Chapter One

“Barbie and Ken versus the Troll? That is perhaps the most sophomorically dimwitted title for a story in the history of literature!”
“Huh?” Ken almost fell out of the lounge chair he was napping in when he felt the pages of his novel being lifted from his sleeping hands. He squinted through sleepy eyes at a short, squat boy who looked to be about his age, fifteen, who was dressed like a banker. And this overdressed kid with a big head was chortling like a chicken that had just laid the biggest egg in the hen house as his beady eyes worked over his story pages. “It’s just a working title,” Ken said as he snatched the pages back.
“Yeah, well, lawyers like my dad get rich suing plagiarist like you!
“Well, he won’t get rich suing me, ‘cause I’m no plagiarist and don’t have any money anyhow.” Ken surveyed his critic who was standing with his legs apart, hands on hips looking at him like Ken was something disgusting he’d just found in the back of the fridge. “And what could he possibly sue me for?”
“Duh! Barbie and Ken, the dolls. Disney sues everyone!”
“Dolls? There are no dolls, in my story and Disney doesn’t own Barbie, it’s . . . Someone else.
“Listen, you sticky-fingered Shakespeare, it won’t matter if they’re in your silly little story or not, they’ll sue you because they’re in your title.” With an evil grin, the critic added, “And they’ll win too!”
Ken shook his head, expecting to start hearing that eerie da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da Twilight Zone theme music at any moment.
He had tagged along with his dad who was part of a stone crew that was working on some big fancy pool at some umpteen million-dollar house in an oceanside, gated community. All he was looking for was a quiet place to write. He had set up his folding chair on the big lawn fifteen feet behind the house in the shade of some palm trees where he had a spectacular view of the ocean and had settled down to write. But with the pounding of the surf on the rocks, the warm California sun and the rhythmic clang of the mason’s hammers, it wasn’t long before his head was nodding and he was off to dreamland. Now his pleasant nap had turned into a twisted Twilight Zone episode with some kid who looked like a well dressed Mister Potato Head with a voice like Sponge Bob, talking trash about his story.
And Ken had had about enough, “Hey listen ‘Short-n-Squaty’ who asked for your opinion anyway!”
“I am Leopold Bartholomew Wankmaster the third! And I live here. So my opinion comes with the territory! The question that really needs answering, is who exactly are you?”


One of the great joys of my life has been helping with the homeschooling of our daughter, Hannah. Of the many blessings that came from that endeavor, the greatest was watching our beautiful daughter learn and grow until now she is a young adult and flourishing in college—but coming in a not insignificant second is the middle-grade novel, Barbie, and Ben versus the Troll that we wrote together. The pleasure that the novel gives me though is always tempered by the memory of the titanic struggle we had completed it. For you see my darling daughter while inheriting beauty and intelligence from her mother also got near superhuman amounts stubbornness from the Marker side of the family. A level of obstinance which made our working together on the book rival the legendary battle between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.   When Hannah was about fourteen, she had a minor obsession with the Erogan fantasy series. She spent half of her time reading it and the other half carping about it. All the while writing some pretty good online fan fiction about one of the books lesser (though I guess, hotter) characters. This was not a situation that I could long endure. As the art master of our familial institute of higher learning, I pointed out that the author of the Erogen series was fifteen when he wrote the first book, why didn’t she, instead of grousing endlessly, write something better? Now I don’t believe that Christopher Paolini wrote the Ergon books when he was only fifteen without help (unless he was a genius, and his books give scant evidence of that), so I suggested an idea I thought would work. A novel with two parts, one part concerning two contemporary boys and their misadventures as they struggle to find their places as young artists and a fantasy story written by one of them that would interweave with the main plot line. I would write the parts about Ken and Leopold, and she would handle the fantasy part. What could be easier…? Thus began an epic struggle! Instead of battling demigods this one between father and daughter. One that if you weren’t in the trenches duking it out with her, you would (almost) have to admire The Child’s tenacious wrongheadedness and obstinance in giving her poor father undeserved grief. But in the end, hallelujah, we had a beginning, middle and an end. Mom even got in on the fun by contributing the brilliant idea of, ‘Magic Bean-o.’ The novel was complete, and no one suffered any permanent injury! Axes were buried, and fences mended, and we got some people to read the book, and everyone loved it. Laugh out loud funny, they said. So I got the book professionally edited and then… I let it sit, not sure what I wanted to do with it. I thought about trying to get an agent, but Hannah was busy with her SAT’s and looking forward to college and all my spare time was going into Stonewall’s Arm, and I never got around to writing a query letter. But with the drawing of SA mostly wrapped up, I reread B&B and I thought that it was still a hoot. I’ve always had an urge it indulge my humorous cartoon chops, so sometime in the coming year, I’m going to do that indulging and bring Barbie and Ben to life as a webcomic. And as a prelude to that, I’m going to go ahead and draw illustrations for the ebook. I can’t wait!