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Gutter Child

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Eat your vegetables. Brush your teeth. Trust your history.

And, remember, don’t ask stupid questions.

At what point does a lie become the truth? When does that truth become a lie? On the day that he moves off to college it seems that Jimmy Grogan’s whole family history becomes a lie. But is that true?

Book Details

Story:

Gutter Child

Author:

Jeremy Bursey

Type:

Novella


Genres:

  • Fiction
  • Coming of Age
  • Mystery (General)
  • Literature

Style:

  • 3rd-Person Limited
  • Incorporated Stories
  • Quirky

Main Characters:

  • Jimmy Grogan
  • Beth Grogan
  • Melanie Pike

Main Locations:

  • Northeast, USA
  • Worst College in the Country, USA

Description:

Eat your vegetables. Brush your teeth. Trust your history. 

And, remember, don’t ask stupid questions.

At what point does a lie become the truth? When does that truth become a lie? On the day that he moves off to college, it seems Jimmy Grogan’s entire family history becomes a lie. But is that true?

For eighteen years, Jimmy has had the perfect life. His parents feed him. His girlfriend, Melanie, smiles at him a lot. He even gains acceptance into the (twentieth) university of his choice despite his poor high school performance. But when the big day comes to move out of his idyllic home and enter college-grade adulthood, the mover points him toward a secret that he has somehow missed all of these years: He is adopted, or so his sister’s autobiography suggests.

Jimmy’s illusions suddenly come crashing down when he realizes his parents may have been lying to him since infancy. But is his sister’s story true? Or is she playing the most heinous prank in the history of pranks? Even as he sits alone in his new dorm five hours away from home, separated from the evidence he needs to solve the mystery, he is determined to uncover the truth about who’s been lying to him, even if it means driving him and his family apart. But the question still lingers: Should he take his aunt’s advice and just leave it alone? What does she know that he doesn’t?

Gutter Child is the tragicomical story of what happens when we allow ignorance to define us, reality to side-wind us, and obsession to change us while learning the hard truth that growing up sucks.

Format:

At present, this story is sold as an e-book only. A print edition may come in time. “Gutter Child” short story version was previously published in the anthology Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Vol. 1 (2004, no longer available).

Price:

  • $2.99 USD (on Amazon and other retailers).
  • Equivalent to $2.99 in other regions.

Book Stats:

Not including front and back matter pages:

  • 153 Pages
  • 3 – 4 Hours to read
  • 38k Total words

Copyright:

  • ©2016 (e-book edition)
  • ©2004 (original print anthology edition of “Gutter Child” short story, Nomadic Souls, The Collection of Junk, Vol. 1)

ISBN and ASIN Information:

  • ISBN: 9781311737854 (e-book, Smashwords Edition)
  • ISBN: 9781386769125 (e-book, Draft2Digital)
  • ASIN: B01CRLOGYA (e-book, Amazon)
  • GGKEY: C4WSHLLZU8W (e-book, Google Play Books)

Disclaimer and License Notes:

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Some real-life cities, towns, institutions, or products may appear to lend authenticity to a scene for literary purposes, but this work does not intend to endorse or malign them. There is no catharsis or advertisement happening here. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

No part of this text may be reproduced in any other work without giving credit to the author. No part of this text may be used for commercial purposes, except by reviewers or critics, without the author’s permission. The complete text is intended for personal use only and may not be used for commercial purposes, or duplicated in any other form for purposes other than personal, noncommercial use, or posted to any other site without the author’s permission.

Exclusive Extras

Gutter Child

Exclusive Extras

Want more content than just the story? Then scroll through this section for bonus items, including a series of questions for your readers’ group, because I know you want to talk about my books in your readers’ group.

Readers’ Group Discussion Questions

Thank you for choosing Gutter Child as the subject for your reading discussion. The following questions mean to guide readers through the conversation but should in no way limit its direction or focus during its exploration of ideas. If your group has a topic other reading groups should discuss, please e-mail me, and I may add them to a future edition of the book. Thanks. 

Note that the following questions may contain spoilers. Think of them as the test questions you look through ahead of time to validate the answers to questions you’ve already attempted (read: bonus test-taking tips!). 

Throughout the course of the story, Jimmy is concerned that he has been lied to. Has he actually been lied to, and if so, who stands as the story’s greatest liar? Why? 

Why would each of the characters who lie to Jimmy have a reason to lie, and are they justified in their reasons? 

How does Sun Underwater, Beth’s autobiography, affect the course of Jimmy’s story? How might his trajectory change if he were to read anything other than “Gutter Child” or “Prom Maid”? 

