Monday, February 29, 2016

How to Get a Great Interview

When I was 18, I knew for a fact that the scariest thing in the world was talking to strangers. It made me so nervous I would literally write out entire conversations and memorize them. This is not an exaggeration. I can’t explain it, which makes it even harder to describewhy I make interviewing strangers such a huge part of my current life. The thing is, it’s still not easy. It still scares me (sometimes).

So every time I get ready to interview, I think of Jim Sheeler.

Mr. Sheeler was one of my reporting professors at CU-Boulder. He didn’t look like a reporter. Honestly, he looked like my friend’s dad, who was an accountant. He won a Pulitzer for Feature Writing…for crafting obituaries. Oh, yes. That is a thing you can win a Pulitzer for, and from what I read of his work, he deserved it. Years of forcing myself to interview people had done almost nothing for my confidence or abilities, and then Mr. Sheeler assigned us all real-life obits to write. Even thinking about it right now, seven years later, makes me nervous! I can still see the man I interviewed and feel my nerves practically jumping out of my fingers(bless that guy for letting a young, naive journalism student ask him about his late father).

That single experience changed how I looked at reporting. It wasn’t about me being comfortable – it was about the other person feeling at ease. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. No one cared if I had a list of twenty questions. What mattered was having a question that moved quickly to the heart of the story.

One thing I love about our interviews for Beyond the Trope is being able to prepare. You can’t really prepare yourself for the stories you hear about people who’ve passed on. You can, however, read up on authors and people in the nerd world. You can find out who else they’ve talked to, and just a few minutes on their Twitter feed can tell you what kind of jokes they’ll laugh at.

Here’re my 5 quick steps to get a great interview*:
  1. Do your research. Find out if they have any weird hobbies or if they are addicted to something fun. Start making a list of questions about things you know they already like.
  2. Get creative. Remember your listeners also have access to the Internet. If the person you’re going to interview talks about things on their website, why would you want to get repetitive? Try to come up with questions and topics that no one else has talked about before.
  3. Have them try to teach you something. Humans love it when they can share their passion with other people, and learning something new won’t hurt you, either.
  4. Breathe. Chill. Don’t imagine anyone in their underwear.
  5. Be honest. Don’t feel bad about saying, “I have no idea what that is.” Don’t spew your crazy worldviews and start ranting, but don’t feel like you have to withhold your opinion, either. The point is an interesting interview, right?

Michelle loves talking to people who get her jokes, will let her talk for hours about her dog, or offer her pizza. Or all three. Preferably all three.  

*Obviously, this is a little skewed to audio interviews. If you’re doing a regular print (or digital text) interview, the basic concept stays the same. Simply remember to put a theme together for your questions. That makes it easy for later, when you have to squish everything into something resembling coherency.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Yes, Giles, Two Years!

So, in keeping with the theme this week: holy cow, Beyond the Trope is two years old!

Like my co-hosts, I wasn't really sure how long this monster was going to go when we first started out. A year sounded optimistic. Now we're staring down the beginning of year three. And being part of this nerdy, writing, weirdness we created has been amazing. Some of the things that really stuck with me through these two years:
  • The amazing people we've had the opportunity to meet and talk to
  • Interviewing two of my favorite authors 
  • Having a table at conventions really changes the experience (in a good way; as an introvert, I love having a home base I can retreat to) 
  • Michelle and I are scarily good at randomly speaking in unison 
  • Making friends with incredible authors and con organizers 
  • It's amazing how far asking people and being nice will take you 
  • Cheddar bunnies are the best snack for recording days 
  • Talking to people isn't as scary as it first seems
That's just what I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there's more. And there will definitely be more in the future, talk to more people, teach more panels, and expand what we're doing. I'm seriously looking forward to seeing what we come up with, and I hope you are, too!

Emily is really looking forward the conventions this year. She's also excited about finally finishing the short story she's editing. And the fact that her Kitsune Tales short stories are available for pre-order on Amazon (until March first, when they come out and the price rises). She's excited about a lot of things.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Really? Two Years?

Two years ago, when we sat down and bought our domain, set up the RSS feed, and recorded our first three episodes, our goal was to stick it out for one year. Then we'd see where we sat and go for it for another year or cut and run. Another year after that, here we are.

You know what? I'm excited for what's coming! We're teaching workshops at a con this year, sitting in on panels, and taking a ROAD TRIP to WorldCon in Kansas City this August. All as individuals and a team.

This thing is going strong. We're putting together a lot of great content, gathering ideas, and making plans for new projects.

Like Michelle said on Monday, it's kind of surprising how far we've come. And that it's such an important part of our lives. If you had asked any of us two years ago what it would be like in two years, the most optimistic answer we could've given would be "I don't know."

Right now, that's kind of the best answer I can give about the next two years. We're nailing down some plans, but we're not going anywhere. When I say I don't know what the next two years will bring, that doesn't mean we're not planning. But I'm pretty certain we'll be here in two more years.

Thanks for staying with us and helping us grow.

Giles is astounded that two years have already passed, but he's excited for what's coming up.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Happy Anniversary!

“Things To Do Before I’m 30”
by Michelle from 2012
  1. Don’t start a podcast
  2. Stay away from conventions
  3. Never dress up as a superhero in public
  4. Save money – don’t buy as many books
  5. Be friends with critique partners, but not “best” friends
  6. Write good ol’ sword and sorcery fiction
  7. Keep your thoughts to yourself

This week marks our TWO YEAR anniversary. I have to write it in all caps because that’s how I hear the words in my brain. TWO. YEARS. I’m just going to be honest: I never, ever, never, ever thought this is where we’d be.

