When Formatting Attacks…

“Your cover letter is beautifully written, but it needs some different formatting – the punctuation marks come out as strange characters!”

This frightening message came to me in an email from a family friend. She had graciously allowed me to send her a copy of my cover letter, so she could give me feedback before I sent it on to a publisher. I thought she might make a few tweaks here and there – change a few sentences around, nothing major. I never expected her to tell me that my cover letter looked like alien symbols and gibberish!

Soon after this exchange, I came across an article detailing what happens to the formatting of a Microsoft Word document when you Copy and Paste it into the little “Compose” box of your email. To sum it up: bad things. VERY VERY Bad Things can happen when you C&P from Word into any web browser.

Luckily, I had sent this most recent cover letter to a friend first. But I’d already sent more than a dozen email cover letters in the past, without any idea that even though they looked perfectly normal on my screen, they looked dramatically different to the person receiving them.

And all this time, I thought I was doing a good thing by composing them in Word. I didn’t want to just dash off some sloppy cover letter right in my email. I wanted to pre-write the letter, perfect it, and print it off so others could read it and edit it for me, even if the letter was only five measly sentences.

(Side note: Just to be clear, sending an attachment in MS Word is totally fine. If you’re sending a story or even a cover letter as a .DOC or .DOCX attachment, it should look exactly as it’s supposed to, as long as that’s the format requested by the publisher. The problem only occurs when Copying and Pasting something from MS Word into the body of your email, be it a letter or even a whole story (yes, some publishers want your whole story in the body of the email).)

The solution:

There are several simple things you can do to make darn sure the content in the body of your email looks exactly as you intended. The easiest way is just to directly write your message in the “Compose” box of your email. This is the method I now use for very short cover letters and other succinct messages. For longer content, however, this would not be practical. (Who wants to re-type their whole 6,000-word zombie pirate adventure?) In the case of longer material, I would recommend Copying and Pasting from Word into Notepad, and then from Notepad into your email. (You will have to go through and redo all the italics, bolds, etc. in your email if you choose this method, because that formatting will be lost in Notepad.) The final safeguard: send the email to yourself or a friend before sending it to a publisher. You want to start off that writer-publisher relationship on the right foot – not the ugly alien foot with sixteen blue toes!

Last note: I wrote this post with full knowledge that most people are already completely aware of this issue. In fact, most people reading this post probably think I’m an idiot for not being aware of it. Nonetheless, for that one person who might not know, for that one poor soul who’s about to unwittingly send out an important query letter filled with wing-dings and squiggly lines, I decided to put this out there.

Hope it helps!

Keep writing and submitting!

-Gretchen

The Race: Midseason Musings

(Okay, when I wrote this post, it was actually a lot closer to midseason than it is now. Nonetheless, the scores still stand!)

So, time’s been winging its way along like a carrier pigeon, and here we are, over halfway through the TV season. Well, the network TV season, at any rate. This is the time when I’m starting to ask myself some important questions, like:

“Which shows am I looking forward to the most?”

“Is there a breakout star in the pack?”

And the real biggie:

“Which shows do I want to start reading fanfiction about?”

Right now, the shows fall into three categories:

Old Favorites – the ones I already read (and even write) fanfiction about

The Mentalist and Supernatural both land firmly in this category. They’re both having strong seasons this year, although The Mentalist has been hurt recently by a super-long hiatus. Thankfully, the drought finally ended with the first new eps in what feels like months. We got to see a playful Jane, fulfilling the secret childhood wishes of his coworkers (it bothered me at first that he didn’t get anything for Lisbon, then I realized he already fulfilled her secret childhood wish when he got her the pony – no way he could ever top that!). We also got to see Jane’s new, er…vehicle. Yeah, I guess you can call it that. Personally I was a fan of the Citroen. This silver thing will take some getting used to. What’ll take more getting used to, however, is the show minus one of its most interesting and unique characters. Why did they have to kill JJ off? WHY? I so was not in the mood for the cheerful preview that aired moments after his death scene. Couldn’t we have had more than a commercial break to mourn him?

Midseason Score: 8

Fortunately, Supernatural only had a short hiatus before kicking out brand new content for us to snuggle with. There was just one bad egg in the new batch of eps – the ep with Crowley and Dean hunting together and Sam and Castiel working to remove Gadreel’s grace from Sam’s body. I liked that Dean got the Mark of Cain (Dean-girls always get a thrill when he’s part of the mythology) and I love the actor who played Cain, but there was just something missing in this ep. Maybe it was the disappointing PB&J storyline with Cass (He may have recently experienced being human for the first time, but he’s had humanity – and morality – for years. Even back in Season Five, Cass refused to kill Sam to stop the apocalypse).

Anyhoo, I’ll forgive one dud ep, seeing as most of this season has been above, beyond, and just plain better than the last three combined. The Garth-as-a-werewolf ep was entertaining (who doesn’t love Garth?) but I DID mind that they messed with the werewolf “rules” on the show. Apparently, now werewolves can change at will – not just when the full moon beckons – and can control their behavior if they “try hard enough.” This means Madison in the episode “Heart” could have been saved. Which detracts from the episode “Heart.” Nothing should detract from that ep, dang it!!

Other than that, though, the Garth ep was cool. The first really AWESOME ep of the new batch was the one where Sam and Dean went undercover at a health spa to hunt a Peruvian (?) Fat Sucker. Really cool storyline that went back to basics, but also had some cool new twists. The episode with Kevin’s ghost and Tiger Mommy (YESSSSSSSSS!!!!) was just plain sublime, and revisiting the Ghostfacers was fun and sad at the same time. Also of note: “#Thinman” was probably the scariest episode we’ve had to date this season. So, kudos. All in all, this season is a bulging container of awesome, ready to explode all over the place.

Oh, and for those people who might be worried about the strife between the bros? For me, it’s only adding to the pleasure. Because I’m hoping – really, really hoping – that Sam’s going to eventually prove himself wrong. That he really would go to the same lengths to keep Dean as Dean went to in order to keep Sam. And seriously, for a guy who “doesn’t want to be brothers,” Sam sure does run fast whenever Dean calls for him. :)

Midseason Score: 8.5

Rising Stars – the ones I don’t read fanfiction about, but am starting to get tempted

These two were a bit of a surprise. But when I asked myself which shows I look forward to watching the most, which ones I think about when they’re not on, which ones are really starting to get my fire going the answer was pretty simple: Castle and Grimm.

For some reason, these two are just working. Grimm has never been more entertaining. The cast is just overflowing with great characters, and the writers seem to be on the literary equivalent of a runner’s high, churning out great story after great story. Getting to meet Monroe’s parents for the first time was cool and painful at the same time. The parallels to real-life racism are all too real as the show continues to explore “mixed” marriages and friendships. We all knew Wesen weren’t supposed to hang out with Grimms, but who knew a Blutbad couldn’t get engaged to a Fuchsbau without severing family ties? The writers have also unleashed a slew of new baddies for Nick and Co. to fight, resulting in high-octane action and super-creepy monster moments. Those hair-wearing warriors were the ultimate Big Bads, while that Aswang thing that attacked the pregnant lady was just plain EW. And Adalind’s Hexenbiest baby, though perhaps not technically a villain, might be the scariest of all with those freaky, glowing eyes.

Midseason Score: 8

Equally on fire is Castle, which continues to find new and interesting ways to explore Castle and Beckett’s relationship without allowing it to grow stale. From intense episodes like Beckett undercover as an assassin, to more lighthearted installments like the ones featuring Carrie-like telekinetic powers or a Miley Cyrus-ish pop star gone dark, I am always Velcroed to my seat when this one is on. It makes me laugh, it keeps me guessing, and it makes me awful happy Caskett are a couple right now. Only the best shows have elements of comedy, drama, mystery and romance. This one has it all.

Midseason Score: 8

Dark Horses – the ones I love to watch, but I don’t see the relationship developing into full-on fangirl obsession anytime soon (though there can always be surprises – that’s why they’re called dark horses :) )

The majority of my shows fall here, including Elementary, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Beauty and the Beast, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and even some I watch but don’t review, like Tomorrow People, The Good Wife, and Blue Bloods.