Why would the mover insist that Jimmy read “Gutter Child”? Is he justified in his recommendation? Or does he have an ulterior motive for choosing that one? If so, what might that be? 

Even though we learn a lot about Jimmy’s school throughout the narrative, we never find out its name. Why? What role does the school play in Jimmy’s story and character arc? For what reason would anyone dare to attend? Is it possible for a school like this to exist? Why? Finally, which part of the school’s design seems most horrifying? 

What role does Melanie, Jimmy’s girlfriend, really play in this story? How does she affect his trajectory throughout? 

What role does each member of Jimmy’s family play in this story? Are they mentors? Friends? Disciplinarians? Keepers of secrets? Are these roles traditional or unconventional? How would his journey go if they had different roles or different approaches to their current roles? 

What purpose do other characters have in Jimmy’s life, like Barry the roommate, the Role-playing Group, and the girl at the dorm party? Do these people help or hinder his growth as a character? 

What can we learn about Jimmy’s family through Grandma Edith? 

What effect does the quirky nature of this story have on the plot and characters involved? How would this story be different if it were more seriously grounded?

Behind the Story

Gutter Child

Behind the Story

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this far. As a reward for sticking with the book, I’ll give some background information on Gutter Child in case you’re the type of person who enjoys the “Special Features” selection on Blu-rays and DVDs (or whatever you use to watch movies at the time of this reading).

A Brief History: In early 1999, I took a class on writing fiction at UCF, as a follow-up to my creative writing class the semester before, and for my major assignments I had three full-length short stories to write and revise. The first, a coming of age story called “The Fallen Footwear,” which you’ll get to read an updated version of very soon, is about a young adult’s attempt to cope with the sudden abandonment of his much-loved girlfriend. The second, a desert fantasy called “Eve of Construction,” which I will not be redoing any time soon (but will after I write two or three prequels for it) is about a man getting banished from his city and sent on a quest to receive judgment for his crimes at a tower among the dunes. The third is “Gutter Child.”

When I wrote “Gutter Child,” I was attempting to cut against the grain. As a 22-year-old man, I was a fan of action, fantasy, and tales of hopeless romantics trying to win at life. But I was also a fan of improving and diversifying my craft. So when I thought about what to do for my final story of the semester, I figured I’d try something original, something I thought would make for a decent story, something that would challenge me as a writer. So I wrote the story of an eight-year-old girl breaking out of an orphanage, just to stumble on another discarded child who needed her help. I had it critiqued, many of the students agreed that it was a clever idea that needed work, and I fixed the main issues, like the legality of an old woman keeping two runaway children who did not belong to her without contacting the police or DCF first. Then I tucked it away into my thick binder to be forgotten, until 2004 when I dusted off my first round of stories (including the three listed above) for my first volume of The Collection of Junk series, which I called Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Volume 1 (no longer available for sale).

The problem I had with “Gutter Child” as a published work was simply a matter of image. By the time I was ready to push Nomadic Souls out onto the world, in a place where nobody would ever find it, I was a 28-year-old man, and I had no idea what business I, a 28-year-old man, had writing a story from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl. I was never an eight-year-old girl. Never had an idea what it was like being an eight-year-old girl. I thought it would never work in reality, even if the story itself was okay. So I wrote a frame about the baby growing up into an 18-year-old boy (something I actually was, once upon a time) and getting ready to go off to college when he finds his sister’s book and discovers his past, which, as of that 1999-2004 version, was the real story. In that version, he confronts his mom, she admits he and Beth were adopted, and then there’s something about his pet frog hopping away and his mom, even though she’s his adopted mother, still knowing how to read his mind, and it was just stale in retrospect. I didn’t care for the frame then—I definitely don’t care for it now—so I thought I needed to give it a newer one: a much crazier, interesting, disturbing frame.

The new frame is much longer than the old, and it deals with far more complicated issues than the main character finding out he might be adopted. The stuff with Melanie was actually layered in about halfway through the rewrite when I realized I needed a different conflict perpetuating the agony of the core conflict. If anything, it’s what makes the core conflict worse than it should be. In reality, Jimmy finding out he might be adopted isn’t as earth-shattering as he might make it seem. But with everything else crumbling around him, especially his relationship with Melanie taking the turn it does, all while he tries to adapt to a life away from home for the first time in one of the worst places to experience independence, and it suddenly becomes near impossible for him to stomach. I think if I had stuck to just the main conflict, the new frame would’ve been as dull as the old one.

