Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

I'm lucky; I get to be the Halloween blogger! Halloween is my favorite holiday, mostly because I grew up in a theatrical family and inherited the love of everything costumes and makeup and make-believe.

When I was a toddler, my dad would dress up and hide in the yard to scare the trick-or-treaters. He'd take me out with him and I would laugh and laugh and laugh--I was never afraid of the man in the mask because I knew it was my dad. But my parents never got over that (and I think it's still funny to this day).

This year, I dressed up in costume all day because I love having the excuse! There's something incredible about being able to pretend that you're someone else without having people automatically think you're crazy.

And, honestly, I think that's part of what I like so much about writing, too--I get to pretend, and create new worlds, and get into someone else's head without getting recommended for therapy. Basically, writing lets me continue to be a kid as long as I want, and you just can't beat that!

Emily's not really into scary things, but she's going to have a blast tonight handing out candy to all the costumed kids. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter @Emilyksinger.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Year of False Starts

Last year I started pitching, arguably, the best book I've ever written. Since then, I've struggled to come up with the NEXT book to write. The book I'm pitching has series potential, but every piece of advice I've read from every editor and agent in the industry says that writing the sequel to a book that hasn't sold is a waste of time. It's investing time in a project that may never go anywhere, business-wise.

So I'm trying to write the next book. And I've started four different projects, only to have them fall flat. A few of them start out great, but once I get into them, the conflicts resolve themselves too easily. I outline another project only to find that the characters are flat. The conflict is irrelevant to the protagonists. Too much Deus (pronounced DAY-oos, not deuce, because it's latin for God, not 2) ex Machina.

It's a tough place to be as a writer. I hate sitting still and just "thinking" about writing. But I hate wasting time on bad writing that's also not going anywhere.

What does it mean for this writer? Well, I'm going to do something that, in seventeen years of writing, I have never attempted: I'm going to participate in NaNoWriMo.

Over the years, I've had many reasons not to participate, and they've evolved over the years. One of the biggest has always been that I've been in the middle of other projects when November rolls around, and I'm not going to put books on hold for something that's intended to get new writers to take that first leap.

So why participate this year? Well, it starts on Saturday. I'm tired of starting projects and not finishing them. NaNo is a personal challenge for me to finish a first draft THIS YEAR! Finally, why not? I should just dive in and do it.

This year of false starts will not end badly if I have anything to say about it. I'm not a quitter. Just you wait and see!

Giles wrote this on a Saturday where he WANTED to give up. But, as stated above, he's not a quitter. He uses blogs, at times, to work out ideas in his mind and share his thoughts for success with others. Even if it doesn't work for him (though it did this time), it might help someone else.

Follow him on Twitter.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Surviving Online Comments

Feedback can be the life and death of a writer. When I go to critique group, it feels great to find out that a scene I struggled with actually worked for everyone. On the other hand, comments of “I didn’t understand this” or “This would not have happened with a real bomb” make me fidgety. I like hearing good things.

But that’s a safe environment. I know that when someone says they didn’t understand a scene, they will try to give me ideas for fixing it. If they know more about bombs than I do (and they usually do), they tell me. It’s very unlike the Internet, where trolls abide like the plague.

The most painful comments I’ve received online were for a bit of ghostwriting I did for a client. Every once in a while I look through the site to see how many views or comments my pieces have. I tend not to actually read many comments, since it’s not my job to answer them.

Last month, however, I read the remarks on one article and got a huge ego boost. Everyone said the subject really spoke to them. They loved it. So, of course, I decided it couldn’t hurt to read the comments on another one of my articles, one I was relatively proud of.

Big. Mistake.

It was like getting ding-dong ditched, punched in the nose, laughed at, and pansed in public, all at the same time. The comments were so awful that I read back through the article, trying to figure out what had offended people. My conclusion was that half of the people only read the first two or three paragraphs. A quarter read most of the blog while they were watching TV and talking to their boyfriend. And the remaining quarter read the whole thing with full attention.

If you want to be a professional writer, you will face months like this. People will read your short story or blog or novel or poem, and they will react like you said you like killing small children. It will sting, and it will be beyond frustrating. It hasn’t quite been long enough for me to say, “If you stick with it, look what happens!” I don’t know what will happen in my case or in yours. But I do know that writers before me have also received bad reviews and nasty online comments, and they’ve survived.

And, hey, if we can survive online haters, we can survive anything.

How do you feel about reading online comments? Yea? Nay?

