Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Amazing Brains

It's fascinating how a brain works. As mentioned in previous posts, I had a story workshopped on The Roundtable Podcast about two weeks ago. Since then, I've been outlining and solidifying how I want this story to go.

Yesterday, I listened to the episode (since it got released in the podcast feed yesterday), and I marveled at how much the story has changed since I pitched it. Throughout the course of the episode, it changed a ton, but even since then, it's a completely new story. Much better than I thought it could be, all based on an idea I had over a year ago.

My brain hasn't stopped working on this story since the episode, and I want to keep workshopping it with my friends to make it better and better. I'm excited, giddy, ready to move forward!

Huzza :D.

The wizard photo is retiring soon. But don't let that stop you from reading Giles' posts. He'll still be entertaining. Hopefully.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sneak Peek: The Avatars

We’re in the middle of a crazy re-branding process, which is a nice way to say the podcast is growing up. At least, that’s how I’m thinking of it. We’re going to start posting and tweeting some sneak peeks and ideas, so get ready! The final product is going to take over on Friday, May 8.

Why re-brand? Well, for one thing, the design we have right now just doesn’t fit our podcast personality any more. It’s like writing the first draft of a book – you might think you know your characters in Chapter 1, but by the time Chapter 20 hits you realize they’ve totally changed. The Cyborg Hobbit, Un-Distressed Damsel, and Techie Wizard worked great when the podcast was exploring Chapter 1. But we’re coming up on Chapter 20, and it’s time for a change!

So, for this week’s sneak peek, here’s a look at how our "avatars" are going to change.

Are you ready?

Really ready?

OK go!
The Techie Wizard


The Cyborg Hobbit


The Un-Distressed Damsel


Photography by the fantastic, Denver-based Joshua Lewin Photography

Michelle knows you all secretly thought we were actually cartoons, and is really sorry to have shattered that illusion. Stay tuned for more awesome re-branding news!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Workshop Ahoy!

Last weekend, we had a chance to record with the incredible Roundtable Podcast (RTP). It was really cool getting to interview someone in a different format, on a different show. But I think my favorite part of the experience was the workshop episode (that's coming out next Tuesday), where we picked apart Giles' new story idea.

I didn't just enjoy beating up on Giles--I really liked the entire concept of workshopping an idea, prying it apart to get at its center, figuring out how to make a vague concept into a working story. I think it's a step writers tend to overlook. We tend to see a shiny new story idea and some of us plot it and some of us just dive into writing it, but we don't usually stop and talk it over with other people.

It's not a step all writers need to do, of course, but I think it can really bring another layer to your story to have some outside input. To have people asking "what if?" and "why?" with you really makes you think about what you're writing and what's important to the story you want to tell. And that can strengthen the story by leaps and bounds.

Obviously, not everyone needs to workshop as publicly as Giles did on the RTP, but I think it is something we should consider doing more of, especially if you've got a solid writing or critique group already.

Giles and Michelle, look out!

Emily loves talking about new ideas and giving off-the-wall suggestions whenever she can. She also loves the agony of getting words on paper, though she's not entirely sure why.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Getting It Done

I've been talking a lot about community, workshopping, and the value of not writing alone. I know that. And it's because it's a big deal.

Very soon, here, I'm going to be a guest writer on The Roundtable Podcast. We already recorded my story workshop, which was awesome, and I learned once again why it's so important to get other people to look at my stories. I had a very generic story with borderline cliche tropes and plot lines and characters and on and on and on. Then a published writer, a podcaster with years of editing, workshopping, and writing experience, and my two amazing BtT cohosts all dug into my outline and told me how to make it a good/better book.

I'm more excited about this story than I was last week when I started talking about it. I like the direction it's going, especially because it's very different from the stories I've created in the past. It's going to be dark. Not very dark, but still dark. And the characters are going to have a different mindset than the typical characters I write. They're going to (hopefully) subvert the expectations of readers, undermine what most people expect from protagonists and antagonists, and I'm going to workshop it with my critique group to make sure it doesn't come across as a cliched attempt at throwing in an O. Henry Twist.