That said, I think this is the right version of the story now. Is it the final? I don’t know. I may punch it up a little for Zippywings 2016, which if you don’t know by now, will be the annual collection of short stories and novellas I release this year in paperback form. Note: The 2015 edition is already available and features eight of the ten stories I released in e-book form from May to December 2015, with the other two being novel length and too long for a paperback. But I digress. There’s a chance I may update “Gutter Child” later this year when I’ve had more time to reflect on it. One of the problems with trying to release at least one story a month for an entire year, which I’ve already blown for January thanks to distraction and exhaustion (this was supposed to release last month, with “The Fallen Footwear” having February all to itself), is that I don’t have much time to decide if the story works until after it’s released. However, if you’re reading this, and if you think it’s as perfect as it needs to be, then please let me know in a review. But don’t worry; I’ll figure it out for myself, eventually.

Update 2018: Time away from a project allows us perspective that we don’t have during its creation. This version reflects the time I’d spent away from the version I wrote in 2016. There isn’t much to say about it, really. I just found a few areas in need of improvement and improved them. Most of the new material (the fraternity and role-playing group) are there to soften the constant downward drive the last version takes the reader on. Not everything can contribute to the main character’s misery, so I wanted to be sure he has moments of joy to keep him from going insane. That’s primarily how this version differs from the last. I also wanted to make sure I addressed any character discrepancy that may have survived the 2016 edition.

Also a separate note: I never produced Zippywings 2016, nor do I plan to now. As of this writing, there is no paperback version of this story. However, there may be a novelized version in the future, which will go well beyond the adoption mystery featured here. In fact, this story will likely become a subplot to a bigger story that I’ve already got ideas for developing. Consult my blog or mailing list for more information on that version as it develops.

Revision Notes

Gutter Child

Revision History

The following is a list of milestones during Gutter Child’s development.

May 1999: Original short story version, printed and submitted for class critique.

January 2004: Added framing device to put the focus on Jimmy rather than Beth. The story is still basically about Beth, though.

July 2004: Revised and included into my CaféPress exclusive paperback anthology Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Volume 1.

February 2016: Original shallow frame ripped out and rewritten to include the current novella-sized narrative. New version converted to e-book format.

April 2016: Minor revisions and updated back matter information.

June 2018: New scenes added to balance Jimmy’s depressing situation with some comedy and additional lightheartedness. Added new back matter, including a “Readers’ Group Discussion Questions” section.

November 2018: Some metadata updates.

July 2019: Slight update to Chapter 1 to reduce on-the-nose foreshadowing. Updated interior formatting.

May 2020: ProWritingAid edit. Some minor style, spelling, and grammar fixes.

Released: February 2016

Genre: Mystery, Coming-of-Age

Length: Novella

Formats: E-book only

Purchase and Access Information

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Why Review?

Thank you for taking the time to review my books. Any word you write and every star you rate is appreciated, positive or negative, short and sweet, or long and brooding.

If you need to know why you should review my books (or any author’s books for that matter), please read my August 2019 article “The Case for Leaving a Product Review” on my sister blog site, Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, for enlightenment. It’s short but important, and I hope you take a moment to understand why your public feedback is of vital importance.

But in case you don’t read it, the straightforward and unglamorous version is that it helps everyone improve, but it also gives authors a career. Authors with few or no reviews can’t really have a career because our trust rating is too low, so the more reviews or ratings we have, the easier we can focus on writing and less on waiting tables for a living.

If you like my books and want to read more of them, then please leave a review for the books you’ve read so that more readers will trust me, and I can afford to spend more time writing them.

You can review each book wherever you bought them, but you can also review them on Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub, which, as long as you’ve read their specific reviewer requirements, you can do regardless where you’ve bought your copy. Do make sure you know the rules for leaving Amazon, Goodreads, or BookBub reviews before you leave them. This will make the difference on whether they accept your review.

Please remember that reviews must be honest. In other words, don’t rate me five stars if the book sucks or one star if you don’t like my author photo. How do you really feel?

Finally, remember to disclose whether you’ve been gifted the book or if you’ve read it for free.

If you’re not sure what to say, you can use my “How to Review” guide as a starting point.

With that, thanks again for your thoughts. By clicking the review buttons, you’ll find each book’s Amazon, Goodreads, or BookBub direct links. Remember that clicking the buttons will take you outside of this site (in a new window) and subject you to new privacy and cookie policies, as well as new terms and conditions that you’ll have to agree to before using those sites. All standard stuff you’re probably already aware of if you’ve used the Internet for more than an hour.

