big parts of this award still haven’t sunk in with me. For instance, my story will appear in Brain,Child magazine, a publication I love and have been submitting to for years. Another achievement that feels pretty amazing.

Also, I get to go to NYC and read my story out loud, in a literary salon, with other writers. And it’s the day before my birthday. It feels like a dream.

My kids are of course, thrilled. They know how hard it is to get a rejection. And they know how amazing it feels to get an acceptance or win an award. And they take some credit and remind me I couldn’t do this without them.

And when they are done hugging me in comfort or in celebration, they know just how to keep it real and remind me I promised to find their missing Pokemon cards. Or that I have to make their brother share the blue lightsaber, or that I forgot again they won’t eat cooked spinach at dinner. Or that they can’t remember if the clothes on their floor or clean or dirty so that’s why everything went back into the laundry, or that it actually isn’t time for bed yet because it’s still light outside.

It’s ok, though, because I’d rather do this with them.

 

My Little Muses

My Little Muses

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Summer Reading Fun with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

All school year I help my young kids log books. Our school has a program called Ross Reads and as the kids read books and pass quizzes online hosted by Scholastic, my kids earn prizes. They get colored rubber bracelets that signify their total of books read. They earn coupons for yogurt and local attractions. My kindergartener even earned tickets to a Washington Wild Things baseball game this year!!

And the reading doesn’t stop in summer. There are dozens of programs out there encouraging kids to read for rewards. At the library. At Half-Price Books. All summer I’m supposed to help them log books. When do I get a chance to earn rewards for reading??

Now.

reading

Bookmarks Up!

Finally, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh heard my woeful cry and offered a program for adults to earn prizes for reading. Their Summer Reading Log for 2016 is all online. That is perfect because it’s time consuming to drive across town to turn in a paper log. And I love that I am entered to win prizes for something I totally rock at doing: READING.

The program even offers suggestions for books I might like, but I don’t really need that aspect because my “To-Read” list on Goodreads is already a mile long and doesn’t even include the books that are stacked on my nightstand waiting to be read. I’ll read them all, I promise!

I really felt this program was designed just for me, but it turns out Carnegie Library wanted it to be easy for the whole city to read books and log their reading for rewards, so they challenged Pittsburghers to read 90,000 books before August 31, 2016. And we did it. I helped in my small way.

We Win!

We Win!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Tags: ,

When You Love the Story but Not the Writer

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Photo credit Quotesgram.

 

Have you ever fallen in love with a book, a movie, a song? Have you ever felt like it spoke to your soul, or resonated with you so much, you wanted to read more or listen to more by the same artist or author? And then you go and do some research on the author or artist and discover, with massive crushing disappointment, that they are not the person you expected them to be. In fact, you disagree with the writer, very, very, very much.

This has happened to me, and it’s happened more than once. And when it happens I then wonder, “Can I still enjoy the things this person has created, the stories this writer has written, even if I don’t respect their opinions, their perspective, their views on life?”

This happened to me with a singer/songwriter whose music I like, Loretta Lynn, and an author whose books I loved, Orson Scott Card.

Singers

I’m not crazy passionate about Loretta Lynn, but her story is unique and inspiring. Her voice is so unique and beautiful. Truthfully, besides Coal Miner’s Daughter and Sloe Gin Fizz, I don’t know many of her songs. But I would expect to enjoy her music. Until I found out she endorsed Donald Trump. Can I listen to her music and enjoy it anymore?

Authors

Orson Scott Card’s books were a staple of my reading in my teens and early twenties. I loved Ender’s Game and especially The Worthing Saga. I knew he was a Mormon, but I knew lots of Mormons and got along great with them. I did my undergraduate historical research on Mormons traveling to the American West. And I was so proud that one of my first fiction awards came from Leading Edge magazine, a literary journal where his writing appeared. But when I found out he was an open bigot, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up his books anymore.

I’m all for people having their own opinions. I’m all for writers and singers and artists to explore and present opinions that aren’t their own. Not every character in my stories is a version of me. Sometimes they are versions of the worst parts of me, or they are versions of a person I’d never want to be.

But what do you do when you find out a writer or artist who creates works you enjoy holds opinions or beliefs that you could never, ever agree with or understand? Can you still enjoy the products of their creativity? Can you separate the artist from his or her work?

