Before seventh-grader Ben Jefferson can generate enough belief to save John Henry and the other fading American tall tale legends from eradication, he must first learn to believe in himself. LEGENDS OF CLAY FALLS is a 57,000-word middle-grade contemporary fantasy that will interest readers of THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu, THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt, and THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie Lloyd.

Strangers are showing up in Ben’s sleepy town of Clay Falls, Kansas. When Ben discovers the strangers are actually the tall tale legends, John Henry, Paul Bunyan, and Johnny Appleseed, he learns that the legends are in serious trouble and running on a near-empty tank of belief. Samuel Blackfront, the founder of Reality Educational Testing Company, wants these tall tales wiped from existence. Things like fantasy and imagination lie outside his idea of reality. Blackfront threatens Ben and his family unless he turns over the legends. Desperate and on the run, John Henry recruits Ben to generate a much-needed shot of belief in the legends by doing the one thing Ben fears the most, giving a speech. With the help of his friends, Ben overcomes his fear of public speaking to deliver a speech in front of the whole county—a speech so powerful that it gives the legends the strength they need to survive Blackfront while also protecting his family.

My middle-grade historical fiction, THE YOUNGER DAYS, was published by MuseItUp Publishing. My short story, Last Will and Testament, appears in the Month9Books charity anthology, IN THE BEGINNING. I contributed two molecular biology essays to PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION collection from Writer’s Digest Books. I belong to the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors blog team and their STEM Tuesday group. I am also a host of the middle-grade literature Twitter chat, #MGlitchat.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Mike Hays


Chapter 1

I had jelly legs walking home from football practice with my two best friends. Chuck walked gingerly to my left and Mallet shuffled to my right—the same way we lined up on the football field as the anchors of the offensive line. Chuck winced between steps. “Dude, what was wrong with you today?”

I shrugged.

Mallet added, “Yeah, you sucked eggs today.”

We couldn’t do anything right at football practice and it was my fault. Coach Wilson threw every fit in his arsenal, but the Clay Falls Middle School Flyers never found a way to pull it together. After my third flubbed shotgun snap sailed over the quarterback’s head, Coach Wilson launched his clipboard into the end zone and then made the whole team run and run and run.

“Thanks, Dennis,” I answered. Mallet hated to be called by his given name. Hated it. Dennis Winston, Jr. preferred his nickname “Mallet” since elementary school because his given name suggested an association with Dennis Winston, Sr. Back in third-grade, our teacher gave him the nickname because Mallet was always pounding and bouncing off life like a rubber mallet.

“Shut the heck up, Ben. I’m too danged tired to beat your butt.”

Mallet has a working vocabulary based on what my mom would tell her kindergarten class was a “poor choice of words.”

We walked in silence down the blacktop leading out of town. Mallet lived on the last residential street at the edge of Clay Falls. We were close enough to his home not to bait him into a fight, so I thought it best to mend the fences before we parted ways.

“I was a mess at practice today, I know it. That stupid speech in science really threw me off my game.”

“That was bad, Ben,” said Chuck.

“You were shaking like a wet dog on a cold day.” Mallet laughed while gyrating through his imitation of a cold, wet dog.

I was supposed to give a simple speech in front of the science class on Avogadro’s Law. Man, I knew Avogadro’s Law like the back of my hand; the same volumes of different gases have the same number of molecules at the same temperature and pressure. Simple. Instead of standing there like an idiot, I should have been able to deliver my killer speech with a snappy introduction to hook the audience, list the facts about Avogadro’s Law, and wrap the whole thing up with a tidy, yet informative, conclusion.

Major fail.

I think I have glossophobia. I looked it up on Wikipedia.

  • Intense anxiety prior to, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group. 
  • Avoidance of events which focus the group’s attention on individuals in attendance
  • Physical distress, nausea, or feelings of panic in such circumstances.

Check, check, and check.

I know you’re not supposed to trust the Wiki. We hear that all the time from teachers at Clay Falls Middle School. But, in this case, the Wiki don’t lie. I am glossophobic.