How To Review

If you would like to post a review, but you’re not sure how to start, you could always begin with your star rating in mind and explain how you calculated that value. Inspiration may take over from there. But please don’t feel obligated if you don’t know what to say. The fact that you’ve read the book is awesome enough. A review simply helps others identify whether this book is worth reading and the author about what he or she has done right (or horribly, horribly wrong). That said, we all have a voice, and I hope to hear yours soon. If you prefer to read in silence, that’s fine; I often read in silence myself. But I will generally let others know if I’ve read something awesome. Hopefully, you thought my book is awesome, and I hope you’ll let me know if you did.

That said, if you still need more help coming up with something to say, try answering these questions and use your answers as a basis for forming your review:

 

Will your review contain spoilers? If yes, warn the reader. Note that readers are smart. If you say the book has a twist ending (but you don’t say what), it’s a spoiler! 

I figured out the ending to The Sixth Sense five minutes in because people kept telling me, “You’ll never guess the ending.” Yeah, actually I will.

 

Did you enjoy the book? If yes, what did it leave you thinking about the most? If no, what about it bothered you the most? Elaborate if you can, but keep it short and sweet if the feeling is hard to articulate. 

For me, I watched The Breakfast Club over 40 times because it leaves me feeling like I’m part of the group. This was true when I first saw it edited for television as a 10-year-old. It’s still true as a grown man in my 40s. I also love the music and the tension between characters. I can still quote most of it. It’s the kind of movie that sticks with me.

 

If you liked the book: Who’s your favorite character and why? If you didn’t: Who caused you the most grief and why? 

Because the cast of The Breakfast Club is so well rounded, I don’t have a favorite character. I think each one is important to the story and removing any one of them would make the whole thing crumble.

 

For a good book, what was one thing you didn’t like about it? For a bad book, what was one thing you did like about it? 

Regarding The Breakfast Club, I still think the “smoking scene” is strange. How does the principal not smell the smoke or hear the rock music if the library is “right outside his office”? Definitely my least favorite part of the movie. But in fairness, I think this sequence takes place when the principal is hanging out with the janitor, so how would he even be aware?

 

What did you think of the ending? Is it satisfying or a letdown? Does it even matter? 

I once thought I hated The War of the Worlds (2005, Tom Cruise version) because that ending is among the worst in cinematic history. But darn it if the ride getting to that crappy ending isn’t among the best, and I can’t watch it today without feeling kind of into it. Sometimes the ending can ruin the story, but not always. A better question is does the ending support the point of the story or nullify it? In the case of The War of the Worlds, the ending sucks because it’s a “happy” copout, not a rebellion to the story’s premise, which is to survive an alien attack long enough for our world to figure out how to fight back (or outlast the aliens’ own survival rates).

 

Who is this book for?

I’m sure The Bridges of Madison County is a great book. It somehow managed to land Clint Eastwood in the lead role when it was made into a movie. But it looks soooo boring. At the time the movie was released, I was in my late teens or early 20s, eagerly awaiting the next Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, or really anything with decent character development, a pulse-pounding soundtrack, and explosions, lots of explosions. I liked Clint Eastwood in those days, but I liked him more as Dirty Harry. The Bridges of Madison County seemed more like the kind of movie my mom or grandmother would watch than I would. I might enjoy it more today, but back then, I couldn’t be bothered with it, even if it was good.

 

Finally:

Hopefully, that’ll give you something to work with. If you’re still stuck, though, then check out Amazon’s “Top Reviewers” for some ideas. Can’t go wrong learning from the best.

How to Be Negative

An important note about negative reviews (for my books or for anyone else’s): Please be civil in your reviews. A review should focus on the book, not the author’s condition as a human being. They should focus on your experience with the story, not the coffee shop where you read the story.

In other words, please be fair. If you disliked the book because the characters are poorly developed, the scenes make no sense, or the plot is absurd, then it’s not a good book, and your review should say so. But, if you disliked it because you were in the mood for a dark, depressing horror story and you got a comedy instead (and the book has the markings or description of a comedy all over its product page), then maybe don’t review it.

Likewise, if the book hasn’t yet gotten any reviews, and the review you plan to give is negative, maybe wait until more positive reviews come in before posting yours. You should definitely post yours, but remember that if your review is more subjective than objective, and yours is the only one that potential readers will see, then even if they’d normally love the book, they won’t buy it because your standalone bad review turned them off, and that can not only unjustly kill the book’s chances to succeed (as well as the author’s), but it can rob a positive experience for other readers who might see something entertaining in the book that you didn’t. That’s unfair for everyone.