This month Michelle has also survived a crazy wasp in a plumbing store, a texting driver on the highway, and ceiling tiles with a mind of their own. It’s been an adventure, to say the least. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Time Flies

It's the last day of plagiarism week, but anything I could possibly add on the subject has already been said, either in Michelle and Giles' blog posts or in the episode itself. So, instead of rehashing it, I'm going to go in a completely different direction!

November is right around the corner--and it marks the ten-month anniversary of our first recording day (the nine-month anniversary of our first episode launch). This is kind of mind-blowing to me.

When we started this endeavor, we weren't even positive we were going to make it past our first recording day. Now, we're staring a full year right in the face, and making plans to ramp it up after January. It's thrilling and terrifying and it'll require all sorts of forethought that I'm not used to.

But it's worth it. Hopefully, we're entertaining and informative to all of our incredible listeners. I know that we have a blast recording this podcast and putting it out into the world (and not just because it lets us go to amazing places like Denver Comic Con and Anomaly Con next spring).

I just can't wrap my head around the fact that 2014 is coming to a close already!

If you need her, Emily's going to be rocking back and forth in the corner, trying to figure out where the year went. Or, you know, rambling incoherently on Twitter @Emilyksinger.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Plagiarism

When I was in college, I remember seeing the warnings agains plagiarism and thinking, "Why would you even do that?" You see, with all of the classes I took, real research had to go into almost every project. We were required to have a minimum number of sources, too. Which meant that ninety percent of the work took place off of the page. The idea that ten percent of the work was "too much effort" boggled my mind. With academics, it made sense to do the research, then write my own thoughts (where appropriate since the majority of academia frowns on the author using their own thoughts, anyway), and then cite, cite, cite.

In fiction, half the POINT of writing is to create something new to share with other people. The little stories running around in my head sound like they'd be more enjoyable if more people read them. The stories that have already been published: they're either SO exciting that I want to TALK with other people ABOUT them, or they don't hold my interest enough to bother with them (not a put-down on anyone's writing, it's just that it's all subjective, and I'm not going to put effort into something that didn't move me).

Either way, stealing someone else's story is a waste of time. If I love the story, I want other people to read it so that the creator GETS THEIR DUE! If I don't, then why should I waste my time copying the story?

Certainly not for the money. Even if I churned out five stories in a year by stealing someone else's work, and managed to sell them all for, let's say a year (and not through traditional pub because I'd be more likely to get caught), I wouldn't even come close to making enough money to justify my time. Then, when I got caught (notice I said WHEN not IF), I'd owe someone a TON of money, and I'd lose any audience I'd built, and then I wouldn't be able write anymore.

Not that plagiarism is writing. It's copying. In some cases, literally.

It doesn't make sense on any level, so my advice is: don't do it! It's also illegal.

More than that, it can ruin lives.

Giles doesn't steal stuff. He goes out of his way to give credit where it's due. And if he misses something, it's because his brain isn't working, and he'll go out of his way to make it right.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Laziness in Writing

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but as we talk about in this week’s episode, sometimes imitation goes a little too far. Plagiarism is a huge problem thanks to a coupling of laziness and the Internet.

When I was a teacher, the most frustrating kind of plagiarism was the kind I couldn’t prove. Now, let me just say, it was amusingly easy to spot copy-pasters in my classroom. I was a French teacher, and when students in Level One used verb tenses from AP French Lit, well, it wasn’t too hard to miss.

It didn’t just annoy me because it was stealing. It annoyed me because I saw it as one of the ultimate cop-outs. Every time I saw someone cheat like that on an essay or homework assignment, all I could hear was that student saying, “I don’t care enough about myself or society to actually do any work.”

You can argue with me all you want. I’ve heard every excuse there is:
“It was too hard.”
“I didn’t understand the assignment.”
“But you told us to use the dictionary!”

And my all-time favorite:
“I thought that [section] was there for me to use.”

No matter which way you spin it, plagiarism is cheating and lazy. In school it tends to only hurt the student – the more they copy, the less they understand, the worse their test scores. In real life, it hurts the original thinker by taking away their rightful recognition and, sometimes, hard-earned money. And as a writer and person who gets excited about every penny she earns, the idea of stealing from another writer makes me just as mad as grading papers and seeing plagiarism.

On a positive note, plagiarism is avoidable. It’s easy – be creative, work hard on your own craft, and make sure that if you do ever borrow tropes, they look completely different once you’re done with them. Seek a novel approach, not someone else’s novel!

