Monday, November 30, 2015

Concerning Vacations

Some part of me is lost in the long Thanksgiving weekend we just left behind. For the first time in months, I actually got to sleep in, run errands, and write for more than thirty minutes in a row. It. Was. Glorious.

All that free time reminded me just how important it is to take vacations. A four-day weekend is barely long enough to recover from months of hard work. Most companies expect you to hit the ground running on the way back from a long weekend. Ha. This morning I hit the ground…and stayed there for a while. It helped me realize that I didn’t just need a vacation – which was my theory at the beginning of last week. I need to reboot my entire system. And from talking to friends and acquaintances, this is a common feeling. I think we all need more long weekends.

Before New Year’s comes along and gets me all to make promises I probably won’t keep, I want to make sure I finish strong this year. It’s silly to expect to be able to be 100% productive every second of every day. So I’m going to give myself a break from all the things that stress me out and spend more time writing and making crafty things. I’m going to hand-make some Christmas presents before I go on vacation in three weeks, and instead of letting my day job freak me out, I’m going to dive into things that I’m passionate about.


As the holidays loom over us, don’t forget to keep creativity on your to-do list. I know I’m not the only one out there who de-stresses by making up stories – and the world can certainly use a few good stories right now. 







Michelle's leaving in 18 days for a trip she's been planning for years/ IT'S GONNA BE AWESOME!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy (Late) Thanksgiving

I really have nothing to say today, so I'll keep it short and simple:

Happy Thanksgiving from the Beyond the Trope crew! If you're going out today, drive safe and don't be a jerkface.

We'll talk at you all on Tuesday, when our next episode comes out!


Emily is planning on spending the day warm inside with her cats and a new file in the Fantasy Life game for the 3DS. Because even word nerds need a break from the books. And, you know, laziness is a thing sometimes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I realize that this week tends to be spent with family and/or friends, but for those of you reading this, I want you to know that I'm thankful for you. Not everyone reads this blog as obsessively as I read my favorite webcomics, but I appreciate you. YOU. For being here today.

This year I'm very thankful for my wife, BIG TIME! I'm also thankful for my cohosts, Emily and Michelle. The four of us as a group have accomplished a lot over the last year. We've each had our share of ups and downs, but I think we've done a good job of being there for each other, and while our lives are still moving unpredictably at times, we have each other, along with a wider group of friends we can rely on.

I'm thankful for my family, too. And everyone who came by a table or booth we set up at a con to say "Hi." I'm thankful for the one-time listeners who check us out for one reason or another, then move on, and I'm thankful for the listeners who find us for a specific interview or topic and stick around because they like what we do.

I'm thankful for the opportunities that may present themselves over the next year, and I'm thankful for the opportunities that we'll create for ourselves.

What are you thankful for?

Giles is CLEARLY thankful. It's been a good month.

Monday, November 23, 2015

In Defense of Adverbs

I like asking Google why the world hates adverbs. A lot of interesting results pop up. Most of them make me feel just a little sad. You see... I like adverbs*. I can’t help it. They’re too fun.  

Writing teachers might tell you to avoid  adverbs like the plague, but can you imagine NEVER using them EVER AGAIN? Read a few classics and you’ll find that adverbs have infected nearly every page. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was completely absent of adverbs, and if I ever find one I have a feeling it will feel empty and soulless.

I like to think of adverbs the same way I think of alliteration**. If you enthusiastically insert incredibly interpretive wording that overpoweringly describes your point, no one will take you seriously. Writing sentences like that is fun – it makes me feel like Dr. Seuss – but it won’t give your novel an edge. It certainly won’t make you a better writer.

Adverbs can modify just about anything. They’re incredibly versatile, and if you have a hard time coming up with exactly the right word, they can feel like life-savers. I think that’s why they are so easy to carry too far. Like any wonderful thing, too many adverbs can transition your writing from interesting to overwhelming. A writer’s first step should be to find the coolest, best, most awesome verbs and nouns. But don’t let anyone make you feel bad for branching out. If you need an adverb because that’s how your character talks, it fits better with your style, or it just sounds better, use the adverb.

