Happy Birthday, LEGO Man!

Several years ago, I wrote a poem as a gift for my LEGO-loving friend. In response, he delighted me by creating a picture that captured every detail of the poem. I am posting both today in honor of my friend’s birthday.

Photo by R. Churchill

 

LEGO Man

Bright plastic pieces
A rainbow on the table
Spilled, formless jumble

He looks them over
Eyes sharp and mind-wheels turning
Possibilities

Hands move, click and snap
Creation in the making
No instructions, here

Walls climb, towers grow
Grey on black on green on brown
A castle is born

King, queen, knights and court
All happy yellow faces
No race, just people

The builder smiles down
At his masterpiece, his world
LEGO man, at heart

 

Happy birthday, LEGO Man! It may not seem like it now, but I truly believe this will be the year that everything is awesome!

Love you!

~Gretchen

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#AMMConnect Bio for Spring 2018

Hey, all! In my previous post I mentioned Author Mentor Match, a mentorship program for aspiring YA and MG authors. Writers hoping to apply for the program are encouraged to create blog posts about themselves and their books, so here’s mine!

I’m so excited to read everyone else’s posts (I’ve already read some, and everybody’s books sound awesome!). Also, a HUGE thank you to all of the Round Three mentees who volunteered their time to give away query critiques to this round’s hopefuls. I was lucky enough to win one from Lucy Hallowell, who gave me lots of wonderful feedback and encouragement. Thank you so much, Lucy!

 

ABOUT ME

ME! (I am the one with slightly fewer gray hairs.)

I am thirty-seven years old, I have Asperger’s, and I work as a home health aide. I’ve been doing that for over fifteen years and I love it. I’m also passionate about feral cats and I spend a lot of time caring for the strays in my neighborhood. Some of my best friends walk on four legs! (Okay, now my human friends are giving me the skunk eye. I said “some,” not “all”!).

This is Jericho, one of the feral cats I take care of. When he first arrived, he had almost no fur on his body whatsoever–a severe allergy had caused him to pull it all out. Now, thanks to periodic allergy shots, his fur has grown back and he is no longer itchy!

I’ve been writing for about fifteen years, give or take. I write pretty much everything–horror, humor, romance, fantasy, scifi, novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, scripts, flash fic, fanfic, nonfic, poetry, kidlit. You name it, I’ve probably at least dabbled. I think I write so many different things because I like to read so many different things. To me, a good story is a good story, no matter what the format/setting/genre/age category.

In addition to writing, I also help run my local critique group. The writers I’ve met through this group are a-maz-ing and super-talented! I am so lucky to have them in my life. I smile every time I think about how much we’ve all gained from the honest opinions of our fellow authors. (Yes, even when it hurts. Especially then.)

 

ABOUT MY BOOK

Working Title: EVEN HEROES

I would best describe it as a real-world superhero story. You know how Batman and Green Arrow and Hawkeye don’t have any superpowers but they go out and do awesome stuff anyway? It’s like that!

When the book starts, my main character, Vincent, is in a pretty dark place. He’s thirteen years old, has acute asthma, and he’s dealing with a severe bullying problem at school. The same kids have been targeting him for years, and he’s too ashamed-and afraid of retaliation-to tell anyone what’s going on.

He definitely can’t tell his mom–she’s already a nervous wreck. She’s so afraid of him having an asthma attack that basically the only physical activity he’s allowed to do at school is walk to class…slowly.

So, Vincent escapes reality the only way he knows how: by diving into his favorite comic books. He loves everything about them–the artwork, the stories, and most of all the way the heroes stand up for people being victimized…people like him.

In the back of his mind, Vincent has always known that if he could do absolutely anything, if he had no restrictions, physical or otherwise, he’d want to be a superhero. Of course, this is the real world, and there aren’t really superheroes flying around. But a person can fantasize, right? No harm in that.