This post was brought to you by Michelle. She doesn’t really like Halloween, but if you invite her to a costume party she will (almost always) show up as Wonder Woman. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ode to Fall

Fall is my favorite season. I love the way it smells here in Colorado, and the crisp weather (you know, when it's not swinging back into summer every other day), and the pumpkin-flavored everything. There's something inspiringly beautiful about the way the leaves change, and how they crunch underfoot.

In most mythologies, fall is the time when the sun and/or the god of light dies or retreats into darkness. In the Norse myths, it's the time when Baldr is slain by the mistletoe dart (there are debates as to whether or not the trickster god Loki was actually involved; it's an interesting linguistics conversation, if you're interested). In Celtic myth, Lugh is slain by Balor of the evil eye, to be reborn again in the spring. (There are more stories of the sun god's death throughout the world, but those are the two I know well enough to rattle off without thinking too much.)

Halloween started as a celebration of the dead, a remembrance of our ancestors. It still has remnants of that ritual, though we've moved onto worshipping candy and creative costumes.

Fall is a time of death, but we know it will lead into rebirth and renewal by the spring--and that's part of what makes it beautiful. It's like that time when you're on the verge of finishing a project and preparing to lay it aside for a while before jumping into edits. It's a time to look at what we've accomplished over the last year and finish laying in supplies to carry us over into next year.

I've got Avengers-shaped cheese nips, a stock of comics and books to read while it snows, and two manuscripts to finish; what've you got?

Emily did her best to keep her mythology obsession out of the blog, but it just seeped through. When she's not podcasting, writing, reading, or goofing off on Twitter as @emilyksinger, she's probably staring wistfully out the window and imagining different worlds. Because what else is a girl going to do when her imagination won't shut up?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Frame by Jamin Winans

Last night, I was given the opportunity to view and review the new indie sci-fi film, The Frame, by Jamin Winans (writer and director of Ink).

Before I jump into the review, let me say that, first and foremost, I'm not a professional film reviewer. That only matters because it means that I have the privilege of picking and choosing which movies I actually bother to review. For the record, this rule applies to books that I review, as well. And my rule is that if I don't like a movie, I won't review it.

So, with that said, let's move forward.

I went into The Frame without a clue as to what I could expect. The trailer (which is more of a teaser) left a lot open to speculation. I feel that the best way I could review this would be to sit down and watch it at least one more time. I could come up with a better description of what I saw, analyze the finer points of the writing, filmography, and overall artistic style. But as I said, I'm not a professional reviewer. What's important is that I walked away WANTING to see it again. Certain movies are worth seeing once, and then I'll never see them again for one reason or another. This one begs at least one more viewing.

This review may go off the rails for a moment, but that's okay. You'll see my point, soon. Even though the story, style, general feel of The Frame is completely different, it reminded me a LOT of Akira. It took twists and turns that I didn't expect, surprised me from the very beginning, and kept me wanting more, even after the credits started to roll. Aside from style, there's one major key difference between Akira and The Frame, in my mind: I needed, and I mean NEEDED, to see Akira twice before I could decide that I liked it. I genuinely liked The Frame right away.

The acting was great, the scripting (dialogue and character depth) elegantly done, and the production quality reminded me of many of the better films that have come out of Focus Features over the years.

Now the big question: would I recommend it to other people? That depends. Unlike The Avengers, The Hobbit, or any other major blockbuster (which is the type of entertainment candy that I go in for time and time again), The Frame is subtle. At times it felt tough to pin down. Sometimes, I expected it to turn into an action-thriller, then at others, it reminded me of a serious take on John Scalzi's RED SHIRTS.

If I had one complaint (and it would be minor if I did), the sci-fi elements took a lot longer to appear than I expected from a movie billed as a sci-fi thriller. A few of the more sci-fi-ish elements didn't show up until the final act, and while it all tied together in the end, I personally would've like a bit more science fiction from The Frame earlier on.

Let me stress that this did not in any way diminish the overall experience that Jamin produced. But it does make it harder to recommend. If you're into the artsier side of sci-fi (i.e. Philip K. Dick), then I think you'll love this movie. If you want Star Trek or Alien, you may be disappointed.

In all honesty, though, one of the reasons I'm struggling with this review, and why I want to see it again, is because it left me emotionally weighed down. Not in a bad way, and not with negative feelings. But it touched SO MANY emotional cords that I NEEDED to block it out RIGHT AWAY or I wouldn't have slept last night. It felt good, like getting a deep-tissue massage. But it's not for everyone.