When I was taking reporting classes in college, the only professor who didn’t yell at me for adverb use was the one professor who’d won a Pulitzer for his writing. Newspapers are traditionally famous for using a low number of adverbs – they’re also written for someone with an eighth grader’s reading level. Is that the kind of experience you want for your readers? Then go for it! If, however, you like writing that doesn’t feel like a slough through academia…maybe you’ll consider coming to the Dark Side (we have adverb cookies).




Michelle is getting ready for three weeks in Europe, and the ONLY reason she’s unhappy about it is she’s leaving the day Star Wars comes out. *le sigh* It could be worse, right?   


*This is whispered because sometimes when you whisper things, people don’t get as mad about them.

**Another thing I love that I’m supposed to hate. Writers can be so bossy sometimes. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Accomplishments in 2015

Can I just say: holy cow, it's almost the end of the year?!

For the last several weeks, I've been feeling like I haven't accomplished anything with regards to my writing this year. This morning, I realized that's not true. Sure, I don't have a novel finished, but that doesn't mean I haven't done anything. As a matter of fact, this year I:
  • Wrote two short stories and submitted them to anthologies 
  • Wrote another short story that was submitted to a magazine (and needs to be submitted elsewhere) 
  • Wrote 13,000 words on the beginning of a new novel 
  • Figured out how I want to brand myself as an author moving forward (though I still need to decide how to implement that) 
  • Regained the rights to my first short story, "Colfax Kitsune," and started considering self-publishing it as a stand-alone piece, or with its sequel short story (depending on the results of the anthology the second one is submitted to) 
  • Met some amazing people, both within and outside of the writing community
  • Got encouraged by Neil Gaiman and James McBride 
  • Co-taught the "Writing the Basics of Queer Characters" workshop twice 
  • Co-taught the "Tropes 101" workshop twice 
  • Wrote my first humorous story that actually made people laugh and (assuming this anthology doesn't turn around and hate it) will be my first paid piece of fiction
It's funny how all of this kind of felt like nothing in the face of every day life, since none of it really happened in a single day (except the encouragement bits). And I think that's kind of a problem some creative types have: we look at our accomplishments and dismiss them because they don't seem "big" enough or "important" enough, or we've forgotten about the little things that went into the "big" accomplishments.

Moving into the holiday season, creative time gets short for a lot of us. But don't beat yourself up about it. Use the time to look back on what you accomplished this year, no matter how small it might seem, and feel proud about it!


Emily is working on reminding herself to take pride in her accomplishments. It's hard, but it's worth it. She's also working on learning how to be brave, reading her enormous backlog of comics, and writing entirely too many projects at the same time. Follow the insanity on Twitter @EmilykSinger.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Subtle Changes of Life

My goals have changed a lot over the years, including where I want to go with my career, living arrangements (house vs. apartment), and what my a successful writing day looks like. A few years ago I was only working "part time," no paid time off, so one of my goals for writing included getting myself to a point where I could pay my bills with my writing. I still haven't gotten paid for a single word I've written, but that's beside the point.

Today, I have the day off. I requested it off to deal with some errands that could only be done during the week, while I normally work. And I'm getting paid for my time off. Obviously, that's more than a subtle change, but to me it came about in a significant but small way. It's huge, yes, but following the course of my life from my perspective, it was almost inevitable.

With writing, things have changed a lot, too. The book that I'm querying right now got conceptualized, drafted, revised, and edited in about 14 months. I pushed for that. I wanted to be able to show agents and editors that I can write a book in a year. That meant that "success" in each day of writing required a minimum of 1500 words, and near the end, closer to 2500. I hit those goals consistently, and I edited and revised on schedule.

Not so with the book I'm working on now. Because of the time I had to spend on my day job when I didn't get paid time off, and because of many other aspects of my life that I simply couldn't control, creativity almost didn't happen at all. For nearly six months. I even "won" nanowrimo last year with a story that was utter crap. I'm proud of the accomplishment, but I'm SO happy that I'm done with that project. It was stupid and bad and deserves to be shut away somewhere.