Make no mistake – these all are Must-See TV with a capital M. Chicago Fire has been just as amazing this season as it was last year. Katie’s attack, Benny’s revenge, Matt’s memory problems, Gabby’s struggle to become a firefighter, and Jones’ floundering as she tries to fit in at the firehouse are just a few little morsels in a non-stop chocolate chip conveyer belt of great stories. You just love the characters – even as they add more and more, it never feels too crowded. I was bummed when Rafferty and Katie left the show – I hope they will be back, because even after a short time, I had already grown attached.

Midseason Score: 7.5

Same goes for Chicago PD. A big pile of likeable, loveable, and even just plain interesting characters. Couple that with wonderful acting and stellar writing, and this show is a big, fat WIN, just like its big brother, CF. From drug mules to street justice to covering up a family member’s involvement in a murder, the storylines just get stronger and stronger. The crossovers between the two shows are a bonus treat for people who watch both – which, hopefully, is everyone.

The only crossover disappointment was the “2-hour SVU/Chicago PD Crossover Event.” Once again, we have NBC doing the false advertising thing. In no way was that a “2-hour crossover event.” I watched an entire episode of SVU, thinking that the storyline was going to in some way relate to the Chicago PD episode that was airing next. I spent almost fifty-five minutes waiting for CPD characters to show up at any moment, only to have a brief cameo by Erin in the final five minutes of SVU. I can’t believe I missed Tomorrow People to watch the first hour of something that couldn’t even loosely be construed as a “2-hour event.” The sad thing is, NBC has a great line-up right now – they don’t need to lie about their programming. Hopefully, they haven’t hurt themselves too much with this crying wolf business.

CPD Midseason Score: 7

Over on Elementary, the writers have continued adding emotional depth to this season by having Sherlock serve as a sponsor to a recovering young addict, and by revisiting old Scotland Yard friend/foe Lestrade for a two-episode arc. Throw in a couple of reformed roosters and a couple of ears grown on the back of a lady who faked her own kidnapping, and you’ve got a pretty darn entertaining show.

Midseason Score: 6.5

Speaking of entertaining, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is a total powerhouse, delivering action, emotion, great characters and butt-kickingly awesome special effects. I am super-glued to the screen for the duration of this super show. Even a healthy splash of nailpolish remover couldn’t unstick me from the couch while SHIELD is on. When Skye got shot, I felt like I was the one who couldn’t breathe. I liked how they went back and showed the different timelines for each character, showing how each ended up where they finally ended up when Skye was wounded. The battle to find the Guest House and the miracle drug needed to save her life was riveting. Who wants to see these characters in the next Avengers movie? **Raises hand and waves it exuberantly** Me! Me! Me!

Midseason Score: 7.8

One show that has upped its game – and its entertainment value – this season is Beauty and the Beast. I am loving the humor this season, from Vincent and Cat stuck in a crashed car together, to Vincent appearing on an episode of The View, I have laughed out loud so many times while watching this show, and that is a good thing. All great dramas need to be able to pull off the comedy, too. Another good thing: really cool beast mythology episodes. Beast skeletons? Shackles? Dungeons? A mysterious gemstone? Count me intrigued! But, of course, it wouldn’t be B&B without the love triangles, and Gabe/Cat/Vincent has me hooked like a small-mouth bass. Wish they hadn’t killed off Tori so soon, but maybe they’ll have another she-beast in the near future. Why should guys get to have all the fang-snapping fun? Only major quibble this season: did they have to make the gemstone green? Between that and Kristen, I’m having Smallville flashbacks here…

Midseason Score: 6.8

 

 

The Race: Week 16

The Race: Week 16

Monday

Beauty and the Beast (9/8c, CW) – Missed it! Drat! I thought I could make it home in time, but I didn’t, so I only caught the last five minutes, but dang, it looked like Vincent was about to go public with…everything. So, holy crap! This obviously was not the one to miss. SCORE: Withheld.

Castle (10/9c, ABC) – Spy games! I love it! The return of Castle’s daddy added an extra thrill as the show’s most mysterious character enjoyed a reunion with his one-night-stand and the son who resulted from the tryst. Castle was realistically, heart-twistingly torn between his love of Kate and his loyalty to a father he’s only met once before, and I couldn’t get enough. Whenever Daddy Dearest is involved, you know it’s gonna be one heck of a ride. For the record, judging by the look on his face as he watched them in the window, I believe that Castle’s father genuinely does care for him. And for Martha. SCORE: 8/10 

Tuesday

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (8/7c, ABC) - Wow. So many cool elements in this one – pun intended, of course! We finally learned Skye’s amazing and totally unexpected history – SHE’S an object of unknown origin? What the…? Coulson shared the truth, and both he and Skye found some peace. Great stuff. Also, we got to see a different side of Fitz-Simmons (THEY’RE the cool kids where they come from? Seriously?), we got our first look at the SHIELD Academy (wish we’d had a Boiler Room on MY college campus!), and a super-villian was born. Not bad for 52 minutes of network TV. Bonus points awarded for Lola getting to fly again. She should fly more often. SCORE: 8/10

Supernatural (9/8c, CW) – It was nine o’clock on Tuesday night. And all was not well. My TV screen, which should have been showing three of the handsomest hunks on television, displayed only two words: “no signal.” I tell you, people, my heart almost stopped. I think I did actually have a mini panic attack. Then I pulled myself together, did some fancy finagling with the rabbit ears, and soon enough two of the three hunks – Dean and Castiel – popped into view. I did have to stand with my hand hovering over the TV for about ten minutes, but it was totally worth it. I had waited for weeks, and I wasn’t going to miss this ep due to a crappy signal. This was probably the most anticipated comeback for me, and I have to tell you, it did not disappoint. From demons planted inside the NSA, to a Crowley vs. Gadreel showdown inside Sam’s BRAIN, this episode was everything I wanted and more. I LOVE it when Cass is all helpful and sweet, and I love it when Crowley fights for the good side instead of the bad. Abaddon was her usual awesome butt-kicking self, and Crowley had me howling several different times. Best of all: Sam finally got that THING out of him, and got to rejoin the world. Questions: Why DOES Cass need a car, and why couldn’t he immediately come flying over when Dean called, and bring Kevin back to life? Maybe there’s still a way. ‘Cause I really need Kevin back to life…Please? SCORE: 9/10

Chicago Fire (10/9c, NBC) – Matt’s violent episodes are scary. Realistic, but scary. He needs some help. I don’t know what to make of that chick at the firefighter academy. Sometimes I like her, sometimes I hate her. I’m glad she helped Gabby, but cheating – whatever the reason – is not cool. Neither is using your connections to stay in the academy after an instructor kicks you out (though, to be fair, that WAS a little harsh on Severide’s part). I hope Gabby lets the cheating go and doesn’t tattle, but it sucks. This thing with Severide’s sister and Otis is too hilarious, which is good, considering most of the storylines are very serious. Severide is the king of subtle threatening looks and his use of the chainsaw had me giggling. Poor Otis – he is really making you work for it, isn’t he? LOL. Shay’s inheritance storyline was both touching and disturbing – how sick is it that the dude’s own brother was stealing his military pension? Thankfully, the money ended up in good hands, helping honest people – not crappy thieves. Also, I’m digging the gradual bonding between Shay and the new Paramedic In Charge. SCORE: 7.5/10

Wednesday

Chicago PD (10/9c, NBC) – Gritty and intense. The rookie made a bold call, rushing that suspect. Stupid, but bold. Fallout from the cop’s death in the pilot was respectfully, realistically handled. Whenever a kid’s life is on the line, everything turns up a notch, and this episode delivered that high-stakes tension flawlessly. The team pushed themselves to the brink, and Antonio’s son came home safe. This is definitely a show I could get hooked on. Bonus points for continuing to bring on familiar faces from sister show, Chicago Fire. SCORE: 7/10

Friday

Grimm (9/8c, NBC) – MANTICORES RULE!!! Part lion, part scorpion – what’s not to love? I enjoyed this twisty-turny tale about getting justice for a soldier who’d been viciously assaulted. The whole “military vs. soldiers for hire” angle – something I first learned about on The Good Wife – added welcome complexity to the case. The reunion between Rosalie and her estranged family was emotional, realistic, and ultimately cleansing. I’m so happy that everything got out in the open, and Rosalie made peace with her mom and sister – with Monroe’s help, of course. Bonus points added for the coolest Wesen we’ve seen to date, and the snarling “don’t you hurt my little sister” scene between Monroe and his soon-to-be sister-in-law. SCORE: 8/10

And the winner is…Supernatural! The anticipation was at critically high levels, and the wait was totally worth it. Another A+ ep for one of my favorite shows. Vote Crowley!