So, please think it through before you post your review. I can’t rightly tell you how to review or when, but as a writer who lives by the success or failure of each book, I hope you’ll “read the room” and examine your reasons for the negative review before submitting, and maybe consider holding off until a time when your single review won’t destroy the book’s (or the author’s) chance to find the right audience. Again, a bad book deserves to fail, but a good book in the hands of the wrong reader or the wrong time and place needs a bit more grace. On behalf of all writers and authors who live and die by your reviews, thanks for being fair.

Hope You Enjoy the Story!

Your place to discover great books.

I might be biased.

Gutter Child

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Available wherever books are sold online.

Eat your vegetables. Brush your teeth. Trust your history.

And, remember, don’t ask stupid questions.

At what point does a lie become the truth? When does that truth become a lie? On the day that he moves off to college it seems that Jimmy Grogan’s whole family history becomes a lie. But is that true?

Released: February 2016

Genre: Mystery, Coming-of-Age

Length: Novella

Formats: E-book only

Book Details

Story:

Gutter Child

Author:

Jeremy Bursey

Type:

Novella


Genres:

  • Fiction
  • Coming of Age
  • Mystery (General)
  • Literature

Style:

  • 3rd-Person Limited
  • Incorporated Stories
  • Quirky

Main Characters:

  • Jimmy Grogan
  • Beth Grogan
  • Melanie Pike

Main Locations:

  • Northeast, USA
  • Worst College in the Country, USA

Description:

Eat your vegetables. Brush your teeth. Trust your history. 

And, remember, don’t ask stupid questions.

At what point does a lie become the truth? When does that truth become a lie? On the day that he moves off to college, it seems Jimmy Grogan’s entire family history becomes a lie. But is that true?

For eighteen years, Jimmy has had the perfect life. His parents feed him. His girlfriend, Melanie, smiles at him a lot. He even gains acceptance into the (twentieth) university of his choice despite his poor high school performance. But when the big day comes to move out of his idyllic home and enter college-grade adulthood, the mover points him toward a secret that he has somehow missed all of these years: He is adopted, or so his sister’s autobiography suggests.

Jimmy’s illusions suddenly come crashing down when he realizes his parents may have been lying to him since infancy. But is his sister’s story true? Or is she playing the most heinous prank in the history of pranks? Even as he sits alone in his new dorm five hours away from home, separated from the evidence he needs to solve the mystery, he is determined to uncover the truth about who’s been lying to him, even if it means driving him and his family apart. But the question still lingers: Should he take his aunt’s advice and just leave it alone? What does she know that he doesn’t?

Gutter Child is the tragicomical story of what happens when we allow ignorance to define us, reality to side-wind us, and obsession to change us while learning the hard truth that growing up sucks.

Format:

At present, this story is sold as an e-book only. A print edition may come in time. “Gutter Child” short story version was previously published in the anthology Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Vol. 1 (2004, no longer available).

Price:

  • $2.99 USD (on Amazon and other retailers).
  • Equivalent to $2.99 in other regions.

Book Stats:

Not including front and back matter pages:

  • 153 Pages
  • 3 – 4 Hours to read
  • 38k Total words

Copyright:

  • ©2016 (e-book edition)
  • ©2004 (original print anthology edition of “Gutter Child” short story, Nomadic Souls, The Collection of Junk, Vol. 1)

ISBN and ASIN Information:

  • ISBN: 9781311737854 (e-book, Smashwords Edition)
  • ISBN: 9781386769125 (e-book, Draft2Digital)
  • ASIN: B01CRLOGYA (e-book, Amazon)
  • GGKEY: C4WSHLLZU8W (e-book, Google Play Books)

Disclaimer and License Notes:

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Some real-life cities, towns, institutions, or products may appear to lend authenticity to a scene for literary purposes, but this work does not intend to endorse or malign them. There is no catharsis or advertisement happening here. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

No part of this text may be reproduced in any other work without giving credit to the author. No part of this text may be used for commercial purposes, except by reviewers or critics, without the author’s permission. The complete text is intended for personal use only and may not be used for commercial purposes, or duplicated in any other form for purposes other than personal, noncommercial use, or posted to any other site without the author’s permission.

Exclusive Extras

Gutter Child

Exclusive Extras

Want more content than just the story? Then scroll through this section for bonus items, including a series of questions for your readers’ group, because I know you want to talk about my books in your readers’ group.

Readers’ Group Discussion Questions

Thank you for choosing Gutter Child as the subject for your reading discussion. The following questions mean to guide readers through the conversation but should in no way limit its direction or focus during its exploration of ideas. If your group has a topic other reading groups should discuss, please e-mail me, and I may add them to a future edition of the book. Thanks. 

