Friday, January 30, 2015

Tropes on TV Take I

We talk a lot about tropes on the podcast (which, I know, is a surprise given that we're call "Beyond the Trope.") But one of the things we enjoy the most is twisting tropes around and using them in new and unexpected ways.

There are plenty of books and movies and shows out there that do this--some better than others--but one that I'm currently obsessed with I think does a really good job is the former-NBC-turned-Yahoo-show Community. I was late on the Community bandwagon, but I'm on it now and here are some of the reasons why I love it:

  • A beautifully diverse cast (in race, religion, age, etc. AND one of the main characters is canonically on the Autism spectrum)
  • Meta/self-referential humor everywhere 
  • Surprise heartbreaking moments just when you're starting to think this show is a completely goofy comedy 
  • Pop culture references and jokes at the best possible times 
  • Sheer ridiculousness 
  • Wonderful tropes and trope-twisting in almost every episode, especially the pop culture parody episodes (of which there are many)
  • Musical episodes, stop-motion animation, paintball wars, pillow and blanket forts, and a school-wide game of Hot Lava 
  • It's supposed to be set in Colorado, but if you live in Colorado, you know it's really not at all
 Okay, it's a nerd show, through and through.  But I'm a nerd and I'm okay with that. Seriously, though, if you're looking for a great place to see how tropes can be used out in the open (there is about negative subtlety in this show), check it out. And let me know what your favorite trope/twisted trope is!

Emily is one of those people who will binge watch an entire TV show in a matter of weeks (depending on how long it is, obviously) and then demand everyone she talks to watch it, too. She's not at all sorry about it. She also may or may not be building a secret blanket fort with her roommate.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


This week we shared our writing resolutions. Spoiler alert: I said my resolution was to finish my NaNo novel. We recorded back on November 4th, and I was loving my idea, my progress, and the fact that I had a new project.

But I have a confession to make: I'm not going to finish that book. It turned out to be a book more about the setting and technology than the characters or story. I learned something in that: a great book needs to be about the people living the story, regardless of where they are.

While I would love to say that this story could be fixed, I know enough about writing (and my own abilities as a writer) to know that the story itself is, at best, a novella. And not a good one. Definitely not worth the months it would take to turn it into something that I would enjoy.

So that's my confession. I said I was going to finish a book, but it's not going to be that book.

In other (awesome) news, we've expanded our distribution! Now, not only can you get us on iTunes, we're available through Stitcher, too! And we have some awesome new things coming out in the near future. Keep an eye and ear out for all of them.

Stuff about Giles that may or may not be interesting. He's a writer, right? And a blogger. And podcast host. What else do you need to know?

Monday, January 26, 2015


I was about to write a really deep, researched post about writing techniques, and then I realized that my co-hosts spent their posts last week gushing. Giles talked about success and things we’ve learned, and Emily went squee over some interviews and events we have planned.

I can’t very well let them have the only excitement. Our first anniversary is looming, and here’s what I’m excited for: change.

I love what we’ve done so far. Beyond the Trope has progressed past everything I thought it would be. Honestly, at first I imagined we would record for a year or so, and then we would let ourselves get too busy to do it, and it would kind of fade away. It’s not that I didn’t want to turn it into a brand, a business or (maybe someday) a money-maker; I just had no idea it was even possible. I went into the idea with absolutely no goals except for “Let’s have some fun”.

And now, things are going to change. Some people freak out when this happens. I should know – I just moved and even though it’s awesome, it’s also weird. My status quo has completely changed, and I’m not quite used to it yet. But the change was and is for the best.

That’s how it’s going to be with the podcast. You’re going to see some fantastic visual transformations over the next month or so. I am so excited for these changes, you guys. Oh, man. So. Excited. I know a podcast is more about what you hear than what you see, but in the end, everything is going to get better.

Keep an eye out in future posts for hints of things that are going to get better!


Michelle thinks it’s hilarious that all of those reporting classes from college are actually helping her with something as fun as a podcast. Who knew something you hated could turn into something so great?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Freak Out

This year is going to be huge. I can feel it.

At Beyond the Trope, we'll be talking to some incredible authors over the next few months. I can't, unfortunately, announce just who yet, but it's going to be amazing. Two of them are on my list of all-time favorite authors ever. (We already talked to Giles' all-time favorite author ever, so it's time Michelle and I got the same deal, right?)