This is a big undertaking for me, and another reason why it's so vital to workshop: I'm taking risks with my writing. Something I wouldn't have even known to do without help from the community. I'd gotten stagnant. I fell into a pattern, and as hard as I tried to put together new ideas, I just couldn't get my brain to work differently than it was used to. Not that I was avoiding change, I just didn't know how to push myself in a way that made me make real change (as opposed to staying in my comfort zone while trying something "new" that still fit inside my general area of expertise/experience).

I'm getting things done. I'm moving forward. And I'm still not ready to give up on my writing!

Giles is working hard, taking names, and trying new things. Stay tuned for awesome things from him, including news of write-ins with other writers.

Monday, April 20, 2015

You Are The Superhero

Monday nights, for me, can be brilliantly fun one week and reduce me to near-tears the next. Students will do that to you.

Francis, the boy I tutor on those illustrious Monday nights, is in third grade but reads around a second grade level. I wrote a blog about him in February last year and talked about how some books can be breakthrough books. Today I’d like to focus on something I’ve learned from working with Francis and his refugee family.

The human brain is phenomenal, and Francis’ capacity to learn blows my mind. When I think of how we scrambled along the path from let’s-learn-the-alphabet-today to read-me-this-chapter-book, I honestly can’t remember how it happened. I just know that it was hard. It was so hard that there were several times I wanted to give up.

The main reason I didn’t give up is because one day, Francis’ mom yelled at him for not paying attention. It was dinnertime, it was bright and warm outside, and we’d already been working for half an hour. I got it: He was tired. I didn’t think he really deserved to be yelled at, but what his mom said that day has stuck with me ever since:

Francis! Michelle te sauve la vie. Écoute-moi ! Tu vas lire ces livres, parce qu’elle est ici pour te sauver la vie !
Francis! Michelle is saving your life. Listen to me! You are going to read these books, because she is here to save your life!

I thanked her, and I’m pretty sure I blushed. Saving his life? We were just trying to learn the alphabet… I couldn’t see how my tiny, one-hour-one-night-a-week could possibly make a difference in this family’s life.

Fast forward nearly two years: In recent months, Francis and his little brother have shown an excitement for books and for school I never thought would exist. This excitement can lead to great things, not the least of which is breaking the cycle of unemployment and poverty that has this family in its vise grip. Francis is growing more confident in his reading skills and with that, he's growing more confident as a person. I am a witness to the influence of learning and reading, and while I know that nothing happened because of my own power, I am beyond thankful that I was even able to be a part of it. 

Francis’ mom was right. Any time you volunteer your time to tutor or build houses or do any other pro bono work, you are saving a life. I truly believe that we are all here for a reason. You are a superhero.

Incidentally, Michelle is dressing up as plainclothes superheroes for Beyond the Trope's trip to Denver Comic Con this year. Coincidence? Yup.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mental Health Day

I'm taking today as a mental health day from the day job, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to give you guys a post! In fact, I'm totally going to post about mental health days. Because I can.

I know I've posted about the importance of balancing things and taking breaks before, but reminders are always a good thing. Especially since it's so incredibly easy to get caught up in life that we push ourselves too hard, try to do too many things, and keep driving to be better or do more until we break down. And that's really not good.

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to do on a story? Take a break, drink some water and take a walk, then come back to it and tackle it one page at a time.

Feeling guilty because your day job is cutting into your writing time so you're shoving your writing time into your relaxing time? Cut down the writing time for a little bit, make sure you have enough time to rest and recuperate from the day. You can always bump it back up once things die down at work.

Feeling too stressed about anything at all? If you can, try and take some time off from it--whether it's a few hours or a week--and do something that makes you happy instead. You'll feel way better when you come back to whatever was stressing you out!

