Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reaching Goals

This year, I reached a goal: I finished the first draft of a novel! Obviously, this isn't the first time I've done this, but I struggled for a long time to actually come up with a story that I could turn into a full length piece of fiction. Last year's NaNoWriMo kicked my butt, but it also got me moving again. I struggled a bit after that because, even though I "won," I didn't have a complete story. I hit the exact word count, then stopped. But as someone with practice, I knew that was something I could do.

This year, though, I set out to draft a full book. It has a lot of work that still needs to go into it, like ten thousand words that need to be cut out and replaced with a better opening. Continuity needs to get hammered into place, scenes need a LOT of refinement, and the plot itself needs to get overhauled so that it all makes sense. But I have something to work with! And even though it didn't end the way I originally planned, I feel like it's an ending I can work with and work toward as I move all the pieces into place.

My goals for next year are a little different than last year's. My plan is to learn to write short stories. I'm going to finish this current book and start another one, and I'm going to query it, but my focus in between that project is to get at least three short stories published in SFWA qualified publications.

Unlike the goals I set as a younger man, I'm going to be flexible with these. They're difficult to achieve, which is important because I need to stretch myself to get better at what I do. But if it turns out to be "impossible," then I know how to adjust my technique to make sure I still accomplish real, difficult goals without simply "failing" to rise to a challenge. With the short stories, a lot of that comes down to the market (once I learn how to write short stories well). I can't control what editors want, though I can improve my work to make it desirable. So obviously, the number I set is mostly to give me something to aim for. It's not something I'm simply going to bend on if I feel like it's getting too hard. But we'll see what my goals look like in a few months, too.

Be safe this New Year's Eve. We'll have a new episode up next Tuesday!

Giles Hash is a writer, a blogger, a podcaster, and a home brewer. He finished one draft of a novel this year, spilled beer on his computer and almost had a meltdown, and tried to start a business. Some of those things are great, others are better left undone. But he's gong to conquer the year ahead of him and make something of his many careers.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hello from Roma!

I was supposed to post last Monday, but I totally spaced. I should *probably* have something nerd-related to talk about, but it's currently too late in the day for me to come up with a great theme (since for me it's close to 10:30 pm).

Here are a few I considered:
1. How traveling makes me want to move to a new city and see what artsy things are going on there.
2. How awesome/amazing/hilarious Olan Rodgers videos are.
3. Why free wifi is the shizz.
4. Why buying books from a bouquiniste vendor on the Seine feels so lovely.
5. Reading old favorites in new places.
6. The fact that maybe a little German  and lots of Italian would've been rather helpful on this trip. RATHER. HELPFUL.

The fact is, if you haven't  ventured to a city where you don't speak the language, you should. Oh, don't get me wrong. It's  an introvert's nightmare. But it's good for you, I promise. It teaches you fun things like the fact of "calzone" being pronounced as "cahl-sone-ay". (Thank you, random food person, for making me feel silly saying a word I've grown up with. Those raised eyebrows were very helpful).

Happy travels!

Michelle
Michelle is currently in Rome and has no idea how to make her mobile app put her photo in the right place...so just pretend she's smirking at you. Actually, she probably *is* smirking at you, because she does that a lot. It's a personal problem.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Happy

Regardless of what you celebrate(d) this winter, all four of us at Beyond the Trope want to wish you a very happy holiday season. Hopefully you were able to make time to be with loved ones and enjoy whatever traditions (or lack thereof) you have around this time of year.

This post is short because I'm doing exactly that.

Happy holidays.


Emily is blessed enough to be spending time with her relatives and some of her chosen family this week. All she's missing right now is a big old cup of hot chocolate and a cat to snuggle.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Break Time!

As we mentioned in our brief episode on the podcast feed this week, it's Christmas Break time. I'll have a proper blog post next Wednesday, but with how crazy it's been at my day job over the past three weeks, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I'm less than five hours away from vacation and enjoy my lunch.

Have a great Christmas, and I'll write to you in a week!

Go have fun. Enjoy yourself and your family/friends.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas List

This isn't a Christmas list for me, it's simply a selection of awesome charities you can donate to if you're looking for a way to give back during this charitable season.

Child's Play

Compassion International

Wounded Warrior

These are my three favorite charities, and they all do amazing things around the world. While so many people talk about what they should be GETTING, consider giving. It IS a wonderful thing to do.

Giles tries to be generous, and he appreciates any giving you do this time of year.

Monday, December 14, 2015

You Need This Language App

My to-do list this week is an odd collection of “Replace watch battery”, “Get emissions test”, and “Finish packing for Europe”. And among all of those errands and final things, I decided that this would be a great week to start learning a new language or two*.

