How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive

How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive

by Janet Taylor Lisle

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Winner of Italy’s 2006 Premio Andersen AwardA young writer’s fantasy world becomes dangerously entangled with reality
Eleven-year-old Archie and his six-year-old brother, Oggie, are constantly going back and forth between their mother’s home and the apartment that their father shares with his girlfriend. To distract Oggie from the turbulence of endlessly bouncing from “Saturn” to “Jupiter” and back again, Archie invents a fantastic story about the Mysterious Mole People. When Oggie’s wallet is stolen by kids from a local gang, Archie tries to retrieve it and becomes increasingly ensnared in the gang’s dangerous activities. Even worse, he soon finds that his fictitious mole story is merging with the darkness of real life in a very frightening way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480441545
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 09/10/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 155
File size: 8 MB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Janet Taylor Lisle (b. 1947) is an author of children’s fiction. After growing up in Connecticut, Lisle graduated from Smith College and spent a year working for the volunteer group VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) before becoming a journalist. She found that she loved writing human interest and “slice of life” stories, and honed the skills for observation and dialogue that would later serve her in her fiction. Lisle took a fiction writing course in 1981, and then submitted a manuscript to Richard Jackson, a children’s book editor at Bradbury Press who was impressed with her storytelling. Working with Jackson, Lisle published her first novel, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, in 1984. Since then she has written more than a dozen books for young readers, including The Great Dimpole Oak (1987) and Afternoon of the Elves (1989), which won a Newbery Honor. Her most recent novel is Highway Cats (2008).
Janet Taylor Lisle (b. 1947) is an author of children’s fiction. After growing up in Connecticut, Lisle graduated from Smith College and spent a year working for the volunteer group VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) before becoming a journalist. She found that she loved writing human interest and “slice of life” stories, and honed the skills for observation and dialogue that would later serve her in her fiction. Lisle took a fiction writing course in 1981, and then submitted a manuscript to Richard Jackson, a children’s book editor at Bradbury Press who was impressed with her storytelling. Working with Jackson, Lisle published her first novel, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, in 1984. Since then she has written more than a dozen books for young readers, including The Great Dimpole Oak (1987) and Afternoon of the Elves (1989), which won a Newbery Honor. Her most recent novel is Highway Cats (2008).

Read an Excerpt

How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive

By Janet Taylor Lisle


Copyright © 2002 Janet Taylor Lisle
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4154-5


A Tight Situation

Oggie and I were on our way over to Dad and Cyndi's apartment, trying not to be late, when we saw the Night Riders hanging out at the corner. They were wearing their jackets that have the crazed-looking eagle attacking a rattlesnake on the back.

"Don't worry about it," I told Oggie. "They can't do anything to us."

"How do you know they can't?" he said.

"Because it's day. It's out in the open. The Night Riders do their stuff at night when no one can see. That's why they call themselves that."

"I don't know," Oggie said. I saw he had the yeeks.

Oggie's my little brother. His real name is Ogden Jackson Jones. When he's scared, he gets these shivers that go over his whole body. I never knew any person who could get shivers like that, just dogs when they know they're going to the vet. Oggie calls them the yeeks. He hates it when people notice, so I never say anything.

"Stick with me," I told him. "Don't look. Just walk."

"I don't know," Oggie said again. He'd slowed way down.

The Night Riders came around our neighborhood when they wanted to show off. They were tough kids, thirteen, maybe fourteen years old, that lived across Washington Boulevard on Garden Street, which is nothing like a garden, I can tell you. Half the houses are boarded up. Well, maybe not half, but a lot are, anyway.

There's trash in the yards and busted-up sidewalks and druggies sitting around bumming spare change. Oggie had never even seen Garden Street. He was too little. Mom would've killed me if I brought him over there. She would've killed me, too, if she ever knew I went.

"Keep walking," I told him.

"I don't want to," he said.

He was only six then. Creeps like the Night Riders probably looked like mass murderers to him. I mean, I wasn't too happy about meeting up with them, either.

"I know you don't want to," I said, "but you've got to. How do you think it would look if we turned around and went back before they even noticed us?"

"I don't know."

"Well, it would look bad," I told him. "It would look gutless. The best thing is to keep going."