I've also got the chance to meet another of my all-time favorite authors through my day job and the Pen and Podium series here in Denver later this year. I'm going to actually get to shake his hand and have a conversation!

Honestly, I'm hoping I can just keep myself composed for all of this instead of melting into a big ball of squealing fangirl.

That's the thing about doing something like a nerdy writing podcast: if you really put your back into it and take chances and have an awesome group with you, you can open doors you never even thought to look for on your own.

So, thanks to Michelle and Giles and The Other Emily for helping to make this a thing. And thank you to all of our listeners and friends and supporters, and all the awesome people who have come on the show to talk to us so far. I know we've said it a lot recently, but we really do appreciate you and we wouldn't be where we are or staring down the sweetness of the next few months without you!

Emily may or may not have taken this post as an excuse to brag vaguely about the awesome things she'll be doing this year. She may or may not be a little bit sorry about it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Gauging Success

What is success? What is failure? For many people and many situations, that depends on perspective. As Emily mentioned last Friday, January 18th was the first anniversary of our first recording date. February 25th is when we "officially" went live.

Would I consider this first year of ours a success? Yes, for many reasons, but specifically for two: One, we lasted the year and came through it with a desire to create MORE content rather than call it quits. Two: since we weren't exactly sure what goals to set, our goals were very minimal. I can't even remember what all of them were. Which means I don't know if we met them. However, (and this is the actual reason) we learned a LOT! We learned how to produce content. How to build relationships with people. How to interview guests and make sure the conversation is worth listening to.

There are many more goals for the next year, but as with many enterprises, those goals are moving targets. We're going to constantly reevaluate them to make sure they're reasonable, achievable, and (even if they're very difficult), we're going to pursue them to make sure Beyond the Trope is around for quite some time. Hopefully.

Thank you, everyone, for listening and joining in. My only request is that you continue to spread the word. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell random strangers on the street. You're as much a part of our success as any other reason I could list.

Rocket boots and magic books. The very essence of what Giles loves in literature. Remember when life was dull? Giles does. And a year into Beyond the Trope, he still doesn't miss it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Trouble With Endings

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about finishing Draft One of The Most Awesome Thing Ever*. I thought I was done. For all intents and purposes, I was. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. Character arcs, plot points, between-the-lines jokes. It was all there.

Except, well, it wasn’t actually done. I thought it was done, but after reading over those final scenes yet again, I realized that I was wrong. It was far from done. The ending I’d written was too much and not enough. It was unsatisfying. Worse, I had no idea how to fix it.

So I did what any self-respecting aspiring writer would do. I peaked over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking and typed quickly: Dear Google, I said, how the heck do you end a novel?

The results were interesting. Some of them were compilations of the Best and Worse endings to books and movies. I opened a bunch of links and scanned them for something – ANYTHING – I could use. I was desperate. I’d already told people I was done, and it felt like lying to jump back in and keep writing. I needed advice.

Then I stumbled upon an article from Writer’s Digest. The writer presents a great argument for thinking of an ending not as the final two pages, but as the final chapters of a book. One of the lines from the article has really stuck with me over the past few days: “Does the Closer leave us feeling a sense of wonder?”

Readers remember exciting plot points, sure, but mostly they remember emotions. I turned my brain inside out, trying to think of just what kind of ending would result in wonder. It took a few tries and some coaching from Emily, but I think I finally got it. 

Of course, now that it's really done, I feel kind of sad about it all coming to a close. Hmmm... Maybe I could tweak it just a little bit... 

Michelle does, in fact, begin her web searches by announcing “Dear Google” for anyone who is nearby to hear. Her office buddy has gotten used to it, but her dog still thinks it’s really weird.  

*Not the actual title. 

Friday, January 16, 2015


Sunday, January 18th is the one-year anniversary of our first recording day for Beyond the Trope--the day we sat down to iron out details, find a name for our podcast, and recorded our first three episodes.

It's had to believe it's been a year already. We've come so far from just a vague concept developed before a critique group meeting. We've talked to some incredible people, discussed fascinating subjects, and grown closer as a group.

