The Gracie Press Newsletter

By John Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The Gracie Press Newsletter - Two Villains and The Most Secret Plan Ever!

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The Gracie Press Newsletter - Two Villains and The Most Secret Plan Ever!
Oh, no! Not one, but two villains! And only one Gracie! What to do? But Gracie is no ordinary chicken. Throughout The Biggest Scary Thing, she will collect knowledge from the songbirds and her own observations. Then she will combine her brain knowledge with her heart knowledge and devise The Most Secret Plan Ever to defeat both villains at the same time!

The Tuxedo Cat, The Sewer Rat, and Gracie
The Tuxedo Cat, The Sewer Rat, and Gracie
Drawing Villains With The Right Amount Of Scariness
This was a challenge. I hope I’ve made the right illustration decisions. Here is my thought process.
For the songbirds and other birds in the story, I wanted them to be shown as realistically as possible. (This includes the narrator and any other people who might appear in the story.)
The Robin, Gracie’s Wren, and The Raven With Blue Eyes
The Robin, Gracie’s Wren, and The Raven With Blue Eyes
Gracie and the other chickens are drawn somewhere in-between the extremes of realistic and comical. This way they are somewhere in the intersection of the world of realism and the world of make-believe where anything can happen.
But for any characters who could be called villains in the story, I wanted them to be shown as cartoonishly as possible. This is done largely through exaggeration. Hopefully by drawing them in a comical style no one will have bad dreams and no one will be offended who might have a cat or a rat as a real pet. (If I ever needed to have a chicken or other bird as a villain, that character would be drawn in a comical style as well.)
Gracie’s Wren, Gracie with Blanche and Pearl, The Tuxedo Cat and The Sewer Rat
Gracie’s Wren, Gracie with Blanche and Pearl, The Tuxedo Cat and The Sewer Rat
Writing About Villains With The Right Amount Of Scariness
Writing about villains was a much greater challenge. They had to be somewhat scary but without giving readers any nightmares. There also needed to be a hint of possible danger, but nothing more. The chickens always had to be safe, whether they realized it themselves or not.
And the villains are important to the story. The tough decisions caused by the villains helped Gracie to grow up and look at things differently. (And isn’t that true for life as well? Adversities can either cripple us or encourage us to grow.)
But the two villains in The Biggest Scary Thing are different from each other. The Tuxedo Cat is a very real threat, and it is right for all the chickens to be on their guard. He is scary because of the real harm he can do. The Sewer Rat seems like a huge threat at first, but it is really only what he says to the chickens that makes him appear threatening.
Gracie And Scary Things
“Bessie moved her head so it was laying on Gracie’s warm back.”
“Bessie moved her head so it was laying on Gracie’s warm back.”
This excerpt summarizes what Gracie learned about Scary Things. She had to realize these things before she could really grow up into the hen she was intended to be. This excerpt also tells more about a new character, The Raven With Blue Eyes.
Everyone had gone up to the coop except for Gracie. As she looked around to make sure all was as it should be, a raven landed softly on the garden fence. She was the most exquisitely beautiful bird Gracie had ever seen. As beautiful as the colors of the sunset were that evening, her black feathers with their glossy perfection were even more beautiful.
But it was not her feathers Gracie noticed first. It was her eyes. All ravens have blue eyes when they are young, but they turn to gray and then brown as they grow older. This was a fully grown raven who still had blue eyes, just as clear and blue as a summer sky.
This raven was special. Gracie could tell. There was something very regal about her. Just as Gracie began to bow as a greeting of respect, the raven stopped her by speaking.
“Gracie.”
“How did you know my name? Did The Robin send you?”
“I have a message from a friend who is a Guardian. You have a strong mind and an even stronger heart. Even though that friend once called you ‘Princess’ do not let that word or any other hurtful words prevent you from carrying out your plan.”
“Did Lefty send you?”
“The one who sent me is only known by my kind as Guardian. Who sent the message is not as important as the message itself. Do not let hurtful words stop you.”
“What is your kind?”
“We are Defenders.”
“Are you part of The Living Library?”
“I am a Defender and I brought a message to you from a friend who is a Guardian. Do not let hurtful words stop you. That is all you need to know.”
The Raven looked at Gracie. 
“I have said the message I was given to say. Now I will say what my own heart wants to say.”
As she relaxed, her silhouette against the sunset shifted from hard and angular to soft and rounded.
“I am sorry for having been so stern with you. We are so different, and yet so much alike. My job is to protect the sweet and innocent ones like you.
