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!