Except lately, Vincent’s fantasies aren’t so harmless. Lately, he’s been having dark, bloody thoughts of taking revenge on the classmates who’ve been hurting him. Lately he’s been feeling like the walls are slowly closing in all around him, inch by inch, and it’s getting harder and harder to escape into the bright-colored superhero adventures of his comic books.

Vincent finally reaches his breaking point after a disastrous visit to the school guidance counselor (note: it’s a bad idea to write on a career survey that you want to be a superhero), followed by the most vicious prank the bullies have ever pulled.

Vincent doesn’t know what to do, but he has to do something or else he’s going to go full-on crazy. So, he decides to reclaim his life by doing the one thing he’s always dreamed of: becoming a superhero. No matter how insane/stupid/impossible it sounds, no matter how dangerous it is, no matter how much strain it puts on his already weak lungs, he is going to do this thing. (Or die trying.)

Basically, this is a story about a kid who’s been caged for thirteen years finally setting himself free, testing his wings, and finding out what he’s really capable of.

 

RANDOM BITS OF INSPIRATION

-Finding a complete deer skeleton at the bottom of a lake when my brothers and I were kids

-Talking to one of my brothers about how much comic books meant to him growing up

-The very real tunnel system under a school I visited

-A person I once met who thought about doing something very bad–but decided not to

-A psychology class where we learned how to determine whether a child’s asthma was primarily stress-induced or allergy-induced

-My own crazy fangirl obsession with superheroes

-My own experiences being bullied in junior high

 

WHAT’S COOL ABOUT MY BOOK

-Superhero Fun! Awesome costumes, wardrobe malfunctions, secret identities (and trying to keep them secret), fame and publicity, watching the character juggle his regular, everyday problems with his superhero problems. The most fun parts are of course when those two sides of his life collide unexpectedly. 🙂

-Superhero Drama! Aside from the fun, adventure-y parts of the story, you also get to see the character wrestle with the more heartbreaking aspects of heroism–that he can’t save everyone, that when he screws up people can die, and that some people are past the point of even wanting to be saved. (And in a different life, he might’ve been one of those.)

-He’s NOT the chosen one. Don’t get me wrong–I love, love, love “chosen one” stories. I am totally into Harry Potter, Sword of Truth/Legend of the Seeker, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, etc, etc. I love destiny and prophecy and special powers and people born half-angel or half-demon or with psychic mermaid blood which makes them the only one who can ignite the sacred torch of immortality. But for this story, I just thought it was cool that there really wasn’t anything special about this kid. Nobody showed up to rescue him from his crappy life and whisked him off to some amazing, magical world. He just had a dream to do something awesome and he did it. No help. No powers. No destiny. Just him.

-Platonic Boy/Girl Friendship That Doesn’t Turn Into Romance (Because Not Everything Has To Go That Way). Think Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, or Severide and Shay on Chicago Fire, or even Mulder and Scully before it got romance-y. Opposite-gender friends who can hold hands without it being awkward. Friends who can tell each other when there’s something on the other person’s face. Friends who would fight in a war zone side by side, ready to lie down and die for each other, but they’re not going to start making out in a moment of passion. Just real, true best friends in every sense of the word.

-The Magic Age of Thirteen. One of the things I love about my character is that he’s right on the borderline between being a little kid who still believes in dreams and an angry teenager who’s about to become destructive. And even though he chooses to embrace the joy of childish dreams, that angry teen is still inside of him, ready to bare its fangs throughout the book.

 

WHAT KIND OF MENTEE WOULD I BE?

Terrified. Excited. Receptive. Grateful.

All of my first drafts tend to be reeeeally long, so I’m pretty merciless about making cuts and changes to my babies. I have graveyards full of dead darlings…

RIP, Darlings!

…And sometimes, I have nightmares about them coming back to life and eating my brains…

Braaaaaaaainzzzzz!

