Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Widely Read

Some day, I'd like to say I'm very well-versed in many fiction styles and genres. Not to write in those genres, but to read in them. Over the past few years, as I study more and more about how to improve my writing, I've found that one of the best skills I can pick up is the ability to enjoy genres I don't write in.

As of right now, that's pretty easy. I write YA Sci-Fi. Stories that take place in outer space. At the library and my local bookstore, those are pretty tough to find. That doesn't mean that I'm ignoring everything in my genre, but it means that it's a lot easier to go out and pick up other books in other genres.

Recently, I picked up the audiobooks for The Bourne Identity and then The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum. While I wait for The Bourne Ultimatum to come in at the library, I'm going to listen to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Why? Because those writers, along with authors of post-apocalyptic thrillers, dystopian adventures (and there IS a difference!!), fantasy, mystery, and traditional romance all have skills and techniques that I can learn from.

It's not easy, but it's worth every moment of time spent on it. It's already working, too. The Bourne novels have given me many ideas for plot twists and tweaks to how I reveal events to the reader in my WiP.

Three books to read that I think will boost your creative outlook:
ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

Giles should be reading more than he does, but on the bright side, he'll be making time for it very soon. Check back for more awesome recommendations.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

I was going to refrain from posting this review since I’m not *technically* done with the book yet, but I can’t help myself. You guys. You need to read The Darkest Part of the Forest.

This little piece of awesomeness was crafted by Holly Black. I’ve always been drawn to her stories – fundamentally enchanting, slightly creepy, and gorgeous. You just can’t argue with craft like that. She worked with Tony DiTerlizzi on The Spiderwick Chronicles (read the books, skip the movie), in case you were wondering.

When it comes to faery folk, forest monsters, and elves, Black knows how to weave a tale. You can check out the Goodreads summary of the plot, but here’s what you need to know: Hazel lives in a small town called Fairfold, and when she was little she used to hunt the monsters in the forest. She and her brother are fascinated with a horned boy sleeping Snow-White-style in the forest. After her family moves to Philadelphia so her slightly older brother Ben can go to a fancy music school, Hazel all but loses her “knighthood”. After they move back home a few years later, she starts getting creepy notes hidden in nutshells and waking up with muddy feet with no memory of the night before.

Why is it enchanting, creepy, and gorgeous? It’s all about Black’s masterful use of the English language. I would literally read pages of her describing a landscape and nothing else. Or a mug of tea. Even the mundane, under Black’s eye, bursts into life.

Every time I read something by Black (not one of her team projects, mind you), I come away thinking that her representation of the cruel and oftimes insane faery folk is one of the best I’ve seen. Sure, the faery world is pretty and magical, but if you turn your back on the forest, it’ll get you. The folk are dangerous, and their blessings tend to be curses in fancy clothes.

Every character Hazel comes in contact with is well-drawn and interesting. Hazel is a fantastic heroine. She makes choices she regrets, fights for the people she loves, and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. When the twists and turns of Black’s plot really kick in, Hazel proves beyond a doubt that her primary identifier should be “badass”. Maybe “ginger badass” if you need two words.

Oh, and as always, here’s a mini review of the voice actress Lauren Fortgang’s reading of the book: ERMAHGERD AMAZING.

That is all. 

Michelle would like to remind the world that it's fall, and it's not supposed to be so dumb hot any more. Please. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Five Quotes

Emily's brain is completely fried after a very long week, so she's going to simply leave you with five quotes about writing:

Emily apologizes for stealing other peoples' words for her blog post, but it's about all she can manage today. It's been a very long week and she's looking forward to curling up with a book (or her abandoned comics collection) all weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writing Basics

I think I really enjoyed this series of writing basics so much because it's always fun to go back to my roots. We still have a couple weeks left in the series, but recording the episodes gave me a new perspective on my own writing.

More than that, we've had a few people write or tweet us that the advice is helping them take a fresh approach to their projects.

The basics are often swept under the rug or ignored by those of us who have been writing for longer than a couple of years. We build a foundation, then start adding walls and a roof to this metaphorical house that is our writing ability. As we move forward, we start throwing in all kinds of fancy little features that go a long way toward making our writing something special, fun, and enjoyable to read.

But as time goes by, the foundation can wear away. Little cracks form. All of the features turn into coverups for problems that we may not even know are there because who pays attention to the foundation as long as it's doing a serviceable job?

So rather than boring you with a long blog post, I'm going to recommend that you go examine your basics. The plot structure, dialogue, description, themes, heroes and villains, and make sure that you're not ignoring flaws that crept into your writing over the years.