The Race: Weeks 14 and 15

Catching Up:

Nikita dominated weeks 12 and 13 with its trademark explosive action and mindblowing twists. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD nosed into a close second, coming in superhero strong with a mid-winter finale that left our beloved Coulson in the hands of the Centipede baddies. The two-hour Grimm was somewhat disappointing, not because they weren’t two very good episodes, but because they were two SEPARATE, very good episodes. Based on the advertising, I was expecting a single, movie-length ep of Grimm, and couldn’t help but feel short-changed by what we got. Next time, NBC, just call it what it is – two hours of Grimm, back-to-back.

Skipping ahead over the few weeks where Nikita ran a one-woman race against herself, that brings us right up to January, aka the month that has me singing, “Hey-La, Hey-Da, My Shows Are Back!”

Week 14:

Thursday

Elementary (10/9c, CBS) - Moriarty has a daughter. IIIIIIIInteresting. Moriarty also has a side-of-a-building-sized portrait of Joan. Can we say creepy? Great episode with some unexpected revelations. Joan found out about the letters from Moriarty, which the audience has known of for some time. What we DIDN’T know – and only just found out in this ep – is that Sherlock has been writing back. Moriarty chose not to kill her guard because Sherlock would not have wanted her to. I kind of love this totally screwed-up relationship. One-tenth of a point deducted for a really stupid guard who, even as Moriarty was telling him what she did, even as he SAW the drops of blood, still let her get the jump on him. SCORE: 7.9/10

Friday

Grimm (9/8c, NBC) – If there was one on this date, I think I missed it, or at least most of it. Which stinks, because I am digging it this season – I love that Juliette has her memory back, that she and Nick are together again, and that she knows about Wesen. Also grooving on the adorable Rosalie/Monroe ship – I practically OD on cuteness every time they’re on the screen – and that Hank is still front and center alongside Nick in most episodes. I do NOT want him written off to the side – the bromance with Nick is just too wonderful. SCORE: Withheld

Sunday

The Mentalist (10/9c, CBS) – Jane went on a date – or two. Were the girls jealous? Kim, yes – at least a little. Lisbon? Not really, but she’s been around him long enough to know he was up to something. My mom was worried Jane didn’t know the drug dealer boss lady was evil. I thought he probably did, since he usually knows, well, pretty much everything. Even so, Mom had me doubting it a little. She got me wondering whether Jane was in a vulnerable position and if he was actually going to get hurt by the revelation that this chick was a cold-blooded murderer. Turns out, he DID almost get hurt, but only because of his own stupid, rescue-at-the-last minute plan. Cutting it a little close there, Jane. :) Bonus points for a soaking wet Jane and the return of a worn-out, brown leather couch. :) SCORE: 7.5/10

And the winner is…Elementary! The long-awaited return of Moriarty – and the compelling actress who plays her – made this ep a must-see.

Week 15:

Monday

Castle (10/9c, ABC) – Way to jerk my tears, Castle. The emotional story of Sarah Grace’s birth brought a lump to my throat. I couldn’t help but be moved by the phone conversation between Jenny and Kevin, the undeniably bromantic moments between Kevin and Javier, and the general anxiety of knowing that two of our favorite detectives were trapped in the basement of a deadly blaze. The pyromaniac story has been done before, but Ryan and Espo in peril as Jenny prepares to become a single mother? That was the story that made this ep. SCORE: 8.5/10

Tuesday

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (8/7c, ABC) – Thank you, SHIELD! Thank you so effing much for rescuing Coulson! I loved the Good Cop, Bad Cop way the two different captors dealt with Coulson. Obviously, Good Cop was the way to go, playing on Coulson’s need to know the truth, rather than trying to force him to cough up information he believed might be a valuable SHIELD secret. Love how Agent May “arranged” to have Skye thrown off the plane, so Skye could do what Skye does best – work off the grid. I never doubted May had her reasons for the apparent betrayal. :) The most important thing is, the team worked together to get their beloved leader back in one piece. It was hard to watch Coulson flashing back over what SHIELD did to him – the robot arms working on his brain while he was wide awake were especially disturbing. And unfortunately, I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of learning what exact measures SHIELD took to resurrect him. Here’s hoping we get a nice Coulson/Fury showdown in the near future, so Coulson can ask what we all want to know: “What the —- were you thinking?!” SCORE: 8/10

Chicago Fire (10/9c, NBC) - Matt’s conscious and back on the job? Say what? I spent most of this ep expecting a revelation that Matt was in a coma, dreaming everything that was happening. I didn’t trust what was on my screen. It seemed like a huge jump from where the show left off. Then too much happened, some of it outside of Matt’s perspective, and I realized it couldn’t be a dream. It really was just a big leap. Matt is indeed awake, but suffering fallout from his injuries. I enjoyed the episode, and loved seeing all my favorite CFD guys and gals again after the hiatus, but the contrast between where we started this ep and where we left the characters before the break was a little too jarring for my tastes. SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday

Chicago PD (10/9c, NBC) – Luckily, I made it home from work in time to catch the debut episode of this spin-off. Thanks to their skillful introduction on Chicago Fire, I already felt comfortably at home with these characters and their stories. It doesn’t hurt that some of them have been part of the CF tapestry since early in season one, long before a spin-off was planned, which makes it feel more natural – not like they were deliberately crammed in so we would get to know them before they were transplanted to their own show. This pilot featured good characters, and good stories, that got their own show because they deserved it. I enjoyed the first ep, and will definitely be tuning in for more. SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday

Elementary (10/9c, CBS) - Finally, a much-needed confrontation between Bell and Holmes! I’m so glad these two guys got the yelling and the other pent-up emotions out of their systems and cleared the air at long last. Bell might not be able to forgive Holmes yet, but at least it’s a start. The dirty cop storyline was a cool way for Bell to show what he is and always has been, hand tremor or not – a detective. Welcome back! SCORE: 7.5/10

Friday

Grimm (9/8c, NBC) – Wesen gangs, a love interest for Hank, and a first “coming out” between friends? I dig it! I dig it so much! Plus, it was kinda awesome to see Juliette kick some Wesen butt. “I’m not impressed.” You tell him, woman! This was the first ep, to my knowledge, that addressed the idea of Wesen/Non-Wesen friendship and Wesen/Non-Wesen romance. I wonder if it is taboo in the Wesen culture to date an average human? Seems like Hank’s physical therapist had a problem with it. I do hope she’ll come around, though – he totally deserves some romance in his life. And who’d be a better match for a tough-as-steel cop than a Jaguarette (sp??) who doesn’t mind biting into bad guys’ throats? SCORE: 7.5/10

Sunday

The Mentalist (10/9c, CBS) – Rigspelt came back! I was thrilled to see them, especially since I had no idea if we were ever going to again. That’s one of the great things about being spoiler-free: SURPRISES! The spy games definitely held my interest, even though the villian wasn’t too hard to pick out. It was nice that the man who died turned out to be a more serious, brave and loyal person than his family ever knew – I just wish they could have known it when he was still breathing. Great little Jane/Cho moment, although I disagree that Jane’s acting crazier than usual. Personally, I think he’s at a pretty standard level of insane. The “date” stuff with Lisbon and Ardilles was fun – they are doing more with the Lisbon/Jane jealousy, sexual tension these days, and it feels right. New beginnings are definitely a good place for new romance. I feel bad that Ardilles got killed in the end, but I did totally see it coming. My real fear was for Rigsby. Having no idea what his role will be on the show going foward, I was totally terrified he was about to get axed. Pathetically glad it didn’t happen. Can’t wait to see where this new mytharc is going. Bonus points for bringing back the creepiness in a big way, and for the little moment when Rigsby, even after two-plus years of being in digital security, still reaches for his gun in a moment of shock and panic. SCORE: 7.8/10

And the winner is…Castle, for giving my heart-strings a good, old-fashioned tug. :)

Obligatory Fangirl Squealing

First off, before I start, a MASSIVE fangirly “Thank you” goes out to my big brother and his family for loaning me their seldom-used VCR. Because of their generosity, I was not forced to choose between new episodes of Grimm and the final six episodes of Nikita, a decision that would have wounded my poor heart.

