My Books, thoughtseeds

Old Mac – Blue Streak (first chapter)

Old Mac Waverly’s top priority is solving problems for his neighbors. This often makes life interesting for the inhabitants of his hometown of Sunflower. In Blue Streak, our brilliant inventor extraordinaire is diverted from his “blue goo” experiments and becomes involved with solving a dilemma for Sunflower’s librarian, Miss Alice Penderson. With the help of the Sprague girls, Sarah and Lucy, Old Mac begins to realize what is causing Miss Penderson’s predicament. Will he be able to find a solution before Miss Penderson has a breakdown?

Old Mac – Blue Streak is the sequel to my first book, Old Mac – Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. I hope you enjoy this complimentary first chapter. Blue Streak is available here on Kindle or in paperback. Comments appreciated.

(Oh, by the way, if you missed Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, you can read the first chapter here.)

Old Mac - Blue Streak | Toni Umbarger | YA novel

Chapter 1: Blueward and Upward

Old Mac Waverly hurried down the stairs to his workshop as soon as he arrived home. He hoped his experiment hadn’t simmered unattended for too long. He knew it would take a long time for the formula to reach the right consistency and the height of its performance, but he wasn’t sure how much time it would take.

Old Mac had never inhabited any one idea for long. Once again, he was true to form, true blue in fact. During his week of invisibility, while the deputy sheriff of Sunflower, Steve Lewis, and his son Ben, had been searching for clues and trying to find him, this new project had taken root in Old Mac’s mind. He put away his invisibility formula in a secret place, ready to begin an all-new adventure.

Although eccentric, Old Mac was sharp as a tack. In fact, those closest to him and even those who barely knew him declared him brilliant. Everyone agreed that his intelligence was an absent-minded-professor kind of genius, but genius nonetheless.

Whenever presented with a problem, however incidentally, Old Mac would put every ounce of effort into solving it. Many citizens of Sunflower have had to confess that they intentionally brought their problems to Old Mac hoping for solutions, despite the potential for peril. Determined in his quest for answers, he never failed to come up with problem-solving inventions or formulas – regardless of practicality.

Old Mac’s creative process was exhilarating. Each time the gears of his mind began to turn, and his brain was about to give birth to a new idea, his physical transformation provided evidence that his genius was at work. Everyone who knew him was familiar with the signs and cringed with fear to witness them.

First, deep furrows would appear on his forehead as he unwittingly closed out the rest of the world in his efforts to concentrate. Then, his eyes would gradually glaze over as he sank deeper and deeper into thought. These changes in his appearance were in sharp contrast to the wide smile that remained on his face during this process. Through it all, his facial contortions seemed an odd combination of grin and grimace.

This creativity-induced change was first evident in Old Mac’s facial expressions, but it did not stop there. The effect of his genius at work was all-consuming and engaged every part of his being. Even the ring of gray hair around his balding head seemed to stand on end in anticipation. As his face drew up in reflective deliberation, his fingers, toes, hands, and feet would begin to twitch ever so slightly. That twitching would spread steadily throughout his body as it increased in intensity. Then, whether he was standing or sitting, his feet would move rapidly in an odd sort of tap dance. Often, Old Mac chattered incoherently or giggled childishly with excitement. The entire metamorphosis made him appear to be experiencing some sort of seizure.

During his routine contemplative sequence, Old Mac outwardly appeared to be in agony. On the contrary, though, he was never more ecstatic than when he was so deeply immersed in thought. Solving the insurmountable problems of the universe had become his favorite pastime, or rather his only pastime. He constantly pondered ideas and abstract thoughts that no one else would ever consider. Only one slight problem existed in conjunction with Old Mac’s favorite hobby. Such contemplation always led him to investigation . . . which led him to experiment . . . which led him to invention . . . which often led him straight into trouble.

This new idea began to grow as a tiny sprout of ingenuity. It then budded into exciting possibility. Finally, it fully bloomed into Old Mac’s unique version of reality. Reality for Sunflower, however, was about to take on a wild blue meaning.

Somewhere, o-o-o-ver the rainbo-o-ow,” Old Mac crooned as he slowly stirred the contents of the large saucepot. “Ah, this is looking exciteresting,” he whispered to himself. Old Mac often combined words (exciting + interesting = exciteresting) in order to provide more accurate descriptions.