As some long-time readers/listeners know, I had a story workshopped on The Roundtable Podcast earlier this year. That's the story I'm working on now. The first draft has reached my minimum word goal of 60k, and I still have a few more chapters to write before it's drafted. But this will only be draft .5. The "complete" first draft will come after I let the ideas drift around in my brain, then I have to rewrite about 15k words and let it sit again before I can start the real revisions. It's going to take a while. Definitely more than 14 months from concept to query.

But I'm making progress. And I've achieved this, so far, with a "minimum" daily goal of 500 words. Which I consistently miss. I just upped it to 625 because I need to keep stretching myself again. Get my brain working where it was a few years ago. But I'm very proud of the progress I'm making. And even though life is changing in other subtle ways, too, my focus on writing and success is staying true to the goals I set when I was 14.

The journey won't look the same for each of you out there, and it won't even look the same for me next year. But I'm rolling with it. Not giving up, despite how often I feel like that would be the "best" thing I could do.

Words, words, words. Shakespeare's most brilliant line. It's how Giles feels a good deal of the time when he's trying to sound clever. His ego is definitely smaller than it was a few years ago. More changes, see?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Review: Attachments

He knew why he wanted to kiss her. Because she was beautiful. And before that, because she was kind. And before that, because she was smart and funny. Because she was exactly the right kind of smart and funny. Because he could imagine taking a long trip with her without ever getting bored. Because whenever he saw something new and interesting, or new and ridiculous, he always wondered what she'd have to say about it--how many stars she'd give it and why.
- Lincoln, “Attachments”, by Rainbow Rowell

This is the kind of book people tell you to pretend you don’t read. Cute, romantic, easy-to-read books are always “guilty pleasures”. But those jerks can stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. I LOVED this book.  I crammed it into a stationary bike ride and a late night, and it was over far too soon.

Maybe it’s because Rainbow Rowell’s characters are just so darn messy, or because they’re all so awkward, or because they remind me of my friends. I saw a Goodreads reviewer say she hated the characters – poor kid must not have read the same book as me. How can you not love characters as real as these?  

Anyways, on to why this book is FANTASTICAL:
  1. It’s a romance lead by 29-year-old Lincoln, who just finished his master’s degree and had to move back in with his mom. If Lincoln were real, I would marry him. This is not a joke. He stops to help strangers fix their car tires. He shares his dinner with little old ladies. And when he has a chance to meet his crush…he runs away. <3
  2. It’s set around Y2K, but the social interactions (a.k.a awkward, introverted people trying to go out into the “normal” world with “normal” people) are totally on par for today.
  3. The email exchanges between the leading lady and her best friend are so accurate for female best friends it’s creepy. I’m serious. It felt like reading the text conversations my bestie and I have during the day.
  4. Rowell’s style is just plain fun. You get to sit back and enjoy the story without trudging through rants about love or growing up or learning to adult. The book is about all of these things, but they present themes, not a thesis.
If any part of you loves a good story and wonderful characters, you should read this book. 






Amusing tidbit: At a recent author talk, Rowell said that Lincoln would totally be cast as Chris Pratt (the Parks and Rec version). Now Michelle keeps seeing Lincoln in the IT department...with raptors lurking in the shadows. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Writing, Emotional Balance, and You

This week has been a ball of frustrations, time sucks, and worry for me. I won't mention why, because a lot of it isn't my story to tell, but it did make me realize (again) that I really don't get any writing done when I'm emotionally upset. And I'm pretty dang sure I'm not the only one.

Most people have to be in a good mindset to get creative. When we're feeling frustrated or irritated or tired or worried about something else, it's really hard to focus on getting words on the page. Really, really hard. How can you possibly get into a character's head if your brain is worried about a friend in the hospital or fuming about that jerk that hit your car in the parking lot?

