Werelions and Weretigers and Werebears, Oh My!

Cover design by Amanda C. Davis

 

Those of you who know me know that I’m into werewolves. Like REALLY into werewolves. Like, when someone comes over to visit, my standard greeting is, “Do you want to watch a movie? I have The Wolfman!” (In case you were wondering, yes I get weird looks in response to this.)

I’m not exactly sure how I turned out this way (it might have something to do with how many times I watched The Shaggy Dog and Ladyhawke when I was a kid), but at some point in my life I blossomed into a full-fledged lover of all things shapeshifter and never looked back.

Which is why I could not be more excited to have one of my stories included in Pen and Kink’s upcoming anthology, Transformed. This book, which is the third in their Triskaidekaphilia series, features romantic relationships involving (you guessed it) shapeshifters. (The first two books focused on romances related to urban legends and vampires. The next one, called Haunted, will feature female ghosts – go check out the submission guidelines here: http://www.penandkinkpub.com/home/books/triskaidekaphilia/4-haunted-female-ghosts/ )

For me, the most exciting thing about being included in a collection like this is getting to read everyone else’s stories. (I mean, I already read mine – that’s old news.) So, as soon as I got my advance review copy (and did a quick check to make sure I hadn’t done anything cringe-worthy, like spell my own name wrong in the byline (don’t laugh, it’s possible)), I joyfully dove into my fellow authors’ works.

And I just have to say: Holy crap! These writers are so talented! I am so not worthy to be in their midst! I loved every single story in the book. Like seriously, I keep trying to pick a favorite, and I just CAN’T. I think what impressed me the most, aside from just the quality of the writing, was the variety. This book features many different cultures, different interpretations of what it means to be a shapeshifter (whether it’s a blessing or a curse, whether it’s something to be carefully controlled or something that should be encouraged to run rampant), and different types of romantic relationships.

And that’s not even mentioning all the different kinds of creatures! I mean, there are werewolves, yes – but they’re actually in the minority here. Beneath the beautiful cover designed by Amanda C. Davis, I discovered weresnakes, werefoxes, werehawks, werecats, werejackals, wereseals (yes, seals!). Heck, there’s even a weredragon in there!

In addition to the menagerie of shapeshifters, there are characters of all colors and backgrounds. There are straight characters, gay characters, bisexual characters. There is sex, and sometimes it’s described in great detail – however, it’s never the sole point of the story, but rather just one element that only adds to the richness of the overall plot.

Speaking of plots, there are some really complex ones involving spy games, intrigue, stolen goods and kidnapping, as well as simple plots focusing on a single moment of significance in a character’s life. There are cursed lovers. There are characters who meet for the first time, and characters who’ve known each other across the ages.

All I can say is, hats off to my fellow authors for their skills and creativity, as well as to the editor, Charlie Watson, for putting together such a diverse book.

As one reviewer already mentioned, there really is something for everyone in Transformed. (You can find more early reviews here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38262542-transformed ) If this sounds like something you’d be into, the books comes out on July 13th. (Yes, that’s Friday the 13th – it ties in with Triskaidekaphilia, which means love of the number thirteen). Check out the pre-order link here:

https://www.amazon.com/Transformed-Triskaidekaphilia-Book-Nancy-Canu-ebook/dp/B07C67DTGV

Oh, and if you’re a reviewer who’d like an ARC of the book, I believe they are still giving a few copies away on LibraryThing. You just have to scroll down until you see the pretty cover with the lady and the tiger and the title Transformed by Charlie Watson:

https://www.librarything.com/er/giveaway/list

I hope you love the book! I did! 🙂

Keep writing and submitting, everybody!

Best wishes,

Gretchen

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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

#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

 

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