Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Diversion

Let's get personal for a bit. Not too personal, just a bit of a diversion from discussing writing or fiction for a moment. Let's talk RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL!

I've never been to a Ren Fest before, and this event was one of the most fun experiences of the year! In fact, it might've been better than Comic Con since I wasn't working. It was odd, though, because Colorado has had rain almost every day since summer began. And not just a light drizzle. We're talking consistent downpours. And on Saturday, it rained so fiercely that I got drenched from head to toe. Not metaphorically. Rivers of water streamed down my back (through my shirt, mind you), inside my jeans, and then soaked my feet INSIDE my waterproof work boots. The only thing that DIDN'T get soaked was my phone because I managed to get it into my wife's purse.

I guess this does relate to writing because one of my first thoughts was, "Wow, in Ye Olden Times, this is what it would've been like to get trapped in a rainstorm." If I write a medieval story with rainstorms, I'll have first-hand knowledge of what it's like to get soaked through my clothing. Without an umbrella. It'll be a VERY accurate scene.

Back to the fest. If you EVER get a chance to go to a Ren Fest or Ren Fair, DO IT! It's a lot of fun. Even if it rains, there's tons of stuff to look at, great interactions with people who really enjoy their jobs (assuming they're not volunteering), and something the whole family can do*.

What's the point of this diversion, you ask? Go have fun! Life is too short to think about work all the time. Get out of the house, do things. See something new. What do you recommend for fun on the weekend? Or when you need a break during the week?

Giles is a goof who likes nerdy things. That's why he's a wizard. Rocket-boots aside, he loves medieval stuff. Even though he doesn't know that much about it, aside from what he's read in Tolkien.

*Since it's SUPPOSED to be a family event, make certain that if you wear white, you wear something UNDERNEATH your costume. Unfortunate rainstorms can turn the family outing into a 21+ show.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Dream Decision

Before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be an architect. Before the architect, I wanted to be astronaut. The astronaut dream was preceded by Teacher, Lawyer, Rogue (from X-Men) and Disney Princess.

Like many writers, I have binders full of trunk novels – half-finished stories about kids and teenagers in really weird situations (when we do our trunk novel segments in a few weeks, you’ll totally understand why I call them “weird”). I wrote dozens of short stories and attempted* to write a full-length scifi novel when I was in middle school.

But even with all of those stories, writing as a career choice didn’t occur to me until I was a senior in high school. I am not joking – I actually applied to a few schools to study Architecture. And then one fateful day, I went to my Creative Writing class and had a completely mind-blowing experience.

The teacher gathered our homework and then asked if we’d had fun doing it. I’d written an epic poem about the “true” backstory and epilogue of The Highwayman. I told my teacher that yes, yes I had fun writing the poem. I had a funny feeling inside, like I’d just missed my exit on the highway and would have to go thirty miles out of my way to get back on track. I just wasn’t sure what the feeling meant.

I went home and had a serious come-to-your-senses moment. I went to my parents’ library and stared at the books. I thought of all the birthday parties I took books to in case I got bored (true story). I thought about all the times I’d convinced teachers to let me write longer, more creative essays. Then I stood in front of some of my favorite books: The Nancy Drew mysteries, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Pride and Prejudice.

Suddenly I felt like such an idiot. Of course I had to be a writer. It made so much sense. I didn’t want to be an architect. I wanted to write stories and make people laugh and cry and feel ridiculous because of a few characters I’d written into existence. I made a decision that day to skip the architecture and head into fiction.

This is what reading does to people – it’s something you’ll hear us talk about on this week’s episode. We don’t just love Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien because they were geniuses. We love them because they showed us that our dreams, no matter how gigantic or enormous, are just a decision away.

Michelle really did bring books to birthday parties when she was a kid, and fondly referred to the practice as "drama avoidance". Today she listens to books on tape with near-religious fervor, but generally not during birthday parties.

*"Attempted" as in, I had NO IDEA what plot was supposed to be, and I was REALLY melodramatic, and honestly I spent most of my time drawing my characters and writing the same three scenes over and over again. 

Friday, July 25, 2014


I don't do well with uncertainty, which is probably a hilarious statement for those of you who know me and my random spontaneity streak in person. But it's true--when I'm faced with a situation that could swing in any of a multitude of directions, I tend to freak out a little bit and go all paralyzed-from-fear.

So it's really kind of amusing to me that I don't flip when I think about the future of publishing. With how uncertain and changing the face of publishing is, it really should be something I'm tearing out my hair about.

Maybe because it's not anything I have any sort of control over. It's a huge machine and I'm just a tiny little cog trying to make my way inside, so it's not like I can influence whether brick and mortar stores remain or whether self-publishing one day destroys major publishers.

