NANOWRIMO Day #1: Chapters 1-3 (Secret of the Ambassadors)

I thought it would be fun to share my pages from the book I'm writing for National Novel Writing Month. The first day I managed about 3200 words, which is three chapters. I'm shooting for 1200 words per chapter for a nice flow. The first book will be 25,000 words give or take (100 pages). 

This book is a children's chapter book aimed for ages 7-12. My sons are helping me build out the story. I shared the first chapter with them and they loved it!

So, here are my not-edited, raw, pages of my book. I want you to see the evolution from start to finished project. Tell me what you think?

Secret of the Ambassadors


I knew I’d been born into a different family with each visit to dad’s study. The walls lined with maps and pins marking each adventure of days gone by. Each map had that old look like someone burned the edges. Globes, relics, and artifacts stacked on shelves like trophies.Tall wooden bookshelves lined with thousands of books each with a story. Stories my dad Jim Rayburn believed the world needed to know.

Not sure exactly what to call my dad. Adventurer, pioneer, sleuth, detective, adventure-seeker, or Indiana Jones? Maybe a mishmash of all these things. When dad came to Career Day at my school he’d shared an adventure of when he found a goblet belonging to a real pirate. Imagine that?

I knew early on in life my dad and our family were cut from a different cloth. When family vacations landed us in the Middle East, China, or some small town in the states where no family would visit. Unless, you’re my best friend Jimmy Olsen who visits Iowa ever summer. I think his dad’s an accountant. 

Regardless of what my dad was or is I wanted nothing more badly to be like him. Maybe that’s what sons do and normal growing up stuff. But those visits to the study turned a switch on in me. I wanted whatever dad had and to join him on those adventurers. 

On a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday, I snuck into the study and watched dad at work. He pored over an old dusty book and nodded like it was talking at him. A giant smile emerged on his face and he turned to see me hovering over his wide desk. 

“You get the car packed?” 

I nodded.

“What’s your sister doing?”

“Throwing a fit because she has to leave her boyfriend for a week.”

Dad tried to hold back a smile and shook his head. “Rosie is too young for boys. Nothing but trouble.”

I slumped down into a chair and agreed. “I don’t think it’s serious. He wrote her a note and asked to check a box. Do you like me, yes or no? Not exactly Romeo.”

Billy Britton was one of the cool kids at Brookside Elementary. He had that hair with the perfect part and the straight teeth. Rosie my older sister through she was in love. I don’t know how the love thing works but an eight grader doesn’t seem to know much about it. I think when you get old like my parents the love stuff kicks in. 

My dad closed the book and leaned in close. “Hold off on love for as long as you. Girls are nothing but trouble. How did the packing go?”

I gave a thumbs up, “Organize first. Pack once. Like you taught me.”

“Great. You excited about the family vacation?”

“I guess. Where we going again?”

“The desert.”

“Like sands and heat and stuff?”

“Something like that. We are driving to Mojave State Park. Staying at a motel. It has a pool.”

For a kid if the motel has a pool it doesn’t matter if the family vacation was on Mars. Those were the magic words I needed to hear. 

I hesitated and tried to form my words, “Dad… is this a work trip?” I said, giving finger quotations.

Dad rose from the desk, walked to a map on the wall, and stood akimbo. “Life is an adventure kid. Dad is never off the clock.”

“So… is that a yes, or no?” My dad often spoke in hyperbole and kept us guessing most days. 

“You never know. Work seems to find me wherever I go.”

I scratched my head. “Does mom know?”

Dad turned back like he’d been stung by a bee. “How’d you know?”

“The look.”

“That obvious, huh?”

“Like a catcher giving away signs.”

Dad lowered his head. “Not yet. I’d hoped to break it to her on the drive.”

“Good luck with all that. Mom is going to lose her mind. Like the last time you…” I gave the quotation fingers, “We’re on a work vacation.”


I nodded.

Dad scrambled to a shelf on the opposite end of his study. He held up a golden chalice and smiled. “You know what this is?”

“An ugly cup.”

“Nooo… A gift from the Prince of Kuwait. Saved their people from some bad dudes.”

“I remember that trip. When Rosie got diarrhea on the plane and soiled her pants. She was mad.”