Note that the following questions may contain spoilers. Think of them as the test questions you look through ahead of time to validate the answers to questions you’ve already attempted (read: bonus test-taking tips!). 

Throughout the course of the story, Jimmy is concerned that he has been lied to. Has he actually been lied to, and if so, who stands as the story’s greatest liar? Why? 

Why would each of the characters who lie to Jimmy have a reason to lie, and are they justified in their reasons? 

How does Sun Underwater, Beth’s autobiography, affect the course of Jimmy’s story? How might his trajectory change if he were to read anything other than “Gutter Child” or “Prom Maid”? 

Why would the mover insist that Jimmy read “Gutter Child”? Is he justified in his recommendation? Or does he have an ulterior motive for choosing that one? If so, what might that be? 

Even though we learn a lot about Jimmy’s school throughout the narrative, we never find out its name. Why? What role does the school play in Jimmy’s story and character arc? For what reason would anyone dare to attend? Is it possible for a school like this to exist? Why? Finally, which part of the school’s design seems most horrifying? 

What role does Melanie, Jimmy’s girlfriend, really play in this story? How does she affect his trajectory throughout? 

What role does each member of Jimmy’s family play in this story? Are they mentors? Friends? Disciplinarians? Keepers of secrets? Are these roles traditional or unconventional? How would his journey go if they had different roles or different approaches to their current roles? 

What purpose do other characters have in Jimmy’s life, like Barry the roommate, the Role-playing Group, and the girl at the dorm party? Do these people help or hinder his growth as a character? 

What can we learn about Jimmy’s family through Grandma Edith? 

What effect does the quirky nature of this story have on the plot and characters involved? How would this story be different if it were more seriously grounded?

Behind the Story

Gutter Child

Behind the Story

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this far. As a reward for sticking with the book, I’ll give some background information on Gutter Child in case you’re the type of person who enjoys the “Special Features” selection on Blu-rays and DVDs (or whatever you use to watch movies at the time of this reading).

A Brief History: In early 1999, I took a class on writing fiction at UCF, as a follow-up to my creative writing class the semester before, and for my major assignments I had three full-length short stories to write and revise. The first, a coming of age story called “The Fallen Footwear,” which you’ll get to read an updated version of very soon, is about a young adult’s attempt to cope with the sudden abandonment of his much-loved girlfriend. The second, a desert fantasy called “Eve of Construction,” which I will not be redoing any time soon (but will after I write two or three prequels for it) is about a man getting banished from his city and sent on a quest to receive judgment for his crimes at a tower among the dunes. The third is “Gutter Child.”

When I wrote “Gutter Child,” I was attempting to cut against the grain. As a 22-year-old man, I was a fan of action, fantasy, and tales of hopeless romantics trying to win at life. But I was also a fan of improving and diversifying my craft. So when I thought about what to do for my final story of the semester, I figured I’d try something original, something I thought would make for a decent story, something that would challenge me as a writer. So I wrote the story of an eight-year-old girl breaking out of an orphanage, just to stumble on another discarded child who needed her help. I had it critiqued, many of the students agreed that it was a clever idea that needed work, and I fixed the main issues, like the legality of an old woman keeping two runaway children who did not belong to her without contacting the police or DCF first. Then I tucked it away into my thick binder to be forgotten, until 2004 when I dusted off my first round of stories (including the three listed above) for my first volume of The Collection of Junk series, which I called Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Volume 1 (no longer available for sale).

The problem I had with “Gutter Child” as a published work was simply a matter of image. By the time I was ready to push Nomadic Souls out onto the world, in a place where nobody would ever find it, I was a 28-year-old man, and I had no idea what business I, a 28-year-old man, had writing a story from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl. I was never an eight-year-old girl. Never had an idea what it was like being an eight-year-old girl. I thought it would never work in reality, even if the story itself was okay. So I wrote a frame about the baby growing up into an 18-year-old boy (something I actually was, once upon a time) and getting ready to go off to college when he finds his sister’s book and discovers his past, which, as of that 1999-2004 version, was the real story. In that version, he confronts his mom, she admits he and Beth were adopted, and then there’s something about his pet frog hopping away and his mom, even though she’s his adopted mother, still knowing how to read his mind, and it was just stale in retrospect. I didn’t care for the frame then—I definitely don’t care for it now—so I thought I needed to give it a newer one: a much crazier, interesting, disturbing frame.