There are many basics that get ignored, but Giles is rediscovering them for himself. You should do the same. It's how we, as writers, improve. To follow his progress, check him out on Twitter, and listen to the Beyond the Trope Podcast.

Monday, September 21, 2015

You're Awesome

My sister’s moving to England tomorrow, and the day job has been insanely busy. Instead of a real blog, here’s a list of all the things you should do this week:

  1. Sit outside for half an hour and draw
  2. Buy yourself or someone you love a bouquet of flowers
  3. Make a to-do list, do half of it, then laugh hysterically at the other half
  4. Organize your sock drawer
  5. Abstain from Facebook and Pinterest for a day
  6. Make a birthday present for a friend
  7. Make cookie dough. Eat the cookie dough
  8. Go for a walk in a direction you’ve never gone
  9. Look up “What should I eat today?” and go with the third option you see
  10.  Write something that makes your heart happy

If you’re stressed about writing, work, or people who insist on being overly dramatic, just remember that you’re awesome. You're awesome, and you can do this crazy thing called life. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Writer's Voice

It's time for a funny story!

Michelle and I used to work together writing online deals for a local company. After a few months at it, we had developed a voice for them that was so similar almost non of our coworkers could tell who had written which deal. We really should have turned it into a game, because that would have been hilarious.

The funniest part of this story is that a friend of mine had to remind herself that I wasn't the one who wrote Monday's blog post this week. Now, I can't say for sure whether that was because of the writing voice/style or just because of the content, but it made me laugh and start thinking about writing voice.

Your voice is, simply put, the way you write--your humor, your word choice, your typical sentence/paragraph lengths, imagery you pull on again and again, etc. Your voice changes with where you are in your life or career, what project you're working on, and even what books you've read recently. Some changes are bigger than others, obviously, but I don't think anyone's writing voice is ever 100% consistent across everything they've written or are working on.

I think one of the biggest pieces of advice on "finding your writing voice" I've seen is something along the lines of "write like you." Which is great advice, don't get me wrong, and you'll need to eventually figure out what "writing like you" sounds like. But if you're struggling to find your writing voice, or if you're stuck on a project, or for any other reason at all, try mimicry.

By attempting to write like other authors you love, not only are you giving yourself an interesting writing exercise, you're also learning (even if you don't feel like you are) what about those authors' voices pulls you in and makes you excited to read, what flows for you, what works (and, sometimes, what doesn't). It pulls you out of your comfort zone and forces you to pay attention to how you're writing, which can make you more aware of how you use language in your own writing.

Obviously, mimicry isn't the end goal here, but I think it's an underused tool for helping to develop your own voice and your own style. Then again, as someone who came to her own style (you know, as much as there is) through a slightly-obsessive fanfic stage where I tried to get as close to the voice of the source material as possible, I might be a little bit biased.

Emily, thanks to her roommate, has a brand new obsession to not write crappy fanfic about: Elementary. It's a problem. A wonderful problem. She might be slowly getting crushed to death under the weight of her collective fandoms, but all of this input just helps to make her writing voice even more flexible. At least, that's her rationalization.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Life in Chaos

Many lives go into chaos when changes are being orchestrated. That's how my life feels right now. My wife and I are starting a business (with partners, but that's as specific as I'll get until there's a real announcement to make), and with me taking college courses this fall, accepting a promotion, trying to write a novel, while putting effort into Beyond the Trope, it's all chaotic.

Post RMFW Colorado Gold, I'm inspired to write. Just like I was every year before now. I'm pushing forward, though not as wide-eyed and dreamy-hearted. I'm excited about my writing, about this blog, and about the episodes we're recording for the podcast.

Most of all, though, I'm busy in my brainspace. That's why I'm actually [grudgingly] excited about my first class this semester. Time Management is something I've been able to fake my way through for many years. The semblance of balance and organization has served me well, keeping me half a step ahead of some of the people I work with, those who struggle to keep up, and the people who don't see my constant missteps. I need to be better organized. My boss sees it, some of my coworkers do, too, and I KNOW my wife recognizes the fact that I'm not perfect.

My recommendation to any of you delightful readers who may be experiencing chaos of your own: take a time management class. Or at least read a time management book. I haven't implemented all of the processes, yet, but those that I'm using have already added time to my day.

How do you manage the chaos? Is this something you're good at? Or are you "faking it until you make it," as they say?

Giles barely managed to make time for this post today. He has so many things he's trying to keep up with, despite a rather clear calendar after the day job. But he's learning valuable skills and lessons that, if at all possible, need to be shared so others have the opportunity to learn, too. If he won't apply it to his life to make drastic improvements, maybe a reader will. Right?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Recovering from a Writers’ Conference

When my alarm went off this morning my body, mind, and soul made one sound: BLERG. The thought of dragging myself out of bed to go to work made me laugh. It was that kind of laugh that begins as a giggle and turns into tears. This is what RMFW conferences do to you: they tantalize you with fun, get you excited for a better world, and then dump you on your butt back in real life.