Dad lowered his head and gave a hearty laugh, “She had to wear mom’s sweater around her waist until she could change her jeans.”

I joined in with the laughter. “I love it when Rosie suffers.”

Dad waved a finger, “Easy, kid. She’s still your sister. Be nice. You’ve been embarrassed many times in public. Remember when you scarfed down a large popcorn at the Cineplex and barfed on the man in front of you.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Who could forget?” I walked to the map on the wall and pointed, “When will I get to join you on an adventure? I think I’m ready…”

Dad placed the chalice on the shelf and walked over to me and wrapped his strong arms around my shoulders. “You’re a twelve year old kid with a lot of life in front of you. They’ll be plenty of time in the future to dream. Dad is a trained professional and what he does is dangerous.”

“I’m tough. Danger is my middle name,” I said, flexing a bicep. 

Dad raised an eye brow, “Your middle name is Lewis,” he gripped my arm, “Not bad for a weakling. Enjoy childhood because you’ll wake up one day and find life moves real fast. You’ll find enough danger in the everyday stuff to last a lifetime.”

I shook my head  and turned to leave the study. “You give the same speech every time I ask. One day, you’ll see. I’ll handle all the danger anyone throws at me. I’m going to be the best adventurer the world has ever seen.”

Dad crossed his arms. “Okay, adventurer. First mission is to wash up for dinner. Can you handle it?”

I sighed and headed for the door. Before I left the study I noticed a folder sitting on a side table. It said: Mission: The Ambassadors. 


I tossed and turned that night after my conversation with dad. Tired of the same answers given every time I brought up joining him on a mission. I knew I was only twelve and dealing with the onset of pimples and pressure to fit in at school. 

But I’d dreamed of fighting bad guys for as long as I could remember. To be honest I didn’t know if that’s what dad did. But anything more interesting than enduring another boring English class with Mrs. Reed. 

I threw on clothes and made my way downstairs to join the family. The family van was packed and ready for the long trip to the desert. We lived in Ohio where my dad was a professor at Ohio State. He taught History and some other stuff I can’t pronounce.

Rosie jumped into the front seat and yelled, “How long is this trip?”

My mom pulled her earbuds out and gave her a look. “Thirty hours. Get comfortable.”

In kid years thirty hours is a million. Spending that long next to my nemesis, Rosie, was the not what I’d hoped for. Maybe she’d sleep and leave me alone. Not a chance. She slapped me on the arm, “You see this line,” she drew an imaginary line between the seats, “Cross this and you’ll be sorry.”

I smirked. “What are you going to do? Call your boyfriend Billy?”

“Mom… Ricky is making fun of me.”

“I did no such thing. Only mentioned her boyfriend. Is that a crime?”

“He knows this is a sensitive subject. I have to leave the love of my life for a week. Not in a good place right now.”

Mom cupped her mouth and tried with all her might not to laugh in Rosie’s face. She caught my eye and I did the same, “Ricky… please be nice to your sister. She needs our support…” mom said, bursting out in laughter.

Rosie crossed her arms and gave a look like she’d eaten a Sour Patch Kid. She slammed her headphones on her ears, “Don’t talk to me for the next thirty hours.”

I gave a thumbs up and mom shook her head in disagreement.

Dad gave a glance in the rearview mirror that needed no words. “Let’s get along kid’s,” he gave mom a gentle nudge, “And you too, big kid.”

We drove and drove and drove. It felt like an eternity before dad stopped the car. Our first stop was an old cowboy town that pops tried to convince us was the best thing west of the Mississippi. 

The streets were dirt covered and only a couple small buildings were left in the desolate place. We strolled to what looked like an old bank from another era and heard piano music playing. A woman in a wide dress greeted us and handed us a flyer. 

“Welcome to Booneville. The last cowboy town in the West.”

I knew why it was the last. Nothing to do. No video games, TV’s, or nachos to speak of. I wasn’t sure why this place was so special. Lame to me.

Dad slapped the back of my head almost knocking off my Ohio State Buckeyes hat to the dirty floor. “Isn’t this cool son? Like living in the old days.”

I gave a half smile and didn’t tell him what I really thought. “Cool…” I said, giving a half hearted thumbs up.