The new frame is much longer than the old, and it deals with far more complicated issues than the main character finding out he might be adopted. The stuff with Melanie was actually layered in about halfway through the rewrite when I realized I needed a different conflict perpetuating the agony of the core conflict. If anything, it’s what makes the core conflict worse than it should be. In reality, Jimmy finding out he might be adopted isn’t as earth-shattering as he might make it seem. But with everything else crumbling around him, especially his relationship with Melanie taking the turn it does, all while he tries to adapt to a life away from home for the first time in one of the worst places to experience independence, and it suddenly becomes near impossible for him to stomach. I think if I had stuck to just the main conflict, the new frame would’ve been as dull as the old one.

That said, I think this is the right version of the story now. Is it the final? I don’t know. I may punch it up a little for Zippywings 2016, which if you don’t know by now, will be the annual collection of short stories and novellas I release this year in paperback form. Note: The 2015 edition is already available and features eight of the ten stories I released in e-book form from May to December 2015, with the other two being novel length and too long for a paperback. But I digress. There’s a chance I may update “Gutter Child” later this year when I’ve had more time to reflect on it. One of the problems with trying to release at least one story a month for an entire year, which I’ve already blown for January thanks to distraction and exhaustion (this was supposed to release last month, with “The Fallen Footwear” having February all to itself), is that I don’t have much time to decide if the story works until after it’s released. However, if you’re reading this, and if you think it’s as perfect as it needs to be, then please let me know in a review. But don’t worry; I’ll figure it out for myself, eventually.

Update 2018: Time away from a project allows us perspective that we don’t have during its creation. This version reflects the time I’d spent away from the version I wrote in 2016. There isn’t much to say about it, really. I just found a few areas in need of improvement and improved them. Most of the new material (the fraternity and role-playing group) are there to soften the constant downward drive the last version takes the reader on. Not everything can contribute to the main character’s misery, so I wanted to be sure he has moments of joy to keep him from going insane. That’s primarily how this version differs from the last. I also wanted to make sure I addressed any character discrepancy that may have survived the 2016 edition.

Also a separate note: I never produced Zippywings 2016, nor do I plan to now. As of this writing, there is no paperback version of this story. However, there may be a novelized version in the future, which will go well beyond the adoption mystery featured here. In fact, this story will likely become a subplot to a bigger story that I’ve already got ideas for developing. Consult my blog or mailing list for more information on that version as it develops.

Revision Notes

Gutter Child

Revision History

The following is a list of milestones during Gutter Child’s development.

May 1999: Original short story version, printed and submitted for class critique.

January 2004: Added framing device to put the focus on Jimmy rather than Beth. The story is still basically about Beth, though.

July 2004: Revised and included into my CaféPress exclusive paperback anthology Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Volume 1.

February 2016: Original shallow frame ripped out and rewritten to include the current novella-sized narrative. New version converted to e-book format.

April 2016: Minor revisions and updated back matter information.

June 2018: New scenes added to balance Jimmy’s depressing situation with some comedy and additional lightheartedness. Added new back matter, including a “Readers’ Group Discussion Questions” section.

November 2018: Some metadata updates.

July 2019: Slight update to Chapter 1 to reduce on-the-nose foreshadowing. Updated interior formatting.

May 2020: ProWritingAid edit. Some minor style, spelling, and grammar fixes.

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Why Review?

Thank you for taking the time to review my books. Any word you write and every star you rate is appreciated, positive or negative, short and sweet, or long and brooding.

If you need to know why you should review my books (or any author’s books for that matter), please read my August 2019 article “The Case for Leaving a Product Review” on my sister blog site, Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, for enlightenment. It’s short but important, and I hope you take a moment to understand why your public feedback is of vital importance.

But in case you don’t read it, the straightforward and unglamorous version is that it helps everyone improve, but it also gives authors a career. Authors with few or no reviews can’t really have a career because our trust rating is too low, so the more reviews or ratings we have, the easier we can focus on writing and less on waiting tables for a living.

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If you’re not sure what to say, you can use my “How to Review” guide as a starting point.

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How To Review

If you would like to post a review, but you’re not sure how to start, you could always begin with your star rating in mind and explain how you calculated that value. Inspiration may take over from there. But please don’t feel obligated if you don’t know what to say. The fact that you’ve read the book is awesome enough. A review simply helps others identify whether this book is worth reading and the author about what he or she has done right (or horribly, horribly wrong). That said, we all have a voice, and I hope to hear yours soon. If you prefer to read in silence, that’s fine; I often read in silence myself. But I will generally let others know if I’ve read something awesome. Hopefully, you thought my book is awesome, and I hope you’ll let me know if you did.