Update…

[Sept 2016] I just learned, to my sorry, that Roald Dahl was an open anti-Semite. A bitter disappointment to learn that someone who told such wonderfully, imaginative stories also claimed “Hitler didn’t pick on them for no reason.” So sad and disgusting.

Is it possible for me, like Ender, to learn to understand my enemy, even love them, through their works?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Why Did This Book Win a Newbery Medal?

I’m working my way through the Newbery Award winners, and while I’ve read some books I really loved, there are some serious duds in the list. So far I have to say Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon and Ginger Pye are real disappointments compared to some of these books.

While I gave both of those books three stars on Goodreads, you should know I give almost every book I read three stars, unless it’s truly terrible or offensive. I guess I don’t feel the need to give a book one or two stars because I tend to find merit in at least one chapter, paragraph or sentence. But neither of these earned four or five stars. Neither one excited me. Passages may have entertained me and I certainly learned something to use in my writing, but honestly, neither of these books would stand a chance with my kids. So I wonder what earned them the award?

Gay-Neck is a gentle but somewhat confusing story of a boy raising a pigeon. I don’t know anything about the boy who is the narrator. I learned some things about pigeons, but after reading reviews on Goodreads, I’m not sure what I learned was true. I learned about an Indian hunter experiencing the trauma of World War I. Yet each chapter felt like a separate anecdotal entry, not a story. The writing wasn’t bad and much of it was poetic and painted a beautiful mental image, but the characters didn’t captivate me at all.

I started reading Ginger Pye to my middle son a few months ago and he was bored by the first chapter. I forced myself to push further into the book. I learned a lot about the life of white people in a New England town and their attitudes towards girls and transients. I also felt disappointed that the title character, Ginger the puppy, was missing for most of the book.

Ginger Pye was published in 1951, Gay-Neck in 1927. Were librarians more interested in boring books those years? Were no other good books for children published?

Let’s look.

There were two Honor books the year Gay-Neck won. I haven’t read either, or even heard of them, but I had never heard of Gay-Neck either.

gay neck newbery

The summary of Downright Dencey looks interesting, and overall Goodreads readers give it 3.76 stars compared to Gay-Neck’s 3.23. I’m actually eager to pick this up and give it a try. Still, was Gay-Neck the best we got in 1927? This was the year of Sherlock Holmes, Death Comes for the Archbishop and To the Lighthouse (all books I’ve read). There had to be better children’s books out there. Luckily, Goodreads lists indicate Now We are Four and Emily’s Quest are proving to be a lot more popular.  Yay for L.M. Montgomery!

Now Ginger Pye came out in the 50’s. Lots more competition. And more Honor books.

ginger pye newbery

Unfortunately I haven’t read or heard of any of those books, either. But thanks to Goodreads I know it’s the year we got The Catcher in the Rye, Alan Watt’s The Wisdom of Insecurity, two Narnia books and Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary.

Now, it shouldn’t always be a popularity contest, but we also know that the best book doesn’t always win. So the Newbery Award isn’t always going to the best book. I knew that already, thanks to my local librarian. At least I’m branching out and finding books I haven’t heard of before and learning a lot about different ways of writing and telling stories.

Here’s a good article from the ALA that lists other books that should have won the Newbery but didn’t. I know my oldest son loved Frindle, because he also tried to invent new words. I plan to read several of the books listed there.

What award winners do you think really lived up to the hype and what didn’t?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Details, Details, Details – Details Matter in Novels

“Sometimes I read your stories and I like them, Mom,” said my middle son. “But sometimes, when I read some of your stories, I forget I’m reading. That’s when I know they are really good.”

He’s right. And that’s all thanks to details.

Everyone know the phrase ‘devil is in the details’ but I don’t really like it. It makes details sound like a trick or a scam. Details are super important. And I know that. But sometimes it is so hard to make sure my novel has really good details. Maybe that’s the devil’s fault again, but I think it’s really just mine. It takes a lot of work to check every single detail. But if you love what you do, isn’t it worth it? I think it is, no matter what you’re doing whether it’s writing a novel or building a robot or cooking a meal. The results are worth it.

Details Matter

Here, take a look at these photos from my recent house renovation. These are examples of how our excellent foreman has a keen eye for detail. He takes his time, he does it right, and the results are worth it.

Photo 1 is a close up of the top of some cabinets. The ceiling is sloped just slightly enough that the moulding wouldn’t fit. So the ceiling needed another thin layer of plaster. It took a little more work, but now the moulding will look smooth and clean.