Dad leaned against a long counter where a man in a large cowboy hat turned to face the family. “Four Coke’s for the fine people,” he said, glancing back for something to show his awesomeness as a dad. 

“I came here with my family when I was your age. We grew up in California and loved coming here on family trips.”

“Was this a real cowboy town when you came as a kid?” Rosie said, giving me a glance.

I avoided eye contact with dad, and mom walked to the other side of the counter, and didn’t want to crush dad’s enthusiasm.  “Funny, girl. No. This town was abandoned shortly after the Gold Rush in the 1850’s. A time when California was being built up and settled. If we can put aside our sarcasm maybe we’ll learn a thing or two.”

One thing Dad was serious about is history. He taught it, lived it, and breathed it. Unfortunately the family wasn’t there yet. He loved taking us around the world to discover new things. All good. But my interest wasn’t in the history as much as stopping bad guys. That’s how I imagined my dad spending his days. Fighting evil dictators, stopping ruthless armies, and unfailing plots to overthrow governments. That kind of history I can get into. 

Dad put on a cowboy hat from the souvenir shop and wrapped a leather holster around his waist. He pretended to draw the gun and aim it in my direction. “Stick em up partner,” he said. 

I played along and put up my hands. “Oh please, don’t shoot me,” I said in a monotone voice. 

“Come on son. That didn’t sound convincing.”

“I’ll play” Rosie said, rushing into the store and placing a pink scarf around her neck. She caught her eye in a mirror, “Ooh. I think Billy would like me wearing this.”

Dad and I shook our heads. “You wouldn’t last five minutes during cowboy days.”

“I might not. But I’d look good,” Rosie said, give a side pose. 

I began to hop up and down. “I need a bathroom quick.”

Mom pointed to a bathroom sign hanging in the back of the gift shop. I ran to the back of the store and dodged a man following in behind me. 

Country music played in the speakers of the restroom and I did my business at the urinal. I heard a couple men talking in hushed tones. 

“You think that’s him? He looks kind of ordinary.”

I pretended to keep going to the bathroom and focused more energy on their conversation. A man with black slicked hair finished his business and made his way to the sink to clean up. “He matches the photo boss gave us.”

“We’ll follow close behind and see where it leads,”the other man said, sporting a Los Angeles Angles jacket and dark glasses.

I flushed the urinal and kept my head down as I scrambled out of the bathroom to find my family. One of the men turned to dry his hands and tripped me as I walked by. I skidded across the wet tile floor.

The man with the baseball jacked leaned down and tried to help me up. His face looked terse and like he wanted to yell, “Hey, kid. I didn’t see you taking care of business over there. You hear anything?”

My stomach throbbed and chin burned from the face plant on the bathroom floor. I glanced at the man and his friend. “Not sure what you mean?”

“You hear our conversation?”

“Nope. Just a kid trying to pee and get back to his family. My ears aren’t so good.”

The man lifted me up from my right ear and breathed in my face what smelled like an onion sandwich. “Better be telling the truth. Or next time you go deaf for good.”

He released my ear and I ran like my pants were on fire.  


I ran back into the gift shop to find Rosie staring at herself in the mirror… again. Mom was glancing at her watch and scanning the room. I caught my breath. “Mom… two guys… bathroom… I…” the words falling flat in between my breathless lungs.

“What? Speak clearly.”

“I… I’m trying,” I said, taking a deep breath, “These guys are after me.”

“Who? You probably saw one of those cowboy reenactments. They’re really good. We witnessed a showdown in the street outside. Very cool.”

“Mom, stop. I’m serious. These men were talking and it sounded like they were going to hurt us. Where’s dad?”

“Outside. Probably chatting up a cowboy,” mom said, nodding toward the front door.

I ran out the door and scanned the dusty streets. A horse snarled and almost caused me to pee again. I glanced to the right and back to the left. Nothing. I took a guess and headed around the side of the building. 

Dad was on his cell phone and pacing back and forth. I paused as his face told me something important was going on on the other line. I hesitated and pinned myself against the side of the building hoping he’d not see me. 

I crept in close and kneeled down next to one of those coin operated horses. The ones you see in front of grocery stores. Despite getting myself in trouble for listening to the conversation in the bathroom. I tried to hear what my dad was saying. 