Now, on to business:

Soooo, a few interesting things have happened on TV since I last posted. And by “a few” I actually mean “a lot.” And by “interesting” I actually mean “OMG, is this the best season of television ever????”

Castle continues to rock Castle and Beckett’s relationship with style, always finding new issues to explore between the two of them so that things never get stale. The death penalty episode was intense, and the 3XK ep with the dead Esposito and Lanie look-a-likes was downright chilling. My favorite of the bunch, though, was the one about a dying man who staggers into a church and hands over an adorable baby before collapsing. Castle and Beckett changing a diaper together? Consider my heart officially captured.

Over on Beauty and the Beast, the conflict rose to new heights when a very pretty female beast entered the picture. The addition of Tori was a great way to keep things fresh and add a little more girl power to the show. Vincent is bugging the crap out of me right now with this whole beasts vs. humans shtick, making Gabe look more and more attractive (not that Gabe really needs help in that department). Gabe’s continued honesty and devotion to Cat – not to mention his knock-a-girl-to-the-floor handsomeness – are making it awfully hard not to root for a Gabe/Cat hookup. And speaking of hook-ups, did JT and Tess really lock lips? Interesting. Not sure yet if there’s chemistry, but it was definitely a cute moment between two unlucky-in-love characters. Can’t wait to see how the group’s dynamics change now that Cat’s father has officially gone down and Cat actually – gasp – shot Vincent in the process…

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD had great fun with one of its special box office tie-in eps, an exciting romp about humans with objects they shouldn’t have, and a non-violent Asgardian on Earth. (I love that actor, too, so I’m super-glad they didn’t kill him off). The surprising May-Ward hook-up at the end was just one example of the wild curve balls this show likes to throw. We had some laugh-out-loud male bonding scenes in the ep where Fitz and Ward infiltrate enemy lines together, and numerous jaw-dropping, holy crap! moments in the thrilling mid-season finale. I still can’t believe the Centipede people took Coulson! And right after that, pretty much everybody and everything exploded! Talk about the mother of all cliffhangers… :) No, actually, I’ll save that distinction for Supernatural’s winter finale.

Speaking of which: OMG. Seriously – O.M.G. That is the only way I can describe the most recent ep of Supernatural. It left me lying on the floor with my guts scooped out. Cannot believe they actually killed Kevin. Sweet, beloved Kevin. That final image of him is burned into my head in the worst way, proving that this show is once again at its very best. Metatron, an angel I still liked, even after he deceived Castiel, is now numero uno on my hit list. He will suffer and die for killing the prophet he was supposed to protect. Gadreel will die, too, but he doesn’t need to suffer quite so much – he seems like one of those lower-intelligence, easily manipulated angels. I still blame him for his appalling actions, but not as much as I blame Old Meta-Evil.

Shame that the highlights of this show usually tend to be the must soul-wrenching moments. It’s not always true, though, and before we had the wonderful awfulness of the winter finale, we got some true gems in the form of a born-again virgin episode with Sheriff Mills, and my absolute hands-down favorite episode of the season so far – an emotional, flash-back peppered ep about Dean’s stay at a boys home when he was fifteen. That ep, more than any other, will give me the strength to keep watching through the painful aftermath of Kevin’s death.

Chicago Fire is a good show to watch after Supernatural, because all the action and drama are a nice distraction from having your heart torn out. CF hasn’t had a single dip in quality yet, and I expect more of the same when it returns in January. The network’s continued faith in this “little show that turned big” makes me smile. They’re even giving it a spin-off now, focusing on the police side of the story. Way to go, NBC! :) Lots of excitement in November and the first part of December, from political drama to roommate dilemmas to long-lost sisters, racial tensions, and rekindled romances. This show knows how to bring it in every way possible, and I am so totally hooked. The fact that they had a wonderful Severide-centered episode was chocolate frosting on an already delicious cake. I am a Severide girl, through and through, and watching him work so hard and long – by himself – to save that boy was enough to make this fangirl’s heart sprout wings and lift off into the sky.

Coming back down to Earth, I have to admit I haven’t been loving Elementary quite so much this season. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still must-see TV and everything, but it just felt like something was missing. Sure we got some stellar eps here and there, including a gem focusing on Captain Gregson (adore him) and his troubled marriage. Overall, though, it just didn’t have the same feel as Season One, and I didn’t know why until the recent, gripping episode which detailed the events leading up to Detective Bell’s shooting.

And it dawned on me – that’s what’s been missing: an arc. Something to string the episodes together into a cohesive whole. Something to prevent Season Two from being a mish-mash of barely-related to totally-unrelated stand-alone stories. Sherlock’s road to recovery, and the Moriarty storyline, did this for Season One. And now we have the much-needed arc for Season Two: the fallout from Bell’s shooting. Sherlock’s guilt. Bell’s struggle for recovery. Gregson and Watson caught in the middle between these two characters. This storyline made me sit up straight and take notice. It made me excited to see what happens in the next episode. It gave new breath and life to Season Two, and I’m happily falling back in love with one of my favorite shows.

If there’s one show you can’t accuse of not having an arc, it’s good old Grimm. Try multiple season-long arcs, intricately interwoven. Nick’s still rocking the zombie powers, Hank has happily ditched the crutches and is back knee-deep in the action, and Monroe and Rosalie are so cute it should almost be outlawed. Having Juliette and Nick back together this season is also a bonus that adds a big old dose of happy to my Friday nights. Couple that with a delightfully different episode featuring mer-people, a really bad-@$$ old lady on neighborhood watch patrol, and a freaky exorcism, and, to quote several McDonald’s commercials, I’m loving it. :)

To make my Friday nights even more awesome, one of my all-time favorite shows, Nikita, returned on November 22nd with both fists swinging. As I sit there watching movie-quality explosions, quiet moments of unresolved feelings between Nikita and Michael, sparks flying between Alex and Sam, and a whole slew of girls kicking butt, I can’t help but wonder – for the millionth time and counting – why the CW is canceling one of the most stellar shows on TV. Seriously, what brain-sucking amoeba infected the top dogs at that network and made them say, “Hey, let’s cancel Nikita?” It’s one of those sad cases where a brilliant show is dumped in the world’s most heinous time-slot, and then left there to rot. Most people don’t know that Nikita even exists, never mind that they’re missing out on something spectacular by not watching it. **Sigh** But at least we got six final episodes, and so far, I’m the exact opposite of disappointed. I long for Nikita and Michael to find their way back to each other, for Sam to be redeemed, for Amanda to get what’s coming to her, and for all of our heroes to get the happy endings they deserve. Only two eps remain for all this to happen, and my fingers are crossed like pretzels.

And now we come to The Mentalist. Which, if I’m being honest, is probably the one most worth talking about, simply because of the dramatic changes taking place all across the board. Since I last posted, Patrick Jane identified Red John, murdered him, and fled the country. The CBI closed down, and two YEARS passed. (Time jumps – especially unexpected ones – always throw me like a football). Jane spent the time on an island with tough extradition laws, Lisbon became a small town Sheriff, Cho joined the FBI (which is cool, because it goes with a fic I’m posting), and Rigspelt started their own investigative software (????) company. (That’s just a guess – all I know is it had something to do with law enforcement and computers.)

In any case, it was a lot to digest in a few short weeks. It hurt seeing FBI goons dragging Jane’s brown couch away, and watching his favorite blue teacup smash to the floor. I think I knew then that nothing would ever be the same again. Change is hard, but in this case I think it was necessary. The Red John storyline had dragged on for too long, and it was pulling the rest of the show down with it. The future of The Mentalist depended on a fresh start, and the showrunners boldly wiped the slate squeaky clean.