Whatever the reason, I'm not freaking out about the future of publishing. As I've said about a zillion times, the human brain is wired for story--we will always, always have multiple methods of sharing those stories and telling tales. It's part of the human condition.

Will things change? Undoubtedly. But I honestly don't think that books and stories will go anywhere for a long, long time.

Which is just fine with me. It means I've got a better chance at getting my work published!

Emily is a worrywart of epic proportions, but she's trying to get better about it, especially with things that are completely out of her control. You can help ease her fear by being friends with her on Twitter @emilyksinger.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Future?

No one knows the future of publishing. No matter who they are, no matter what they say, no one KNOWS what's going to happen next. Anyone who says otherwise is simply engaging in wishful thinking. Sure, they might have a few educated guesses that turn out to be accurate, but it's all prognostication.

What is certain? Ebooks aren't going anywhere. And neither is Amazon. Are they the evil empire that should be fended off with dangerous assaults in spacecraft? No. Are they doing anything questionable? Maybe.

What does that mean for the future of publishing? Really, it means that EVERYONE needs to be better educated than they used to be. Authors need to know their options. Agents need to be willing to support their clients REGARDLESS of which direction they choose to go, while giving advice that will guide those authors in the best direction for their career. More importantly, editors need to EMBRACE technology. Period. Any refusal to adapt to the ebook revolution will result in the end of their business.

Not overnight, sure, but look at the music industry. I grew up working inside the music industry, and when the digital world tried to engulf music, it ended the Big Labels' power-hold on artists. Up until that point, the labels owned EVERYTHING an artist did unless they were savvy enough to hold out for the best deal. Don't believe me? Ask Prince.

Do I like solid, printed books better? Yes. Will I ever buy an ereader? Eventually. That's where the future is headed. We can burry our heads in the sand and say, "The iPod was a perfect storm phenomenon. It could NEVER happen with books." Or, we could do what millions of authors, small-press publishers, and readers are already doing: embrace the change. Don't fear it, figure out how to work with it.

Believe what he says? Check above. This is ALL opinion on Giles' part. Educated guess, sure, but feel free to call him out on it if/when it's proven wrong. Though it probably won't be. The rocket-booted wizard is smarter than he looks.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What’s in a Name?

I know it’s cliché, but I can’t help the title. What else are you going to call a blog about naming things? Sometimes you just need to borrow from the greats – and great Shakespeare just knew what he was talking about. Or did he?

When Juliet spouts those world-famous words, she claims that even if we called a rose a burglopsnoz, it would still smell and look the same. But if you’ve read or seen The Importance of Being Earnest, you know that, sometimes, your name is all that matters. 

As a writer, I think character names are extremely important. Not only do you need to pick names that fit in your setting, it’s essential to pick names that have varying sounds and lengths – a cast of Tim, Tom, Tony, Theresa and Tonya would just be confusing. And that means putting a lot of effort into crafting the perfect name.

I love the process of naming characters. It’s the first thing I do as a personality takes form in my head. I spend a lot of time looking at the meaning of names, and if the meaning of the name doesn’t jive with the vision I have for the character, I’ll pick something else. I consider nicknames, middle names, different pronunciations/spellings, and more.

One of the best places to find inspiration is on a site especially for baby names. Some of them even have special help sections for writers. Now, I know a lot of people think this is silly. But once they know that Gabriel means God is My Strength and Henry means Ruler, they are introduced to another level of the story. It’s like subliminal messaging.

If you still don’t think names matter much, think about how many names come with baggage. Use “Romeo” and people expect a romantic lead. Names like “Edward” or “Elizabeth” imply royalty. The only way to avoid this “name baggage” is to make up every single name you use, and that can get both exhausting and ridiculous. That's why I always look up meanings – there may be some "name baggage" I don't know about. I'd hate to give my protagonist a name that means "Lazy Slug". Besides, I think some of the best casts – especially in the speculative fiction genre – are a mix of made up and pre-existing names.

What do you think is the most important element of naming fictional characters?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Exciting Writing

As I said in a previous blog post, I'm participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. My original plan was to work on a series of short stories that tied in with the urban fantasy novel sitting on my hard drive. So far, I've finished one of those and spent an awful lot of time staring at the rest and wondering why I was so unmotivated.

The short answer (which I eventually realized) was that this project wasn't what I wanted to be working on. I do want to write the stories of these Trickster gods at some point, but right now, I'm not enjoying them. It feels like slogging through knee-deep snow toward some undisclosed destination, unsure if I'm ever even going to get warm again.

I'm not even going to comment on the irony of using that metaphor when it's supposed to get up to 90 degrees today.