One of my friends introduced me to DuoLingo last week. She’s using it to keep up with her Spanish and to learn a little bit of Italian. Since my French has felt rusty lately, I downloaded the *free* app and started messing around. People. You need this

Initial reactions:
Ooh, this is fun! And fancy!
Wait…how do you do accents on this thing? Hey! No! Not that accent!
Phone: You’ve earned a lingot. Me: YAAAAAASSSSSSS
Oh, man…you can COMPETE with people!

The learning sequence is a mix of translation, listening, and speaking. For example, in my French course I write sentences in French and in English, translate phrases I hear, and speak phrases into my phone mic. There’s also a part where you match pairs, such as “mange” to “eating” and “femme” to “woman”. It’s great practice to be able to spot those pairs without trouble.

Look at all the languages they have!

In the German course I just started, the first lesson was really basic – just listening to a few vocab words and creating a very simple sentence or two. I’m excited for my next lesson (which I interrupted to write this blog, because I’m SO EXCITED to learn a language again!).

If you haven’t tried DuoLingo already, you should! It’s free, and learning a new language makes you feel like you’re winning a game. AND you tell it what language goals you want to reach, and if you don’t work on your lessons before the mid-afternoon, it reminds you to get your butt moving. Pretty awesome.






Michelle will be (hopefully) travel blogging over at montagedemichelle.blogspot.com, so if you’d like to know where she and her sisters are over the next few weeks, check it out!






*Note: No, this really isn’t a “great” week to learn a language, but gosh dangit, I’m going to be in Germany for 2 days and last week I knew absolutely no German! And yes, this does mean I’m going to add an Italian course later this week. BOOYAH.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ambitious Goals for 2016--Eek!

This past week, I started considering goals and resolutions for 2016 (holy cow, it's almost here, guys). I'm being super-ambitious this year; I want to finish two full novel rough drafts (both already kind of in progress), at least two short stories for submission, and a second draft of one of the WiP novels. At least, that's what I'm starting out with.

And, let me tell you, looking at it written down, I'm wondering what the heck I'm thinking. I've had trouble finishing a single novel in two years, why do I think I can pound out two books in one year? Honestly, I'm worried that I won't be able to make it. But I'm dang well going to try anyway.

That's the point of goals, isn't it? To stretch you and push you out of your comfort zone and kick your butt into moving toward your dreams? At least, that's what I'm telling myself!

Basically, I'm sick of letting myself set mediocre goals and then coming up with excuses not to meet them. At least this way, if I fail, I'm failing doing something ambitious and difficult. And there's a weird sense of motivation that comes from looking at hard goals and feeling slightly overwhelmed--but just slightly; there's a fine line between motivating-overwhelm and crushing-overwhelm, at least for me.

And now that I've written this blog post about it, I'm publicly accountable, too. Double-whammy!

Have you started thinking about your goals for next year? Let me know if you're on the crazy-train with me!


Emily will also be chronicling working toward these goals on her personal blog (emilykaysinger.com) and Twitter. You know, in case you want to cheer her on or wait for the epic fail she's going to try really hard to avoid.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Subplotting

If your story lacks punch or believability, or even depth and "proper" length, there's a good chance you don't have enough going on. This week's episode deals with both character arcs and subplots, but today, I want to talk a bit more in-depth about why you NEED at least one (though probably two to four) subplots.

Think about your real life. Or your significant other's. Or sibling's, parents', best friend's, etc. How many things are going on in your life at once? Is it ever just one thing? If the answer's yes, chances are it's either so over-the-top chaotic that it's almost impossible to handle, or it's so boring that no one wants to hear about it for hours on end.

Subplots are those other, often minor, events in characters' lives that make the events on the page feel real. Sometimes the subplots will tie together, or the events will conclude at the same time, or solutions to one will inform the solution to another. But they MUST be present, even if they conclude wildly differently, because without them, the story is nothing more than a ninety-minute action movie.

Or someone's Facebook feed.*

If your book feels flat or short, adding a subplot can help, if it ties in with the main plot.**

Don't believe me? Go pick your five favorite books. Doesn't matter if they're written for Middle Grade audiences or High Literary fans with multiple post-graduate degrees. Each and every one of them has a subplot. At LEAST one.

As for HOW to write a subplot, look for background information about a character's life, then put together events that they need to solve while working on the main plot. The timeline has to work out for both to conclude satisfactorily for the reader, but it's possible to add a few paragraphs or full sections per chapter that are dedicated to these events (think about the romance arc in Soulless, or the "dancing lessons" in Game of Thrones [book not show]).

What about you, any tips on writing subplots?

Giles is getting ready to subplot through his WiP. Once he finishes the first draft. It's important to put in necessary subplots during revision drafts if they don't make it into the first draft, which is why he's so passionate about this topic today, and why he's thinking about it.









*Seriously, Facebook feeds are filled with glimpses of someone's life, and the most honest ones either get ignored for being "too whiney" or "too many instances of TMI."