No one tells you that going to a writers’ conference (or any other fun conference) will leave you feeling like your day job is purgatory and your regular responsibilities have no meaning*. It often means coming up with a creative way to move forward without hating your life. I'll be honest: the best way to recover is to mix a little bit of normal life with your writing. Make sure you balance it just enough that you feel like you're not neglecting your bills and chores, but you also are writing a little more than you usually do. Create new, more productive writing habits. Start a new manuscript project. Try something crazy with the book you're stuck on now. No matter what, don't let yourself think you have to leave your excitement at home while you go do other things. 

Here’s how I’m going to recover from the imagination stimulation that was this weekend:

1. My favorite clothes.
Hellooooo skinny jeans and super-soft t-shirt. I love you.
2. Grande double shot dirty chai.
This is the only reason any part of this blog is coherent.

3. Ella and Louis
It’s like pure beauty distilled into musical notes of awesomeness**.

4. Daydreams
Maybe I should apologize to my co-workers now…before anything goes terribly wrong…
5. Writing. Writing. Writing. Writing.
Christopher Walken needed more cowbell. My life needs more writing. 

I love conferences focused on writing because I always leave them looking forward. It’s too easy as a creative person to get stuck on the now.Now I feel discouraged. Now nothing is working. Now I know I’m not even talented.” We need to remember we’re not always writing for the now. We’re writing because the now is always made up of things we can’t see until tomorrow.

Write on!

Michelle is E-X-H-A-U-S-T-E-D but still writing, so that's a good sign. 

* Unless, of course, you’re one of those lucky people who get to do your dream job in real life.
**I think this is the dirty chai^ speaking. I might need another one.

^Also, why is it a “dirty” chai? That just seems so harsh. So I want extra zip in my drink. You don’t have to call it dirty. Sheesh.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

RMFW Colorado Gold 2015!

I know we've said it about a zillion times, but creative communities are the bomb. We're gearing up for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference that starts this afternoon, and all three of us are psyched.

We got invited to the volunteer party last night and I realized again how incredibly invigorating it is to be around other writers. We weren't even talking writing (for the most part), but I came home actually thrilled to get back to work (you know, if I hadn't gone straight to bed). Just being around other people who love your creative obsession can be enough to revive a fading spark.

I'll be honest, over the last few days, I was starting to dread this conference. Due to a variety of circumstances in my life at the moment, I had started to go into that dark "maybe I'm fooling myself and I'm only writing because I don't know what else to do with myself if I'm not" place. Seriously, I've been writing for so long that I don't know what to call myself if it's not 'writer." But, anyway, hanging out last night around so many other people who are passionate around the written word reminded me that there is reason to what I'm doing, even when I struggle to get words on the page. What that reason is isn't necessarily something I've drilled down into coherent thought yet, but I know it's there.

So, for those of you who are joining us at the RMFW conference this weekend: yay! Track us down and say hi! Come to Tropes 101 on Sunday! Join us at Rock Bottom Brewery on Saturday after the banquet! Enjoy being around so many other word nerds! (Seriously, the social aspect of conferences like this is a huge part of why we think they're awesome.)

If you're not coming to the conference, think about finding one in your area and going. The relationships you can make are invaluable (hey, Beyond the Trope wouldn't be a thing without this conference), and there is always a wealth of great information, both in the workshops and in the halls.

Emily is already tired from one night of socializing, but she's looking forward to seeing more of her writing friends that she only sees once a year. She's also looking forward to rolling up her sleeves and digging into her edits (which is weird). She may or may not be tweeting from the conference over at @EmilyKSinger.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Discovery

The biggest book surprise of the year for me (so far) has been THE BOURNE IDENTITY by Robert Ludlum. I've wanted to read this book since the movie came out YEARS ago (more than a decade!). I knew that the movie deviated from the book quite a bit, but it was one of my favorite films back in the day. I think I saw all of those movies in the theater, too. If not the first one, I definitely saw the other two.

But I didn't know what to expect, especially from a book published in 1980. The technology that they could use in the movie made sense for when the movie came out, but I had no idea how a similar story could take place in a world without cell phones. This isn't a book review, though, so I'm not going to really analyze everything for you.

What I AM going to do is say that the book was awesome! The writing drew me in, the narrative kept me going, and I got such a strong attachment to the characters that, while I loved the movie, I feel a deeper connection to the Jason Bourne of the book than I do from the movie.