Seasonally inappropriate metaphor aside, I think my realization has a lesson attached. Giles has dealt with the pain of trying to work on a not-fun writing project recently, and we've had several conversations about it, that all, basically, boil down to: life's too short to write something that isn't entertaining you.

Would you rather force your way through a piece that isn't working and is agonizing to write, or put that aside and find something that's entertaining to write and keeps you interested? As Aaron Michael Ritchey calls it, "the book of your soul."

For me? I'd rather put my time and energy into writing something that excites me, even if this particular project might never see the light of day.

The projects that tend to excite Emily are a little edgy and a lot messy--but she'd rather sort through the story clutter than write something boring. In addition to writing entertaining things, she's also trying to get better about personal blogging at and tweeting as @emilyksinger.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Breaking Convention

I like weird stuff. Specific, I know, but it's true. As some listeners already know, I like beer. And I specifically LOVE sour beer. Not just because I like the flavor, but I like the very concept of something so off-the-wall as a malty, hoppy liquid that's been brewed for thousands of years and adding a new dimension to the flavor. Sour beer is so wildly different from your standard PBR or Bud that it makes me look around for something even more unique!

That's what I like in literature. Someone like Gareth Hinds, who I got to interview a while back, takes classic literature, like Beowulf and King Lear, and turns them into graphic novels. In the words of the '70s, I can dig it! And the whole point of this blog and the accompanying podcast is that, even though it's not "the mainstream," projects from people like Hinds or Gail Carriger or Jim Butcher, and especially Tolkien, can (and I think ARE) art. Off-centered art, maybe, but still art.

What do you think? Is there art in commercial literature or graphic novels? Is there VALUE in it?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Classic TV Series: A Tale of Nostalgia

Books and fresh air were always been praised over TV during my childhood. As kids we spent a lot of time in the open space around my neighborhood, reading on the deck, or going on bike rides. But on Saturday mornings I always made sure to get up in time to watch cartoons.

My family has never had cable, so once most of the cool cartoons switched to the paid-for channels, there wasn’t much to watch. I remember being so excited on vacations to have a hotel TV that had cable – such sweet freedom! My sisters and I would pile on the bed and scour the channels for Gargoyles. Every. Time.

Our poor parents were so confused – a swimming pool outside and we wanted to watch TV? But we wanted to see Goliath and Elisa save the day with their friends.

As I’ve gotten older, Gargoyles has maintained a special place in my heart. It’s right next to the original X-Men series, Robotech, and Sailor Moon. Any time I think of being a kid (back when the cartoons weren’t just good, they were AWESOME) I think of these shows.

I like to think that the mark of a brilliant childhood show is whether or not I’ll watch it today. Some TV shows were so badly written they are painful to watch as an adult.  Then there are the ones that are simply so-so, but I’ll watch them out of pure nostalgia. Nostalgia makes you do things like that, you know?

It astounds me how some shows have become beloved classics while others have faded away. It’s all in the writing. Isn’t it amazing that just one writer can dictate whether people will remember the characters, the plot, or even the setting of a show? I wish I could meet up with every writer for every series I’ve ever loved, just to shake their hands and hope that some of their artistic genius will transfer to me. 

I would totally support a resurgence of Gargoyles. What shows do you want to see again?

This nostalgic message was brought to you by Michelle, who is guilty of loving silver nail polish, spicy guacamole, and the sound metal Slinkys make when you send them down the stairs. She hates Rubics cubes and Uno Attack with the burning passion of a million suns, and to offset all that hate she does a lot of writing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Pride is a terrible thing. In my years in the performing arts industry, I've met many, many people who treat me like dirt just because they have some form of talent that earns them money. It's something I never want to develop. I mean, let's face it, just because I happen to write a book (even if it gets published and becomes a bestseller), it doesn't make me more valuable than anyone else. And even if it DID, that doesn't give me the right to step on people.

Steven L. Sears, who we interviewed for this week's podcast, treated us all the same way I WANT to treat other people. He was friendly, ready to laugh, extremely humble especially when talking about his success, and just an all-around good guy.

This is a short post because that's all that really needs to be said. If I get famous (which isn't my goal, by the way), always remind me not to be a jerk. I may not bend over backwards for you, but it will never be because I think I'm better than anyone else. And if you ever become famous, remember where you came from. No matter what, you started somewhere. And like most of us, it was probably close to the bottom. Be proud of your accomplishment, but remember all of the people who helped you along the way. People who had a better position than you at that time. People who didn't lord it over you.

Giles tends to downplay any personal success in his life, even when praise may be earned. Don't let him do that. And don't let him get a big head, either.

Monday, July 7, 2014

You Don't Own Me!