We were hardly going anywhere at this point. Oggie was taking these little mouse- size steps. The yeeks were flying out of everywhere. Up ahead, the Riders had kind of spread out on the corner. They were outside this food store called Wong's Market, smoking and spitting like they owned the world. One of them spotted us, and they all turned around and stared. Then they laughed these sort of gruesome laughs.

"Archie, I want to go back," Oggie said. "I'm going back." He tried to run, but I grabbed his coat.

"Listen, you can't!" I whispered. "Mom's not there now. The house is locked. I don't have the key."

"I don't care!"

"If we don't keep going, we'll be late. Dad's waiting, remember? He'll LEAVE us. Don't you want to go to the ball game?"

Our dad was taking us to see the Blue Hawks play that day. He hates people who are late. He works for the telephone company fixing people's phones, and he has these days packed solid with appointments. You have to be on time or he gets fed up and leaves.

"Come on, Oggie. Move it!"


"Oggie, walk!"

"Will you hold my hand?" he asked.

"HOLD YOUR HAND!" I just about croaked. "Listen, that would be the worst thing. Look at these guys. They hate people who do that."

"I'll only go if you hold my hand," Oggie said. I knew he meant it. He can be pretty stubborn. My whole heart sank and shriveled up in total panic. But we had to get to Dad's.

The thing is, he calls up Mom and they make these appointments with each other to see us, and it's a real strain for them both to even talk to each other, so you can't go around being late or not showing up. They get really hurt and mad.

"Okay," I told Oggie. "Okay, okay." I grabbed his hand and pulled him along as fast as he could go. We headed straight for the middle of the gang. It kind of surprised them. They stepped out of the way, and we went through like an express train. They recovered fast, though, because after we'd passed, one of them yelled:

"Hey, Ralphie, look at that. The big baby brother is holding the little baby brother's hand. How cute! How cutesy-wootsy is that?"

We were a good ten feet away, still going at top speed, so it didn't really affect us. My whole heart was pounding, though. It was about to come out of my shirt. I couldn't even breathe for a while. Then I brought myself back to normal. That's something you learn to do

after you've been through a few tight situations, bring yourself back to normal.

"See that?" I told Oggie. "See, it wasn't so bad as you thought. You've got to remember that in the future. Keep going no matter what."

Oggie didn't answer. I tried to let go of his hand, but he wouldn't let go. When I looked over, I saw how bad he still needed to hold on and let him do it.

Who cares what people think, anyway? They can't see half of what's really happening. They don't know how things are going to work out, either, so they shouldn't sit around judging people as if they did.

For instance, right there on that corner, the Night Riders had no idea Oggie and I were going to feature so big in their future. If they'd known, they might have been a little more polite.

Of course, we had no idea the Night Riders would be coming into our life, either. The horizon was hazy, as they say. Which was just as well because if you ever could see into the future and know all the bad stuff that's waiting to land on you just down the road, you'd probably hole up in your house and never want to go anywhere again.


Living Double

My real name is James Archer Jones, but everybody calls me Archie. Up until about a year ago, our family was pretty normal. We lived in a house in Ansley Park and did things together in the same place at the same time, like regular people.

Then, one day, Dad kind of moved out. Pretty soon Cyndi came along and they moved into this apartment complex over on Summerville Avenue. So Mom sold our house and got another apartment about four blocks away on Dyer Street. The neighborhood wasn't that great, but the rent was low, and we could keep going to our same school.

It might seem crazy to a lot of people, but after that, Oggie and I had this schedule we had to follow. It went like this:

Sunday night: 87 Dyer St. (Jupiter)

Monday night: 1129 Summerville Ave. Apt. #4 (Saturn)

Tuesday-Thursday nights: 87 Dyer St. (Jupiter)

Friday-Sat. nights: 1129 Summerville Ave. Apt. #4 (Saturn)

Then we'd start over.

I wrote it out for Oggie. He kept a copy of it on his person at all times so people would know where to take him in case of emergency. The telephone numbers were on the back. I was usually there for him, but you never know. The way things were, we had to be prepared for anything.

You're probably wondering what the Jupiter and Saturn in parentheses mean. Well, one time, just after we moved, Oggie was over at the house of this new friend, Danny DaSilva, playing a video game Danny had called Mystery of the Solar System. It's little kid stuff mostly, but still kind of interesting. These astronauts shuttle around to different planets in space. They land on the moon, then go to Jupiter for a while, then they land on Saturn, then head off to Pluto or somewhere.