Emily's mental health day today will include baking, reorganizing comics, and reading. And not dealing with the outside world as much as she possibly can. No, you're not invited into her blanket fort of awesomeness. You'll have to build your own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Distraction is a Good Thing. Right?

Normally, I wouldn't agree with a statement like that, but I'd have to say that my distractions right now are good. Why? Well, I'm so distracted that I'm struggling to come up with decent blog posts. And I'm distracted by writing!

That's right: I'm writing. I have a book that I'm outlining right now, and it's going to get workshopped by Dave Robison, our guest on this week's episode. Then I'm going to pump out a complete manuscript, with a beginning, middle, and an end. My goal is to start revising by November.

I could go on, but you should go write. Stop reading this and write something. Seriously, go!

Yes, Giles has declared that he's writing again several times, but this is the first book he's been fired up about in over six months. More than NaNo, more than the short stories he's been playing around with. Almost as much as the novel he's pitching right now. The real excitement will come when he finishes the first draft.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Read These Right Now

Need a few book suggestions? Here are a few titles I’ve enjoyed recently:

For the philosopher in you:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

If you’ve never read the original story, you’ve been missing out. Not only will it change your life (if only to give you twitches whenever people call the monster by Frankenstein’s name), it shows you just how b.a. Mary Shelley was. A couple of boys challenged a girl to write a scary story, and she accepted that challenge and wrote what is possibly one of the greatest books ever*.

For fast-paced action:
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow himself is an activist and teche-lover, but if you don’t know anything about Internet security or fancy stuff like that, don’t worry. The narration pulls together explanation and action into a seamless, easy-to-read novel that moves so fast you binge-read without realizing what you’re doing.

For happy sighs and adorable things:
Austenland by Shannon Hale

Modern romance + Jane Austen. This is the book I imagine myself reading when I want to be cocooned in blankets in a pillow fort on a rainy day. It’s witty and has everything Austen-lovers want to see in a book.

For dark fantasy:
Sabriel by Garth Nix

This YA novel is part quest, part coming of age, part oh-my-gosh-that-is-so-creepy. Not quite horror, but when you deal with necromancy, you always get some kind of darkness. It’s the first in a series, so be prepared to add the other books to your to-read list, as well.  

Michelle is addicted to audiobooks. She has no intention to recover. 

*In my very humble, always-correct opinion, of course.

Friday, April 10, 2015


On Sunday, Beyond the Trope received an email informing us that we are invited back to Denver Comic Con this year! That means we get to go hang out at one of the best geek conventions in the Denver area.

We're all super excited, and we want to see you there. Come say hi over Memorial Day Weekend. And stay tuned for awesome content that will come out of the event.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Keep an eye out for other great announcements from us. This is going to be an epic year.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Finishing

Due to circumstances beyond our control, Giles and Emily are switching blogging days this week. Which means, you get fantastic Emily sass today instead of your scheduled Giles thoughts. Huzzah! 

One of my big problems when it comes to creative endeavors (not just writing) is actually finishing what I start. Michelle and Giles know this all to well from how many different things I submit to our critique group throughout any given month. I guess I'm one of those people that just gets really, really excited about new ideas and doesn't have the patience or self-discipline to finish out the old ones before moving on.

Which really isn't conducive to, you know, getting stories out in the world. Just saying.

The good news is that I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. I think a lot of creative people have problems finishing their work and letting it go. (Okay, I hope that's a thing, at least.) There's something terrifying about putting your creative things out on display for other people to see, and pick at, and tear apart. It's like ripping out your heart and putting it on a pedestal in an art museum filled with snobby critiques.

But there's also the great feeling of looking at a piece and saying, "Hey. I made this. It's imperfect, but it's finished, and it's mine." I think if we can hold onto that feeling a little bit longer, and the feeling when someone likes our imperfect mash of words, maybe finishing something won't be quite so scary.