So, again, would I recommend this to anyone? Yes. Go see it. Watch it anywhere you can. If you enjoy it, awesome: tell your friends! If not, I could understand that. It's great, but (and here's another analogy for you) it's a lot like fine wine (I know, it's not a beer analogy from the beer guy, but more people understand wine, I guess): the people who KNOW wine love love LOVE the vintage that earned a high price tag. The rest of us (if we enjoy wine at all) know how to appreciate what's in the bottle, but we may not get it. The Frame is a lot like that (even though that's a broken analogy). If you like it, you'll very much understand and appreciate it. If you don't, chances are you'll "get it," but it won't be "your thing."

Finally, I want to thank the producer, Kiowa Winans, for inviting me to the private screening. It was an honor, and I hope this review did the movie justice. It's obvious that a lot of work went into it, and I hope for nothing but the best for everyone involved.

UPDATE: For more, listen to our interview with Jamin and Kiowa Winans here.

Giles slept in way too late this morning because the movie drained him so much. Again, in a good way. This turned out to be an experience he needed, even if he didn't expect it.

He hopes to start discussing movies more in the future, but at the very least, several book reviews will be coming out in the near future. Follow him and Beyond the Trope on Twitter for more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Write a Book Review

I am always afraid of suggesting a book people might dislike or – gasp – hate. The possibility of giving a friend or acquaintance a story that they won’t absolutely adore makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I love book reviews. Sure, you can read the book blurb and what the publisher or author says the book is about, but there’s nothing like a comprehensive, honest-to-the-bone book review to set you on the right track.

I recently started a Goodreads account because I can write book reviews to my heart’s content. Not only is it nice to have a place to go back to in order to remind myself how a book made me feel, it’s a great resource to find new books. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Goodreads, though, it’s that some people are terrible at book reviews.

In my mind you can’t say “This was the best book ever. Loved it” just as much as you can’t say, “No one should read this book, it was awful.” Why not? There’s nothing to go on! A good book review not only gives your opinion, it includes the “why” to that subjective judgment.

In my very humble opinion (feel free to disagree), a good book review isn’t all sunshine or all doom and gloom. It balances pros and cons and takes subjectivity into account. Some of my favorite book reviews ever come from Forever Young Adult. I. Love. This. Site.

Their catchphrase is, “A site for readers who are a little less Y and a bit more A.” They do book reports, movie reviews, and all sorts of other things that have to do with great story.

FYA takes book reports very seriously and they write each one with the same format. This, people, is how you write a book review. Take their review for The Fault in Our Stars as an example – if you read through it before you pick up the book, you get a really good sense of what the book is about and what it will feel like. Reading through the review now, after having read the book, I totally agree with it in almost every way. And I can’t help but love that they all have a “Casting Call” where the reviewer “casts” actors and actresses in the lead roles. It’s magical.

What do you think makes up a good book review? 

Not gonna lie, writing YA book reviews is one of Michelle’s dream jobs. Seriously, you guys. That would be awesome. Until then, though, she will continue to devour YA lit, superhero movies, and DIY project ideas from her home in Colorado. 

Friday, October 10, 2014


First of all, my sincerest apologies for missing my post last week--I'd completely forgotten it was Friday! Lack of sleep does weird things to a brain. Moving on.... 

Have you ever been hit with such intense nostalgia for an old project that it's incredibly tempting to go back and try to rework it, even though you know it's not really fixable? That happened to me this week.

I was plugging away at my new project and all of the sudden, I was hit with this intense fond memory of one of the characters from the novel that took me eight years to write and trunk. I remembered how much I enjoyed writing him, even though most of the feedback I got from various readers was that he wasn't terribly relate-able. I remembered how much fun it was to build the world he lived in, and how wonderful it was to come up with new things to torture him.

In a sense, I lived with this character for eight years and haven't really thought about him in months now. At this point in my writing career, I can't really justify going back to try and massage that story into something readable, but that day or so of nostalgia was so strong!

Isn't it funny how a project can stick with you for ages after you've set it aside? Do you have any projects like that? I'd love to hear about them, so leave a comment!

Emily is well-known for both forgetting which day it is and for holding onto things long after she should have let them go. Follow her stubborn ramblings on Twitter @EmilyKSinger.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This Season

I could get really profound and talk about how I'm about to turn thirty, I'm looking to the future, and I want to pursue a great "coming season" of my life.

That's not what this post is about. I love autumn and winter. They are my two favorite seasons. In fact, if we could skip spring and summer two out of every three years, I'd be ecstatic. Fall is awesome because the leaves are changing, the weather is crisp but sometimes still warm, and I have an excuse to wear a hoodie (which would've meant more a few years ago when I still had my favorite hoodie). I also love the approaching holidays.