The idea is, you're supposed to unravel the mystery of the solar system from clues you pick up in each place. You can never settle down and get comfortable in one place because almost immediately you have to head out to pick up more clues somewhere else.

I watched Oggie play this for a while and it suddenly struck me how it was like what we were doing in real life. So I kidded him when it was time to go home—actually, I was there to pick him up—and said we had to go to Saturn now, but we were due over at Jupiter for dinner. He thought that was hilarious. It got to be part of this whole joke we had.

Jupiter was Mom's apartment, and Dad and Cyndi's was Saturn. If something wasn't going right, I'd say stuff like, "Psst, Oggie. The air is getting pretty thin on this planet, good thing we'll be on Jupiter tonight."

Or Oggie might whisper, "Hey, Archie, I found out something about Saturn. I bet you don't know it."

Actually, Oggie did say this exact thing to me one night. We were on Jupiter watching a video and eating Chinese. Mom had gone in the kitchen.

"What don't I know?" I asked.

"They're having a baby over there."

"WHAT?" I turned up the sound on the remote so Mom wouldn't hear. "How'd you find that out?"

"Cyndi said it."

"She SAID it?"


"She told you?"

"Not me. Her girlfriend Francie. You know that one with the pink hair? They were talking out on the porch."

"What'd she say?"

"That it was making her throw up."

"Oggie, are you sure that's what you heard?" Sometimes he misunderstands things.


The old sinking feeling that comes over me sometimes came over me.

"Well, don't tell anyone, okay?" I said. I had the remote turned up to about one million decibels by this time. Well, maybe not one million decibels, but as high as it would go. "Just put a block on it, you know what I mean?"

Oggie nodded because that's what Dad always says. We're supposed to put a block on all this stuff he doesn't want Mom to know. It's what they call it at his job when they shut down one line to fix another one.

Mom started yelling from the kitchen to cut the racket on the TV, so I did. But later, when I went to bed, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about this baby. I mean, Dad and Cyndi weren't even married. It was kind of a shock because I'd always had this idea that Mom and Dad might get back together, even though they were supposedly getting divorced.

For one thing, they were still living pretty close to each other. What I thought was, if they'd really given up, they'd have moved to different cities or states, right? And Oggie and I wouldn't have this crazy life of going back and forth.

The way it was, we had to have two of everything: two toothbrushes, two drawers full of pj's and underwear, two boxes of Frosted Flakes, which is what we eat for breakfast.

We even had two Bunny-Wunnies for Oggie so he could go to sleep at night without having to drag Bunny around with him all day.

What happened when he dragged Bunny around was, he'd lose him somewhere and end up staying awake all night, crying. Mom found Bunny Two on sale at Wal-Mart, just by pure luck. They'd stopped making them. Oggie didn't like him at first, but then he changed his mind and LOVED him, just like Bunny One. That was about the happiest day of Mom's life. The Bunny-Wunnie problem had been driving her crazy for weeks.

It was during this terrible period in our family, when Dad had moved in with Cyndi and Oggie kept losing Bunny One, that I started telling him the story of the Mysterious Mole People.

For as far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a writer. Not that I ever wrote much, but ideas for stories were always coming into my head.

A lot of people don't realize it, but writers know pretty early in life who they are. That doesn't mean they're going to BE writers, though. If all you had to do to BE a writer was to think you WERE one, there'd probably be about five million more writers in the world. Well, maybe not five million, but more.

The thing is, after you know you have the writing gene inside you, it's up to you to get up enough steam to do something about it. Otherwise it'll fizzle out and you'll never go anywhere. That's one reason I started telling the Mysterious Mole People story to Oggie, to kind of exercise my gene.

The other reason was to get Oggie's mind off Dad and Bunny and everything that was going wrong in our family.

"Hey, Oggie, turn off the weepers. Want to find out what the Mysterious Mole People did last night?" I'd ask him.

"No!" he'd usually howl. He was one tough customer.

"Well, the only way you're going to find out is to quit moaning."


"The Mole People came up in Florida and took Disney World."

"No, they didn't."

One of Oggie's main goals in life was to get to Disney World. He had this idea that Disney World was the answer to everything, like heaven. On TV, it shows whole families going there, forgetting their troubles and sliding down water chutes into each other's arms. Little kids actually believe that stuff.

"You can't steal Disney World. How could it get stolt?" Oggie asked.

"Well, it did."

"How will we get it back?"

"Who says we need it back?"