Emily is very proud of the fact that she finished rough drafts of two different short stories in the past week. We're just not going to talk about how much polishing and editing they'll need before the world sees them. Look over there! It's a distraction!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Boycott These Books!

I saw a meme last week that said, “Stop reading books by straight white men.” First, I was annoyed. You, a random person on the Internet, have the nerve to tell me who I can and can’t read? I stared at the photo and tried to remember if the authors of the last few books I’d read were straight white men. I couldn't even remember if they were male or female. When I narrowed it down (just straight, or just white, or just men), I couldn’t remember that, either.

Why does who the author is matter to anyone? I notice if people have alliterative names, but I’ve never looked at the bio in the back to decide if I should read something or not. “Oh, my gosh, she’s Asian?” is a ridiculous reason to put a book down, don’t you think? As long as an author can weave a compelling story, I could care less about their personal lives or history.

Now, you might be thinking, “She doesn’t get it. The meme was trying to get more diverse stories published.” It’s fighting The Man and challenging negativity in the publishing industry. OK. So the way to fight intolerance is with… intolerance?

In my mind, there is a difference between author and story. The Internet wants us to stop reading stories written by certain people. According to my reading of international histories, this approach has never gone well. Unless, of course, your goal is to foster hate by keeping people from understanding one another.

Instead of boycotting specific types of authors, how about we boycott crappy books? Don’t skip over an author who happens to be a straight white dude because he’s a straight white dude. Boycott him because he only writes blonde bimbos who serve as plotpoints for men, or because his protagonists are about as deep as a kiddie pool.   

Feed your brain with innovative, creative stories. If you like historical non-fiction, read it. If you love fantasy, read that. Learn a language and read poetry and novels and news releases in it. And then share the books you love with the people you meet. It’s our enthusiasm for story, not our boycotting of types of writers, that will change the world.

But don’t do it just because I said so. Do it because you want to. 

Michelle's opinion is her opinion. Unless it is her opinion about dark chocolate. Then it is law. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Goal Review

We're starting in on April this week (scary), and I'm sitting down to look at my monthly goals today. I think April's a good time to look at all those goals and dreams and resolutions we established in January and see where we are, if we still want to move toward them, or if we should change them totally.

One of the goals I set at the beginning of the year was to have a novel ready to submit to a writing contest that opened this month. Over the last two months, I've realized that's not going to happen for a variety of reasons and re-set my goal to focus on short stories--ideally, to write and submit one every month starting now (I need beta readers, if anyone's interested).

I want to get back on my goal of at 500-1,500 words a day, but I know that that's going to take a lot of discipline to get on, given that my life is getting busier and busier. It's still important to make sure I'm getting words on the page, focusing on practicing my craft.

What goals did you set at the beginning of the year? Have they changed? Do you need to climb back on the bandwagon (it's never too late)?

Emily's trying something new with these goal things this year--actually reviewing them monthly and trying to make them work. It's been an interesting process so far. If you're interested in beta reading or just chatting, catch her on Twitter @EmilykSinger.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Inspiration comes from many places. I've been writing little pieces here and there for over a year, except for my NaNo project, and I needed some kind of long project to catch my attention. Well, as some of you know, we (Beyond the Trope) went to Anomaly Con last weekend.

With corsets and grand finery all around, I found myself wanting to write a story with that kind of aesthetic. But I like the direction space opera is taking me, so I pulled together those two ideas, and I think I may have something to work with. I'm still exploring the ideas at the moment, but it just goes to show that inspiration is everywhere.

Never let your guard down. If you're writing, keep an open mind. Look for little things that will create sparks of life to a story you may want to work on. It's worth the effort. You may come up with a story that makes you so excited, you put down the TV remote and focus on your computer instead.

Giles loves writing, and the fact that he's doing so much of it lately is more exciting than winning the lottery. Seriously, it's amazing!