Monday, September 29, 2014

A Book Addict in Non-Recovery

I’m moving in the next month or two, and last week I decided the only sensible course of action was to buy more books. Sometimes you just can’t resist.

I know I’m addicted, and while I have no intention to recover I can at least explain myself. First of all, it was a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, plus Valiant by Holly Black. For a grand total of $7. Seriously. I couldn’t leave those books all alone. They needed me.

Second, I have always been like this. It is a fact of life. If I love a book, I will buy it. And none of those pansy e-books, either. Gimme a real book, with soft pages and bumped corners and little crumbs stuck down by the spine.  I can't not own them. It’s probably why I turned into a writer – I have to be around stories. I need to consume them and create them. Even as a little kid, I never stopped reading.

The past couple of weeks on the podcast have been dedicated to trunk novels. Emily and Giles went first, and now it’s my turn. The trunk novel section you’ll hear from me is something sci-fi I wrote waaaay back in the day. When I hear it being read, I see mini-Michelle hunched over her dad’s computer, tapping furiously on the keyboard and saving her work to black floppy disks.

I never actually finished this trunk novel, but it’s so terrible I’m glad I didn’t. I mean, it’s awful. Just awful. We had to have Giles’ wife, the other Emily, read my pages because I was literally rolling on the floor with laughter. And even she needed to have a few goes with it. It’s that bad.

One thing I really love about trunk novels is every writer has at least one. Sure, for some you have to go back to age 8 or some ridiculously young age like that, but it still shows you that even the greats needed some practice. Writing that trunk novel was simply Step One to the rest of my life. I love collecting stories, and I hope that someday people will love my books so much that they’ll whip them off the shelves, even if they’re in the middle of moving 200 other books.

What kind of stories are you addicted to?

Michelle's new house has a room that will be entirely dedicated to books and creativity, and sometimes when she thinks about it she has little fangirl moments and starts to ramble and forgets about everything else ever. It's a personal problem. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Writing Rituals

If you've done any research on how to increase productivity while writing, you've probably heard at least someone talk about creating "writing rituals"--aka, writing at the same time every day, or in the same spot, or having a cup of tea and lighting a candle before you start working. Something that, to you, tells your brain that it's time to sit down and be creative.

I never really made the space for writing rituals before. I just wrote whenever I could, no matter what was going on around me or where I was. Probably part of the reason I have trouble getting things done now and then--there are a lot of distractions out in the real world!

But I moved into a new apartment this past weekend and I actually have the space to set up a dedicated writing area. So I did. I've been settling down on my hand-sewn floor pillow with my Figment stuffed animal beside me (see it up there? *starts singing "One Little Spark"*) and seriously devoting time to writing.

Now, I can't claim that my productivity this past week has been entirely due to sitting in the same spot, but I think it's definitely helped. It's like have a special place where you can shut out the world and just focus on creating the things that make you happy. And I'm loving it!

Do you have any writing rituals or special places where you create? We'd love to hear about them (or see pictures)!

Emily is much more a creature of habit than she'd like to admit. She's also a Disney freak and working on becoming an uber-nerd. Follow her exploits here every Friday or on Twitter @EmilyKSinger.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Beginnings

A few months ago, I started free-writing a book that I really liked. A few weeks into that, I realized I needed to outline the book. I didn't want to give up on it, so I went out of my way to give it the best shot I could. That required writing a brief outline that I will now follow to the end. Ish. I'll make some twists and turns, and it'll look different by the end. But it gives me a chance to finish the book!

That's something I learned over the years. On our feed, you'll notice that this week we talk about my first novel. My trunk novel. It was awful. In no small part because I didn't have an outline. Not a good one, anyway.

Every time I finish a book, failure or success, it gives me the chance for a new beginning. I take what I learned from the last manuscript and see how it can apply to my next one. That cumulated knowledge will eventually propel to a successful career (what that looks like is a different topic that may only be discussed in hind-sight).

What do your new beginnings look like? Have you started something lately? Do you remember your first beginning?

Giles is trying to keep all of his geese in the air, but juggling isn't his forte. He still managed to put together a post today, however short!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Creative Coma

A couple of weekends ago I made a really good decision. Thanks to that decision, I have fallen into a creative coma. And it sucks. 

The backstory:
Many of you know that I’m working on a young adult novel called WE ARE MONSTERS. I started it on a dare because I was thoroughly convinced that anything I wrote in first person was going to sound lame and would never, ever be interesting to anyone except for myself and maybe one or two close friends.

Then I began to get feedback from beta readers – really, really good feedback. I was terribly flattered…and terrified. What had I done?! I had accidentally created half of something that could be successful. Various curse words coursed through my brain whenever I thought of it. I mocked myself every chance I got:

“No one else ever likes first person.” (Totally and completely false)

“Superpowers just aren’t cool right now.” (Psh. Superpowers are always cool)

“I’ll never be good at sticking to this schedule.” (Says the control freak who gets a rush from alphabetizing her book collection)

And then:
A few experts kindly helped me attack the dilemma, and a couple of weeks ago I decided that this joke of a book should be treated not with laughter on my end, but with serious dedication

Why isn’t it working out? Yeah, um…I have no idea. I haven’t written more than 2,000 words in the past two weeks, a productivity decrease of about 75%. It’s like I’m parked at a stop sign, waiting for it to turn green. Any second now I’m going to realize that it’s a sign and signs aren’t lights… Any day now I’ll have the motivation to kick myself into gear. Aaaaaany day now...

