Monday, March 30, 2015

9 Things I Learned About Corsets at AnomalyCon

We've seen the movies. We know that Mammy laces Scarlett into a corset that makes her waist only 17 inches around. Elizabeth Swann wears a corset and faints off a cliff. Anna Valerious kicks vampire butt while wearing one.

But when it comes to wearing a corset in real life, are those things even possible? When I decided to wear a corset for AnomalyCon 2015, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I'd heard the myths and seen the movies, but I'd never actually worn one myself.

Here are 9 things I learned about corsets this weekend:

1. Lizzie Bennett's hems were 6 inches deep in mud because there comes a point at which you just don't flippin' care any more. When you're strapped into a corset, there is only so much movement you can handle. And bending over to grab your skirts to lift them over every single mud puddle simply isn't one of them.

2. You don't eat or drink [alcohol] as much. Seriously. I usually get hungry every couple of hours. In the corset, though, I would eat a tiny portion and be set for several hours. The same went for alcohol -- I drank 3/4 of a beer after dinner one night and discovered that was all I needed/wanted.

3. Swooning is a thing. You know how everyone in the old books and movies always have smelling salts around to wake women from fainting? That's because your body naturally takes in enough oxygen for the unbound form. Strap it into a corset, and you won't always breathe deeply enough. And when you don't breathe, you get lightheaded. And then you swoon.

4. Women were surrounded by men and servants for a dang good reason: help. I could just about get into my corset alone, but if I wanted it to fit perfectly I needed help. When standing or getting up from a low chair, or climbing in and out of cars, I kept thinking that having a man offer his hand to help me would not be unappreciated*.

5. Taking a turn about the room is one of the most refreshing things on the planet. After an hour-long on-stage interview, I grabbed a glass of water and walked around the auditorium. It was glorious. You see, the corset is actually very comfortable while you're standing or walking. But when you sit, you get one position: straight up, feet on the floor. If you cross your legs and your corset is longer, you could cut off your circulation**. Lean back too far and you crush your ribs. Lean forward too far and you waste your lower back holding yourself still.

6. The ladies' room? It's an adventure. That's all I'll say.

7. Moving is entirely possible, but limited. How the heck Anna Valerious in Van Helsing runs and jumps and does gymnastics in a corset is beyond me. I can get a tiny bit of running. And hand-to-hand fighting, totally***. But the full-on cardio workout? Nope.

8. Corsets make you look dang good, people. From the tiny waist to the better posture, there's just something about a well-fitting corset that catches the eye.

9. It's empowering. I now understand why women got rid of the corset and the confining life it could lead to. Relying on men and lady friends to help you do everything can be taxing****. But choosing to wear it now is a different thing altogether -- you feel pretty, and there's nothing like feeling pretty to feel empowered.

Here are some photographic memories of the superlative time we at Beyond the Trope had while traipsing through AnomalyCon 2015:

"FREE!!! super awesome magnetic bling" 

The view from our table :)

The magnets were almost gone by Saturday night!

Michelle's only regret this weekend was not taking more pictures. She took some, but not enough...

*But in the meantime, I totally perfected the graceful "fall" necessary to get into a car.
**...yeah...that happened...
***Emily (Giles' wife) and I took a self-defense class and I could do everything they needed me to do. In a corset and floor-length skirts. Bam.
****Like when I dropped a pen cap on the floor by my foot and couldn't reach it unless I stood up, crouched down, and grabbed it. So I just stared at it sadly until someone picked it up for me. Ha!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Con Prep

There's always something fun about getting ready for a convention, especially one you've never been to before. You know vaguely what to expect--incredible costumes, fun panels/workshops, lots of people (some of whom will likely be running around like chickens with their heads cut off attempting to make sure everything's running smoothly), too many things to look at in the dealer's room--but the specifics change from con to con, year to year.

Who's coming to this con this year? What kinds of panels are offered this year? Are any of your other friends going to be attending (con friends are totally a thing)? How many episodes are we going to be able to record?

Okay, so that last question is totally specific to us as a podcast, but it's one of the unknown variables staring us in the face as we get ready to go to AnomalyCon this afternoon. Another one is: how many people will show up to our Tropes 101 workshop and will they come find us afterward?

In case you didn't know (or forgot), Michelle, Giles and I are teaching a workshop on Tropes at 5:00 p.m. TONIGHT, right after the opening ceremonies! We'll be in Wind River B, so come listen to us talk about what tropes are, why they're necessary, and how to use them in new and interesting ways. It should be a blast!