The shuffling of feet on the dirt streets, laughter, and horses clopping made it nearly impossible to listen in on my dad’s conversation. I tried to get lower and slide in behind the toy horse with no avail. I stumbled and found myself lying flat on my back 

I glanced up to see my dad standing with hands on his waist. “I’ll call you back. My son stopped by,” he said, with a stare that didn’t say happy to see you. 

“Ricky… would you like to tell me what’s going on?”

“Not what it looks like dad. I was being chased by some bad guys. Well, not exactly chased, one grabbed me by the ear… and”

My dad cut me off, “Wait, come again? A guy pulled on your ear?”

“Yeah, a guy with black hair and Angels jacket. Asked me if I’d been listening to their conversation.”

“Where’d this happen?”

“In the bathroom.”

“You we’re in the bathroom with two men?”

“No, I mean, yes. I went to do my business and they were talking about stuff. It sounded like they wanted to hurt us.”

Dad reached a hand down, dusted me off, and asked more questions. “Hurt us?”

“They talked about having a photo. Said it looked like us.”

Dad scratched his head and I could see the wheels in his brain turning. He gripped his chin and paced in a small circle in the street. “I wonder if…”

“Wonder what?”

“Nothing… it’s nothing.” My dad’s response seemed like he was hiding something from me. “Are bad people trying to hurt us? Is this vacation a work vacation?”

Dad hesitated and stared at his feet. “No.”

“Who were you talking to on the phone?”

“Work. We’re hiring a new professor and I needed to iron out some details. No big deal.”

“Dad come on. I know that look. You’re not telling the truth. Those men are trying to hurt us. Are they looking for you?”

He pulled me to the side of the building out of the way of passerby. “I can’t say for sure. Those men you encountered in the bathroom might be looking for us. Dad might of not been telling the entire truth.”

“Go on.”

“This vacation is a little work… and a lot of fun. More on the fun side, and less of the work side. I promise.”

“You haven’t told mom. Have you?”

He nodded. “I will. The timing was not right. We we’re having so much fun in Cowboy Town. It will take all the fun out. I will.”

“Fun… the only person having fin is you. I was almost killed in the bathroom. Rosie is obsessed with her own face. Mom is mom. Fun… I wouldn’t call it fun.”

He slapped me on the top of my head and smiled. “Did mom tell you about the showdown in the street? It was amazing.”

“Yep. Sorry I missed all the fun,” I said, rolling my eyes. 

“Ricky. You can’t say a thing to mom. This mission is dangerous and kind of just happened. I wanted to have a nice relaxing vacation and well…”

“Well what,” I asked.

“It’s hard to say no. Sometimes your dad lets work get before the family. I’m sorry.”

I knew my dad worked hard to provide for the family. Maybe the life of an adventurer was not as glamorous as I thought. He was gone a lot between teaching at the college and off duty missions of adventure.

Then it clicked. Like a bolt of lighting in my brain. The ultimate in for my first mission. “I have an idea. You let me participate in this mission and I don’t tell mom.”

Dad smiled. “I don’t think so. These men are not teenagers looking for trouble. Serious stuff. You aren’t ready for this kind of responsibility.”

I kicked the dirt. “When? How does anyone learn anything when they can never take part? You always told me to practice everyday if you wanted to learn piano. What about learning to do what you do? Can I practice?”

He knelt in the dirt and gave an intense gaze into my eyes. “Son. Those men you met in the bathroom are not playing games. There are things going on in the desert I can’t say much about. But things a twelve year old should not be exposed to. Someday son, someday… you’ll be ready.”

I turned and bolted back to the gift shop to find sister and mother. All I could think about was screaming to my mother what my father told me. I was tired of being treated like a kid and wanted to play in the game. My head was swirling and my heart hurt for what I wanted to do. 

I stood in the doorway of the gift shop and thought about the conversation with dad. Everything in me wanted to tell mom. She laughed with Rosie and sipped on a Coke. 

I walked in and acted like nothing happened. My father came in a few seconds later. 

“Next stop Death Valley. More adventurers to be had…” he said, in a cheerful tone.

The only adventure I wanted to be part of I was not welcome.  Ten more hours in the car felt like the longest in my short life.