How do you jump back in to things when you feel like your creativity is in a coma?

Michelle is a weird person at heart. She daydreams about how awesome it would be to be a fire-breathing dragon so she could roast her own marshmallows and then eat them without getting gobs of gooey sugar all over her fingers. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Practice Makes 'Perfect'

This week's episode kicks off our three-week look at some of our trunk novels from the three of us co-hosts. Lucky (or not) for me, I got to go first. If you've listened to this week's episode already, you know the general gist of how it went. If you haven't, here's a spoiler: that story is bad.

I'm not going to go into details of how bad here, because we did that in the episode, but I am going to take a moment to talk about how much practice and study can really improve a craft.

In almost a decade of writing and practicing the craft, I went from long, rambling sentences that make no sense, to creating a publishable short story (this sentence is obviously exempt from the 'getting over long, rambling sentences' thing).

I don't say this to brag--I hope it's an encouraging statement. No matter where you start or how bad your work is right now, there's always hope. You just have to put the effort in to learn and practice and grow.

They say the best way to learn the craft of writing is to read, and practice writing. Read widely, both in your genre and outside of it, and study what other authors are doing. Challenge your own writing with prompts and unusual thinking. And don't give up.

That's the most important thing, I think--don't give up. If I'd have stopped writing when I finished that trunk novel, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere. Even though there's no such thing as 'perfect' when it comes to the arts, practice definitely improves your skill and the work you produce.

So listen to my trunk novel on this week's episode, then grab a copy of the Crossing Colfax anthology (ebook version coming soon), and read my short story "Colfax Kitsune" to see what a difference time, practice, and great feedback can make.

And, if you're interested, send us the first few pages of your trunk novel to talk about on the air! Remember: we're laughing with you!

Emily's glad she's made progress since her early years of writing--otherwise we'd have a problem with timelines and wibbly-wobbly things. She's currently working on about a million projects at the same time, including figuring out how to actually turn into a butt-kicking cyborg hobbit. Find more of her rambles on Twitter @EmilyKSinger.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sick Day

I got unexpectedly sick today, so I'm calling in sick. Listen to our feed, check out the great trunk novel Emily wrote years ago, and then stay tuned on Friday for her post. Possibly about the trunk novel, possibly about other things.

Giles isn't feeling well, so think you, readers, for putting up with his short post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What You Should Read

As a writer and a reader, I get this question a lot:

"What should I read?"

I almost never know how to answer. Reading is so subjective, and one book that I love might bore you to death. Case in point: Frankenstein. I LOVE Frankenstein. I think it is one of the most brilliant books in the entire history of books. It's the result of a "challenge accepted" sort of writing battle (which, personally, I think Mary Shelley totally won).

But I digress. What should you read? You should read something that makes you excited to read. You should read things that make you excited to live and breath and eat yummy food. And if you finish a book and don't feel that way, find another one.

The problem with asking me what you should read comes in two parts. First of all, is that I don't usually know the asker very well. Second, I have this quirky desire to make sure that EVERYONE EVERYWHERE loves books. So when someone asks me what to read, I first want to tell them to read every single one of my favorite books and authors.

And the problem with that is that very few people adore the same weird things that I do. But you can't overcompensate by giving them a list full of too many classics, because those can be pretty heavy and tough to get through.

So what should you read? It depends on your mood.

  • Need laughter, satire, and dry humor? Grab Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. 
  • Love dystopias but hate whiny girls? Pick up We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
  • Feeling like messing with some fantasy tropes? I loved Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. 
  • Yearning for a dark fantasy about the undead? Find Sabriel by Garth Nix
    (the audiobook's read by Tim Curry!)
  • Love video games and books that just get better? Choose Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. 

What kinds of books do you tell people they need to read?

Please forgive Michelle for posting an entire day late...she may have fallen asleep right after she got home from work/tutoring last night. And, as you may know, writing is impossible while unconscious.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Beauty of Community

A while ago, I talked about how important it was for me to have an amazing critique group. I realized at the RMFW conference last weekend that it's not just about the critique group--it's about having a support network of other writers.

There's something wonderful that happens when you get a bunch of creative people together for any significant period of time. We tend to clump together (after we get over our initial shyness) and create this incredible camaraderie that only comes from hanging out with 'your tribe'--the people who really understand the quirks and tics of being creative--brainstorms, commiseration, encouragement, and a sense of belonging.