And the best part is there's only more awesomeness to come! Already this year, we've recorded some great episodes with Susan Spann, interviewed the fantastic Gail Carriger, and have a handful of other incredible authors lined up for the next few months (we're so excited, but we can't make an official announcement yet). Basically, this year is looking like it'll be incredible and we're only halfway through January.

So, happy one-year recording anniversary to Beyond the Trope! Thank you so much to all of our listeners and your support through this year. We hope you're looking forward to our second year as much as we are!

Emily's kind of psyched we've made it a full year with this big, strange podcast thing. She's thrilled to have such great friends in Giles and Michelle, and she can't wait to see what cool things we all get to do in the future.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Options a Writer Has

This is our second week discussing Amazon's Kindle Scout, and this week in the podcast, we looked at the contract from a novice writer's perspective. I recommend listening to both episodes, and keeping a lookout for episode 3 in February where we talk to Susan Spann about the actual user agreement.

Until then, consider this: as writers, many of us are looking for more options. Ways to get our books out in front of readers. If this means we choose to self-publish, pitch to small-press, or stick with the traditional agent-then-big 6 route, it's still nice to know there's more than one way to pursue our dreams.

Amazon's Kindle Scout is definitely another option. As of right now, it's too early to tell if it's a good one or a bad one, but a listener wrote in last week and told me that, so far, he's had a great experience working with the people over at Scout. I'll save the details for later (when he has more information to share), but while it may appear, at face value, to either be the Golden Answer (whatever that means) or the Great Destructor, it seems to be neither. So far.

This is going to come across as very wishy-washy, but I want to leave the discussion here. Competition often helps writers and readers, and it often hurts them. The landscape is changing so much that making a prediction would be a waste of time. Right now, I want to keep an eye on the situation and keep talking about it as new information becomes available.

Giles has never been a prognosticator, despite the pointy hat. He simply tries to understand the direction of the business based on previous events in similar industries (like the digital revolution in the music industry). Take everything he says, both here and on Twitter, as opinion mixed with a touch of insider wisdom (again from the music industry).

Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Survive Critique

Join a critique group, they said.
“You’ll get so much better.”
“It’s so helpful.”
“Having a writing community is a must.”


Critique groups, in all actuality, are not for the faint of heart. Oh, they’re helpful and necessary and pretty much everything you’ve ever heard about them is true. But if you don’t know how to survive critique, they won't do you much good.

After recently realizing that my own critique group is coming up on our four-year “anniversary”, I tried to think of what could possibly have kept us going for so long. I mean, four years. We’re friendly, but there are some weeks that simply feel like my soul has been ripped from my body and feasted on in a scene not unlike the death of Aslan*.

The art of surviving a critique group is a tricky one. For me, it was a matter of realizing I was not God’s gift to the writing world. It took time to get a thicker skin and to learn how to edit, not rewrite, other people’s stories.

Here’s my (personal) guide to how to survive criticism from a critique group:

Realize that everyone has different critiquing strengths.
Some people are gifted copyeditors. Others can spot a plot hole a mile away. Figure out who is good at what and who knows your target audience the best, and listen to those people when it applies to your scene.

Figure out how to parse through comments.
Some comments are better than others, and others may only partially apply to your work. Just because one comment says you should change something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Think of how it will change the entire story – one conversation could completely derail the rest of the book, but no one but you may know this. Once you know where you’re headed, it’s much easier to get directions from others.

Learn to edit yourself.
As a French teacher, I often noticed that hundreds – nay, gazillions – of mistakes could have been avoided had students taken my advice to [A] edit themselves and [B] read things aloud. French that doesn’t sound pretty is almost never correct. The same can go for English. Read it aloud, and if it doesn’t sound right, change it. You can catch common problems before your critique group even looks at the pages. Do you overuse certain words or tend to forget about dialogue tags? Find out what your downfalls tend to be, and from there you can fix these issues before they plague you during the actual meeting.

If you don’t put the same level of effort into reading and critiquing that your group does, you miss out. The point is not to rejoice when you find “mistakes” in someone else’s writing. Just…no. No. Instead, focus on helping and encouraging. Don’t forget that everyone is in the same boat. You are all trying to attain something awesome. Besides, the more you read other people's pages, the more you’ll understand what works and what fails in your own writing. 