“Think I’ll call this one Blue Goo,” he said and nodded in agreement with himself. “Yep, Blue Goo is the perfect name.” He performed a quick little tap dance, ending with a click of his heels in the air, and then resumed his stirring. “A few more hours and I think we’ll be there,” he giggled. “Then, let it ripen up for a day or two, and the Blue Goo experiments and testing can finally begin.” He paused, frowning, and then grumbled, “Oh, the dreaded waiting.”

Too excited to sleep, Old Mac busily researched, drew up plans, and hovered over his simmering pot. He looked forward with great anticipation to the wonderful experiments he would perform in a few days. He must carefully plan his experiments on paper, then purchase and gather supplies.

“So much to do, and too much time to have to wait to do it,” Old Mac muttered, shaking his head. “These next few days of ripening are going to be long and fierceanizingly torturous.”

In an effort to make the time pass more quickly, Old Mac utterly wore himself out preparing for his experiments. He spent half the night researching, figuring, running upstairs to sit in his conservatory (his favorite thinking place), and hurrying back down again whenever inspiration struck. Stumped by some glitch in his figures, he would climb the stairs to his conservatory, sit in his brown leather recliner on the revolving platform among the myriad plants and flowers, spin, and think. The fragrance of the flowers and the gentle, almost musical notes of the trickling fountain, which took up all of one corner of the room, were so soothing and peaceful that he finally fell asleep in the spinning recliner.

Old Mac had some wonderful dreams during his exhaustion-induced sleep. He dreamed of creating a blue raspberry bubble gum that would not only turn a child’s tongue blue but also her hair and her nails as well. No hair dye or nail polish would be necessary. What fun that would be!

Then he had the paint dream. He dreamed of dipping his paintbrush into a beautiful blue paint, painting one swipe down the wall, and watching in wonder as it spread to cover the entire room. Old Mac was excitedly giggling and moving his feet in a little jig in his sleep as he dreamed.

His reverie continued with a small bead of his Blue Goo added to a washer full of laundry. At the end of the wash cycle, every item of clothing in the washer came out the same gorgeous color of blue, and all dirty spots and stains had vanished. Besides that, everything dried completely wrinkle-and-static-free.

Old Mac blissfully and innocently slept and dreamed. His slumber was peaceful because he was unaware of one crucial event which had occurred during his absence and involved this latest experiment.

When he first set the pot of Blue Goo to slowly simmer, Old Mac had opened the window above the hot plate, barely a crack, for ventilation. Then, while he was performing his reappearing act at the children’s church program, the pot’s contents had reached the peak of its potential. Moments before he returned to check on his project, two tiny bubbles had escaped the surface, floated majestically upward, and slipped through the small opening in the window.

While Old Mac was busily poring over his books and wearing down numerous pencils with his figures, the two seemingly innocent blue bubbles were floating up, up, and away from Old Mac’s house.

As the bubbles were minuscule, this great escape was unobserved by Old Mac or by any other human eye. Nevertheless, even had someone spied them, the most observant among us would not have suspected that two tiny blue bubbles held any consequence whatsoever. Who would have believed that such insignificance held the power to eventually wreak havoc for one Sunflower citizen in particular?

The weather had been unseasonably hot and dry for spring. It had not rained enough to fill a teacup for several weeks. Unhindered by the weight of humidity, the pair of carefree glistening blue bubbles rose higher and higher. They continued their airborne journey floating leisurely down the street, as though casually searching for a perfect new home.

For several minutes it was “up in the air” as to whether they would even settle in the same place. Onward the happy-go-lucky bubbles glided, side by side in silence. Then a sudden warm gust of wind swirled them around and separated them, dropping the first not too far from Old Mac’s house. The second continued to sail away, resisting the downward pull that had caught its brother.

While the blue bubble twins were swirling through the air above their house, Cleve Sprague’s two daughters were whispering in their darkened bedroom.

“Lucy, you asleep yet?” Sarah whispered.

“A’most,” muttered Lucy.

Sarah, a grown-up, no-nonsense, nearly-eleven-year-old, sat up in her bed and leaned over toward Lucy. “Don’t you think that Old Mac has to be the smartest person in the whole world?” she asked.

“I dunno, I guess so,” replied a groggy Lucy, in the midst of a yawn. “All I know is he’s my most favoritist grownup besides Mommy and Daddy . . . and Grandmas and Grandpas.”