On the other hand, a lot of people use "I'm not in the right mindset" to avoid being creative at all. There is a certain point where we have to put on our big kid panties and force ourselves to sit down and write. It's not fun, and it's hard, but sometimes that's what we have to do.

There's a fine line between genuinely being so upset that you can't work and using it as an excuse. I'm not sure where that line is for you, but I know I abuse it sometimes. And that's okay--sometimes. We all need a break now and then and if life is overwhelming, that might be a good time to take one. Just make sure you don't continue finding excuses not to write or create and that you get back on the horse soon!


Emily has had one of those weeks where all she wants to do is hide under the blankets and watch romantic comedies or goofy anime. But she wrote this blog and is going to write more later. Probably with a comforting cup of tea. Because tea is the best.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Conversations

This week's episode of listener emails is probably one of my favorite episodes of any podcast I've ever listened to, watched, or recorded. Not because I'm in it, but because it inspired me!

Yes, the episode is only 25 minutes long, but it's a conversation! There are conversations that my co-hosts and I had, conversations that our listeners participated in, and because of those emails, conversations BETWEEN us!

It's exciting to me. Inspired thought, whether part of a deep topic or something "shallow", is something I enjoy. I'll talk for hours with my friends about books, movies, video games, RPGs, story, philosophy, morality, and a number of other topics. And I love it!

This engagement between humans is something that separates us from the animals. Complex thought, the ability and desire to communicate multi-faceted ideas, make us HUMAN, and the fact that I'm part of that makes me want to write, to record, to sing and dance (not as pretty as you might guess), and then join in conversation AGAIN.

Let's have conversations. Join in, either in the comments, or by emailing us. And if you don't want to talk to us, then enjoy a great book. Because by "listening" to the ideas of a writer, you're engaging in their conversation because you can't HELP but react when reading something amazing.

Seriously, go read! And tell us what you think we should read.

Despite getting a new video game yesterday, Giles actually made time to read a few chapters of THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS by Jim Butcher. He even surpassed his daily writing goal AND wrote this blog post. Because he's THAT excited about awesome conversations!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Your Language is NOT Useless

I’ve been learning French since I was a sophomore in high school, and I used to teach it at the high school level. I use it every week to talk to the mom of the 4th grader I tutor. Without it, I would’ve gone insane in college.

So, if you ever want to see me all riled up, please announce that French is a useless language*. Go on. I dare you. It would give me permission to inform you of your utter wrongness.

French is one of the six working languages of the United Nations. It’s one of only three languages used in the European Union, and it is the only language spoken during deliberations at the Court of Justice of the European Union. It’s the official language of the Olympics, NATO, ILO, and UNICEF. (Diplomatie.gouv.fr)
Many other languages can be useful for your career and for travel, but French is one of the few internationally used languages. All multilingualism is useful, helpful, and beneficial, but not every language is global. When you speak French or one or two other global languages, you have a pretty safe bet of being able to communicate with almost anyone in the international business world. If you’re a teacher, you’ll be able to better communicate with your students, no matter what grade you teach.
  

Here’s another reason the statement “French is useless” makes me so mad:
The world is filled with thousands of different languages. I think it’s easy for people to forget that their home language (especially if it’s English and you’re American) isn’t the same home language as everyone else. No language is useless. Even if it’s not spoken globally, speaking another language stretches you into being a better person. It is endless exposure to a new way of thinking – it gives you a new perspective on everything that happens around you (The Guardian). Those who are multilingual are more logical, quicker to understand and solve problems, and able to juggle several tasks at once (Time.com).

Sadly, there are many people who think multilingualism is great for other people, but that they and their kids shouldn’t have to deal with it. Thinking like that leads to the death of language and culture. Language is inextricably linked to culture, and if you want to speak well, you talk to native speakers. You grow to understand the depth and breadth of a different group of people.  When you tell people that a language is useless, you hurt us all. Detrimental ideas like that are part of the reason so many languages die out every year. The fewer languages we have, the fewer mirrors we have to look at society (National Geographic). 



I will forever maintain that if you are interested in learning something, it is useful. Learning to communicate with another person is never a waste of time.




