“X-Files Dazzled” in USA Weekend

When I read that USA Weekend was doing a special on pop culture in the ’90s, I just had to send in some fond memories about what is possibly my all-time favorite TV show – The X-Files! – and how it shaped my teenage years. Imagine my surprise when the “Nineties” issue of USA Weekend came out, and I saw my own name in the reader comments section! :) They published a shortened version of my letter in the print edition, and the full version – photo included – is up on their website:

X-Files Dazzled

So if you’re a fellow Phile, go dive into the joys of years gone by, and recall your own favorite experiences involving the dynamic duo of Mulder and Scully. And even if you weren’t into X-Files (I’ll try not to hold that against you), there’s plenty of other ’90s nostalgia to love, including memories of Office Space, Celine Dion’s first performance on US television, The Lion King, Seinfeld, Friends, ER, Twin Peaks, The Simpsons, and LOADS of other great stuff. Go take a look:

Best of the ’90s

Also, check out their cool cover image, which features tons of classic ’90s quotes:

USA Weekend “The Nineties” Cover

I guarantee it’ll leave you all warm and fuzzy and saying to yourself, “Ah, the ’90s. What an incredible decade to be a fan!” :)

Call for Funny Fantasy Fiction

Hey, who doesn’t like a little alliteration? ;)

And who doesn’t love a hilarious fantasy story that makes you spray Pepsi all over your computer screen?

Unfortunately, although fantasy/humor is one of my all-time favorite genres, it doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of love from the publishing industry. Fantasy is supposed to be a long, epic journey filled with really evil dragons and sword fights and heroic deaths…right? So, if you’ve written a funny story about a disgruntled warlock, it can be doggone hard to find someplace to submit it. (Believe me, I’ve looked).

That’s why I was so thrilled to discover this new anthology that is specifically looking for funny fantasy stories: Alternate Hilarities 3: Hysterical Realms. My first thought was, “They’re already on number three? How did I not find this sooner??” Alternate Hilarities 3: Hysterical Realms is currently open to flash fiction (500-1,500 words) and short story (1,501-6,000 words) submissions. They pay half a cent a word plus one share of royalties for flash, one cent a word and two shares of royalties for short stories, and all authors get a copy of the E-book. They’re also planning a Kickstarter campaign to increase author payments and hopefully fund a print edition of the book.

The deadline for submitting to this anthology is July 31st. So what are you waiting for? Dust off that warlock story, polish it up, and send it in!

Looking for even more places to send your laugh-out-loud fantasy tale? Try Unidentified Funny Objects (you’ll have to keep an eye on their website to see when they’re opening up to submissions for their next anthology). Also, Every Day Fiction loves humor in all of its glorious forms, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is one of the few mags known to favor fantasy and scifi stories on the more lighthearted end of the spectrum. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction  is another option, as their guidelines state a continuing need for humorous stories.

All this talk about funny fantasy stories got you in the mood to guffaw? Go read “Letter to the Editor” by Joshua Brown. I guarantee you’ll be wiping Pepsi off your monitor. :)

-Gretchen

 

New Story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

So, it finally happened. That thing I’ve been dreaming about, striving for, and working my behind off to accomplish for the last several years. A few days ago, my story, “The Greatest Gift,” was officially selected for publication in the upcoming book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Thus, on August 19th, 2014 (that’s THIS year!), my writing will appear in print for the very first time.

Believe it or not, it’s actually hard for me to write those words. As a shy person with Asperger’s Syndrome, self-promotion is probably the most difficult aspect of writing I’ve faced so far. The way I was raised, you don’t brag about yourself and your accomplishments – you just plain don’t.

And yet, when you’re a writer, you almost kinda have to.

It’s just the way of the business. I know this. I accept it. But still I’ve continued to cling to my shyness like it’s my old, faded-blue security binky. Hardly any of my friends know that I am serious about writing. I think only two of them are aware that I’ve been published before. If you’re wondering how many of them know about this website, that number drops to one. For some reason, telling strangers about my writing life is actually easier than telling the people closest to me.

It’s not that I don’t WANT to tell my friends. I do! I fantasize about it, imagine their reactions, and feel my pulse-rate go up a few notches. But when I finally see them face-to-face, my courage always seems to scurry away like a spider trying not to get stepped on. I keep my head down, and when my friends ask what’s new in my life, I just smile and say, “Same old, same old. Nothing interesting here.”

But now, this book is coming out, and it’s a BIG deal. It’s my chance to show this really awesome publisher – and potential future ones – that I can successfully promote a book and generate some sales. With dreams of getting my novels published some day, I can’t afford to stay in my shell. I plan on attacking this challenge with the aggression of a hungry Grizzly Bear – seeking out opportunities for book signings and media coverage, using every connection I have, and yes, telling my friends and family about my story’s publication.

(Even if it means blushing furiously and ducking my head while I do it.)

Whatever results I get – positive or otherwise – you guys will be the first to know. :)

A Year of Firsts

 

I’m back!

And more powerful than ever before!

(Okay, not really – it just sounded good :) )

First things first: a huge, teary-eyed “thank you” goes out to anyone and everyone who’s still around after a year of infrequent updates and long periods of static silence. For those who don’t know, my family’s home was struck by lightning during a violent storm on May 31st, 2013. The house subsequently caught fire, sustaining major damage from the flames and the water used to put them out.

In the 365-plus days since then, my family has experienced a long list of “firsts.” First time landing on a family member’s doorstep with literally nothing but the smoke-scented clothing on our backs. First time living in a trailer. First time not having home internet access in over a decade. First time having people slow down as they drove past our house, just so they could take in the destruction.

It wasn’t the easiest year in the history of us. But in many ways, it was one of the best. Sometimes, it takes losing a few possessions to show you that the real treasures, the things that could never be replaced, are the people – and pets – you love. And sometimes, it takes a hard fall to show you just how many folks you have standing around you, willing and eager to help you right back up.

Thanks to the unending support of friends and family, the bravery of firefighters, and the resilience of the human spirit, we survived this challenge and emerged on the other side, stronger, better, and ready to embrace a whole new list of “firsts”:

First night spent in our brand-new house. First time enjoying high-speed internet at home. First time having people slow down as they drive past, just so they can admire the beauty of a skillfully rebuilt home.

Thank you again for riding along with me on this bumpy journey. I hope you’ll stick around for some of the awesome stuff I have planned, including:

FAN STUFF

Great Reads: Fiction and Fanfiction Recommendations

The Race: Results will be in as soon as I catch up on my tape viewing (though, I must say, having seen the Supernatural finale, I have a hard time believing anything can top that!)

Movie Reviews: Going to see X-Men: Days of Future Past tomorrow, so you’ll definitely be hearing about that! Also will be doing mini-reviews of the superhero movies I planned to write about last year, including Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, and Wolverine.

Fangirl Nostalgia: I’ll be taking a look back at some of my earliest fangirly obsessions, including some classic Mary Higgins Clark books and my favorite couple on General Hospital: Kevin and Lucy!

WRITER STUFF

Fiction Versus Faction: Examining the difference, and knowing when one crosses the line into the other.

New Market Research Tools and Calls for Submissions: Just because I didn’t have home internet access doesn’t mean I didn’t find a few nifty things in the last year :)

And finally, Book Promotion: My Journey. Just days ago, one of my non-fiction stories was selected to appear in the upcoming book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What? (release date: August 19th,  2014). It will be my first time in print, and also my first time facing the challenge of promoting a book. My successes, my failures, and anything else I learn along the way will be shared with my readers here on ATHF.

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…

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