Friday, February 28, 2014

The Uniqueness Problem

This post comes on the heels of a mini-breakdown I had the other night when I heard that one of the literary agents I would love to work with just sold a story with a very similar element to the urban fantasy I'm currently working on. It took Michelle, another friend of mine, and an hour of internal fit-throwing to get me to look at the big picture:

If every story has already been told, the story itself doesn't matter; what matters is how you tell it.

Now, I'm the first person to try to defend the idea that there are still new stories to be told. Maybe it's egotism that makes me crave a unique, 'edgy' idea (and my life's goal of writing a banned book). Maybe it's just a trait of all storytellers to want to be the one with that brand new idea. But at the same time, I also believe in the idea of the Hero's Journey, and that every story is, at the root of it, basically a story of growth and learning. Characters, setting, genre--it's all just window dressing.

But that window dressing is the stuff that we as artists and creators can change. It's the stuff we can twist into new shapes and reorganize into fresh concepts. It's the stuff that sells books, when it comes down to it.

And when those details are 'copied' by someone you've never spoken to, or pop up in a television show created halfway around the world by people way more famous than you--that's when the ego takes a bruising. You're forced to entertain the idea that your wonderful, sparkly idea maybe isn't as unique as you thought it was. That can be painful and raw, but it's a fact of life.

Our task, as writers and artists and creators, is to not let that fact get us down. Keep creating, writing, chasing our art, no matter what other people out there are doing.

So what if your story includes Loki as a CEO, like this manuscript that just got sold? So what if you're writing an epic fantasy with a Sealed Evil In a Can and a Reluctant Warrior hero?

Just keep writing. Keep making art. Keep finding new things to explore and twist and smash together to make your project your unique and representative of your imagination. It's a hard lesson to learn, and one that will likely require plenty of re-learning every time it crops up. But I think it'll make us all better people (and artists) in the end.

Written by our half-pint cyborg with sassy super powers, Emily. When she's not crying in frustration in the corner, she's writing GLBTQ fantasy stories and trawling through Tumblr to appease her inner geek. Find her (sometimes) at and on Twitter @emilyksinger.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Series Review: Chronicles of Narnia

Today I want to talk about a book series that, in many ways, changed my life: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. For those of you who already listened to Episode 1 of the podcast (found on our website), you'll know that fiction in the classroom is an important subject for us. Personally, if I'd never read the Narnia series, I wouldn't be who I am.

I might have found Tolkien and enjoyed the books, I may have even delved into writing fantasy at an early age (but later than I did). And there's still a good possibility that I would have picked up tabletop gaming. But it would all be different.

Narnia taught me that the innocent faith of a child can still touch the stoniest heart. It taught me that a great fiction is something that can and should be read many times, both as a child and as an adult. And I get something new from the books every time I read them.

I cannot rate this series high enough. What I can say is that everyone should go find them and read them, regardless of personal beliefs, and enjoy the stories written by Lewis.

More clever than he looks, but not as clever as he thinks, Giles picks stories that entertain. Life is too short to dig morals out of depressing stories, so laughter and joy are his primary focus in both writing and reading.

Find more of his musings at High Aspirations and on Twitter.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reading with Francis

Last year I was invited to become a volunteer reading tutor for a boy from the Central African Republic.  Francis is in first grade and when we first met, he knew about half of the alphabet.  That was it.  He couldn’t turn letters into words.  When we tried to play reading games on a borrowed iPad, he would cheat and tap on the screen of the tablet so the curriculum’s pre-recorded voice would read everything to him.  Some weeks I thought he actually got worse, and he felt it, too, because he got cranky and sullen.

About two months ago we had a breakthrough.  Instead of giving him the iPad to go through the reading curriculum, I asked if he wanted me to read to him.  I pulled out a copy of Amelia Bedelia and we dove into a world of absolutely ridiculous antics.

After that, it was a whole new enchilada.  It was like everything finally clicked in his head.  Suddenly he wanted to read all on his own, and he didn’t want to play as many word and sound games.  He headed straight to the book at the end of the level.  It was mind-blowing to see his eagerness.

A month ago I brought along one of the best writers in the history of awesomeness: Dr. Seuss.  Francis practically snatched One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish from my hands and proceeded to read such difficult sentences as “Look what we found in the park in the dark.”  And he did it with one hand in my face, telling me to be quiet because, and I quote, “I got this, lady.”

Through reading, Francis has become empowered and excited about learning.  Sure, there are still times when he gets tired and I have to help him along, or when we run into tricky words and he gets frustrated. It can take him five minutes to read a page or even ten if he gets distracted. But at the end of each day, he gives me a hug and reminds me, “Don’t forget the book next time.”

What books and stories shaped your childhood?