In your story, you want every sentence to read smooth and clean. Where do things slope too far away? Could you add some details to even things out?

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Here’s a photo showing the precise markings of some blocking that will support our floating shelves. The shelves will look like they are just floating magically against the wall, like magic. But it’s really careful math and science.

What parts of your story do you want to feel magical but haven’t given them enough support? Are there details you can add so that the entire plot has a good foundation?

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Here’s an example of some wall outlets. It’s a bad photo, so just trust me. These wall sockets aren’t aligned. Our foreman didn’t put these in and I know he’d never install wall sockets without lining them up.They were put in decades ago, and they look bad. They disrupt the lines of the wall.

What parts of your story just don’t line up? What details can you add to get things into line?

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Here’s a rather amazing example. After laying new floor and installing a new door, our foreman noticed the crew had to chip a tiny hole out of the floor to get the door frame to fit. Our foreman knew right away this hole would bother us every day, since it’s right at the top of the stairs that we use to enter the house. He left a note to himself to fix it.

What tiny plot holes have you left gaping open that you need to close? Is there one detail you can fill in to make the story feel complete to readers?

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Details can be added as you hammer out the first draft, but are also a big part of revising.

Details are connected to our senses, so as you’re revising, think about how things look, but also how they sound, smell, feel and taste. One of my favorite details in my manuscript is the sound of cicadas. That sound is part of the Maryland summer soundtrack. I also want to add in the smell of hot tar on a parking lot, and the taste of honeysuckle.

These are all small examples, but details are small. As you read through your favorite books, take note of the details that mattered and how small they are. Then go back through and add them to your story.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Picklesburgh and Pickle Juice

 

picklesburgh photo

Drink me.

I’ve loved pickles all my life. While I’ve only lived in Pittsburgh for sixteen years, I love the city. And I love that there is a festival all about PICKLES! It’s called Picklesburgh.

From their site:

What’s the big dill?

Picklesburgh is for everyone – from pickle fanatics to just pickle curious. With the help of our sponsors, vendors and volunteers, we’ve assembled a two-day event around all things pickled. It’s not just about pickled food though.  No celebration would be complete without music. A broad selection of local musicians and genres will grace the stage, all set to the backdrop of a glorious Downtown Pittsburgh.

I wish I could attend Picklesburgh, because there’s a pickle juice drinking contest. And I know just who would win. The main character of my novel Dare Club, a klutzy but brave kid with the unfortunate nickname Scabs.

Here’s an excerpt:

 

“We’re going to test your taste for danger.” She smiled and I gulped.

She set the items on the table in front of us.

“Are those pickles? I love pickles,” I said.

“What’s the butter for? Dry skin?” Inky said.

“What are you talking about?” I laughed. “People don’t put butter on dry skin!”

“I do,” he nodded. “It feels soft.”

I made a mental note not to eat butter at Inky’s house anymore.

Marta moved the jar of pickles in front of me. It was a half-empty jar and the long pickle spears splashed around in the green juice.

“I dare you to drink all of the pickle juice in this jar.”

“What?” I yelped. “The whole jar?”

She nodded and smiled.

“That’s so gross!” Inky laughed.

“But why? I don’t get it,” I stalled.

“Think of this as your initiation into the club,” she said.

“What club?” Inky asked.

“It’s a secret club,” she said.

“But what do you do in the club?” he insisted.

“Nothing big. Just figure out your fears and face them,” she said.

The small flame inside me sparked. That sounded exactly like what I wanted.

“So this is the test to see if you two can handle it. It’s not for little kids,” she said.

“We’re going into sixth grade,” I reminded her. “And Honors classes.”

“Grades aren’t everything,” she said. “This is about real life.”

“But what do we do?” Inky asked again.

“I already told you. You face your fears,” she said.

“Is it dangerous?” Inky said.

“It can be. Not always. But yeah, you have to be ready to for some danger.”

Her words were a SuperSoaker aimed right at my little flame of excitement. I didn’t need any more scrapes or scratches.

“And if you decide to do it, you have to do it all the way,” Marta continued. “No quitting. No backing out.”

I wasn’t sure this was such a good idea.

“But if you do it, you’ll be a different person.” she promised.

Never mind. It was a great idea.

“I want to do it,” I said.