But before they could do so, they had to wrap up Red John, as quickly and satisfyingly as possible. I like that Red John was not Bertram, who had an odd pleasantness about him that did not quite fit a serial killer. The Sheriff had a little bit of that manic gleam in his eyes that went a long way to convincing me that he could, in fact, be a homicidal maniac. I like that Red John’s death was slower and more drawn-out than the mall shooting. I like that he said he was sorry for killing Jane’s family, and that he was also afraid to die. I like the moments of genuine fear I felt when RJ ran right through a home with a family inside, and a yard where a little girl was playing. I like that Jane said he felt a little bit disappointed, because the writers knew the audience would feel that way, too.

After all those years of build-up, how could the moment ever live up to our expectations? For me, the only real letdown was that Red John did not seem to have any special connection to Jane, or any attachment to him. I did not get a sense of their relationship – Red John has saved Jane’s life numerous times, and also killed for Jane on several occasions, yet I felt none of that twisted “bond” when they finally met face-to-face.

Like I said, though, it never could have lived up to everyone’s expectations. I’m pretty happy with what we got, especially the emotionality of Simon’s performance in those final moments, almost turning the gun on himself, and then making the decision to live and be free. Amazing stuff.

And now we have The Mentalist: A New Beginning. Honestly, I felt so much more excited about the previews for the “New Beginning” eps than I did for the “Red John: Final Chapter” eps, and that alone told me how much I was ready for Red John to be over. I feel like the show can finally breathe. It was crippled and tied down, and now, at last, it can spread its wings.

Some people will probably hate the show’s new direction, but I, for one, can’t wait to see how far it will fly.

Up Next: The Race: Week Twelve – with most shows in reruns, the few left standing battle it out for the top spot!

And also: Great Reads, Volume One: Superhero Stories. As the title suggests, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite superhero tales – whether you’re a lover of original short stories or a fanfic-aholic, you’ll leave a satisfied customer.

Reflections on NaNoWriMo

First of all: I did it! Woo hoo! I met my goal! :) Well, kind of. I wrote 50,000 words of fiction in thirty days, which was the main challenge. Unfortunately, the 50,000th word did not neatly coincide with the end of my book. So technically, I can’t claim that I wrote a complete novel in one month – which would have been awesome. Nonetheless, I feel like a winner. :)

A Crazy Idea

Last year, writing 50,000 words in a month seemed crazy and unattainable. I didn’t even consider participating. This year, things felt different. I felt different. Early in the spring, I started flirting, only semi-seriously, with the idea of going for it.

Then came the story idea. I was reading my copy of Chicken Soup: Inspiration for the Writer’s Soul (which, incidentally, features a wonderful story by one of my very own writing group members!) and this awesome plot just came to me. I knew right away that it was too involved to be limited to a short story. I also knew that I was too busy with other projects at that particular moment to write it. But November, aka National Novel Writing Month, was only seven short months away… :)

A Rude Awakening

By the end of May, I was strongly committed – in my own mind, at least – to writing my novel during the NaNoWriMo craziness. Little by little, I was figuring out who the characters were, how they related to one another, and how the plot would unfold. The more planning I did, the more excited I became. Then, on the very last day of May, life took an unexpected, high-speed turn: a bolt of lightning struck my parents’ farmhouse, destroying the place we had called home for over a decade.

No humans or pets were harmed, which is the only thing that really matters. But many of our possessions were lost, and the house itself was not habitable – both of which put a major strain on our day-to-day activities. For weeks, just getting through my chores, getting to work, and getting back to my brother’s house (where we were given every amenity and kindness you could imagine) took all the strength I had. Writing every day became a dim memory. Writing once every two weeks or so became the new, discouraging norm. And NaNoWriMo, that precious promise I had made to myself, started to look like it was never going to happen.

Rebuilding

They say time heals all wounds. I don’t know about that, but time did, at least in my case, make things better. Although we could not move back into our home, we were able to move back onsite, which eliminated the grueling back-and-forth travel time that was eating up all of my potential writing sessions. I began to produce stories again, and my heart sang like an un-caged canary. Little by little, November, and everything it stood for, started coming back into focus.

No Excuses

Of course, as with any plan, there were some complications. The biggest one was our estimated move-in date: Thanksgiving. Moving back into our house at the very end of NaNoWriMo seemed like a recipe for failure. I would be scrambling to finish a 50,000-word novel while simultaneously attempting to pack up and move my belongings, clean out our temporary house, and make sure all of the pets felt settled and safe in their new/old home. I hadn’t yet told anyone in my family about my planned NaNo participation, and the timing was a big reason why. They would think I was nuts! That, or, they would tell me not to do it. (I think I was more afraid of the second thing.)

Nonetheless, my commitment continued to strengthen throughout August, and by the end of the month, I’d made my decision: I didn’t care what the move-in date was. I didn’t care what anyone said. I wasn’t going to let the fire – or anything else – be an excuse for giving up on something that important to me. I was going to do it.

Breaking the News

So, you’ve decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. What are you going to do next? Break the news to your family and friends that you’ll be uncommunicative, tired, grumpy, stressed, and pretty much constantly on the verge of tears for thirty straight days. Sound fun? :) Not really, but it has to be done.

I told my mom, first. I told her in that soft, hesitant voice I always use when I’m saying a secret out loud for the first time. It made me sound weak, even though I wasn’t. I was strongly committed, and by mid-September, Mom was coming to terms with my decision. I asked her quietly for support, and she said she would give it. By the time that month’s writing group meeting came around, I was ready to make my announcement.

 To my surprise, though, somebody else beat me to it – right near the start of the meeting, one of my group members asked, “Is anyone doing National Novel Writing Month this year?” My hand shot into the air so fast I could feel the breeze. My group member told me she’d already signed up online. She also told me some of the official rules – like, that I could have an outline for my story already written, and that I could also write character descriptions prior to November 1st. Just no actual prose. Now, I had a writing buddy to conspire with, and a new short-term goal: get my outline and character descriptions charged up and ready to launch by the first day of November.

Buckling Down

At home, I languished over the physical, mental, and emotional details of each of the characters who would populate my novel. Two new characters sprang to life unexpectedly, one of whom became vital to the story. I basked in the joy of his discovery. At writing group, I used our October session to hand write a complete outline for the novel – something that I never enjoy doing, but am always, ALWAYS grateful for later on. I also took the time to think about my weaknesses as a writer. I narrowed the list down to three main things that I wanted to improve on during the writing of my NaNo novel: writing better character descriptions, using all five senses to describe scenes, and keeping up a fast and exciting pace throughout my story. Having all that “grunt work” out of the way only made me that much more excited to start writing.

Near the end of October, I took the final step. Maybe the biggest one of all. I signed up online as an official participant in National Novel Writing Month. Finally, after months of hoping, dreaming and planning, there was only one thing left to do: wait.

Galloping Out of the Gate

There are several things that helped me succeed in reaching my NaNoWriMo goal. The most important one, I think, is that I LOVE my story idea. I could not wait to write it. I physically ached at having to hold myself back. In the weeks prior to November 1st, my excitement grew to the point where I felt ready to pop like a pin-stuck helium balloon.

Another helpful element (though this was not entirely intentional): I had not written any new fiction in months. That’s right, MONTHS. Since April, I’d been focused on writing and submitting a series of non-fiction stories for the Chicken Soup books. And, much as I love all the unique challenges of writing non-fiction, fiction is where my heart truly lives. And by November, my heart was starved for it. My heart was shriveled and barely beating, it needed fiction so bad. So when that starting gate finally opened, and I sat down for that very first writing session, my heart swelled back to life, and my fingers flew. I easily made my first day’s goal of two thousand words, and by Day Five, I’d exceeded ten thousand.

Writing With Wild Abandon

One of the challenges of NaNoWriMo is that you’re supposed to write with wild abandon. I really think I embraced this…on Day One. I threw myself into the story and told myself not to delete anything, not to go back and edit, to just set the words free and keep going. It was the only way I thought I’d be able to reach 50,000 words.