I was kind of mad at Disney World. The way things were, I knew our family would probably never get there in one piece, so I was against it.

"I NEED IT!" Oggie would scream. "I want it!"

"Then quit yelling and listen," I'd say. "Sit down here. I'll see what I can do."


The Mysterious Mole People

The main thing about the Mysterious Mole People is that they were normal humans once. They lived in regular daylight, in ordinary houses, and held down honest jobs like racing stock cars or selling famous-name sports equipment.

But they got fed up with the way things were, like how everybody keeps getting robbed at gunpoint and forests keep getting chopped down. Many years ago, the Mole People went underground. They developed thick, furry hides and powerful claws, and built a whole secret kingdom down under the earth. From there, to this day, they wage their revenge.

If a robbery happens to be going on at gunpoint overhead, all of a sudden the ground will shake and there will come a slurping sound.

In a flash, the robber will be gone, sucked down into the dark underworld of the Mole People.

It doesn't matter if it's in China or Afghanistan or Texas or New Jersey. The Mysterious Mole People don't recognize national boundaries, and they never exchange prisoners. From underneath, every place looks the same to them. They have this whole system of tunnels that go everywhere in the world, under cities, mountains, oceans, even the polar ice caps. Wherever they want to go, they can get there fast.

For instance, if something bad is happening to the environment, a lot of trash being dumped in a river or forests getting made into parking lots, SLURP! the person or persons who are doing it will get sucked under.

If these persons have become rich and greedy from their profits, the Mysterious Mole People will see to it that their money is passed out to the poor. The Mole People are kind of like Robin Hood. They look out for the little guy that no one else thinks about. Except they can be absolutely merciless at times.

It was at one of these merciless moments, I told Oggie, that the Mysterious Mole People came up out of the blue, or rather out of the brown, and slurped Disney World.

The newspapers reported a terrible earthquake had done it, but Amory Ellington knew the real story just from one glance at the headlines.

Amory Ellington is the kid investigator who's on the Mole People's case. He has this turtle named Alphonse that he always talks to.

"Yo, Alphonse, look at that. The Mysterious Mole People have struck again," he'll say, or something like that. Alphonse never says anything back. Most of the time he looks asleep, but he's one sharp reptile and knows what's happening.

Amory Ellington has been collecting evidence about the Mysterious Mole People's existence for years. The problem is, nobody except Alphonse believes him. Even Amory's own mother thinks he's making it up, and she's basically a good person.

"Mole People! Oh, Amory, honey. Have you been taking your vitamins?" she asks him. She has a theory that vitamins are the answer to everything, like mothballs.

At last, Amory can't stand it anymore. The news about Disney World is too terrible to ignore. It's one thing to slurp a few robbers and parking lots, quite another to swallow a hundred-acre entertainment park. Who are these Mole People, anyway?

"Alphonse, buckle up and prepare for departure," Amory tells the old turtle. "We're going to Florida." Ten minutes later, they've got their backpacks on and they sneak out through a side door.

This is the start of a lot of adventures they have on the road to Disney World. They go through kidnappings, shoot-outs, cement feet, and con men disguised as turtle-food salesmen. An old lady in Alaska tries to put them in an orphanage for not having any parents, but they escape by swimming the Black Sea.

After that, they build a raft and go all the way down the Amazon River to Florida. (Oggie wasn't too hot on geography. I could take him pretty much anywhere I wanted without him asking a lot of questions.)

In Florida, Amory and Alphonse start snooping around what's left of Disney World, which looks like a war zone: busted sidewalks, trash blowing everywhere. Then it happens: walking along a muddy street one afternoon, they get held up at gunpoint.

"Your money or your life, you reptiles!" the hold-up man yells.


Excerpted from How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive by Janet Taylor Lisle. Copyright © 2002 Janet Taylor Lisle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


A Tight Situation,
Living Double,
The Mysterious Mole People,
A Good Writing Trick,
The Blue Hawks Game,
Cyndi's Secret,
My Life Goes Crazy,
The Hold-Up,
The Truth Comes Out,
The Job,
Ghost Driver,
The Mysterious Mole People,
Raven's Warning,
The Argument,
Riding High,
Under Surveillance,
Cat Man,
The Fireworks,
The Getaway,
The Last Chapter,
A Personal History by Janet Taylor Lisle,

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How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book because of everything about it. It was exciting to read and the characters were cool.