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

 

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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!

News, Reviews and More!

Hey, all – sorry I’ve been offline for so long! Lots of stuff going on right now – some good, some bad. I’ll try to catch you up! Okay, so the news first:

Publications

I read a werewolf novella by Joshua Werner and loved it so much I just had to write a review! My review of Rampant can be found in the May issue of Bloodbond, a werewolf-, shapeshifter- and vampire-themed magazine published by Alban Lake Publishing. The other content in the zine is all fiction, poetry and artwork pertaining to shapeshifters and vamps, so if you’re as crazy about creatures of the night as I am, be sure to check that out!

Up next: I have two stories coming out this August in Chicken Soup for the Soul books! Yay! The first story, “One Step at a Time,” is about my cat Sputnik’s miracle recovery from a severe health crisis. That can be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Really Did That?, which will be available on August 8. The second story, “Out of the Mouths of Strangers,” is a bit more humorous and includes MANY embarrassing moments from my junior high and high school years. That one will be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind of America, which comes out on August 29.

 

Movie Reviews

In other happy news, I was fortunate enough to see THREE superhero movies in the last several months. Here’s what I thought of them:

Logan

A good movie, no doubt. High-quality and well-written. I do question the need to make this an R movie. I’m not sure that was the right way to send off the character (at least Hugh Jackman’s version of him). Wolverine has many younger fans who wouldn’t be able to see this film, and therefore wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to their favorite character. My other main issue with Logan is that it isn’t a well-balanced film. This is one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen in recent years. Virtually every character dies. And before they do, the majority of them suffer from physical and mental illness, as well as torture at the hands of their enemies. There is very little humor, and very little hope. The tone is dark and stays that way throughout, rather unrelentingly. Also, the f-word is overused. When I hear it that many times in a row, at a certain point the writer in me starts thinking, Couldn’t you have come up with a better, more creative expletive?

Despite everything, this still was a really good movie. Definitely worth seeing, but I’m not sure I’d want to own it. My suggestion: rent it when you’re in a good mood. If you’re already feeling low, this movie will only bring you down further.

Wonder Woman

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see this movie. Now, I can’t imagine NOT having seen it. Wonder Woman is pure magic. Unlike Logan, this movie is perfectly balanced, with just the right mix of hope, humor, action, romance and sorrow. This is the first female superhero movie to come along in…geez, I don’t even know how many years – and it delivers in a BIG way! Just seeing those powerful Amazon warriors training on their horses in the beginning of the film…I got chills. I didn’t even know how much I needed this movie until I saw it. No matter what your gender is, I promise you will leave the theatre grinning and hoping the next Wonder Woman movie is coming out sooner rather than later. Readers of this blog should be glad I don’t have a lot of time right now, otherwise you’d be getting a 5,000-word post raving about Wonder Woman.

My suggestion: See it!

Captain Underpants

I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with all three of my nephews, and I really enjoyed it. Though much of the humor is of the bathroom variety (as you can guess from the movie’s title), the core story of friendship between the two main characters is touching. As a writer (and a big superhero fan), I loved that the MCs are an author and an illustrator who created their own superhero and publish their own comic book. The fact that they get to see their creation come to life before their eyes – something any writer would give up their pinky toe to see happen – only adds to the joy of this film.

My suggestion: If you’ve got kids between 7-11 years old, take them to see it! They won’t be disappointed, and neither will you. 🙂

TV Reviews

No, no, I didn’t forget about the TV shows! That would never happen.

Last season, two shows tied for first place: Limitless, for being so friggin’ awesome in its first season, and Supernatural for being so friggin’ awesome in its ELEVENTH season! Both shows demonstrated amazing creativity and I had such a great time watching them that it was impossible to choose. I give them both a 9.5 score for the season. Runners-up included my old love, The X-Files, as well as the sparkly newcomer, Lucifer.

Some friends of mine were disgruntled about TXF, as it seemed the network might just be drawing us in with Mulder and Scully, only to reboot a new version of the show starring the recently introduced characters of Miller and Einstein. Personally, I’m withholding judgement until this actually happens. The last time I checked, Season Eleven was listed as a “sure thing” – with the original cast – so we’ll see. I do like the new characters, but Mulder and Scully need to be the stars. Always.