As a writer and craft-maker, I am very protective of my creative endeavors. I don’t always mean to be this way – it just happens. Ask my friends, and they’ll tell you that when people mess/tinker with things I’ve made, I have a mini-Hulk moment before I remember to calm the heck down. I do it with everything from floral design to little stuffed animals made of felt, but I especially do it with things I've written. 

John Greene (of The Fault in Our Stars fame) disagrees with me. He thinks that once a book is out there, it belongs to the readers. If you read TFioS, you met the author Peter Van Houten, whose jerk tendencies are an extreme representation of Greene’s actual beliefs.

I only recently learned of how Greene thinks about this whole post-publishing it-belongs-to-the-readers-I-have-nothing-to-do-with-the-story-now stuff. A teacher friend and I talked about it for a while and came to the conclusion that while we both understand the sentiment, I think it’s dumb.

Yup. I said it. Dumb. I’m sorry, Mr. Greene. I love your work; I really do. You made me cry like a baby. But I like to think that as an author, I know the most about the people living in my head. And for a subjective, in-my-humble-opinion reason, I think it’s kind of a cop-out to declare to readers that you can’t tell them what happens after books end because “they belong to the readers now”.

Jasper Fforde, one of my favorite writers of all time, approaches it a little more like I do: proprietarily. He says it just the way I think about it: I feel, and I think with good reason, very proprietorial about Thursday and all her escapades”. This was in answer to a question about fan fiction based on his Thursday Next series, and you can read the entire answer if you click on the link.

There are some authors who completely disagree with me, I know. While I would agree with Mr. Greene that books belong to readers, I also dare to say that characters belong to the author. That’s my theory. I imbue the books I love with my own imagination, which renders them in vivid color and texture according to my own experiences. But when it comes to the inside workings of a character’s brain (as real or imaginary you may believe it to be), I really think the author is the only person who can say what happens next.

What do you think – do authors own the moments outside of the book, or do the readers? 

There are only four authors Michelle will purchase a book from without having read it: Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, L.A. Meyer, and Robin McKinley. She doesn't have an iPad or Kindle or Nook or any of those other fancy-shmancy book-reading tools, and her smartphone rides the short bus.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Writing Soundtracks

Happy Fourth of July from all of us here at Beyond the Trope!

There are few things as American on Independence Day as BBQs and fireworks, but patriotic music is definitely one of them. But what do you do when you've listened to as many renditions of "America the Beautiful" as you can?

Given that I'm attempting to write today, I intend to turn on my writing playlist. I like to listen to movie soundtracks while I write, because it helps me tune out the rest of the world, and, apparently, listening to music might even make you more creative.

Why movie soundtracks? Because they don't tend to have words (which means less distraction/less urge to sing along), and they generally have a wide range of emotional responses, which can be great fodder for writing scenes with different moods. Plus, I like imagining the scenes that go with the song in the movie, especially when I'm stuck.

What do you listen to when you get creative?

Emily apologizes for this tiny, lame post, but it's a holiday and she's behind on her Camp NaNoWriMo project! She hopes you can forgive her.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Changing Future

Last Saturday, I wrote the final blog post for my personal blog. After ten years of waffling on the medium, I decided that the exercise was no longer doing what I needed it to do. Sure, the intent behind the blog evolved over the years, but my focus has shifted completely to this project (Beyond the Trope, both blog and podcast).

I made this change because the path I was on went nowhere. I needed to change my focus and change a future that looked non-existent. And by that, I mean doing what I was doing would make me another dim voice crying out on the internet for attention. That's not what I want. I don't want to cry out for attention, and I don't want to repeat what other people are saying just for the sake of saying SOMETHING.

Beyond the Trope, on the other hand, gives me the opportunity AND the drive to build relationships and learn about the industry in which I hope to work.

Just as importantly, by filling my time with Beyond the Trope, despite being busier than ever, I'm also MUCH more productive than I've been in years. Those facts all combine to mean that my future is changing. I don't know what the path looks like or what my FUTURE looks like, but it's definitively different, by necessity, than I pictured it years ago.

Emily is also changing her future by participating in Camp NaNo this year, so I'm not alone. For that matter, Michelle STARTED this trend by putting together her serial on her personal blog, which means that Beyond the Trope is ALL ABOUT changing our futures.

Huh, didn't see that coming.

What about you? What are you doing to change your path?

Giles isn't really a wizard, nor is he ACTUALLY going into the future and setting out to change it. He's simply taking responsibility for himself, making INTENTIONAL choices that are intended to improve his chances of success, and keeping himself open to the idea of failure. Follow him on Twitter if you want to see his thoughts on writing, craft beer, and the future of Beyond the Trope.