Written by Beyond the Trope’s very own bazooka-wielding damsel, who in real life is an absolute terrible shot with firearms. She grew up in worlds created by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein, Jane Austen, and Garth Nix.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Group Power!

Get any collection of writers together and odds are someone's going to start talking about a writing or critique group. There's a reason for this--and not just because 'critique group' sounds prestigious and makes us feel good.

Critique groups (or partners) are, honestly, invaluable to the writing process. It's a rare author who can make it through the publishing process without help before the manuscript gets to an agent or editor. And, if you're lucky (like the three of us at Beyond the Trope), sometimes your critique partners can become good friends, too. Writing is a mostly solitary craft--we spend days working on our stories in solitude--but sometimes even we of the Order of Introverted Creators have to come out of our shells sometimes, and a critique group is a great way to do it.

For example, our critique group met last night and looked over a short story I'm going to submit to an anthology next week. While it's nerve-wracking and sometimes painful to put my work in front of others, I got some amazing feedback on aspects of the piece that I hadn't even considered. I'm not really sure there's anything more valuable than another set (or three) of eyes looking over your work.

And if you're one of those people who's afraid of other people stealing your work or leaking it or whatever, check out organizations like Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, which organizes several reputable critique groups of published and "pre-published" authors and maybe move onto your own from there.

Though, to be honest, unless you're plastering your work on the internet, odds are no one's going to run with it (all of us writers have our own work, after all). If you want to talk about plastering your work on all over the web, talk to Giles about his experiences with online feedback. I much prefer in-person critique groups, myself.

So, long story short--I highly recommend joining a critique group if you're a writer and haven't already. Take some time looking for one that jives well with you. You never know; you might wind up one day doing a podcast with the folks you meet in group!

 No, I'm not Edward Elric's long-lost cousin. I'm Beyond the Trope's own super cyborg halfling of sass and occasional good advice. Call me Emily, and you can find me at or in one of several different fantasy worlds I've created. Good luck finding the right one--I'm not even sure I know any more.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Life in Balance

I've never been great at balancing responsibilities. I tend to look at the most immediate commitment and focus entirely on that until I get fed up. Then I let that one do what it needs to do while I focus on something else.

In a lot of ways, I like to plan ahead in life. Especially when it comes to something like blogging or podcasting. We're recording the podcasts a month at a time because we don't all live on the same side of town, and getting together every week would probably burn us out pretty fast. I know I'd get burned out giving up every Saturday for the foreseeable future, and that's not always an option, either, with my day job.

As release day approaches, I'm looking at my schedule again. Trying to reevaluate how I spend my time. I have responsibilities to the listeners we're going to have, to the readers of this new blog, and (just as importantly) to the two people who are putting their efforts into this project alongside me. Today has been an unusual day, and a difficult one for getting projects completed on time. In fact, I'm actually finishing this on my lunch break because I ended up sleeping in to keep myself from getting sick. And at the day job, I had to leave right away for a delivery down south.

Balance can be hard to strike, but when it happens, it's totally worth the effort. And learning to improve one's life is always a worthy endeavor.

How do you balance everything in your life? Do you have trouble with it?

"Argle, Blargle, Whush, Mezzume."

That's not a spell, it's a voice command for my rocket boots. BTW, I'm Giles Hash. The epic wizard of this rag-tag trio. Find out more at the Beyond the Trope website and over on my blog. I'm also on Twitter @gileshash.

Sorry for breaking the fourth wall. No, I'm not sorry. Never mind.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Go Beyond Your Trope

I had a major, spectacular realization yesterday.  It just might change your life.  But first, a little backstory:

Last week I slipped on some ice and ate asphalt in a magnificently ungraceful way.  I tore up my knee, bruised my butt, and filled my wrist with tiny rocks (I’m just that talented).  My wrist and butt were fine after an hour, but my knee grew a knot the size of a plum, and then it turned blue and refused to accept the jobs of bending, walking, and generally operating as knees are supposed to. 
Fast forward to yesterday, at which time I contemplated the abandonment of the boots that led to the painful knee disaster of the week before.

I considered buying a pair of thigh-high boots because they’re sleek and I would be able to take them to Europe with me in the fall.  But as I rolled this idea around in my head, I suddenly had this thought:

“Wait, I can’t get over-the-knee boots.  That’ll just hurt my knee even more.”

Then I laughed at myself.  It’s February, and I’m not planning on the trip until September or October. Do I really think that my knee will be bruised for over six more months?

That’s when it hit me: Sometimes when we make long term goals, we unconsciously restrain ourselves based on problems in our current lives.