I think of cutting words like power-spraying all the mud off a vehicle that’s just been off-roading. It’s a ton of work, but by the end you have this gorgeous, gleaming, cherry red Jeep Wrangler sitting in your driveway. 🙂

As a mentee I would be good at making large-scale changes even with a very small amount of feedback. I’m like a bloodhound–just put me on the scent of what needs to be done, and pretty soon I’ll be baying and charging through the woods in pursuit of making my story better.

So far, I’ve had three people help me with this particular manuscript–a trusted beta reader I’ve had for years, a wonderful CP I only found about a year ago, and the CP’s then ten-and-a-half-year-old son, who read the book along with his mom.

 

With their help, I’ve been able to:

-cut over 205K words from the manuscript (nope, that’s not a typo–see graveyard pic above)

-improve pacing

-strengthen character arcs

-make the MS accessible to a slightly younger audience

 

With a mentor’s help, I hope to be able to:

-identify any remaining spots where the pacing is too slow

-identify any remaining elements that aren’t working

-reduce the word count a little more, if possible (right now it’s just under 93K)

-make sure my submission package accurately and effectively represents my book

-correctly identify where my book fits into the market (Due to the length and some darker themes present in the book, I am submitting this one as a YA. However, the YA books I read as potential comps felt just a smidge too old, and the MGs I read were all just a shade too young and simplistic. I feel like mine might fall into a middle category, such as UMG.)

 

Over the years, I’ve given feedback and encouragement to many of my fellow authors. It’s always a special moment for me when one of those people achieves success, because even just knowing that I was some tiny part of that journey is pure magic. So, if someone reading this sees a spark of something in me or my story that makes them want to be part of my journey, I will consider myself so lucky.

I can’t wait to see where we go together!

Critique Giveaway (and Other Cool Stuff for Aspiring Novelists)

Being a novelist is many things. Easy isn’t one of them.  On this long and difficult journey, we need as much help and support as we can possibly get. So, as a belated Valentine’s Day gift to my fellow aspiring novelists, here are some cool opportunities, programs and resources just for you!

Critique Giveaway: YA and MG novelists can enter to have their query letter and the first page of their manuscript critiqued by a mentee from the previous round of Author Mentor Match. This is taking place NOW through the end of February. Lucky winners are chosen via random drawing and matched to a mentee in their category and genre. Find out more and enter here:

http://authormentormatch.com/amm-mentee-critique-giveaway-for-round-4/

Author Mentor Match, Round 4: Program that pairs aspiring YA and MG novelists with more experienced authors who have already signed with agents. In order to apply, you need to have a completed YA or MG manuscript, a query letter, and a synopsis. You can apply to up to four mentors. If you get selected, your mentor will give you notes on your manuscript and other parts of your submission package! Round 4 submissions run from March 16-21. Find out all about this awesome opportunity and how to apply here:

http://authormentormatch.com/

Pitch Wars: Okay, I know the folks who write adult novels were starting to feel left out, so here’s one for EVERYBODY! This program is similar in some ways to Author Mentor Match. In this case the mentors are agented/published writers, editors, or industry interns. They each choose one applicant to work with, and help that person polish his/her manuscript and submission package. After two months of intense revisions, each mentee’s pitch/first page is posted for agents to view in the agent showcase. In order to apply for this program, you need a finished manuscript, a synopsis, a query letter and a pitch. Submission windows are as follows: Adult: July 16th, YA: July 17th, MG: July 18th. Some mentors may accept memoirs and graphic novels. Find out all about this amazing program and other related events, such as #PitMad, here:

http://pitchwars.org/new-start-here/

Other goodies for novelists getting ready to submit for the first time:

AgentQuery Connect: A great site with a community of writers who help and support one another. These folks know their stuff and are always willing to lend a hand, whether it’s critiquing a synopsis/first page/query letter, or simply answering a question about agents and the submission process.

Query Shark: Must-see blog for anyone crafting a query letter. Be sure to read every single example and all the comments. Invaluable info given with snarky humor by literary agent Janet Reid, who hopes to help new writers survive the query trenches.