When I reached my Day One goal so easily, though, I started to think, maybe, just maybe, 50,000 wasn’t going to be so hard, after all. By Day Four, I was pretty much back into old habits. I spent extra time fussing over the perfect adjective. If something didn’t sound right, I went back and rewrote. The result: my writing sessions got longer and longer each day, even though I was producing the same number of words. I was trying to create a better product, but it definitely cost me.

If I had managed to hold onto that carefree style of Day One, I might have completed more than just 50,000 words by Day Thirty – I might have completed an entire novel. There’s more to it than just length, though – I had an opportunity to try something bold and new with my writing, and instead I retreated back into the warm safety of my comfort zone. I wrote, for the most part, as I have always written. Whether my novel is better or worse because of that is something I’ll never know.

Obstacles

Of course, if NaNoWriMo was easy, then it wouldn’t be considered a challenge. After essentially breezing through the first week of writing, the stresses and commitments of real life – work, school, family events, chores – started to take their toll. I also began to feel the fatigue associated with my long-@$$ writing sessions. Family members lost patience with me for interfering with their daily schedules, and I began to wonder if it was all worth it.

By mid-month, I’d completely abandoned the two thousand words per day quota, and had simply written a few new goals on the calendar: 30,000 words by November 21st, 40,000 words by the 25th, 50,000 by the last day of the month. If didn’t matter that I was no longer meeting my daily goals – as long as I could dig deep and reach the goals written on the calendar, I’d still make it. And, as a matter of fact, I did reach the 30,000 mark on schedule. But somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 my new system fell apart. I did not hit 40,000 on the scheduled day. Or the day after. Or the day after that.

Desperation began to creep over me like cold egg yolk. I started getting up crack-of-dawn early to hammer at my manuscript. It helped somewhat, but with a special family gathering on Thanksgiving, plus work the day before and the day after, my word-count deficit continued to grow. When I woke at six a.m. on Saturday, November 30th, I still had over 6,500 words left to write – and only one day to make it happen.

Race to the Finish Line

6,500 words in under eighteen hours seemed impossible. Seriously, climbing Mount Everest was looking like a more realistic goal at that point. Never mind that I couldn’t even spend all of those hours writing – my chores weren’t going to go and do themselves. I got my farm work done as quickly as possible and settled in to write. And write. And write. I chipped away at my word count in little chunks, writing for as long as I could bear it before checking the numbers again.

Sixty-five hundred gradually became six thousand, then fifty-five hundred. My back started to ache, and I got up to walk around every hour or so to prevent blood clots. My dad’s 13-year-old laptop became so overheated that it took several long moments to respond to commands. But it wasn’t crapping out entirely, and neither was I.

When I reached the two thousand word mark, I had a decision to make. I knew I could finish, but it would take several more grueling hours of work. By the time my word count reached 50,000, it would be too late to drive to someplace with Internet access and upload my novel to the NaNoWriMo site for validation. And I really REALLY wanted validation. Like, SO bad. I had given up so much for this. Time, energy, food, sleep. My mom had grudgingly watched hours of TV on mute so I could work. And now I wasn’t even going to get my prize for finishing?

It was a hard pill to force down, and I admit, some dirty thoughts entered my head. It would’ve been easy to tack on a few previously-written short stories to the end of my novel, drive to McDonald’s, and use their wi-fi to upload my “50,000 words.” But doing so would have wasted time – time I needed in order to finish writing my 50,000 – for real – by midnight. So, I could cheat and get my prize, or I could let go of the prize and keep the commitment I made to myself.

In the end, I guess it wasn’t such a hard decision after all. At a little after 11:30pm on November 30, 2013, after nearly eleven hours of continuous writing, my novel’s word count read 50,005. Proud and exhausted, I announced to my mother I had done it, backed up my work on my flash drive, and let my dad’s poor decrepit laptop have its much-deserved siesta.

Life After NaNoWriMo

The first thing Mom said to me, after “Good job,” was “You are NEVER doing this again.” Initially, I agreed with her assessment. It was a wonderful and unique experience, but it definitely didn’t come free. All of the things I let slide for a whole month came back to haunt me with a Ghost Of Christmas Past vengeance. It was overwhelming, trying to make up for lost time in other areas of my life. Reality bites, and sometimes it’s rabid. I’m STILL not all caught up on everything I neglected last month.

But I do have to admit, as things start to calm down and normal life filters back in, that a part of me actually misses those crazy-long writing sessions. I miss galloping through the set-up portion of my book and diving headlong into the action. I miss watching my story grow like a Chia Pet on fast forward. As difficult and insane as NaNoWriMo was, it did something for me that no one or thing had ever done before: it gave me permission to put my writing first. For thirty whole days, I got to say “yes” to my novel and “no” to almost everything else. Dictionary.com should write a new definition for “liberating.”

I’m still working on my NaNo novel, but progress these days is slow. Like, glacier-mates-with-a-snail slow. Before NaNoWriMo, I would have been happy with writing four or five hundred words a week. Now, I know just how much more I am capable of. And it might be nice to push myself like that again someday, to really crack down and get things done. So, yeah, now that I’ve had a few weeks to recover, I’d totally consider doing NaNoWriMo again. No question.

Just, uh, don’t tell my mom…

Temporary Hiatus!

So sorry for the lack of, well, everything these past few weeks! I am participating in National Novel Writing Month for the first time ever, and it’s single-handedly devouring all of my time. Time I used to spend sleeping, eating, exercising, and yes, updating my blog! “The Race” (and other fan- and writing-related posts) will remain on temporary hiatus for the rest of November, but I promise I’ll be back in early December, ready to gush about all of the great stuff happening on TV. I’ll also most likely be giving an account of my sometimes-harrowing NaNoWriMo experience.

In the meantime, I assure you TV is the one thing I haven’t given up for my novel. The Race lives on in my head, even if it’s not being recorded on my flash drive! I’m happy to report that Supernatural won Week Six, with its clever (and just plain awesome) re-imagining of the classic Wizard of Oz. (I can still hear that witch hissing!) Week Seven went to The Mentalist for the raw emotion in the scenes between Jane and Lisbon, and S.H.I.E.L.D. took a very close second with a gripping-the-edge-of-my-couch-cushion, totally flipping intense storyline. Week Eight’s still in progress, and I can’t wait to see who comes out on top!

Stay tuned, and wish me luck in finishing 50,000 words of fiction by midnight on November 30! :)

The Race: Week Five

THE RACE: WEEK FIVE (October 21st-27th)

Monday

Beauty and the Beast (9/8c, CW) – Much to my dismay, I missed most of this ep due to a scheduling conflict. Lacking the help of my trusty VCR, I had to rely on the last 15 minutes to piece together what I’d missed, and it looks like I missed A LOT. Vincent apparently physically assaulted Cat, and she covered it up. Cat took a lie detector test and used extreme measures (antiperspirant on her FOREHEAD???) to protect Vincent. He returned the favor by faking a memory of the two of them and taking advantage of Cat’s excitement over said memory to weasel information out of her for his own agenda. Vincent rescuing Cat from atop the elevator while having a REAL flashback of their past was a powerful, breathtaking moment – but his end-of-ep sincerity was too little, too late. Considering everything he’s been putting her through lately, Cat was right to close the door – er – window on him. SCORE: Withheld until I can see the whole ep.

Castle (10/9c, ABC) – Best episode of Castle EVER? Maybe not, but it came darn close! I love, love, love (imagine fifty more “love”s tossed in there) time travel stories, and this one was sublime. I was riveted the whole episode, cherishing each new thrilling development, while simultaneously dreading the end of the ep, when the mundane “rational” explanation for everything would be revealed. But Castle outdid itself in a way I never expected – they left the ending OPEN. They let us believe that maybe these guys WERE time-travelers. They allowed – even encouraged! – us keep believing in wonky futuristic scanners, twisty-turny timelines, and Castle and Beckett married one day with three kids. It was dramatic, exciting, fun, and yes, a little bit chilling, too (when Beckett spilled the coffee at the end…**shiver**). This ep was a ride, and I didn’t want to get off. SCORE: 9/10

Tuesday

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (8/7c, ABC) – Scheduling conflict strikes again! Missed the first half, and apparently some majorly important stuff happened in those thirty minutes. This really is a show you can’t afford to miss a moment of – not if you want to have a clue what’s happening – and I found that out the hard way. As to what I DID see: Skye’s betrayal of the group hurt, but it seems she was betrayed, too. Scorch was a blast (literally) and the stuff about naming him earned several chuckles. The ending with Skye and Coulson was powerful and emotional, and I could only imagine how much more gripping it would have been if I’d seen the whole ep and knew the full context. As it was, I can only guess that this was one of the best episodes yet. SCORE: Withheld until I can see the ep in its entirety.