And after that, come find our booth and grab your limited-edition magnet (we only have 100)! We'll be at the con all weekend, so drop by any time, or feel free to say hi if you see us wandering around.

Emily loves conventions, especially fan conventions. It's so much fun to be reminded that she's not the only total nerd out there. She's also really fond of her costume, so you should totally track her down to see it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On (oddly enough) Being an Adult

I don't know why prepping for Anomaly Con this weekend made me think of this, but every day I look around and see one more piece of evidence that I'm an adult. It strikes me as odd because I'm thirty. I've legally been an adult for twelve years. I was getting ready to quit a job I'd been working for years, and preparing to move to Portland. But even though I've been married for seven years, owned my own home for four, and successfully co-hosted a podcast for a full year, I still get surprised by little things that remind me that I'm an adult.

You see, when we're kids, every facet of our lives is directly influenced by our guardians. We have very little control. Our parents get a new job that requires a move, we have no choice: we move. Parents get divorced: we have to live with that day in and day out, and no matter how hard they try, it still effects pretty much every single day.

But as adults, we have the power and the option to decide for ourselves what we're going to let effect us each and every day. I make my decisions based on my life's needs. They're not made for me by someone who's making life-decisions for their family. In fact, the only person I need to consider when making life-altering decisions is my wife. If we decided to move to Seattle, Dallas, or New York, the only permission we need is our own. I don't have to ask my parents. I don't have to consider the feelings of my friends or siblings (don't have to, but it would be a mistake not to). It's our choice, our lives, and it's so weird to think that I'm not required to talk to anyone other than my wife when I want to make decisions.

This is a little rambly, I know, but it's just something to think about. Something I was thinking about, and an odd look into this weird little brain of mine. Is there something that can be used as a writing exercise here? Maybe. It's something to consider when writing a mid-twenties to mid-thirties character, and when writing teens, keep in mind that a lot of their life is controlled by what their parents are going through. And, because of that, teens are going to want to take charge in any way they can. They're feeling like adults, and they want to be adults. In YA, giving them the ability to take charge in one way or another will make the book appealing to many readers.

Giles can ramble at times, but he's allowed to. Because he's an adult. His mom said so.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Zombies?

“What in the world is people’s obsession with zombies???”

When my best friend asked me this question, I felt like I should have an answer. I read several books a month. I love movies. Beyond the Trope talks about trends in pop culture all the time. I can explain vampires (sexy immortals duh) and chick lit (basic desire for love and romance). But zombies? Heck if I know.

To try and answer this question, I first wrote out a list of the zombie things I’ve consumed (ba dum psh). It’s pretty tiny:
  • Shaun of the Dead
  • Warm Bodies (book and movie)
  • Zombieland (actually…didn’t even get through the gory credits)
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
  • Alice in Zombieland
  • Generation Dead

Then I looked at the list and laughed, because all of the zombie things I’ve read or watched are comedies -- yes, I count P&P&Z as a comedy. I’ll bet that tells you something about my tastes. Honestly, I already have an overactive imagination. The last thing I need is to walk around my house at night thinking that the old creaking of the heating system is a zombie waiting to rip my throat out*.

You’d think we’d be tired of zombies by now. They’re gross. They rip people to shreds and eat the remains. But when it comes down to it, I think I would rather watch a scary zombie movie than a regular horror film. My reasoning: At least I know the zombie is pretend.  

Last year, Beyond the Trope moderated a Denver Comic Con talk by Max Brooks, the author of World War Z (the book). Of all of the people I know, he has the best explanation for why we choose to watch movies about being torn apart by former human beings: it gives us a place to explore our fears.

Zombies are highly unlikely**, and books and movies about them let us think about terrifying issues (such as the apocalypse, mass genocide, or pandemics) with the knowledge that it’s just fiction. And fiction makes it easier for us to handle tough subjects and things that scare us.

Why do you think the world is so obsessed with zombies?

*This is also why I flat-out refuse to watch horror movies. Nope nope nope nope nope.

**I’d say “impossible”, but…. well…. you never know. Dum dum dummm!

Since you all now know that she hates horror movies, all that's left is the knowledge that Michelle likes to use her Batman voice to talk about her love for lasagna. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

AnomalyCon Preview

As you probably know by now, we're headed to AnomalyCon, Denver's Steampunk and Alternate History Convention, next weekend. What you probably don't know is that we're bringing some awesome stuff to give away.

By 'awesome stuff,' I mean limited-edition hand-made cork magnets with an exclusive AnomalyCon 2015 design. This design will only be available at our booth at the convention this year. Once they're gone, they're gone! We'll do our best to have at least a few available every day of the con, but come find us early to make sure you get your free magnet before we run out!