Query Tracker: Very useful site – people share when they sent their queries to specific agents, what response they got, and how quickly it arrived. Some folks even post their rejection letters (so you can see what a particular agent’s form letter looks like) and other super-helpful info.

I hope these resources make your journey toward publication just a little bit easier. Remember: no matter how hard it seems sometimes, you’re not alone!

Keep Writing!

~Gretchen

 

A-Maze-ing Lucifer Reviews

For me, being a fan of a TV show, or a book series, or even a movie franchise, has never been just about the source material. That’s where it starts, of course. But when I’m really obsessed with something, I always want more. Not spoilers, mind you. I’m allergic to those. (Seriously, I just got up and left the room to avoid a scene from an episode of Stranger Things that I haven’t watched yet).

By “more,” I mean that I want to know the characters better. I want to dive deeper into the storylines than the original material allows. I want to imagine what happened right before the episode started, or after the book ended, or analyze what a character was really thinking when he said a particular line.

For many years, this was a solitary pursuit on my part. Me, making up my own little stories about the characters. Filling in history where there wasn’t any yet, coming up with explanations when there seemed to be plot holes.

I was in college when I first discovered fan fiction, and what a revelation it was. Other people wanted more, too! They wanted to write missing scenes and dissect dialogue every bit as much as I did.

Another thing that quenches my thirst for “more” is reading rich, in-depth reviews written by someone who obviously knows and loves the source material just as much as I do. For me, finding reviews like these is actually rarer than finding excellent fan fiction.

I had two favorite reviewers for Supernatural: GaelicSpirit (https://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/) and Kroki_Refur, both over on LiveJournal. Sadly, I don’t think either of them still writes regular reviews, but even their old ones (or sporadic new ones) are worth reading if you’re a fan of the show. Gaelic is a more of a Dean fan and Refur is definitely a Sam enthusiast, so it’s always fun to read both perspectives and get a fully rounded view of each episode. (Bonus: Both authors also write fanfic for the show, and it’s reeeeally good.)

There was a great reviewer on the official message boards for The Mentalist, but I could never find her again after CBS abandoned the traditional fan boards for a Facebook system. 😦

When it came to Forever, the place to be was AfterBuzz TV on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCcVQKtF8zHVQoTJt8NNMJA). They always had a great discussion of the current episode, and sometimes interviewed the cast and showrunners. They even helped create a subplot that later appeared on the show!

And now we come to Lucifer, one of my newest obsessions. I’ve been reading fanfic for this one for a while now (I even recommended some on here), but only recently did I come across some cool episode reviews via a link on Twitter. The author, LaToya Ferguson, really delves into the characters and plotlines, sometimes pointing out small elements I didn’t notice, or bringing up possibilities I never considered. Which is exactly what I’m looking for in a review.

So, if you’re hungry for more Lucifer, and you just can’t handle the three-week wait for the next new episode, why not check out these a-Maze-ing bits of post-ep analysis:

https://www.avclub.com/c/tv-review/lucifer

You may not always agree with the author, but that’s part of the fun, too. Intelligent debates between true fans are always worth reading.

Happy New Year, my fellow LuciFans! 🙂

 

Season Premiere Dates!

Hey, all! After three months of reality TV, our favorite scripted shows are FINALLY coming back and I absolutely can’t wait! So, here are the premiere dates (*** = the time or day has changed from last season):

 

Gotham***: Already Started! Now airs on Thursday at 8pm on FOX. I don’t watch this one anymore, but it looks like Bruce is wearing a mask this year, getting closer and closer to becoming you-know-who!

The Orville (NEW): Already Started! Airs on Thursday at 9pm on FOX. This is a brand new show and so far I love it! If you enjoyed the movie GalaxyQuest, then you’ll definitely dig this very funny, Star Trek-esque space adventure. As an added bonus, one of the stars is Adrianne Palicki, who played the first (and better) Kara on Smallville, as well as Jess on Supernatural. Highly recommended!