Supernatural (9/8c, CW) – Oh, poor Cass! Poor, poor, POOR Cass! Supernatural has always been a show that exemplifies the “show, don’t tell” storytelling technique, and this ep was a prime example. Every moment of Castiel’s homeless, cold, hungry, desperate misery was documented onscreen in painful detail, until I was shivering in the rain right along with him. Castiel’s relief at finally having a safe place to stay with food and friends filled me with warmth, as though I’d just eaten a hearty bowl of soup after spending hours out in the bitter wind. Dean kicking Cass out at the end was so utterly brutal. I wanted to cry. I can only hope the show understands that not allowing Castiel to stay at the batcave does NOT have to equal abandoning him. I was shouting at the screen in those last moments: “Give him your car, Dean! Give him some money, give him some food, give him keys to a hunting cabin somewhere! Call Garth to come protect him!” Bonus points given for pure emotionality, Cass getting “deflowered,” the sheer CREEPINESS of Sam unknowingly being inhabited by another creature, Jared rocking dual performances as Sam and Zeke, clever use of a TV evangelist character, and Zeke bringing Cass back to life. Points deducted for: continuing last year’s trend of making a class of once-mysterious and elusive creatures (Reapers) fully corporeal and dreadfully ordinary. They were SO much cooler when you had to be dead/dying/out-of-body to even see them. SCORE: 8.75/10

Chicago Fire (10/9c, NBC) – And the firehouse drama continues. My heart shatters every time I look at Shay. I give the show major credit for not quickly wrapping up the fallout from her devastating experience in the previous episode. I’m so glad New Guy (sorry, I haven’t learned his name yet) gave Shay some much-needed advice, but I’m not sure she’ll take it to heart. I don’t trust the photographer-lady Shay is hooking up with, and I have a feeling that camera will come back to haunt her. As far as Zoya’s green-card issues go – can’t blame a girl for trying! Who could resist falling for Severide? (Not me!) Matt’s doing great with the boys (kudos to the show for writing some realistic bonding scenes), and Mills’ Freudian slip made me cringe and cover my face. The Chief’s health news was very unexpected, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much of a role it played in his decision to retire. Also: Benny Severide as the new chief??? Can we say “BAD IDEA”? I await his reign with equal parts anticipation and dread. How is it possible to be charismatic and slimy at the same time? Somehow, Benny pulls it off. SCORE: 7/10

Thursday

Elementary (10/9c, CBS) – When Sherlock’s bored, you know there’s bound to be trouble! Loved him and Watson fishing for potential murder victims at the morgue. The platypus skull was cute, and Sherlock being the one who slept with Joan’s friend was downright HILARIOUS. Definitely my favorite twist of the episode. The case portion of the ep was a fun road trip with lots of dead ends and u-turns, but I am and always will be a “character girl,” so, as usual, Joan and Sherlock’s personal stories were what held my attention. SCORE: 6.5/10

Friday

Grimm (9/8c, NBC) – The end of last season was very slightly re-written – and for good reason. Last year’s finale basically had all of Nick’s friends diving into a car and ditching him to the tune of, “Nick’s a Grimm, he can take care of himself!” I thought that was pretty lame, so I’m happy the show chose a different route – even if it meant fudging the writing a bit. Here we had Nick’s buddies use the car as a means of searching the container yard. Rather than ditching Nick, they were trying to find him (while mowing down a few zombies in the process). As usual, this ep included several laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of Monroe, some hard-core action (do NOT mess with zombie-Nick), and the show’s trademark gross-out gore (dismembered hands and feet, anyone?). All in all, a fun one. They almost always are. :) SCORE: 7/10

Sunday

The Mentalist (10/9c, CBS) – Welcome back, Creepy Ray! Welcome back, Visualize! The case of the empty-room struggle and the stretchy-band murder weapon disposal were cool, but they took a back seat to the more intriguing story of Cho’s love-interest-turned-stalker-turned-spy-turned-Red John-victim. (Try saying that three times fast). That lady definitely kept me guessing until the end. I’m sorry she got murdered, but at least she was able to convey some useful info. I don’t know how the team can assume that RJ was actually the one who hired the girl, though. He could have sent a minion to hire (and kill) her. Also, did anyone else think she was just repeatedly pointing to the location of the tattoo, rather than attempting to draw the actual image in blood? Then again, Jane’s instincts are better than mine, so the tatt probably IS three dots. Ray’s warning near the end seemed very dire – I thought he might be dead before the end of the ep, but it didn’t happen. Bonus points given for: Cho and Rigsby’s cute little fruitbowl scene, several satisfyingly complex mysteries, and a heart-pounding, edge-of-the-seat ending. Points deducted for: Cho’s sloppy questioning of the PI Lady. When’s my favorite interrogator going to learn to stop feeding information to the people he’s questioning??? You don’t say, “Who hired you? Visualize?” You just say, “Tell me who hired you. NOW.” Grrrrrr. SCORE: 7.5/10

And the winner is…Castle, for an exquisitely-delivered time-travel roller-coaster that made my fangirl heart swoon. Supernatural noses into a close second for continuing to deliver the kind of sharp, Kripke-quality eps that made me fall in love with this show in the first place. Kudos!

The Race: Week Four

THE RACE: WEEK 4 (October 14-20)

Monday

Beauty and the Beast (9/8c, CW) – Poor Cat! Vincent unties her, sleeps with her, and then ties her back up! How insulting. I don’t think she should’ve done the horizontal tango with him – at this point, they are essentially strangers. She must be REALLY desperate to jog his memory. Too bad it backfired on her. Vincent – if it’s even really him – seems attentive to Cat at times, yet completely indifferent to her at others. Huh. His violent freak-out at the end was well-done. I felt genuinely scared for Cat. I like how Vincent’s mission this time was to save someone, rather than commit another murder. Keeping the focus on Vincent (and whatever he’s up to each episode) is working well, and deleting the case-of-the-week element has definitely helped tighten up the show. Not sure what to make of Gabe right now. He appears to be sincere in his desire to help both Cat and Vincent, but I don’t think I can ever completely trust him. Looking forward to seeing how this new alliance works out. SCORE: 7/10

Castle (10/9c, ABC) – Castle as a hostage negotiator = awesome. This one had a good storyline. The stakes were high – especially whenever Castle was with the gunwoman – yet the trademark humor was present as well (“Cheeseburgers!”). The guest star was engaging and sympathetic. I fully bought her performance as a troubled, desperate woman, and I’m glad Castle and Co. were able to clear her name. As an added bonus, Beckett got her job back at the end of the ep. I just hope the show keeps up that sparkly-fresh feeling it established in the opening eps, and doesn’t fall back into a rut now that Beckett’s got her old position back. SCORE: 7.5/10

Tuesday

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (8/7c, ABC) – That eyeball thingy was bad-@$$!  During the surgery scene, I actually had to turn away from the screen – multiple times. Ewwwwww! But the good kind of “ew.” Like Sam’s eye getting scooped out on Supernatural. Great stuff. Aside from the heart-pumping action, we once again got to look deeper at Coulson and Skye, as well as some new characters. Bonus points given for the creepy dudes in red masks. A highly entertaining, well-balanced ep. SCORE: 8/10