We’ve been talking a lot about moving beyond your trope and getting rid of things that hold you back.  I think a restrained state of mind is just that – a trope that needs to get thrown out.  So often I think of the future and say to myself, “Oh, I won’t be able to do that because of xyz.”  But how do I know that I won’t be able to meet that goal?  Instead of cutting my dreams off at the knee, I should be thinking of new ways to surmount the very things that hold me back.

I love this “ah-ha!” because it can really be applied to just about anything.  Something might be holding you back today, but next week it could be gone. 

How are you going to move beyond your trope this week?

Written by a very non-distressed damsel with a penchant for making grilled cheese. Michelle also makes up stories and things at and if you ask her to tell you her favorite book, she does a spot-on impression of an excitable child who doesn't understand that "favorite" isn't plural.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Note to Fiction

It’s Valentine’s Day (or Single’s Awareness Day, depending on which side of the aisle your relationship status stands on), so I figured I’d write a little love note for my first post on the Beyond the Trope blog. But not just any ordinary love note. A crappy love letter to the art of fiction, complete with terrible cliches! Here goes nothing!

My darling,

You put magic in my meaningless life. You help me slay my dragons, send me into outer space, and keep me up to all hours of the night. I don't know what I'd do without your enchanting stories and your divine artwork, your characters that haunt me and lush worlds that make me want to run away.

You'll never know how much you've changed my life, from the first time I cracked open a book to this very moment. You'll never know how many lives you've saved, and how many people you've inspired. You'll never know how difficult it is to live a single day without hearing from you, in writing or on the television, or even over the radio.

My dearest, I love you more than chocolate, more than sunshine, and more than my beloved cats. Without you, I am nothing. I would have no reason to go on. You are my life.

Never stop being you, dearest. Never stop telling tales and creating stories, lighting my life with mystery and magic. Never stop inspiring and changing the world. For without you, this world is nothing but a dull sphere of boring which I can barely tolerate.

Here's to a lifetime with you, and many happy years to come. I love you, Fiction, and always will.

Written by a super cyborg halfling with a sassy streak. Emily also writes at on occasions rarer than she would like to admit, and can generally be found quoting various British TV shows.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Senseless Cliche

One of the biggest turnoffs in any form of writing is a pointless cliche. Don't get me wrong: sometimes a cliche is the BEST way to get a point across. But the reason they become cliches is because they get used a LOT.

Many people talk about how to avoid writing cliches. To the point where it's a cliche to write about it. So what's the point of this post?

To encourage you, the reader, to find cliches that DON'T bother you. Or find NEW expressions, tropes, archetypes, or metaphors that jump off the page (cliche) and suck you into a story (another cliche).

Seriously: what's your favorite expression? Why?

What about archetypes? Do you like it when your Fearless Hero is also the Mentor in a story? How about the Star-crossed Lover turning into the Villain?

Give me examples, whether recent or in classic forms of literature that get you excited about a story.

I'll start: one of my favorite similes comes from THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. The narrator describes the drink, the Pangalactic Gargleblaster, as being "the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging. Very expensive and bad for the head."

The first time I heard that, I almost wrecked my parents' car, which I was driving through Idaho on my way from Denver to Portland on the first road trip I'd ever taken on my own (at the age of 17. In my PARENTS' car).

Your turn. Leave a comment and let me know!

Written by a smug wizard with fancy rocket boots. Giles also writes over at High Aspirations on Mondays and Fridays. Most weeks. When he feels like it and/or has the time.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Word

A word to the wise, the creative, and the easily convinced:

Be careful what you let your friends suggest to you.


Because a few weeks later you will find yourself feverishly constructing a website, a logo, and a new blog.  You will have so many tasks that you’ll feel like you are trying to stand still in the deep end of a water park wave pool. There will be so many things to say and create and decide at certain times and with certain people that every once in a while you will realize that you’ve only been half-planning, not fully planning, and now you have to double the work so you can reach your goals.

In short, it will be the most fun you have ever had the chance to randomly decide to have.

Friends are really great for this sort of thing.  When one of you mentions a lifelong dream and you all decide to make it happen, it’s like discovering the door to Neverland.  I love creating things (especially things with words), and starting a podcast with friends is like meeting Peter Pan and learning to fly.

How stoked am I about this brand-new podcast?  Well, let’s just say that I’m looking forward to talking about art in mass-market writing just as much as I love spicy jambalaya.  And I really, really love spicy jambalaya.  Besides, “work” is really just a matter of perspective.  My co-conspirators Giles and Emily are hilarious, intelligent, genuine folks who, I believe, have already made this project worth the effort.

Just don’t tell them, all right? I don’t want to damage my street cred, if you know what I mean.  I have a reputation to uphold.

Our first episode will be up and running before the end of the month, and you should listen to it. And then you should listen to every episode after that, too.  Words, nerds, geeks, and art.  How do you beat that?