The Good Doctor (NEW): Starts Monday, September 25th, 10pm on ABC. New show about a surgeon with autism. Could be interesting. I’m planning on giving it a shot.

This Is Us: Starts Tuesday, September 26th, 9pm on NBC. Fantastic show! So fantastic, I’ll forgive last year’s bad finale. Are we ever going to find out how Jack died?

Chicago PD: Starts Wednesday, September 27th, 10pm on NBC. I’m wracking my brains and honestly can’t remember where this one left off. Can someone please remind me?

Chicago Fire***: Starts Thursday, September 28th, 10pm on NBC. I actually do remember where this one left off. A bunch of them were trapped in a burning building. Not sure who’ll make it. The commercials are making it seem as if Matt’s going to die. They could be misleading us, or preparing us for true heartbreak. Are the other two Chicago shows coming back? Anyone know?

Lucifer***: Starts Monday, October 2nd, 8pm on FOX. As you can probably tell from the image above, this is the one I’m most looking forward to!!!! He got kidnapped, he’s in the desert (???), he’s got wings…what the H3LL is going on? Can’t wait to find out. Also, I heard a rumor someone SUPER special is joining the cast. 🙂

The Mayor (NEW): Starts Tuesday, October 3rd, 9:30pm on ABC. New show about a young rapper who runs for mayor as a publicity stunt…and unexpectedly wins. And, since this guy actually cares about his community and wants to make a difference, he rises to the challenge. Sounds pretty good to me. I’ll give it a shot.

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (NEW): Starts Tuesday, October 3rd, 10pm on ABC. Average guy has to save the world, with help from an angel? Or something like that? Don’t know much about this one, but I like the lead actors enough to give it a shot.

Supergirl: Starts Monday, October 9th, 8pm on The CW. I lost track of this one a bit last season, but will definitely try to catch up this year. Gotta love GIRL POWER!!!

Supernatural: Starts Thursday, October 12th, 8pm on The CW. Lucifer, Mary and alt-Bobby are in another dimension. Castiel, Crowley, Rowena and Kelly Klein are all dead. Oh yeah, and the spawn of Satan was just born. Maybe some good things will happen in the Season 13 opener? Here’s hoping!

Happy watching, everybody! 🙂

 

 

Twitter Party Tomorrow for My Kind (of) America!

Hey everybody!

Chicken Soup for the Soul just released a brand new book, and they’re having a Twitter party tomorrow to celebrate! Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America features 101 stories about kindness in America.

My story, “Out of the Mouths of Strangers,” can be found on page 260. Writing this piece involved several very embarrassing trips down Memory Lane, but it was all worth it when I got to relive the feeling of sheer joy and gratitude at the end of the story. If you’re ever thinking about saying something really nice to someone, but you’re feeling shy or you’re not sure if you should, just go with your gut and say it. You won’t regret it and neither will the recipient of those kind words. 🙂

Whether it’s a grand act of heroism or something as simple as a homemade Valentine, kindness changes lives. It reminds us who we really are, deep down inside. Underneath all of our many differences–skin color, gender, religion, age, education level–we are all human beings. And we all, at one time or another, need to be reminded that someone cares.

So, check out the book! And come join us on Twitter tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th) for the launch party! The party will run from 2-3pm ET, with the hashtag #MyKindAmerica. I will be there (@astheheroflies) along with many of the other authors and our awesome publisher, Amy Newmark!

Hope to see you there, and remember–kindness matters!

~Gretchen

Book Release: The Cat Really Did That?

Hey all!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Really Did That? comes out today! My story “One Step at a Time” can be found on page 131. Read the book to find out how my miracle cat Sputnik beat the odds and survived a serious health crisis. Plus, there are 100 other GREAT cat stories in the book, too! And the royalties go to American Humane! Can’t beat that!

Stay tuned for more news, and have a purrrrfect International Cat Day!

~Gretchen

Me, reading Sputnik his story. He purred the whole time!