I mean, who doesn't want this sweet image on their fridge? (Not that I'm considering stealing one of our magnets or anything. What are you talking about?) 

The best part about all of this is that this isn't the only cool thing we're making right now! We're planning on having another run of exclusive, limited-edition giveaways for Denver Comic Con in May. In addition, we're working on a total rebrand of the artwork, logo, and visual feel for the podcast. So keep your eyes open for more artwork reveals, coming your way soon! 

Emily is super excited for AnomalyCon. Then again, she's pretty excited to go to any convention. Come find us, or check out our workshop on Friday afternoon to see her sweet pirate boots. They will also be limited-edition; only available for viewing on Friday and Sunday, due to costume changes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Revisiting Roleplaying as Storytelling

Over the years, I've blogged about roleplaying games as venues for storytelling. Since we talked to Jim C. Hines about his first Trunk Novel, which essentially follows his D&D character around on adventures, I wanted to revisit the topic, with a few recommendations.

Let's start with why all writers of genre fiction (and probably of literary fiction) should, at least once in their life, play a tabletop RPG: it forces them to think about creative character problem-solving while keeping them inside a "living" story universe. Whether the writer is running the game (the GM/DM or Game Master/Dungeon Master) or simply a player, most systems require a gamer to narrate what they want their character to do, then a roll of the dice determines whether or not they succeed. With the best groups, even "failure" leads to other successes, which gives players the opportunity to narrate awesome scenes, possibly in ways that they've never thought about narrating something before. Which keeps their brains in creative mode, even when they're relaxing and hanging out with friends.

All right, with that summary out of the way, let's move on to games I love: The Dresden Files RPG by Evil Hat. This is a specific setting that uses Evil Hat's FATE system, and the reason I'm telling you about the DFRPG instead of FATE in general is because I LOVE the Dresden Files! Love it so much I think everyone should read it. And play the game. But FATE in general is one of the simplest systems I've ever seen. It's a great introduction to new players, especially with FATE Accelerated. Only a few minutes of setup is required to get people playing, and there aren't volumes of charts, tables, and rules to memorize for the "best" experience. It requires a GM (best if the players are involved in this, too) to design a setting with some basic universe rules (world building!), then they narrate what the players aren't doing. When the players want to do something they say something like, "I'm going to use my Ranged Weapon skill to intimidate that city guard, who simply doesn't believe my crossbow is deadlier than the plague." The GM sets a difficulty on a range from 0-10, then the player rolls dice. Failure and success both give the player and the GM an opportunity to tell the story from there.

A more complicated game is the Serenity RPG by Margaret Weis Productions. Now, the Serenity game is out of print, but due to the awesomeness of the universe, MWP picked up the licensing for Firefly! The rules are a bit more complicated than Serenity (which is the same universe), but it's branded after the show (owned by Fox) rather than the movie (owned by Universal).

Finally, I recommend D&D. I haven't played the newest edition, but I did play version 3.5 and 4th edition. This system, like many classics (GURPS, Pathfinder, Shadowrun) is pretty complicated, at least at first glance, but with the right group, it's still a ton of fun. And easy to pick up if you're playing with veterans who are willing to show you the ropes.

So that's what you should do this weekend: go get into a gaming group. It'll make you a better writer.

Giles is a wizard because, duh! Wizard!

Check him out on Twitter, and listen to his weirdness on the Beyond the Trope Podcast.

Monday, March 16, 2015

He Beat the Rush: A Too-Small Tribute to Terry Pratchett


I was 18 when I fell in love with Terry Pratchett. A friend handed me a copy of The Colour of Magic during our first semester at college, and I’m not exaggerating when I say my life was never the same.

Never before had I read books that made me so excited to join the creative community and just create.

Of all the authors in the world, Terry Pratchett is the only one whose books I would buy without first borrowing them from the library*. I never wonder if any of his books will be rubbish or gold.

Pratchett’s books are packed with inspiration, even if he didn’t always mean to put it there. They are more quotable than any other novels I've read. Their pages are filled to the brim with quirky logic, hilarious situations, and some of the most phenomenal characters you'll ever read. Do a Google search for Terry Pratchett quotes and you will find the snarkiest and most poignant gems around. Even out of context they have a surprising ability to make you snort with laughter or nod your head in furious agreement.

He gives great advice about punctuation:
“And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”

And he described a brilliant approach to parenting:
“You can't give her that!' she screamed. 'It's not safe!'
'She's a child!' shouted Crumley.
'What if she cuts herself?'