Sarah lay back on her bed and sighed. “How could he have made himself invisible? No one could do that. I guess no one but Old Mac, anyway. I think he must be able to do anything! We should spend more time with him. Who knows how smart we might get just being around him. I wonder if he would turn us invisible for one day? That would be amazing!”

The possibility of being invisible caught five-year-old Lucy’s attention. She was wide-awake now. “Do you think he would for real, Sarah?” She was sitting up in bed at that point. “We could run away from home and not really run away. We could get up in the middle of the night and eat whatever snacks we wanted and play games. We could go to the woods every day to see the birds and aminals, and no one would see us.”

Lucy’s excitement about becoming invisible didn’t last long. Being more like her highly-strung, worry-prone, guilt-complexed father, she suddenly became troubled.

“But then, Mommy and Daddy would be so-o-o worried!” she said, shaking her head. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea. I don’t want to make Mommy cry. I don’t think we should get imbisible. You know how Daddy worries,” she said. “Wait! Let’s make our dolls imbisible! That would be fun! We could take them anywhere and no one would know.”

Just then, their bedroom door opened a crack, and both girls dived under their covers and feigned sleep. Their father stood at the doorway smiling in at them.

“I could have sworn that I heard voices in here,” he said, “It must have been ghosts. Invisible ghosts!”

At that, the girls couldn’t help giggling. It did not get any quieter when Cleve swooped in like a ghost and began tickling them.

My Books

Old Mac – Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, Continued

This is the completion of the first chapter, which I promised to post later. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.  If you are a fan of children’s literature, I would love to know what you think. Thank you!

Old Mac - Now You See Him, Now You Don't | Toni Umbarger | Children's Mystery

Chapter One, continued:

Old Mac Waverly had lived in Sunflower longer than anyone could remember. Being the oldest citizen in Sunflower, he was an expert on the town and everyone who lived there. Anyone who wanted historical information about Sunflower turned to Old Mac. He was a sort of self-confessed walking encyclopedia.

Old Mac’s knowledge about his hometown was similar to the community’s understanding of him. Numerous stories about Old Mac had been handed down from generation to generation. Old Mac had been central to so many strange occurrences over the course of so many years, involving so many different people, that he had become nothing less than notorious.

News traveled faster than the speed of light in the small town of Sunflower. The entire populace became aware of each turbulent event almost as soon as Old Mac created it, and he somehow managed to create such events daily; sometimes hourly. For many years, the townspeople had told and retold tales about his recycled Green-Sheen banana peels; about the pick-up truck he rigged to drive from its bed; about his alarming attempt to smoke his own ham; and about his perilous creation of snow angels on his rooftop, which almost cost him his life. Thanks to Old Mac, the people of Sunflower continually fluctuated between being in stitches or in a state of anxiety.

People also circulated sundry rumors and suspicions about Old Mac. Odd things often happened in Sunflower, and of course, most of them were traced back to Old Mac. When something strange happened, they assumed that he must be responsible. For instance, most people blamed him for the bubble incident at Gertrude Hosley’s pond. Gertrude awoke one morning to find the pasture behind her home engulfed in a foamy mess. Although it brought a great deal of notoriety to Gertrude and to Sunflower, it took nearly a year for the bubbles to completely clear away. Apparently, no one saw Old Mac near the pond, and he never confessed to causing the frothy affair. However, the question on everyone’s mind remained, “Who else would do such a thing?”

Old Mac’s wild unpredictability began to be recognized as hazardous. The townspeople, in order to protect Old Mac and the community, set up what they called the “Old Mac Watch.” Seemingly unaware of their watchful eyes, Old Mac went merrily about his daily business. The participants of the “Old Mac Watch” believed they were preventing catastrophes.

Miss Alice Penderson, who lived across the street and down two houses south of Old Mac’s, had the special honor of being on Old Mac Watch early on that particular Monday morning. She paused in the middle of her breakfast preparations to perform her scheduled Old Mac duties.

From the bay window in her living room, she watched him through the petite, chrome-plated telescope she had bought by mail order for this specific purpose. She saw nothing out of the ordinary as Old Mac skipped out his front door and down his sidewalk, retrieved his newspaper, turned, and danced back to his door in his familiar way, kicking the bunny slippers high in the air and clicking his heels together at every “Hyee hah!” Miss Penderson marveled at the old man’s agility.