I enjoy movies that good adaptations of a book. And I'm glad I saw the movie first because all of the changes may have driven me bonkers if I read the book first. As it stands, though, I can enjoy each for what they are. And even though the book was written in the late '70s and published thirty-five years ago, the writing feels modern (though the setting is obviously dated). It's paced well, descriptions aren't overly burdensome, and the characters are developed like real people.

I was surprised because I honestly expected a weighty spy novel written by a CIA enthusiast, weighed down with trivia that's interesting to other spy fans but not really to everyone who wants just awesome story and action. It didn't have that. No tedious inside-knowledge or history of the NSA, CIA, and FBI with long, droning paragraphs that talk about rivalries that have nothing to do with the plot itself.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! THE BOURNE IDENTITY is a great read (actually, I listened to the audiobook, but I couldn't stop, even when I was at the gym). Now I'm on to the second book, and all I can think about is how much I want to see the characters DO THEIR THING!

And, as if this were planned somewhere in advance (which I swear it wasn't), the book is a great illustration of dynamic heroes and villains, so it ties into this week's episode of the podcast! Love it when things work out like that.

Giles wishes he had the skills to be Jason Bourne without ever having to hurt someone. He's not a lawbreaker, so it won't happen, but he still thinks it would be cool to be able to hide in plain sight and kick bad-guy butt when it's called for.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why Make a Book Playlist?

Since Monday was a no-work day, Michelle's blog is making a surprise appearance! 

I think every author who writes while listening to music should create a playlist of songs that represent the themes of their story. Whether you’re creating a short story, a novella, or a doorstop-sized tome, these songs could save you.

 According to iTunes, I have listened to the Princess Mononoke soundtrack more often than anything else in my entire library. Every once in a while, however, Hisaichi’s masterpiece just doesn’t cut it. His music is great for action and tension, but there aren’t many tracks that lend themselves to love scenes.

Last night I had to re-write a love scene my critique group said lacked the right emotion. I tried my regular music choices. The playful tones of Ella and Louis followed on the upbeat heels of Noah and the Whale, but none of the songs matched the emotion I was trying to fuse to the page.

I re-wrote that scene about four times before I realized that listening to happy love music was making me write things that didn’t make any sense. My heroine wasn’t giddy and excited to be in love. She was terrified to admit she even had these feelings.  

I dived into my saving grace: my book playlist. It has some intense, awesome songs on it, like Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive and MS MR’s Hurricane. Right near the end is Rosi Golan’s Hazy.

I turned up the volume and just listened to the words:

"What if I fall and hurt myself
Would you know how to fix me?
What if I went and lost myself
Would you know where to find me?
If I forgot who I am
Would you please remind me?
Oh, cause without you things go hazy"

I imagined my heroine and her love interest asking each other, “Do you know how to fix me? Can you remind me who I am?” These questions helped me find the right emotion for the scene. It was such a relief to feel like I was finally writing something good, instead of going in circles. 

If you’re stuck in a scene that doesn’t feel right, try being more purposeful with the music you listen to. It can help a lot!

Today Michelle ran into a truck (don't freak out, she was on foot), walked into a door handle, and then she tried to log in to her computer using her password as her username. 

It's going to be an interesting week. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

New Skills

One of the biggest things that I've had to develop over the last year and a half is new skills. Some of those skills were simply refinements of talents I already possessed, but I think one of my favorite NEW ability is the one we used in this week's episode. It's not flashy or even that difficult, but that doesn't make it any less impressive in my mind.

This last spring, we participated in Anomaly Con and taught a Tropes 101 workshop. It was the first time any of us taught an actual workshop with real people who could interact with us, and for part of it, we decided to build a story, on the spot, by pulling tropes together with audience participation.

Well, at RMFW's Colorado Gold conference next weekend, we're giving the same workshop. But it's going to be different. Because we're going to create a DIFFERENT story with new tropes. This week's episode is basically practice and a sneak-preview of what we'll be doing next Sunday. And it's one of my favorite recordings.

You see, creating stories is fun. It's one of the reasons I labor through the rough times, the discouragement of rejection, the pain of slogging through the slow parts of a first draft. Creating stories, especially when it's with friends and there's no pressure, is amazing.

And that's the other skill I've developed over the last year: learning how to make friends, even with people I may not have sought out in the past. I may not agree with philosophies, beliefs, or certain aspects of lifestyle, but by creating stories together, I've learned to be part of a community. A community with similar goals. Brothers and sisters in arms who I will, hopefully, work with for a long time.

Giles loves creating stories, especially when they come from ideas brainstormed around a writing table. The larger writing community is important to him, and he's excited to bring new, bigger things to that group of people in the years to come.