That said, if you still need more help coming up with something to say, try answering these questions and use your answers as a basis for forming your review:

 

Will your review contain spoilers? If yes, warn the reader. Note that readers are smart. If you say the book has a twist ending (but you don’t say what), it’s a spoiler! 

I figured out the ending to The Sixth Sense five minutes in because people kept telling me, “You’ll never guess the ending.” Yeah, actually I will.

 

Did you enjoy the book? If yes, what did it leave you thinking about the most? If no, what about it bothered you the most? Elaborate if you can, but keep it short and sweet if the feeling is hard to articulate. 

For me, I watched The Breakfast Club over 40 times because it leaves me feeling like I’m part of the group. This was true when I first saw it edited for television as a 10-year-old. It’s still true as a grown man in my 40s. I also love the music and the tension between characters. I can still quote most of it. It’s the kind of movie that sticks with me.

 

If you liked the book: Who’s your favorite character and why? If you didn’t: Who caused you the most grief and why? 

Because the cast of The Breakfast Club is so well rounded, I don’t have a favorite character. I think each one is important to the story and removing any one of them would make the whole thing crumble.

 

For a good book, what was one thing you didn’t like about it? For a bad book, what was one thing you did like about it? 

Regarding The Breakfast Club, I still think the “smoking scene” is strange. How does the principal not smell the smoke or hear the rock music if the library is “right outside his office”? Definitely my least favorite part of the movie. But in fairness, I think this sequence takes place when the principal is hanging out with the janitor, so how would he even be aware?

 

What did you think of the ending? Is it satisfying or a letdown? Does it even matter? 

I once thought I hated The War of the Worlds (2005, Tom Cruise version) because that ending is among the worst in cinematic history. But darn it if the ride getting to that crappy ending isn’t among the best, and I can’t watch it today without feeling kind of into it. Sometimes the ending can ruin the story, but not always. A better question is does the ending support the point of the story or nullify it? In the case of The War of the Worlds, the ending sucks because it’s a “happy” copout, not a rebellion to the story’s premise, which is to survive an alien attack long enough for our world to figure out how to fight back (or outlast the aliens’ own survival rates).

 

Who is this book for?

I’m sure The Bridges of Madison County is a great book. It somehow managed to land Clint Eastwood in the lead role when it was made into a movie. But it looks soooo boring. At the time the movie was released, I was in my late teens or early 20s, eagerly awaiting the next Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, or really anything with decent character development, a pulse-pounding soundtrack, and explosions, lots of explosions. I liked Clint Eastwood in those days, but I liked him more as Dirty Harry. The Bridges of Madison County seemed more like the kind of movie my mom or grandmother would watch than I would. I might enjoy it more today, but back then, I couldn’t be bothered with it, even if it was good.

 

Finally:

Hopefully, that’ll give you something to work with. If you’re still stuck, though, then check out Amazon’s “Top Reviewers” for some ideas. Can’t go wrong learning from the best.

How to Be Negative

An important note about negative reviews (for my books or for anyone else’s): Please be civil in your reviews. A review should focus on the book, not the author’s condition as a human being. They should focus on your experience with the story, not the coffee shop where you read the story.

In other words, please be fair. If you disliked the book because the characters are poorly developed, the scenes make no sense, or the plot is absurd, then it’s not a good book, and your review should say so. But, if you disliked it because you were in the mood for a dark, depressing horror story and you got a comedy instead (and the book has the markings or description of a comedy all over its product page), then maybe don’t review it.

Likewise, if the book hasn’t yet gotten any reviews, and the review you plan to give is negative, maybe wait until more positive reviews come in before posting yours. You should definitely post yours, but remember that if your review is more subjective than objective, and yours is the only one that potential readers will see, then even if they’d normally love the book, they won’t buy it because your standalone bad review turned them off, and that can not only unjustly kill the book’s chances to succeed (as well as the author’s), but it can rob a positive experience for other readers who might see something entertaining in the book that you didn’t. That’s unfair for everyone.

So, please think it through before you post your review. I can’t rightly tell you how to review or when, but as a writer who lives by the success or failure of each book, I hope you’ll “read the room” and examine your reasons for the negative review before submitting, and maybe consider holding off until a time when your single review won’t destroy the book’s (or the author’s) chance to find the right audience. Again, a bad book deserves to fail, but a good book in the hands of the wrong reader or the wrong time and place needs a bit more grace. On behalf of all writers and authors who live and die by your reviews, thanks for being fair.

Hope You Enjoy the Story!