“My heart has been changed by what I have seen and by what I have had to do to defend others. I do not want that to happen to your heart.”
Gracie watched as the blue of The Raven’s eyes seemed to cloud over and become a stormy grey. It was as if she was remembering what her heart was once like.
“That is what happened to Bessie’s heart, isn’t it?” asked Gracie. “After the cat scratched her and her comb grew crooked, her heart changed.”
“It may be too late for me, but it is not too late for her. There is more happening than what you may realize. When tomorrow comes, know in your heart that you are so much more than good enough.”
And with that, she flew off. The powerful wing flapping of The Raven With Blue Eyes left only the chill of the evening air blowing through Gracie’s fluff feathers.
Gracie found her spot beside Bessie. While everyone else slept, she imagined each step of her plan from beginning to end, searching for anything that might possibly go wrong. It seemed like a good plan as long as everyone worked together and did exactly what they were supposed to do. 
If anything went wrong, she felt it would go wrong with Pearl, but she also knew Pearl had been practicing her part and wanted The Sewer Rat gone more than she might want a chance to be silly.
Gracie’s stomach was restless as well. She had felt nervous before with The Big Scary Thing and the Bigger Scary Thing, but this was definitely different. It was something she had never felt before. Even after she reminded herself how much she was loved by everyone, her stomach was still restless.
“Love chases away fear,” she repeated softly to herself just as Bessie had taught her. Finally, the uncomfortable feeling went away. She wondered if she would be feeling this way if she was a hen like Bessie and not a pullet who had still never laid an egg.
I may not be a grown-up hen, she told herself, but I will be the most grown-up pullet there has ever been.
Maybe it’s not laying an egg that makes you all grown-up, she wondered. Maybe it’s the decisions you make and what you choose. Sometimes those choices are hard choices like facing your own Biggest Scary Thing.
Bessie moved her head so it was resting on Gracie’s warm back.
Maybe The Tuxedo Cat was Bessie’s Biggest Scary Thing. Maybe everyone, no matter who they are and no matter whether they are a chicken or not, has a Biggest Scary Thing. Everyone simply has a different Biggest Scary Thing.
What if a chicken was The Biggest Scary Thing to an earthworm? That was something Gracie had never considered, but it could be possible.
And then she realized maybe sometimes it’s not the “thing” itself that makes something scary. Maybe it’s what someone thinks about the “thing” that makes it scary.
Maybe there are Scary Things like The Tuxedo Cat that everyone should treat cautiously. But maybe there are other Scary Things like The Sewer Rat that are only scary because of what we think about them.
She remembered how The Sewer Rat had said so many hurtful things and how what he had said had gotten stuck in her thoughts. It really was those words that had scared her heart. After all, he only had two teeth and he couldn’t see very well. Any of the chickens could outrun him, and he wasn’t able to fly like they could.
What if she wasn’t really all that afraid of The Sewer Rat? Maybe she was afraid of facing the thoughts he had put into her mind, the thoughts that she was not good enough. Those thoughts made her feel like she was still the unwanted, unloveable little chick at The Feed And Seed Store with the uneven feathers on her face and the lump on her side.
Others had told her she was more than good enough, but she had never told herself that she was more than good enough. The Sewer Rat had promised to make her a ballet étoile, but what did he know about dancing? She did not need to be a ballet étoile to be happy. She already had everything she needed in A Most Wondrous Place.
There in the dark, Gracie faced those thoughts about not being good enough. Those thoughts were The Biggest Scary Thing, not The Sewer Rat. She finally realized she truly was more than good enough. And she told herself so.
Then she let love fill her heart before dozing off with only a sliver of moonlight and Bessie’s peaceful breathing.
A huge “Welcome!” to everyone who has recently signed up for our newsletter. We appreciate the trust you have placed in us, and we will do our best to make this a worthwhile newsletter for you. 
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
If today’s story excerpt doesn’t seem quite right to you, please let me know. It’s sort of my “one chance, one page” in the book to give a summary message about all Gracie learned about scary things and believing in herself. Is there anything missing or unclear? Thanks!
Did you enjoy this issue?
John Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The Gracie Press Newsletter brings you the latest news, stories, illustrations, special offers, and free gifts from Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia. They are the inspiration behind all of the books published under The Gracie Press imprint.

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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia