Showing posts with label Alan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alan. Show all posts

Me, podcasted

>> Thursday, October 10, 2013

In which I am interviewed on the Reading and Writing Podcast.


Steampunk K-9

>> Monday, September 9, 2013

For this year's DragonCon, I built a steampunk K-9 to accompany Jo's Lady Doctor costume in the Masquerade. Together, we won Best in Show in the Youth category!

As a model, I used this tiny scale model K-9 from ThinkGeek, which I got Jo to go with the Barbie-sized TARDIS I built her. Despite being just a couple of inches long, it's all to scale, which allowed me to do the math and extrapolate a larger version.

I started by building a mock-up out of foam core. I got it mostly right from the start, but this allowed me to mess up and not waste wood. (And time!) The foam core is just held together with masking tape and straight pins. I designed it to fit on a remote controlled car base I bought, and ended up making it almost 1:1 scale with the original K-9...

Late in the process, we realized that a key would make a brilliant tail for a steampunk dog. Originally, I was just going to buy an antenna and spray paint it brass. I think the key turned out much cuter.

When I was finished, I cut all the taped joints apart and used my foam core pieces as pattern pieces. I traced them on a very thin plywood, and cut them out with a Skill saw and jigsaw.

I don't have very many pics of me actually building K-9, strangely. I love process pics, but so often I did the building later in the evening while watching TV, and the light was always terrible for taking pics. I always said, "Oh, I'll take a picture tomorrow in the good light." And then I never did. But here's me using a vise to hold together the tricky angles of the face while I screwed it together. In the back of the head, you can see the small square dowel I used in the corners to give my something to screw into besides the thin plywood.

And here's the finished product! It took me a few nights to stain him brown, but I love the result.

The TV K-9 has colorful buttons on his back. For the steampunk K-9, I used two great brass faucet knobs we found at the Home ReStore in town. I think they were maybe $2 each. The joiner pipe is actually a piece of wood dowel I spray painted brass. The keyboard (in lieu of colorful buttons) is made up of individual wooden keys. I found a person on Etsy who laser cuts them out of wood, then applies pictures of antique keys to them. They look like authentic typewriter keys, but they're fake! They're a lot lighter--and a whole lot cheaper than real typewriter keys, which go for a pretty penny on eBay.

The tail is wood, spray painted to look brass. Again, much lighter! And there was no way I was going to be able to make something like that out of real brass.

The neck is dryer tubing spray painted brass. It took the spray paint really well! And I didn't have to attach it--all I did was bend it around the head, and the angles did all the work. The collar is a brass hand towel ring with the mounting piece cut off of it. The bone tag is wood, again painted to look brass. A rule I've heard that I'm trying to live by is "looks great from six feet away." I think all this looks great close up, but it all passes muster six feet away, which is really the level of detail we want on our costumes.

The nose was a real score at the Home ReStore, which is a Habitat for Humanity store that recycles old fixtures and building materials from torn down houses and renovations and resells them. This faucet was an awesome find. Jo and I spent a very happy couple of hours rooting through the plumbing bins at the store, looking for treasures like this. I hadn't planned on putting a faucet on the nose, but it was too good to pass up--and ended up sort of making the whole thing.

We had a lot of options for K-9's ears. I almost went with another pair of faucets made of wood and brass, but these curtain rod ends won out in the end. They were just too cool looking. They're plastic--about the only plastic thing on the whole dog, except for the remote controlled car underneath him--but they look brass, and they have the added benefit of being lightweight, which was an issue on the head.

K-9's eye bars are wood, painted brass. The eye itself is of course the knob off a garden hose bib. I loved it--particularly as the original K-9's eye is a red circle. I left the maker's ring on there too. It was too awesome.

The big "K-9" on the side are wooden letters from A.C. Moore, again spray painted brass. I screwed them in from behind, so you can't see the screws. You'll see screws everywhere else though. My original plan was to cover those with "brass" trim, which was going to be a brass duct tape I found. In the end, I loved the look of him without all the brass trim. I think going without was a good call. He's already pretty blinged out as it is!

The other side had a door. This served two purposes. One was practical--it gave me a way to reach inside and attach the cotter pins to the posts that connected the K-9 unit to the remote controlled car. The second was part of the show: we put a tea cup and saucer in there, and at a certain part of Jo's performance, K-9 raced over to her and she took out the cup and pretended to pour tea from his nose! It was a real hit. This space also, coincidentally, made a nice storage area for his controller, spare battery, charger, etc.

For the curious, here's the R/C car I used as the base. It's not your cheapo mall-bought R/C car. I got this at HobbyTown USA, where they know their machines. At first, I was worried it wouldn't be strong enough to move the wood and brass K-9 I built--but I ended up having to take it in to the shop to have them help me slow it down! It's a beast of an R/C car, and it worked great.

The steampunk K-9!


The Barbie TARDIS

>> Sunday, August 4, 2013

Meet the Barbie TARDIS!

I built this for my daughter Jo, who is eleven years old and super into Doctor Who. (As she should be.) She has dressed up one of her dolls in a Who-esque costume, and calls her the Lady Doctor. I couldn't let the Lady Doctor travel without a TARDIS of her own!

The TARDIS is made out of scrap plywood of different widths I had lying around from previous projects. The windows are a thick frosted plastic, with the casement lines drawn on with a Sharpie. They let in a soft light, which I like, and Jo likes putting electric tea candles inside and letting the windows glow from within. With both doors open, you can see inside where I glued the windows in.

The "POLICE BOX" signs at the top were found online (thanks, Who-builders!) and glued on with Spray-Mount. The blue paint was chosen by Wendi and Jo on one of their trips to Asheville--I think they nailed the TARDIS blue!

The sign on the telephone door was printed out from a larger image I found on the web. In this picture, you can also see the teeny-tiny handles I bought from They came in brass, so I spray-painted them black. The handles, the paint, and the hardware for the light on top were the only things I had to buy for the project.

I should also point out that though I like to call this "The Barbie TARDIS," that doll is not a Barbie. She is, in fact, a Monster High doll, which Jo much prefers. This is the Robecca Steam doll, who is steampunk-themed. The clothes, however, are homemade--they are pieces from the Project Barbie challenge Wendi and I did together years ago, when we made Barbie clothes to match the challenges on a season of Project Runway. Jo likes the colors because she feels they are very Doctor Who.

While I was building the TARDIS (which took MONTHS, much to Jo's chagrin) I saw this little K-9 advertised on ThinkGeek, and I had to get it for her!

And look--the scale is perfect! I surprised her with it (and the finished TARDIS) when she got back from sleepaway camp last month. The TARDIS itself is pretty large--about 16.5 inches tall and 8.5 inches wide. Jo likes it because her Lady Doctor can fit a lot of companions in there with her, including K-9.

I'm really pleased with the look of the signage, and the slightly mottled look the plywood took on when I painted it. It looks like a weathered and used TARDIS.

I decided to add the St. John Ambulance logo, which is on the 11th Doctor's TARDIS. Here again you can see one of the super-tiny handles.

I struggled with how to do the light at the top. I trolled the dollhouse aisles at our local hobby shops and surfed around online looking for a sort of hurricane lamp I could appropriate for a light on top, but never found anything. Then I had the idea to use a test tube--and we just so happened to have a tiny one already, which was being used to hold beads! The test tube is inserted upside-down through the three layers at the top, and held in place with a swinging hatch made out of the window plastic, so I can replace the little light bulb if and when it blows out. The light bulb was bought at a hobby shop--it's meant to light streetlamps and homes on a model train layout.

The light is strung to a 9-volt battery on the inside, and then to a little switch I acquired at Radio Shack. Because who doesn't love flipping switches!? The light switch sticks out the back corner of the TARDIS, and is pretty unobtrusive. I had dreamed of attaching a sound chip to it with the sound of the TARDIS taking off and landing, but alas, that's beyond my very limited technical abilities. As it is, the TARDIS goes "WERRRN-WERRRN-WERRRN" only when you flip the switch and say "WERRRN-WERRRN-WERRRN" at the same time.

Here's a pic of one of the unpainted panels. I used a coping saw to do the windows, and ended up using a chisel to hack out the top layer of plywood to create the panels. When my chiseling got rough, I smoothed it with wood putty, as you can see in that top right panel, then sanded it flat.

The Barbie TARDIS, exploded view, during the painting phase.

I'm thrilled with the result, and so is Jo! Allons-y, Lady Doctor!


The Strangest Writing Retreat I Have Ever Heard Of

>> Friday, June 28, 2013

Last night, I got an e-mail through Facebook from a guy who says he met me at a SCBWI Carolinas conference three years ago. He's putting together a writers retreat near Charlotte next March, and he's having trouble getting guys to come, so he's inviting me. Okay, so that's not why I want to be invited to something, but I sympathize, because I also can't get guys to come to my kidlit writing retreats.

He doesn't tell me the date, or how long it is. Also, he says it will be a "combination writing retreat/Spartan Race." He says this like I am supposed to know what "Spartan Race" means. I have no idea what a Spartan Race is, so I write back: what is the date, how long is it, and what is a Spartan Race?

He writes back that the retreat will be over a particular weekend, that there will be a craft talk on Friday night, and then "the Spartan Race Saturday morning." And in case I don't know what that is, he says, here's a link.

I follow the link. A Spartan Race is a sort of traveling Iron Man Obstacle Race, a four mile run through the mud where you do things like crawl on your stomach under barbed wire, jump over burning fires, climb greased pyramids, and get beat on by very large men with padded sticks.

Then in the evening we will probably do a first pages critique.

I wrote back to the man and told him that I was sorry, but I couldn't attend because YOU COULD NOT PAY ME TO RUN A SPARTAN RACE.

But thank you very much for the invitation.


Nancy Drew in The Tomb of the Cybermen

>> Thursday, February 14, 2013

I made this.  From an idea by my friend Wes Stitt. Kind of a hack job on GIMP, the Linux freeware Photoshop, but I'm pretty proud of it. The number in the corner is the year the original Doctor Who serial The Tomb of the Cybermen debuted.

That's a mash-up I'd love to read!


Totoro Pics!

>> Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Okay! By popular demand, pics of our Totoro and Satsuki costumes! I've been holding off because we don't have too many--I was inside the thing all night, after all!--but people have been asking, so here are a few pics to whet your appetite. First up, a picture of Jo and me (inside Totoro) with Grant Imahara, star of Mythbusters, and host of this year's DragonCon Masquerade! He was really cool--and really appreciated the scale of Totoro! We were too tall for the photographer's set and lighting here, which is why there's a big lamp above Totoro's head. Jo is holding our award for Best Animated Character--our second award in that category. (Our first was for Samurai Jack and Aku.)

Here's a shot I yanked off someone's Tumblr. After the Masquerade, we set up Totoro on one of the floors in the Marriott, where a number of people got their picture made with him. He was so tall (over ten feet) that his head was hitting the ceiling (and a sprinkler!) in the first place we set him up. This place had a bit taller overhead.

Getting Totoro to the con was a bit of a challenge, as you might imagine. We had to rent a mini-van for the purpose, and stuff him in the back. We built him to be collapsible, but we were careful with his face. :-) I had hoped that people would see Totoro peering at them out the back of our van on the highway, but all the van's windows were tinted, so I don't think anyone actually saw him.

That's your teaser! More pics of the construction, and hopefully of Totoro around the con, to come!

(Click the pics to see them bigger and better.)


Letters to Camp

>> Saturday, July 14, 2012

While Jo is off at summer camp for three weeks (!) Wendi and I write her a letter a day, alternating days between us. Wendi's tend to be crafty, while mine tend to be silly. Here's one I sent to Jo with a couple of Mad Libs books during her first week at camp. I was pretty pleased with it. :-)


Now on sale: my Star Trek novel!

>> Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let's check the old Alan Gratz bucket list. Visit Machu Picchu: Not yet. Master the Force: Still working on that. Write a Star Trek novel: Done!

It really has been a longtime dream of mine to write a Star Trek novel. Don't tell anyone, but about 17 years ago, back before we were married, Wendi pretended to be my literary agent so we could submit a Star Trek novel I had written to Pocket Books. We made up a letterhead for her "agency" and everything. Pocket Books didn't go for it and soon after I focused on writing books for young readers, but that submission officially represented my first real attempt to sell a novel.

Cut to a year and a half ago, when I learned that Simon Spotlight was publishing a series of young adult Star Trek novels set in the universe of the recent movie reboot. Trek? YA? That long-lost dream of writing a Star Trek novel wasn't looking so hopeless after all! I got on the phone with my agent, Barry, he got on the phone with the editor of the series at Simon Spotlight, and a month later I had a gig as Star Trek's newest author.

Today I have come full circle. I'm happy to announce the publication of Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game!

The rules are simple: Draw a target. Track him down and “kill” him with a spork. Take your victim’s target for your own. Oh, and make sure the player with your name doesn’t get to you first. No safe zones. No time-outs. The game ends when only one player remains.

James T. Kirk is playing for fun. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is playing to get closer to a girl. But when a series of terrorist attacks rock the usually placid Starfleet Academy campus, it becomes clear that somebody is playing the game for real. Is it one of the visiting Varkolak, on Earth to attend an intergalactic medical conference? Or could it be a member of a super-secret society at the Academy dedicated to taking care of threats to the Federation, no matter what rules they have to break to do it?

Find out in Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game, on sale now at your favorite bookstore!