Her windows were open to the fresh air, and she couldn’t help hearing Old Mac’s ditty echoing throughout the neighborhood. He seems to be in exceptional spirits, she thought. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh morning air, and said aloud, “Understandably so on such a splendid morning.” Then, she watched Old Mac dance safely back into his house. Finally, Miss Penderson returned to her own morning routine, unconsciously humming “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”

She had less than one hour to have breakfast and make her way across town to open the library. In her twenty years as librarian, she had never been late opening the library doors, and she was determined the Sunflower Library would open promptly at 8:00 AM once more.

While he ate his breakfast at home, Mayor Brooker made a phone call to Old Mac. Old Mac had once presented the mayor with a gift of one of his unique inventions. He had made a set of special boots for the mayor’s mare; his reasoning being that no one held in such high esteem as the mayor should ride a horse with muddy hooves.

The mayor rode the boot-shod horse a couple of times just to humor Old Mac. It also “humored” the rest of the community to the extent that the mayor thought he would never live it down. After that, it was the mayor’s habit to give Old Mac a phone call at 8:00 each morning before going to his office.

“Good morning, Old Mac! How are you this beautiful morning? Any special plans for the day?”

“I’m fantabulous, Mr. Mayor. As a matter of fact, I’m working on a surprise that’s going to be a real wower. As soon as I finish breakfast, I’m going to get right back on it.”

For about ten minutes, they chatted about Old Mac’s plans for the day. It finally became disappointingly clear to the mayor that Old Mac was not going to give out any details about his “surprise.”

“Old Mac, I hate to end our discussion, but I have to get to the office. I’m meeting with the city commission first thing.” The mayor couldn’t help feeling uneasy as he said goodbye. It was usually comforting to the mayor to find out what Old Mac was up to, especially to know that he was not up to trying to help the mayor. However, by the time he had ended this conversation, he did not feel so reassured. Old Mac’s mention of a special surprise project made him edgy and apprehensive. The secrecy about this new project added to the mayor’s overwhelming fear of receiving another gift like the horse-galoshes. Had he known Old Mac’s actual purpose, he might have welcomed such a gift instead.

My Books

Old Mac – Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

This post features the beginning of the first chapter of my book, a sampler, so to speak. I will post the rest of the first chapter in another post later. Please feel free to leave feedback and suggestions, as I am still working on more books for the series. I have learned a lot since this was published, and I recognize some of the “rules” I may have broken in this one. Thank you all for taking the time to read this! 🙂

Update:  The completion of the first chapter has been posted here.

Old Mac - Now You See Him, Now You Don't | Toni Umbarger | Children's Mystery

Chapter 1: Monday Morning

Ben Lewis was not one of the middle-schoolers sleeping in on the first Monday of summer break. He was too excited about helping Old Mac with his latest project and had hardly slept at all.

Awake bright and early, Ben bounded out of bed and over to his open window. He looked out at the town below and wondered what kind of uproar this project of Old Mac’s would bring to Sunflower. He didn’t know what the project was, but he knew it would be amazing; Old Mac’s projects always were. Ben grinned and sighed deeply. The summer was full of glorious promise.

After he had pulled on a pair of blue jeans and his favorite T-shirt, Ben slipped into his sneakers without bothering with socks. “Who’s gonna know anyway?” he asked under his breath, as he started down the stairs. “Mom and Dad are both at the donut shop by now, and Mildred wouldn’t notice even if I was wearing high heels and lipstick. Yuck!” Ben shuddered at the thought.

Ben’s mother owned and operated Daisy’s Donut Shop, so she was out of the house before sunup every weekday. His dad was Sunflower’s Deputy Sheriff, whose habit it was to stop at the donut shop for Danish and coffee before he went out on patrol. Mildred, the “babysitter,” was more formality than necessity. She had been the family babysitter for as long as Ben could remember. Now, she was approaching eighty years old and spent most of her babysitting days watching TV soaps and sucking on lemon drops.

He reached the bottom of the stairs, and there on the couch sat Mildred, facing the TV, tuned to the Soap Channel. “Good morning, Mildred,” he chimed. “I’m heading to Old Mac’s after I eat some breakfast. I might spend the day there. I’ll try to call if I’m not going to be here for lunch.”