I'm not big into halloween, but I enjoy some of the decorations, the parties where I get to hang out with friends, and all of the pumpkin coffee, pastries, egg nog (I LOVE PUMPKIN EGG NOG SO MUCH!!!). I even enjoy a good pumpkin beer now and then.

But after halloween, it's time to gear up for Thanksgiving and Christmas! And the food. OH! The food! My best friend is a chef, and he makes the best Thanksgiving ham I've ever had (because turkey is so passé). It's a chance to reflect on the year, spend time with friends, and enjoy the fact that the 100 degree weather (which didn't really happen this year) is DEFINITELY over.

Personally, I'm gearing up for this season by brewing beer and preparing gifts. Thinking of ideas for things to buy people. That usually includes books. This week, we talked about a few awesome books that would make great gifts, but since it's not quite Christmas shopping time, go buy them for yourself. You need something new to read (as we all do), and you'll be cheating yourself if you don't enjoy a mug of tea or cocoa or coffee with the changing leaves outside and a book in your lap.

Giles enjoys fall and winter because some of his best memories took place in those seasons. He's talking about it today because he's thoughtful about this time of the year.

Go figure.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review: Code Name Verity

I recently cracked open Code Name Verity and stepped through time into World War II. I thought I knew what I was in for: Two best friends, a pilot and a spy, kicking butt and taking names from the Gestapo.

This book that met and exceeded every expectation I had. A friend had hyped it up for me, so I was expecting something good. It was so good, you guys. Oh, my gosh. Let me lay it out for you:

Part One is told from the point of view of the spy, whose name you don’t discover until you’re nearly halfway done with the book. She is in France, being interrogated by the Nazis, and as part of her agreement with the people torturing her she is allowed to write down the story of how she got where she is.

Part Two is told from the point of view of the pilot, the spy’s best friend. Her name is Maddie, and she is trying to get home to England. She writes diary-type entries in near-real-time.

Part One is fantastic. I had to force myself to put it down on more than one occasion. Then I got to Part Two and I literally had to cover the right-hand page with my fingers because I was trying to read so fast I kept on jumping ahead without totally finishing the left page. That’s right. I devoured the last half of the book. I was in total panic mode, and it went like this: “Yay! NOOOO! Awww! AAAAAHHHHHH NOOOOOO! WHAT. YAY!” and so on.

Elizabeth Wein has apparently written many other historical fiction books for young adults, though I haven’t read any of them. Code Name Verity has won an Edgar Award, is a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor-winner, and has many other awards and honors under its belt. And for good reason, too – this book is a whirlwind of emotional reading that grabs you by the hair, yanks you inside, and won’t let you go until the very end.

This book reminded me how much I love historical fiction, and how many different ways tension can be used. Wein’s writing is fluid and strong, and the twists she hides in the story are top-caliber. It was fun, touching, and harrowing, all at the same time.

Next on Michelle’s list of to-read books is the last of the Divergent series and the first of the Harry Dresden Files. She’s always looking for new books and new authors, so if you have any ideas, send them over! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Where We're Going

These trunk novels we've been discussing on the podcast really have me thinking about how far we've all come in our writing. It's surreal to look back at some of that writing, then we look at what we're producing today, and it's almost like two different people wrote those pages.

All three of us are pursuing a career as writers. One of the biggest keys to success is to keep pushing forward, taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. The same goes for this podcasting project. We're pursuing opportunities that will make our long-term goals attainable.

For writing, I'm seeking more eyes on my pages. Talking with friends about the struggles of publishing. And even though I didn't get into Pitch Wars, I'm going to keep looking for an opportunity to get a mentor. Where I'm going, I personally think that may be one of the most beneficial method to improve my writing. And the more I can learn how to make my writing better, the more sustainable my career will become.

No, as far as the podcast goes, we're moving from our free hosting service to a podcasting host. There are many reasons behind this, but the biggest one is predictability. Our current host is only free through March. Then the fees will fluctuate drastically based on usage, including how much data is stored and how many people download each month. With an increase in traffic and a constant increase in data storage, the costs will become prohibitive, and one "off" month that gives us a massive rush in downloads could put us so over the top on cost that we'd have to shut down. Which isn't something any of us want to do.

With that said, there are other big events coming up that will move us forward as a group, including conferences next year, upcoming interviews, and (hopefully) an exciting partnership that we'll discuss if/when it becomes a real possibility.

Giles is excited for the future, and he's working hard to make Beyond the Trope a successful long-term project. Stay tuned for more news, and follow him on Twitter to see where his writing is headed.