Plus there’s the way he explained why we love books and movies:
“People wanted the world to be a story, because stories had to sound right and they had to make sense. People wanted the world to make sense.

Terry Pratchett’s books made this crazy creative writer's life of mine make sense. After all, if he could do it, so can I...right? Maybe satire isn’t inspirational for most people, but it was for me -- reading the Discworld novels taught me that if you want to change someone's mind, sometimes the best course of action is to make them laugh. I didn’t always agree with the things he said or wrote, but that doesn’t matter. I already miss the books the world will never see because of this loss. He was a talented, brilliant man, and I wish he had been around longer.

If you've never read anything by Terry Pratchett, Michelle's favorites are Lords and Ladies, Soul Music, Making Money, Going Postal, Unseen Academicals, Monstrous Regiment she'd better stop writing them down now, otherwise it'll just become a list of books, not favorites. Whoops.

*All right, so "only" is technically false. I also buy Jasper Fforde books without even reading the blurb on the back, but Fforde is quite alive and well, thank goodness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Projects

Over the past few months, I've been thinking about new projects to work on that will help enhance my writing career. It hasn't been easy. There are ups and downs, and when I'm ready to give up, there's always someone pulling me back in to keep trying (my wife, first, then Emily and Michelle). That's both good and bad. It's good because I never REALLY want to give up. But it's bad because, sometimes, I want to rest. Just get away from it all and enjoy life outside of the day job.

But I'm still creating. Pursuing real ideas with possibilities to them. The ideas that have no obvious potential, I'm evaluating those to see what I can do with them.

This is going to take many forms over the next few months, but first, we're going to Anomaly Con. That's a big deal. It's one of the coolest Steampunk cons around, and if you've never been, you should go.

We're presenting a workshop there, and it's going to be a first for us. We'll be standing up in front of people, rather than hiding behind the mics, and then we're going to talk. About writing. And structure. It's super exciting.

I wish I could reveal ALL of the super-awesomeness that's coming out, but I hate sharing big news that may not turn into anything. So keep your eyes pealed: SOMETHING will come, it just might be something different than what I'm thinking about today.

Giles has been so busy today, he's surprised he managed to get this blog post up. Hope you enjoyed it, vagueness and all.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Top 4 Creativity-Inspiring Movie Scenes

Some people get their inspiration from a bright summer sky, and others find it in their friends and family. And then there are the people like me who draw inspiration and an excitement to create from experiencing the creations of other people. Here are a few movie scenes that make me scream, “Yeah! Let’s make stuff!”

Saving Mr. Banks

Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) tells Ralph (Paul Giamatti) that his disabled daughter Jane can do anything, and hands him a list of names as proof. 
Ralph: Albert Einstein, Van Gogh, Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo…what is this?
Mrs. Travers: They all had difficulties. Jane can do anything that anyone else can do. Do you understand? …Oh, I almost forgot. Turn it around.
Ralph: Walt Disney…?
Mrs. Travers: Hyperactive behavior and deficiencies in concentration – it explains everything!

Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano (Kevin Kline), pretending to be Christian (Daniel Sunjata), woos Roxanne (Jennifer Garner) at her balcony.

Cyrano: To hold in my hand such exquisite joy, I dare not let go of this chance to speak to you unseen… You have never heard ‘til now my true heart truly speaking… Stale words, what are they worth? A moment comes and God help those for whom it never comes. When love of such nobility possesses this shaking frame, that even the sweetest word, the ultimate honey, stings like vinegar…. In that most precious instant I shall take all words that ever were, or weren’t, or could, or couldn’t be, and in mad armfuls, not bouquets, I’ll smother you in them!

Treasure Planet

Long John Silver (Brian Murray) and Jim (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have that awesome, heart-wrenching moment when Jim hears just what he needs to hear.

Silver: Now you listen to me, James Hawkins. You got the makings of greatness in you, but you got to take the helm and chart your own course. Stick to it, no matter the squalls! And when the time comes you get the chance to really test the cut of your sails, and show what you're made of... well, I hope I'm there, catching some of the light coming off you that day.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A vision of Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity encourages Walter (Ben Stiller) to leap into action, aka onto a moving helicopter.

Ground Control to Major Tom / Ground Control to Major Tom / Take your protein pills / and put your helmet on. Ground Control to Major Tom / Commencing countdown, engines on / Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you.

What movie scenes do you find the most inspirational?