**Keep in mind that the subplot and main plot are separate, but they NEED to both flow through the narrative smoothly or it will feel like two disjointed stories smashed together for the sake of padding pages.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: Cornelia Funke's "Inkheart"

Book magic, adventure, mystery – Inkheart has all the pieces you need for a fun read.

This little brick is a middle grade novel, but it deals with some pretty intense issues. Twelve year-old Meggie lives with her dad, Mo, who repairs books. One of Mo’s old “friends” appears and they all travel to Italy to safeguard a book with mysterious contents. 

I wish I could say it was amazing and phenomenal, but I honestly wasn’t invested in the story until I was more than halfway done.  And when you’re reading a book that’s over 500 pages, halfway takes a looooooooong time to get to. While I enjoyed seeing things from the perspective of Meggie, her father, her aunt, random characters, the bad guys…it was a little too much. I spent so much time jumping into and then being pulled out of the points of view that I didn’t really connect to any one character.

The plot was fine – the beginning was dark and mysterious (yay), yet I found myself annoyed (not yay) that Mo wasn’t telling his aunt or Meggie things that literally could have saved their lives and/or prevented all the dire circumstances that followed.
                                                          
I know that all makes it sound like I hated the book, but I really didn’t! Funke’s worldbuilding and scenery are lovely. I’m sure part of this is also due to the great job the translator did on the text (Funke wrote it in German). There’s something to be said for a writer who can recreate such a vast, modern world and make it seem like a fantasy land. I love the story seed and the twists and turns of the plot. Looking back on it, I think the novel works better for me in hindsight than it did when I was in the thick of it.

I have a feeling this book would be great for a long roadtrip (there’s a lot of travelling in it). Meggie is a very brave character and I think she’d make a great literary figure for kids to look to for inspiration.







Michelle's only 12 days away from her own travels, and she already has room set aside to bring back books as souvenirs. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Mythbusters and Writing

On Wednesday, my family surprised me with a trip to see the Mythbusters Jamie and Adam Unleashed tour here in Denver. Don't worry, this isn't going to be a bragging post (though it was awesome). As a matter of fact, I wanted to talk about something Adam said in the second half of the show: that science and art (including storytelling) are two sides of the same coin.

As someone who was convinced she wanted to be a scientist--in particular a paleontologist--for a good portion of her life, this really appealed to me. Even the driest scientific paper is telling a story, the story of the experiment or study. And, like it or not, writers can't get away from science. Even in the wildest fantasy, there has to be rules and things that we call science nowadays that might not be called science in that world. That isn't to say all magic in fantasy is unexplained science, but it has to follow some of the same rules.

As someone who's now been writing for over a decade (not that the early stuff was any good), I know there's a lot I can learn from science. How would a shock wave really affect your character(s) based on how big the explosion is and how far away they are? Hint: it may take longer for the shock wave to reach your character than you expect. Is it possible for your character to escape from prison with salsa? Hint: it really depends on how much time they have.

Basically, I think there's this tendency among the artistic and scientific folks to look at each other and sneer. And I think that's bull. There's a lot we can learn from each other and from the different disciplines and I think that's totally worth the effort.


Emily has always been that weird kid who loved documentaries. She might have developed a character completely inspired by watching a history of tattooing once.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mash-Ups

I love mash-ups. Give me two well-blended genres, and I'm sold most of the time. It's what I dig about Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi Noir, Time Travel Romance, and so many other combos. This week's episode was, in part, inspired by an impulsive move at the library. I was walking around the audio book section, and I just wanted something good to listen to. I saw OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, and I'd heard some very good things about it. Based on the review from that friend of mine, who reads a LOT of fantasy, I picked it up.

Technically, it's historical romance, but it's also portal fantasy mixed with some serious adventure writing. I loved it so much that I'm currently listening to it AGAIN with my wife.

Mash-ups can be tough to do well. My two favorites are Charlaine Harris and Jim Butcher. Both of their series could TECHNICALLY fit in the Urban Fantasy sub genre, but Harris leans more toward mystery/romance, while Butcher is action/noir.

The reason I love both of those series so much is that I enjoy stories that subvert my expectations. It's a big part of what inspires the podcast, and it's what inspires a lot of my writing. Epic Fantasy and Hard Science Fiction have their place, but in my experience, it's hard to find something that's not a rehash of something else I've read before. And while the books I love most are following many of the same patterns as other great stories over the centuries, they do it in a way that feels fresh and new to me.

I'm not saying that there's a lack of originality, either. I don't think mash-ups are the only TRUE new books. I love classic fantasy and sci-fi. And mysteries. And romance. But I'm not always in the mood for something with a classic feel. Mash-ups give me something ELSE to read through and engage with.

What about you? Do you have any favorite mash-ups? What are they, and why do you like them?

Giles is a mash-up of a musician, warehouse grunt, and writer. Other things tend to get mashed together in his life, but that's mostly potatoes with gravy.