Supernatural (9/8c, CW) – Cool restoration of Abaddon’s body! Also, I like her plan to have demons inhabiting soldiers and behaving like warriors. Seems like a smart move on her part. In contrast, bringing Crowley back to the Bat Cave seemed like a stupid move, especially given that Kevin is staying there. Wouldn’t one of Bobby or Rufus’ remote cabins have been more appropriate? If those weren’t viable, then at least Sam and Dean should have made sure Kev could not access Crowley. The King of Hell was able to play with Kevin far too easily. Also, Sam and Dean didn’t seem well enough prepared for walking into a demon trap – I fully expected Ezekiel to pop out and save the day, and sure enough, he did. Major points given, though, for how ragged Zeke’s wings looked when he emerged, Jared’s utterly convincing performance a the angel in Sam’s body, and Dean’s long-overdue speech to Kevin (just wish I knew if Dean really meant it…). Points deducted for Dean not even asking about their hunter friend who got killed, and no one making any attempt to bury/pay respects to the guy’s body. The whole group just sort of drove off in a happy mood, like the guy never even existed. This is not like Sam and Dean at all. Also, Tiger Mommy might be alive, and no one’s going to look for her? Shame on you, Dean! SCORE: 7.5/10

Chicago Fire (10/9c, NBC) – Talk about a raw and gripping episode. The show took brutally painful subject matter, and did it justice. My heart broke for Shay. I wished for her to confide in Severide, rather than letting the guilt eat her alive. Great exploration of how small, seemingly innocent gestures from one person can have a huge impact on another. I also like how Severide’s and Shay’s storylines paralleled one another, with each character trying to talk someone down, and neither one succeeding. The conclusion of the arsonist arc paled a little in comparison to the power of Shay and Dawson’s story. The contrast in how the two women handled the trauma was well-done and believable (though I kinda hate the way Dawson basically laid the blame on Leslie). Hated to see them fighting, when they normally get along so well. Loved the twist of Dawson’s scummy date actually being an undercover cop. SCORE: 8.5/10

Thursday

Elementary (10/9c, CBS) – Verrrry interesting storyline. Great glimpse into Sean – ahem – Sherlock’s boarding school days. The well-crafted plot-twists took a backseat to the emotional tales of three people who had suffered terrible abuse. Young Sherlock found his calling through correspondence with a killer, who eventually found her redemption by protecting another killer. Wildly complex, yet very satisfying. Bonus points for Sherlock’s warning to the murderer at the end, the scene where Sherlock confided in Watson, and Watson’s super-sleuthing with regards to the tattoo. SCORE: 8/10

Sunday

The Mentalist (10/9c, CBS) – Okay, my bad – the FBI guy’s name is Reed(e) Smith, not Agent Reid (guess I had Criminal Minds on the brain last week). I vaguely remember him from early Season Five. I think he was going to have a bigger role last year – possibly some type of romance with Lisbon? – but I guess the writers dropped that storyline. They dropped Cho’s rapid-response team/Tamsen romance storyline last year, too (or at least woefully underused it). Anyway, for the most part I had forgotten all about Agent Smith, until he popped up as one of the Red John suspects. I’m digging him now, though – he does clueless well, and evil even better. Tyger, tyger! Great to finally know Kirkland’s backstory, even if it meant losing the character. I’m assuming his twin was identical, and that’s why he kept asking suspects, “Do you know who I am? Have you ever seen me before?” Not sure why he killed the guy in the hospital last year, though – couldn’t Kirkland have used that guy to find Red John? Also, why did Kirkland assume his brother died? Red John has given people new identities before…In any case, this ep was exciting, informative, and all the better for not being bogged down by an unrelated case-of-the-week. Bonus points awarded for: Jane and Lisbon’s contrasting views on whether the fake suspects should be protected (when she said, “That’s the difference between you and me,” and Jane just smiled…so cute!), Rigs and Van Pelt’s newlywed subplot, concrete confirmation of Red John’s law enforcement network, a Minelli mention (yay!), and the return of Hightower (double yay!). Points deducted for: severe Cho neglect. SCORE: 8/10

And the winner is…

Chicago Fire, for a shocking, painful, and – above all – memorable episode.

The Race: Week Three

THE RACE: WEEK 3 (October 7-13)

Monday

Beauty and the Beast (9/8c, CW) – The Beast is back…but he doesn’t remember anything – even Cat! Cool way to create fresh tension and distance between two characters who arguably got together too early in Season One. I’m a sucker for amnesia storylines, but I’m not even convinced the guy we just met is actually the REAL Vincent. Why would his scar be gone? Maybe it’s the X-Files fangirl in me, but I think I smell a clone. Can’t wait to see what surprises await on this new season with a new showrunner! SCORE: 7/10

Castle (10/9c, ABC) – The excitement from the high-drama, two-part opener has waned somewhat as we return to regular procedural episodes. A fairly run-of-the-mill ep which still found creative ways to explore how Beckett and Castle are navigating their new relationship. Kudos to Castle for getting the DC apartment! Kudos to Beckett for not letting that girl get thrown to the Russian mafia wolves! My only wish: that Beckett had chosen to leave the job, rather than getting fired. SCORE: 6.5/10

Tuesday

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (8/7c, ABC) – Top-notch effects, as ever, but that’s old news. This is the episode where I started to get attached to the characters. I felt genuine compassion for Skye, and Coulson is fast becoming more endearing than he ever was in the movies. I get a sense of his gentle-yet-strong spirit, and his deep devotion to his mission and those working under him. Oh, and did I mention that Fitz-Simmons are completely adorkable? SCORE: 7.5/10

Supernatural (9/8c, CW) – I was on the edge of my seat before the premiere even started, mostly due to the fact that we almost couldn’t get the station to tune in. Thankfully, the television gods were smiling upon me, the rabbit ears tilted into position at exactly the right moment, and I sat back for an absolutely phenomenal episode of Supernatural. Loved the battle taking place inside Sam, as well as the one out in the real world. Loved Castiel’s subplot, and Dean’s extremely controversial choice to let an angel inhabit Sam. Arguably the least acceptable thing Dean has ever done to save Sam, and yet I totally bought it. Not out-of-character at all. Last season, much of the conflict between Sam and Dean stemmed from Sam’s OOC actions (not looking for Dean in Purgatory). Here, we have REAL conflict based on Dean’s IC actions. SOOOOO much better. If I didn’t know otherwise, I’d say Kripke was back. I truly cannot wait to see how this incredibly complicated storyline plays out. SCORE: 9/10

Chicago Fire (10/9c, NBC) – Another great installment. Points added for the intense confrontations with Hadley, the return of Severide’s difficult daddy, the bonding between Matt and the boys, and Molly’s Bar’s silent partner rearing his ugly head once more. Major points deducted, though, for the spoonful of cinnamon storyline. I cannot bring myself to believe any firefighter would even consider doing that “challenge,” much less promoting it on his webcast. SCORE: 6/10

Thursday

Elementary (10/9c, CBS) – Looks like EVERYONE is out to get Sherlock and Watson. Scary how fast a bunch of hackers can turn one’s life into a digital hell. The case was well-paced and fun, but, as usual, one of the quiet moments near the end is what makes this ep shine. Joan: “I shouldn’t be the only one who knows you.” Awwwwwww. Extra points for: Sherlock’s emotional reaction to Moriarty’s letter, Watson’s ever-sharpening sluething skills, and the mental image of Sherlock with a shoe on his head. SCORE: 7/10

Sunday

The Mentalist (10/9c, CBS) – The case-of-the-week plot: so-so. Benjamin in his little glasses: beyond adorable. Rigsby’s proposal: awesome! Van/Rigs wedding: Felt too quick. They should have been engaged for a few eps before we saw them tie the knot. Now I feel like something bad’s going to happen to one or both of them in the near future. I hate that feeling! One thing I did LOVE about the wedding, though: the other character’s reactions. Lisbon looked near tears. Jane was actually IN tears, so torn between great happiness and great sorrow that he couldn’t even bear to be in the room. And then there’s Cho, looking at his WATCH! LOL! Only Cho… :) The Red John stuff was handled nicely, too – the Sheriff played it just right. You could tell the actor was having oodles of fun with the role. I like how they tested him to see if he was afraid of heights, even though Sophie said that might not be what RJ was actually afraid of. I wonder what the official name is for fear of birds? :) Points added for Grace’s heartfelt speech to the bride-to-be, Jane’s thrilling rooftop adventure, and a happy wedding for two very deserving agents. SCORE: 8/10

And the winner is…

Supernatural! It went above and beyond all expectations, and delivered the kind of quality we haven’t seen in a looooong time. A+++++++++++++

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