Let's be honest. Michelle could have put about a hundred awesome, emotion-packed movie scenes on this list. But she can only be SO productive on a Monday. But if you need just one more thing that makes you want to go out and be creative, here is a line from one of her favorite sonnets: "I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul."

Friday, March 6, 2015


Since it's Steampunk Week here at Beyond the Trope and time is racing toward us (I've been listening to Disney soundtracks, okay?), it's totally time to talk about AnomalyCon!

AnomalyCon is Denver's Steampunk and Alternate History convention, and we are so honored to have been invited. This year, the con is March 27-29 in the Denver Tech Center Hyatt. None of us have been to AnomalyCon before, so we're all kind of psyched to check it out!

Friday, March 27th, the three of us are teaching a Tropes 101 workshop, and if you're at the con, you should come see it. We'll be talking about what a trope is, why and how to use them in storytelling (regardless of your medium), some of our favorite tropes/stories, and how to twist and change familiar tropes to create awesome new things. It's going to be great.

We're also be interviewing/moderating for some fantastic authors, including Cory Doctorow, S.J. Chambers, and Molly Tanzer. Can you say we're thrilled?

I think this is one of my favorite things about what we're doing on this podcast--that we get to talk to such inspiring artists, both at conventions and not (though the conventions are tons of fun).

Anyway, pre-registration for AnomalyCon is closed (sorry!), but you can still grab tickets at the door on March 27th, so you should totally come check it out!

Emily loves conventions, despite her super-thick introvert shell. There's just something about getting a bunch of nerds with similar interests together that makes it a lot easier to talk to people and learn new things. She's planning on being an airship pirate for AnomalyCon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Like all of Carriger's previous books, W&W brings the reader into an amazingly vivid world of dirigibles, steam engines, werewolves, and vampires.

With this book, Sophronia is plunged into a plot that involves malfunctioning mechanicals, a Scottish werewolf plot, and social taboos that would make a gentile woman fan herself. If said fan didn't contain razor blades 'round the edges.

Many YA books that take place in boarding school follow similar patterns, weaving classes into the narrative to add depth and complexity to the universe and storyline. But Carriger broke that pattern in this book and sent her characters on a journey through England's countryside, keeping with her astounding talent of writing within a genre while changing the rules to make her story stand out in so many amazing ways that it makes my head spin.

It may be obvious that I'm gushing, but that's only because I lost a LOT of sleep with this book. I could NOT put it down, no matter how hard I tried, and while my work didn't suffer, my brain may have. The "curse you, author" factor is strong with this book because each page keeps story tension flowing just well enough to pull you forward, and at the end of EVERY chapter you (or I, at least) HAD to keep going.

My only complaint is that the next one isn't out, yet. But, thankfully, we only have two weeks to wait before her new series comes out!

Do yourself a favor: go buy all of Gail Carriger's books. If you regret it, you may not have a soul, which makes you a good soldier in the fight against vampires, anyway. For the rest of us, enjoy this book with a strong cup of tea, and maybe a bowl tortilla soup (listen to our interview with her if you didn't get that last bit).

Giles loves steampunk, especially when Gail Carriger writes it. He can't get enough of it, which is sad because there are so many books and he has so much to do. At least the books are on CD, too. And they add a great layer to the amazingness that IS Gail Carriger.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Interview with Gail Carriger

When Gail Carriger said she'd do an interview with us, we fangirled like the most fangirlie fangirls on the planet. The excitement was well-placed -- Gail is a blast and we had a great time talking with her! In honor of the interview (which will be online tomorrow), here's a tasty appetizer Q&A:
What shoes would you wear to your first day of finishing school?
Red and black wingtip spectators. I'd eschew my normal heels for flats, so I could run and climb. However, I might opt for stilettos if I thought I might have to kill someone with my shoes.  What is your favorite non-writing thing about being an author?Email for readers and socialization with other authors.
If you could make anything work, steampunk or otherwise, what would be your transport of choice? 
Dirigible or airdinghy.

Tell us about fan reaction (support or otherwise) to the Hachette/Amazon situation.
Mostly my readers have been justifiably confused. They generally don't know, or care, what is happening and just want their book on their platform of choice. Frankly, I sympathize with them.

After Crudrat, do you plan on tackling more traditional sci-fi? 
I'd like to write the concluding volume for that series but otherwise, no. In fact, I'm inclined to lean in a more romantic direction.

What’s the one question you never get asked that you’ve always wanted to answer?
What's your favorite soup?

Gail Carriger is a New York Times bestselling author of stupendously witty steampunk books. Download her interview tomorrow to hear more about her love for soup, tea, and all things shoes.