Mildred didn’t take her eyes off the television as she spoke, “That’s okay, Ben. You’re up awfully early. Your sisters are both still in bed.”

Ben cringed. Why did she have to mention sisters? It was mornings like this that made it easy to forget that he had sisters. It was his misfortune to have been dealt two of them. What made it worse was that he was the middle child. Molly was two years older than him, and Janie was two years younger. Being sandwiched between two sisters had to be the worst torture in the world. Temporary escape was his only solace.

Ben wolfed down two bowls of Honey-Os and drank a large glass of orange juice. He took the time to slip his dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Mom was a stickler about cleaning up after oneself, and he did not want anything to jeopardize the time he had allotted to helping Old Mac.

Ben closed the kitchen door quietly behind him (it wouldn’t do to wake the two torture experts) and ran toward the sidewalk. Just as he turned to head toward Old Mac’s, the most horrible sound in the world stopped him. He grimaced as soon as the screech reached his ears.

“Hey, Dweeb, aren’t you forgetting something?” Molly’s voice was shrill as she yelled at him from her open bedroom window. She was only fourteen, but she assumed authority over him as though she were an adult. “You promised Mom you’d return those library books for her first thing this morning and pick up the next two that Miss Penderson has for her.” Then she continued in a singsong voice, “I don’t see any books in your hands.”

Ben’s mind began to race through possible scenarios. The library wouldn’t be open for another half hour. If he went on to Old Mac’s and did not go back for the books, Molly would be sure to rat on him. If he took the books to Old Mac’s with him, he would probably get busy and forget about them, and Molly would be sure to rat on him. There was only one way out. He would have to go back into the house for the books, wait for Miss Penderson to open the library, and get to Old Mac’s a little later than he had planned. He angrily kicked a rock off the sidewalk and then walked back into the house to the tune of Molly giggling mockingly from her window.

Morning routines were unfolding for all the Sunflower residents, including Old Mac, who joyously danced out to get his morning paper. Tall and gangly, with a ring of gray-white hair circling his balding head, he presented quite a spectacle wearing his purple and yellow plaid pajamas, his bright green robe with orange stripes; and the enormous, fuzzy pink bunny slippers that he always wore for the occasion.

As if his appearance weren’t enough grandiosity, Old Mac added a song to his dance routine, “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes. Hyee hah! She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes. Hyee hah! She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain, she’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain, she’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes. Hyee hah!” He sang slightly off key, but with great exuberance. What he lacked in musical talent, he made up for in volume and flamboyance. As a rule, the more excited he was, the louder he sang. His voice reverberated as he bellowed at the top of his lungs. If the neighbors had been sleeping before he came high-stepping out his front door, they certainly were wide-awake following his boisterous serenade.


(The completion of the first chapter has been posted here.)

My Books

Old Mac – Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

Self-promotion is not something I enjoy. That, to me, is the worst part of being an author. I love sharing my work, but I don’t enjoy promoting it. Any of you out there feel the same? I published this book almost a year ago, yet I have done almost nothing to promote it. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s any good. If I felt that way, I wouldn’t have published it. My problem is more that promotion feels so much like bragging; that bothers me. Also, I don’t have much of a competitive spirit. I don’t just want success for myself, I want it for all of you as well!

Old Mac – Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, my first book, is now available in paperback. In my meager attempt to promote the book, which I more joyfully think of as sharing my work, I am posting this link. Old Mac, which is a mystery, would make a great Christmas gift for a middle-grade or middle-school young person between the ages of 9 and 14.

Old Mac - Now You See Him, Now You Don't | Toni Umbarger | Children's Mystery

Old Mac Waverly is a carefree, somewhat absent-minded, science-obsessed inventor.  He has an uncanny knack for putting himself in harm’s way whenever he plunges into creative mode.  The people of his hometown of Sunflower, in order to prevent Old Mac from potential danger, have set up a scheduled system to keep an eye on him – the Old Mac Watch.  When this most beloved citizen disappears, twelve-year-old Ben Lewis and his deputy sheriff father lead the baffling, week-long search to find him.  For Ben, this offers an opportunity to spend precious time bonding with his father.  In the process of investigating Old Mac’s disappearance, Ben learns some valuable lessons about responsibility, friendship, and respect.

You can order a sample section of the book on Kindle or read a few sample pages on Amazon. Please check out Old Mac and let me know what you think. Thank you so much!