Live long and prosper,



Where's Waldo? On the US Men's Soccer Team

>> Thursday, May 31, 2012

I think I found Waldo during last night's US v Brazil friendly...


Now in paperback: Fantasy Baseball!

>> Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball is now out in paperback with a new cover, just in time for opening day of the new Major League Baseball season! The new cover is spooky and fun at the same time, just like the story inside. I recommend buying them in batches of nine--one each for every player on your baseball team. That's a totally unbiased recommendation, of course...

Fantasy Baseball is available online or at your favorite local bookstore, and signed copies are in stock at my favorite local bookstore, Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe! Follow the link to find out how you can get a signed (and personalized!) Fantasy Baseball sent your way.


Naked Came the Leaf Peeper

>> Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To help celebrate the 30th anniversary of my favorite indie bookstore, Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in Asheville, NC, I was invited to be a part of a collaborative mystery novel called Naked Came the Leaf Peeper. Published by Malaprop's itself, Naked features twelve regional authors each writing a chapter of a madcap mystery, in the tradition of legendary collaborative novels like Naked Came the Stranger and Naked Came the Manatee.

Billed as "a zany Southern Appalachian take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Naked is already a best-seller at Malaprop's, and has gotten raves from authors who clearly ought to know better, like Ron Rash (Serena), Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), and Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain).

Now Malaprop's is throwing a Naked Author Jam to celebrate the book. Join me and eleven other Naked* authors at the University of North Carolina-Asheville Humanities Lecture Hall on Friday, March 30, at 7:00 p.m. as we read from, discuss, and laugh about our work. The event is free and open to the public.

Joining me on stage will be Tony Earley, Brian Lee Knopp, Linda Marie Barrett, John P. McAfee, Susan Reinhardt, Vicki Lane, Tommy Hays, Wayne Caldwell, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, Gene Cheek, and Charles Price, reading for Fred Chappell. Come on out and get Naked!**

For more information, call Malaprop's bookstore at (828)254-6734.

* "Naked" in a literary sense, not a literal one, of course.
** Again, clothing is not optional.


What I Really Do

>> Monday, February 13, 2012

Dad sent me this pic today, mostly because I kid him that he thinks I'm doing image number 2 or image number 6 all day. It's all pretty accurate, but to be honest it would be perfect if the last image had Gmail on it.


Join me at the Highlights 2012 Whole Novel Workshop!

>> Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This coming March, I'm going to be part of the faculty at the 2012 Whole Novel Workshop run by the Highlights Foundation at their Honesdale, PA compound. It's a week of one-on-one critiques and small-group discussions about writing novels for kids with me, Newbery Honor-winner Kathi Appelt, Christopher Award-winner Jeanette Ingold, and the extraordinarily-awesome Greenwillow editor Martha Mihalik. We'll be reading the attendees' complete manuscripts in advance, writing extensive critique letters, and then spending the week in Honesdale helping you find a revision plan that will make your novel ready for prime time!

The deadline for applying to the workshop is fast approaching though. You only have until the end of the calendar year to apply! For more information on the workshop and how to apply, visit You can also secure your spot by contacting Jo Lloyd at 570-253-1192, e-mailing her at, or requesting an application at the above link.

Here's more information from the Highlights press release:

Many times when a manuscript is rejected, it isn’t because the writing is weak. It’s because the manuscript isn’t ready. We all want to push our work to the next phase, but sometimes we submit work to agents or publishers before it's ready. Maybe we’ve shown the manuscript to our writing group. Maybe we’ve revised a few times. Maybe we think we’ve done all we can do. But what we really need is a writing coach, a revision plan, and a clear strategy to make the best book we can. In today’s demanding world of publishing, you get only one chance to grab the attention of an agent or editor, so make that chance count. Make sure you are ready.

The Highlights Foundation’s Whole Novel Workshop has been helping writers polish their manuscripts since 2006. Participants receive a reading of and editorial response to their complete manuscript prior to a week dedicated to revision and readying your manuscript for submission. We offer an award-winning faculty of writers, editors, and agents to help make your book the best it can be. Through one-on-one critiques and small-group discussions, we focus on revision plans, query letters, and pitch strategies to get you ready to submit. We also nourish your creativity with a private cabin in which to think and write, farm-style meals, and an environment that will refresh your publishing dreams.

Our first
whole novel workshop in 2012 takes place March 11–17. Submission deadline is December 30. The faculty includes award-winning authors and talented teachers Kathi Appelt, Alan Gratz, and Jeannette Ingold, as well as smart and sassy editor Martha Mahalick from Greenwillow Books. Authors Janet Fox and Karen Henley round out the support team as teaching assistants.