Michelle suddenly feels lazy for only speaking two languages…time to go learn another!





*Proving the "Don't make a blogger mad" theory... an acquaintance ACTUALLY SAID THIS TO MY FACE over the weekend.





Friday, November 6, 2015

Close the Book

I recently watched all 13 episodes of an anime that I really enjoyed. It was ridiculous and entertaining and almost made me cry laughing once or twice. But it had a major problem at the end: there was absolutely no closure.

I know, logically, that this often comes from an intention to make a second season, or the source material (a light novel, or a manga, for instance) isn't finished or has an ending that didn't 'work' for anime audiences (or, you know, things got changed for American audiences). But it got me thinking about the importance of closure and payoff in storytelling.

How many times have you watched a movie or read a book and the ending was a complete letdown? The "it's all a dream" syndrome, or major story lines didn't get wrapped up despite the fact that it was a standalone piece. It's a horrible feeling, isn't it? You're left wondering what happened to the main conflict, or why the protagonist suddenly feels content living a normal life when the Big Bad is still out there, waiting. It's anti-climatic and makes a reader/watcher feel like they just wasted a bunch of time getting invested in the lives of these characters for nothing.

The good news is there's a fix for this. Critique groups and beta readers can help you figure out where your story might be falling flat and, if they're good at brainstorming, help you work on ramping up the tension and cutting out the anti-climatic bits. They're also pretty good at helping to point out plot lines that haven't been wrapped up, or plot holes readers will want filled in. Even the most detail-oriented planners are likely to have a few dangling threads that will drive readers crazy!

So, long story short: don't shortchange your audience. We'll get angry and write vague blog posts about it.



Emily might have had this problem in her latest short story, but it's fixed now. She also seems to get irrationally angry over let-down last episodes of things that don't have another season coming.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: Vampire Vic 2: Morbius Reborn by Harris Gray

Part two of the Vampire Vic trilogy caught me by surprise. In a great way!

The first book ends with good story closure, and this book picks up only a few weeks later with Vic coming out of a treatment center where he's been trying to get a "cure" for his vampirism. Throughout the story, he struggles with his desire to be a good person and his need to have solid relationships that seemed to be going better when he was a cold-blooded bloodsucker.

The ups and downs in the storyline, combined with the tension of character growth, made this a real page-turner. The characters are moving about in a world that feels real, living dynamic lives that make the reader wonder who's the good guy and who's the bad guy (though some of them are CLEARLY bad).

Over all, Harris Gray brought me to the end of the second part of their trilogy with a solid desire to find out what happens next. Which is annoying because the third book isn't finished, yet. I guess I'll have to wait for it.

Giles reads. Giles writes. Giles has little idea what to put here for the rest of his bio.

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Friends!

I have a confession to make: I don't care about Ross and Rachel. I don't really care about Joey or Phoebe, either. All I care about is Chandler and Monica.

Whatever you do, though, don't ask my roommate how much I care about them. I'll just tell you that I've done a lot of Netflixing lately...and it's been exclusively Friends for about a month now. I. Can't. Stop.

As a mid-80s baby, I was just young enough to not totally get everything that went on while Friends was actually on air. Well, that and I wasn't allowed to watch it. Ha. I caught a few re-runs when they used to show on TV, but before a month ago I'd never watched the series with any kind of order. I thought I would just watch a few and get on with my life.

This is how addictions begin, right? TV shows. Not even once.

I love laughing, and this show is hilarious. I love being able to relax, and this show doesn't make me work to follow along. At twenty minutes a pop I can chill for under an hour...or for five. But most of all, I love Monica and Chandler. They give the entire show story a depth that can only come from a couple living something slightly more realistic than always having free time to meet up in a coffee shop.  Which, by the way, I'm incredibly jealous of.

I'd like to shake hands with the writer who came up with the story twist that threw them together.





Michelle discovered thin, mint Oreos this week. Ermahgerd. Oreos finally have the right amount of icing. It's a miracle!