This message was brought to you by Michelle, who is currently planning Second Breakfast. And maybe even Third Breakfast. And tea time. There must be tea time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Constant Change

In our podcast this week (our first episode of the year!), we started a long discussion on Amazon's Kindle Scout imprint, and it got me thinking: will the landscape of publishing ever "level out"?

I'm not trying to prophecy, here, or prognosticate, or anything of the sort, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the answer is "No." At least not any time soon. As technology continues to change and evolve, and as the business of writing adapts to those technological changes, the process for getting published, the opportunities to get book into the hands of readers, are all going to remain in flux.

It's safe to say that e-books aren't going anywhere, and I applaud the big houses for accepting that and making an effort to integrate that format into their models. Obviously, with e-books, self-publishing will only continue to grow as a segment of the publishing world, especially now that "traditionally" published authors are going out of their way to self-publish books for numerous reasons.

Kindle Scout marks another change in the landscape, in large part because they're taking a hybrid crowd-sourced/traditional-aquasition approach to publishing. As I said in the episode this week, I think it's a great idea. In theory, gets readers involved with new authors without forcing them to buy a book FIRST. It helps readers become part of an audience, building enthusiasm for a new product, and getting them invested. Whether it turns out that way is yet to be seen, but I like the concept, without a doubt.

I think big things are coming for the entire publishing world over the next year, and I'm excited (and a little nervous) to see what those are and how they influence the lives of writers and readers.

Next week, make sure you come back to listen to Part 2 of our Scout discussion, where we approach the topic from a writer's perspective. Then, in February, we'll be back with a long interview featuring author and lawyer, Susan Spann, to dissect the user agreement.

Giles is working hard after a great vacation. His hopes for the future extend beyond publishing since he's going back to school, in large part, to drive Beyond The Trope into a new era that will (hopefully) make it last in the podosphere for years to come.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Best of Days

Today is my first day back at my day job after 2.5 weeks of vacation. Those 18 days marked the final weeks of what was, for me, a really great year. 2013 sucked, but 2014 was really great. And now that it’s 2015 I’m excited for a year I know will be even better than the last.  

Being away from my desk and all the emails/meetings/projects/colleagues taught me a few things, too: 
  1. I always wake up at 8:30. I can go to bed at 3 a.m. and still, with no alarm, wake up at 8:30. What.
  2. My dog wants me to wake up at 7, the jerk.
  3.  I think it may be impossible for me to not be productive unless either [A] sleeping or [B] watching a movie.
  4.  Mint tea is the best.

The most important thing I learned is sort of complicated. My favorite day of vacation was a 12-hour period of writing and drinking mint tea. I was teased for not moving all day* and for not wearing real clothes**. I don’t actually remember if I ate anything…I’m almost sure scrambled eggs were involved at some point. The point is, it was awesome. It felt like I was recharging my soul battery.

Instead of a resolution this year, I just want to be able to remember that feeling of 10,000 words traveling the highway between my brain and my fingertips. It’s like remembering where you come from in order to know where you’re going. I can look back on that day and say, “Hey, that’s how I know what I love.” It may not sound like a great day to most people, but to me it was the best of days. 

Michelle's hidden talents include drawing straight lines, making perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, and drinking entire cartons of chocolate almond milk before anyone else gets a taste. 

* In my defense, I did go for a run before sitting down to write. And I walked to the kitchen several times for more tea. That totally counts, right?
** Pajamas are THE BOMB

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year!

Like Giles, I'm not a huge resolution person. I tend to get bogged down in the 'ugh, I'm not making any progress' guilt and then just give up, which is not what I'd like to do! So I take New Years to look at my goals and my dreams, what I want to make out of my life, what I did to achieve those last year, and how I can make bigger strides forward this year.
I have a lot of goals I'm working toward in 2015, not the least of which is to write more. Historically, I have trouble finishing things (just ask my critique group about that; Michelle will probably wax poetic about how bad I am at finishing things), so this year I'm hoping to get better at sticking with a project through to the bitter end.

It won't be easy, and I'll admit I'm a little afraid that I'm going to fail miserably. But, hey, we'll never get anywhere if we don't try!

So this is another short, after-holiday post from Emily.

Happy New Year from Beyond the Trope! Let us know what your 2015 goals/resolutions/hopes are on Facebook or Twitter!

Emily's also trying to get more organized and remember all of her blogging days this year! Follow her rambles progress on Twitter @Emilyksinger.