Come spend a week in the woods and finally get your manuscript ready for publication!

Hope to see you there!


Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction

>> Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I am very pleased to announce that I have a short story in the upcoming Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Sales of Tomo will benefit young people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that triggered powerful tsunami waves, devastated the area around Sendai, and killed and injured more than 20,000 people. Even today, people throughout Japan are still dealing with the effects of the earthquake.

Tomo will debut almost exactly one year to the day of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Here's a bit more about it from the Tomo website:

Tomo (meaning “friend” in Japanese) is an anthology of young adult short fiction in prose, verse and graphic art set in or related to Japan. This collection for readers age 12 and up features thirty-six stories—including ten in translation and two graphic narratives—contributed by authors and artists from around the world, all of whom share a connection to Japan. English-language readers will be able to connect with Japan through a wide variety of unique stories, including tales of friendship, mystery, fantasy, science fiction and history.

By sharing “friendship through fiction,” Tomo aims to bring Japan stories to readers worldwide, and in doing so, to help support young people affected or displaced by the March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami disasters. Proceeds from the sales of this book will go directly toward long-term relief efforts for teens in Tohoku, the area most affected by the disasters, in the northeast region of Japan’s main island, Honshu.

Edited and with a Foreword by Holly Thompson, Tomo contributing authors and artists include Andrew Fukuda (Crossing), Liza Dalby (The Tale of Murasaki), Tak Toyoshima (Secret Asian Man syndicated comic), Alan Gratz (The Brooklyn Nine), Wendy Nelson Tokunaga (Love in Translation), Deni Y.  B├ęchard (Vandal Love), Debbie Ridpath Ohi (illustrator of I’m Bored), Graham Salisbury (Under the Blood-Red Sun), Naoko Awa (The Fox’s Window and Other Stories), Suzanne Kamata (The Beautiful One Has Come) and Shogo Oketani (J-Boys), among others.

My contribution, a short story called "The Ghost Who Came to Breakfast," is the story of a zashiki warashi (a good luck ghost) whose friendship is financially rewarding--but comes at a high price.

I hope you'll help support relief efforts in Tohoku by purchasing a copy of Tomo when it becomes available. You'll be rewarded with a terrific collection of Japan-themed prose, poetry and sequential art!

Click here to learn more about Tomo, and to pre-order a copy.


Me, in third grade

>> Thursday, December 8, 2011

Can you find the future kids book writer in this picture? (Click to see the image larger.) Here's a hint: he's rocking some awesome pants.


Three Als

>> Monday, October 17, 2011

Allan Wolf, me, and Al the Alligator, mascot of Archer Lodge Middle School in Wendell, NC. North Carolina School Library Media Association Annual Conference, 2011.


DragonCon Masquerade Costumes 2011 - Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak

>> Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Here we are--your 2011 DragonCon Masquerade winners for Best Humor! That's Jo as Brak on the left, Alan as Space Ghost in the middle, and Wendi operating the life-sized Zorak puppet on the right.

That's us leaving the place where the professional photographer takes our picture. We're going to try and get a copy of that picture. If we do, we'll post it. Here though you can see a bit more of how Zorak works. Stretched out, he's six feet tall. Wendi straps his belt to her around her waist, and a lanyard anchored on his shoulders stretches around her neck to hold the top of him. Zorak's feet are on black boards, which are strapped to Wendi like sandals.

Another shot of us backstage before the show.

And another.

We're ready for our close-up.

No pics of us during the show--we were out there performing, and our handler Indigo was waiting to help us off stage behind the curtain. Maybe someone will post something to YouTube? Here we are after the show, getting ready to have our pictures taken again, this time with our Best Humor award certificate. That's two category awards in two tries for us. Two more, and we are moved up from the Journeyman category to the Master category...

Walking through the bowels of the Hyatt for the fan photography session. I just like the dizziness of this one. Most of the Masquerade is a blur.

Getting our pictures taken!

Heading off stage after more pictures.

After the official photo shoot, we camped out in the lobby of the Marriott hotel for more picture takers.

By the end of the night, we were all pretty beat.

Our tireless handler Indigo, sitting with Brak's head while Jo takes a breather.

It was a long night--we got done at 12:30 am!--but a good time was had by all. We were thrilled to once again get a category win at the DragonCon Masquerade, and we're already planning our costumes for next year!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Read Alan's archived newsletters here.

Blog Archive

Swell Stuff

My Etsy Favorites

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by 2009

Back to TOP