“So you accept?”

I squinted my eyes shut and pictured myself at the mouth of the Tunnel. I felt nauseous. I pictured Gunderpants laughing at me. My nausea turned to anger.

“I’ll do it,” I picked up the jar of juice. “I’ll join the club.”

“Seb, maybe you just think about this,” Inky put his hand out to stop me.

“I know I want to be different,” I told him. “I don’t want to be Scabs anymore. Is there a time limit on how fast I have to drink this?”

“How about before I die of boredom,” Marta put her hands on her hips.

“OK,” I twisted off the lid and the familiar scent of vinegar and dill hit my nose and my mouth watered. I love the taste of pickles but I had never drunk just the juice. At least it was a flavor I liked. I decided to go big at the beginning and took a huge gulp from the jar. The cold liquid rushed down my chest and when it hit my stomach, I already felt different.

“Ah!” I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Not bad!”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this!” Inky said. “You don’t even know if that’s actually pickle juice!”

I stared at Inky in shock. I hadn’t thought of that.

“No, I did not poison you. But I like the way you think, Leo,” Marta laughed.

Inky smiled.

“And now it’s your turn.” Marta pointed at Inky.  His smile disappeared. She slid the butter toward him.

“What? Why me? He’s the one who wants to go through the Tunnel!” Inky jabbed a finger at me.

“Not by myself!” I yelped. “I thought we were in this together!”

“But–”

I interrupted him. “You’re my best friend! You can’t abandon me now!”

“But–”

I interrupted again. “I’ll owe you so huge!”

“What do I have to do?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. He was going to do it, too, but I could tell by Inky’s voice he wasn’t thrilled.

“It’s basically the same as Sebastian’s dare,” she said. “I dare you to eat that stick of butter.”

“Nope!” He shook his head.

“I double-dog dare you,” she said. I took a big gulp of pickle juice.

“Come on, Marta. Enough with the butter.” He crossed his arms.

“I triple-black-cat dare you,” she held up three fingers. “Last chance.”

“Not a chance,” he said.

“You better do it,” she said. “Or you’ll be sorry.”

“I’ll be sorrier if I eat that entire stick of butter,” he said. I took three little sips of pickle juice. It was harder to force myself to drink it, but I kept going.

“Aren’t you worried about what might happen if I get mad?” Marta asked.

“I’ll take my chances.” He shook his head and looked away from her.

“I see,” she said. “Not worried about yourself, are you?”

Inky definitely didn’t look worried. She slid her gaze over to me. There was about a half-inch of green juice still swirling around the bottom of the jar so I quickly put the jar to my lips and tilted my head back and the tangy pickle juice rushed into my mouth.

“Leo Martinez, I dare you to take one enormous bite out of that stick of butter or I will make life miserable for your friend Scabs here.” She put her hands on the table and loomed over him.

I coughed and spit out some of the pickle juice. “What? Why me?”

Inky shook his head.

“This is so dumb,” he said. He picked up the butter, unwrapped one end, opened his mouth wide and stuck the butter in. Slowly his teeth sunk into the creamy yellow rectangle and the bite broke off into his mouth.

“That’s a big bite,” I noted. I glanced at Marta to make sure she agreed, but she was just watching Inky.

He chewed slowly at first and I could see the butter making his cheeks bulge out. He took loud breaths in and out his nose. Marta watched him with a huge smile on her face. It took forever but Inky finally managed to swallow his enormous bite of butter.

“Gah! It’s stuck all around my teeth!” He kept smacking his mouth and moving his tongue around to get the leftover butter bits out.

“Thanks, Inky!” I grinned. I knew he’d never let me down.

“Finish that,” Marta told me. I swallowed once, twice, three times until it was gone. I opened my mouth to ask her if we had passed the test, but instead a huge pickle-stench burp came out. I cracked up.

“Disgusting, Seb, that’s not funny,” Inky complained and fanned his hand. Marta didn’t seem to notice.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she said. “I think we all learned a lot from that little experiment. Come back tomorrow morning. Be here by nine. And bring some donuts.”

“9 a.m. Got it.” I said.

Marta walked back to her house and left us standing there. I couldn’t wait to come back tomorrow and do the club.

“Marta!” I called. “What’s the club called?”

“You haven’t guessed already?” Marta shook her head at my slow wits. “It’s called Dare Club.”

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.