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"The Naughty Gnomes" the story inside the story



Even stories based in the world of fantasy need some basis in reality, and that's exactly what happened when I first got the idea for what would someday become "The Naughty Gnomes." Back when my now 30-year-old daughter Mariah was only eight or nine an unsolved mystery occurred at our house. Somehow the porcelain wastepaper basket in our downstairs bathroom came up broken. Worse yet the large missing chunk of the dolphin and fish themed trash receptacle was nowhere to be found. Somehow it had seemingly been taken away into the netherworld, never to be seen again.

I didn't do it and my wife Barbara had no knowledge of it, leaving only four possible suspects. It was either our English Springer Spaniel Arwen, our timid tabby cat Georgia Peach, Pippin, a small but rambunctious kitten, or Mariah herself. The fact that only one of the four has the ability to walk on two legs or has hands and thumbs pointed squarely at Mariah She, however, vehemently denied it.

And that's where it all began.

It didn't take us long to concoct a story about mystical beings, fairies in this case, who snuck into our house that night and broke the wastepaper basket. We all got a good laugh out of it (well, at least Barb and I did) and life went on.

Several months later I found myself with some time on my hands when it was determined that all of the freshman English students should take a mid-term exam. It was so long ago that I can't remember exactly what they were tasked to do. All I recall is that I suddenly had about two hours a day for three days with very little to do while the kids worked on a lengthy timed writing. So while my students were plugging away at their midterm, I began writing a story initially known as "The Faeries of Slayton Road." The test was so long and involved that three days turned into an entire five day school week. By the time the students finally finished their mid-term, I had created a short story.

Years passed, and the story, originally written long hand in a test booklet and then typed up on the computer, was all but forgotten. The computer file was also lost, but fortunately I made a single printed copy that found its way into a folder of story ideas and half-finished stories.

Fast-forward to January 2020.

While doing some much needed organizing, I found it. This proved to be quite a discovery as the folder also included the map and original notes that became the basis for my first full-length novel, The Uninvited Guest.

We all know what happened a few months later when the Covid-19 pandemic shut the world down. With a wealth of free time and nowhere to go, I started working on what would eventually become The Uninvited Guest. That book led to an entire fantasy series, Mr. Tout's Magical Forest, featuring the further adventures of Mariah, this time as a 12-year-old. I found myself stuck at one point before realizing that a main character from my short story would be a welcome addition to the novel. Once that happened it made perfect sense (at least to me) that a tie-in between the two was the logical next step. The decision to publish it as a prelude to the series also fell into place, and I shared the story with several people, including Mariah.

But there was one small problem.

Somehow the title "The Faeries of Slayton Road" just didn't have the impact I was looking for. I needed something that was a little more dynamic, or at least catchy. But what?

As luck would have it, I found one of Mariah's notebooks from elementary school. Inside it was a short story called, you guessed it: "The Naughty Gnome." Surely it was a sign. With Mariah's permission, I pilfered the title and made adjustments to my story that transformed Jinx and Tattle into a pair of naughty gnomes. The story itself takes place in our house, yard and small barn, which is currently being inhabited by a family of raccoons. Perhaps I should put in a request to Mercy Meredith to evict these masked bandits.

Or maybe it's another story in the making.

* * *

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful cover that José Bethencourt Suaréz designed for the story. When the decision to publish "The Naughty Gnomes" came about, I opted for an old picture of a young Mariah wearing her "fairy princess" dress. I think it was originally a Halloween costume that she used to wear around the house and anywhere else she could get away with it.



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