I used to think that I could do it all alone. I could sit at home and write and put it out on the internet (ha) and readers would come to me and I didn't have to get better. Now would be an appropriate time to insert this meme:

Creating isn't about being alone or shoving your own work down someone else's throat. It's about finding or creating a community of like-minded people with whom you can find mutual support on the long and rocky road. It's about staying up way too late and drinking a little too much with people on the same journey you're on, talking about ideas and where you're headed and which agents/editors/publishers might be interested in your story. It's about throwing ideas around and working together to create incredible, ridiculous things you couldn't do on your own (just like this podcast).

And I never quite realized how beautiful that is until I jumped head-first into it.

If you create, don't do it alone. Find others who work in your medium and find a way to share the experience. I bet it'll enrich your life in ways you never even dreamed.

Emily is a massive introvert, so being around people is a double-edged sword. But she loves hanging out with other writers, especially when they skip the short jokes. Be online friends with her on Twitter @emilyksinger.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

I just finished this book today. And it's awesome! Every chapter gave me something to look forward to, something to make my brain work, and questions that I needed answers to. I loved it!

The story can be convoluted at parts, so I won't give you a synopsis. It all ties together in a neat bow, and at no point did I find myself bored. Even when he started going into complex math that flew over my head. In fact, the math is one of the best parts of this book, in my opinion. Even when I don't understand it, I enjoy trying to understand complex math. Which is odd because math is the reason I dropped out of college.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this book, especially if you like WWII history (even though some of the history is fictionalized), and if you like treasure hunts, ensemble casts, computer discussions (admittedly out of date since this was published in 1999), and a great mystery that weaves itself together like a tapestry.

I know, this isn't necessarily the "best" book review in the world, but I loved this book. I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of the implications of the story, even after I know how all of the story lines come together. It's inspiring. I want to read it again, and probably will some day. Honestly, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Giles is a lover of books, first and foremost. He's a geek who enjoys computers and math, especially when they're well-written in fiction. You can follow him on Twitter and keep an eye out for other projects in the not-so-distant future.

Also, go check out for some of the best Sci-Fi-inspired music of all time.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Find Your Tribe

Over the weekend the Beyond the Trope team went to the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. We didn’t go to market the podcast – we went as a few nerdy writers looking for knowledge.

As a classic introvert I not only recognize the need for writers’ groups, I applaud them. I’m the kind of person who waits outside a party until someone I know shows up. I observe for minutes/hours/days before I participate. But once I figure out what the name of the game is, I’m fine. No more jumpy nerves. No more random trips to the car just so I can gear up for the next hour of hobnobbing (true story).

Being a member of this giant group of writers has given me opportunities I never would have found on my own. Forget the awesomeness of the podcast – during conferences and other events I get to talk to some of the greatest names in the industry. Sometimes I feel a bit starstruck, but mostly I just feel thankful. I have gained mountains of knowledge from these trailblazers, but I have also been left with the suggestion that I, too, can be a trailblazer like them.

I used to think that writers, since we tend to be such crazy loners, wouldn’t want to share information. It was silly, and now I know I was wrong. Writers are some of the best people in the world. I mean it. There’s nothing we love more than helping one another get places. If I hadn’t discovered this fact a few years ago, I wouldn’t be a writer today. I probably would have gone back to school and pushed aside my writing dreams. That would have led to extreme unhappiness, a few life crises, and many, many tears.

If you’re a writer or any type of creative person, and you haven’t yet found a tribe of crazy people just like you, you’re missing out. Go now and find them. Friends are nice, but friends who share your passions are even better. The best part? Your dreams will get bigger, and they will also get closer.

Michelle likes to rouse the rabble with a little peanut-gallery spice. She laughs at her own jokes, even when they aren't very funny. Her big dream right now is a work-in-progress about superpowers and awkward moments.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


With the world of a writer being so lonely at times, I'm a big fan of conferences. It's a place to engage in a community. A way to remind yourself that you're not alone in the process, even if you're the only one writing your story. People working through similar struggles (whether it's writer's block, a long string of rejections, poor sales, or any other number of issues that writers face) can commiserate and encourage each other not to give up.

The writing organization I belong to (RMFW) is holding their annual conference this Friday through Sunday (note that Emily's weekly post will be replaced with a special announcement since she'll be at the conference very early and all weekend). I love this conference, and I look forward every year to meeting up with writers who I tend to only see at this event. It gives me a chance to chat with them about their projects, hear how they're doing with their process, and often enough, we get to hang out with editors and agents who are there to teach and take pitches.

Even though I won't be pitching this year (formally, at least), getting to know editors and agents is one of my favorite parts of the conference. Not because I'm "making contacts," but because I get to meet people with a different perspective. In fact, I try to go out of my way to make them feel welcome, since they're coming into a very tight-knit group and can feel like outsiders. And many of them feel pressured to listen to pitches all the time, even when they just want to eat food. My thought is that, if they feel welcome and unpressured, they'll be more likely to come back.

If you're able to go to a conference, I strongly recommend it. Beyond the Trope wouldn't exist if the three of us hadn't invested our time in a writing conference, and the three of us could very-well be going insane, trying to do this all on our own.

If you're at the RMFW con this weekend, drop by and say hello. If not, try to get there next year. It's one of the best conferences in the country (in my opinion). I'll be there, as myself, learning how to be a better writer.