This season I had to make some sacrifices and only watched a few shows religiously. Among those were Lucifer and Supernatural (duh). I loved the mom-drama on both shows, but in the end, Lucifer won out for just being incredible from start to finish. Last year was a little hit-and-miss for me, but this year was DYNAMITE. There was much more focus on the supernatural elements of the show, and the emotions were running a lot higher this year, too.

I’m glad they at least established the beginning of a romance between Chloe and Lucifer. When shows wait too long to introduce romantic interest between the leads, the characters can get stuck in the friend zone. Then, if the writers do decide to put them together down the line, it’s very awkward. (Castle was one show that got this right, while The Mentalist waited too long). The characters don’t have to be together all the time – we just have to know there’s some attraction between them.

Oh, and the Lucifer finale? I just have one word: WINGZZZZZ!!!!! Also, Lucifer gets mega-points for not killing off any beloved characters in the finale. Unlike Supernatural :(. Um, some of those people can come back…right? Please???

Elsewhere on TV: Chicago Fire: We needed more time to get to know Anna before they killed her off. Grimm: Why the heck did they cancel this amazing show??? Emerald City: Too caught up in the glitz of its concept to deliver on an emotional level. This is Us: If you’re not watching it yet, start now! Great show, with many alums from other shows we love, including Smallville and Supernatural. Plus, it’s not getting cancelled anytime soon, so you can watch without fear.

Novel Update

Some of you may recall that I was in the process of editing one of my novels. Last time I posted about it, the book was at 150K words. Now, thanks to an awesome writing partner (and her equally awesome son), the manuscript is at about 106K and still shrinking. That’s down from 300K, people! Cutting your book IS doable.

For more help on cutting words from your manuscript, check out this post:

http://www.rachellegardner.com/how-to-cut-thousands-of-words/ 

Loads of great advice in the comments, too, along with a wonderful quote that sums up the cutting process:

“Every word you cut gives its power to the words that remain.” ~ Cathy’s brother

Wish me luck in getting my book down under 100K, and I hope to be back soon with more news, reviews and other goodies!

~Gretchen

 

Chicken Soup Celebrates American Kindness

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One of my favorite publishers, Chicken Soup for the Soul, is collecting stories for a new book focusing on kindness in America. They want to hear about the time you helped someone whose car was broken down on the side of the road, or the time a stranger paid for your groceries when you forgot your wallet. They want to know what American kindness means to you, how you’ve embraced it in your life, or seen others do so. They want stories about immigrants, stories about soldiers, stories about everyday people learning to overcome prejudice and fear in order to extend a helping hand.

There’s never been a better time to show the world – and remind ourselves – what truly makes this country great: our kindness.

If you’re interested in submitting, don’t dawdle – this is a last-minute addition to their publication schedule, and the deadline is March 31. Click on the link below for more information about what they’re looking for and how to submit.

http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topics

Best of luck!

-Gretchen

 

Feedback Frenzy

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Okay, it’s a little late to say what I’m thankful for, but I’m doing it anyway! As a fangirl, I’m thankful that at least ONE out of the four new shows I fell in love with made it to Season Two. (Long Live Lucifer!) As a writer, I’m grateful to slush readers and editors who take the time to give feedback to those who don’t make the cut.

Being rejected is hard, but being rejected and not having a clue WHY is the worst. So, here’s a little list of magazines that will NEVER leave you wondering what you did wrong or why your story wasn’t chosen. Each of these mags helps aspiring writers by providing those all-important “rejections with a reason.”

 

Every Day Fiction

Publishes: Flash Fiction (all genres)

I talk about this mag a lot because I love it! They tend to give quite a bit of feedback. Usually a short paragraph from each person who read your story. I was so impressed with their rejection of one of my stories, I actually posted the rejection letter here:

https://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/rejection-letter-revisited/ 

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

Publishes: Fantasy and Science Fiction (focuses on lighthearted fare)

I’ve also been rejected by this one. My story had made it past the first reader, but was rejected by the second. My feedback was pretty short–just a sentence, I think, but it did give me valuable info on how to improve the story. A writer friend of mine got some longer feedback on his–also very useful.

Untied Shoelaces of the Mind

Publishes: All Genres

It says in their guidelines they will give you the reason why you were rejected, but not a full critique. It has an opt-out option, but I’m not sure why anyone would use it. If you’re too fragile to hear why your story wasn’t picked, then this probably isn’t the right business for you!

Spark

Publishes: Multiple Genres and Genre-Blurring Fiction

This one also has the opt-out option, but don’t use it. Be brave, listen to the truth, and then make your story better based on the comments.

Happy submitting!

~Gretchen

Shower Them With Books

Bookshelves 1

Photo by S. Benning

Once you’ve been to a few baby showers, you get to know the drill–pick out a gift from the registry, buy a cute (and unnecessarily expensive) card to go with it, then show up at the appointed time ready to watch the mom-to-be open oodles of packages containing bottle sterilizers, diapers and impossibly small socks.

So, when the invitation for my cousin Sarah’s baby shower arrived in the mail, I for the most part ignored the adorable jungle animals smiling up at me and focused solely on gleaning the pertinent info: time, date, location, and stores where the parents had registered. I was almost finished skimming when something near the bottom of the invite caught my eye:

“In lieu of a card, the parents ask that you bring a book inscribed to the new baby.”

A little thrill of excitement shot up my spine.

Being a writer, this idea naturally held way more appeal for me than simply picking out a bib from a list of three pre-chosen patterns. This was a book. Any book we wanted. This was freedom.

As the shower date approached, my mom and I eagerly tossed titles back and forth–books we’d loved as young children, stories that had captured our attention and held it hostage in the best possible way.

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

There were so many wonderful choices: funny books, sweet books, educational books. Books with bold colors. Books with flaps to lift and fabrics for chubby little fingers to touch. Even books where the pictures pop up right at you!

Though it seemed impossible to narrow the field, I eventually selected Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Mom chose Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Then we got to work planning the perfect wording for our inscribed messages to the baby. As is typical of authors, we both wrote several drafts before finally etching our words in permanent ink inside the book covers.

The whole ride to the shower, I was half excitement, half nerves. I couldn’t wait to see what books the other guests had chosen, but at the same time, I was a little worried, too. What if the baby got not one but five copies of Guess How Much I Love You? After all, an inscribed book is a nonreturnable one. Mom pointed out that with young children, having extra copies of a favorite story is a good thing–pages get ripped, flaps get torn off, corners get chewed on. I knew she was right…but still, I fretted. Giving a duplicate book seemed like showing up to prom and noticing someone else wearing the same exact black spaghetti strap dress as mine.

As soon as the gift portion of the shower got underway, however, I quickly saw that my concern was for naught. With every new gift my cousin opened, there came a different book title. There was indeed a hungry caterpillar, and a bunny in need of patting. But there were also books about tractors, bears, princesses, giraffes, elephants and every other thing you could imagine.

I actually got a little teary, realizing that we’d all chosen different books based on the different things that had touched us and shaped us throughout our lives. We’d all been moved by reading–not in the same way, but in a hundred different ways, and that just made it all the more beautiful.

In my case, I grew up surrounded by books. With two teachers for parents, it couldn’t have been any other way. As a child, I sat curled in the silence of our basement for hours, aching at the bittersweet ending of Princess by Carolyn Lane, a tale about two cats–one tame, one feral. My bathwater went from toasty to frigid without me even noticing as I lost myself in the adventures of Alec Ramsay and his magnificent Black Stallion. My breath steamed the windows of our Jeep as I devoured Dick King-Smith’s Babe: The Gallant Pig start-to-finish on a rainy afternoon. During a late-night power outage, I sat huddled in the bathroom, candlelight and a book called The Great Green Apple War by Barbara Klimowicz the only two things keeping my gnawing fear of the dark at bay. For months when I was a young teen, I actually slept with a dog-eared copy of Geary Gravel’s novelization of Hook under my pillow, so in love with the story of a grown up Peter Pan that I felt certain I’d never go a day of my life without rereading at least a few of its pages.

And that’s just a small sampling of my childhood. My journey as a budding young reader.

Gazing down at all of the baby’s new acquisitions, I knew I was looking at the start of a brand new adventure. A new life to be molded and inspired, a new imagination to be kindled–maybe by one of the books given this very day.

Didn’t matter if it was my book, or one about a kitten, or one about a train. Something would start that fire, ignite that passion for reading. And, once lit, this little girl’s life would never be the same.

Good luck getting all that from an overpriced greeting card.