The older I get, the nerdier my life becomes. It’s not that I was against nerdy things as my younger self. I just didn’t realize my life wasn’t actually that nerdy. When Giles, Emer, and I decided to go crazy and start Beyond the Trope, I figured we’d do it until Giles got bored. Seriously! I knew it would be fun, but I honestly thought everyone else would change their minds after a couple of years.

And now…here we are at the end of those couple of years, and we’re just more excited than ever to keep this thing chugging along. I don’t know how 2015 was for the rest of you, but it turned into a, shall we say, cluster near the end, and Beyond the Trope was one of the few things in my life I could count on to create happy moments.

Thank you so much for listening to us talk through this crazy, nerdy, geeky world. We are constantly amazed by the support we get from our old and new friends. Here’s to another year of discussion, interviews, and hilarious moments.

Oh, and that list from above? Some goals were made to be forgotten J

Write on!

Michelle writes stuff and likes to vague-ify things. Stuff and things are incredibly versatile. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Peace in Hobbies

As many people know by now, I'm a home brewer as well as a podcaster and writer. I haven't won any awards, and even though I'd like to sign up for a competition or two, I brew such small quantities of each batch that I'd rather just drink it.

But a curious thing happened to me last week: I brewed a batch of beer on a day off, got almost NOTHING else done, and I felt more relaxed than I had in quite some time. My previous brew day was spent worrying about process, the recipe I'd cobbled together last-minute, and all of the other minor things that stress me out when it's been several months between brews.

Hobbies are SUPPOSED to be relaxing. That's the point. A hobby that takes up as much energy and creates as much stress as a terrible job? That's not a hobby. Obviously, when you reach a certain level of passion for your hobby, you'll run into situations that will stress you out. That mint-condition, limited edition comic book you just ordered? Mail man dropped in the snow and accidentally stepped on it. Now it's creased and a little torn. The computer you built for gaming? The motherboard isn't talking to the hard drive for some reason, and the graphics card underperforms when you finally get everything else up and running.

But when those stressful moments are set aside, or conquered, a focused serenity fills enthusiasts to the point where, for a few minutes, they can forget everything that's been bothering them.

For me, brewing is a big deal. I love beer. I love the flavor, the process, the history, and the experimentation. I HATE overdoing it when it comes to consumption, which is why I brew beers under 5% ABV (most of the time). In fact, my sweet spot is between 3% and 4.5%. It's easy to have one or two of those in an evening and not lose the ability to function as a normal human being (give me ONE 12oz. pour of anything over 6% and I'm useful, but not productive). It's fun to try to figure out how, without the "draw" of alcohol, I can make those small beers interesting. And that always comes down to flavor, which, to make pleasing, takes a different skill than just piling in the alcohol.

Thinking about my next brew, planning it out, then getting the ingredients and going through a brew day, they're all relaxing to me. Especially when I'm the only one in the house. I can take my time, review my process, and just enjoy the aroma of boiling barley sugar and hops.

And cleaning. Lots and LOTS of cleaning (but that's a different blog post).

What are your hobbies? How do they help you relax?

Giles is currently waiting for his Irish Stout to finish fermenting so he can get it kegged up for St. Patrick's Day. After that, maybe he'll tackle a Bohemian Pilsner. Or a K├Âlsch. Perhaps a German Hefeweizen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review: "Nimona" by Noelle Stevenson

Please excuse the following use of all caps:

All right. Now that I've gotten that out of the way...this graphic novel is a super quick read. You can't say "I don't have time to read it" because by the time you open it up, you’ll practically be done. What will take more time is when you finish reading a page and you forget to turn to the next one…because you’re staring at all the fine detail in Stevenson’s artwork.

The art style is fun and unique--I love the stylized look of every character. It's the perfect representation of the world Stevenson created. It’s both totally realistic and fantastically imaginative. Nimona’s character is petite and curvy, but the villain is built like a stick. Each character’s personality is complemented by their design.

Part of the charm of this book is how effortlessly our favorite pseudo-medieval world is mixed with high-tech weapons, security systems, and magic. Of course knights wear armor and carry tasers. Duh. It’s like one of the new Batman movies was accidentally set in a Tamora Pierce novel.
The dialogue reminds me a little of Gilmore Girls—lots of quick repartee and snarky comments. I think the humor is really what endears this book to me. It’s ridiculous at times, and it’s a fun story with a great ending.


Michelle likes black pepper, lotion-infused tissues, and winning. Also words. And books. And sarcasm. And beginning sentences with “and”. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Joy of Commissions

I love supporting other artists, even though I can't do it as often as I'd like. I've dreamed of getting a commission of some of my characters for ages now, but most of the artists I would ask to do so were far out of my price range, and I'm not the kind of person who's going to ask an artist to lower their price for me (because I know the amount of work that goes into a piece, and that's just not fair). But earlier this week, one of the artists on Tumblr I love opened for cheap, limited commissions. I jumped on it.

And I am so in love with the result. There's something so cool about seeing a character you've only previously written rendered in a visual form. It's like suddenly they're actually a thing outside of your own head. Actually real instead of just make-believe. And, if you're like me and get kind of obsessed with your own characters, it's a great thing to have when you're feeling stuck on a story--you can go look at the pretty art someone else made of your characters and swoon just a little before getting back to work.

Basically, the moral of this rambling, slightly-braggy story is that if you have the desire and at all can, you should totally support amazing artists and buy commissions from them. Not only are you getting some sweet artwork to nerd out about, you're also helping the artist work toward their dreams or, you know, feed themselves. Which is always a good feeling. Just remember to be nice and give the artist as much information about your character as you can, and don't be a jerkface or a client from hell. Pay them on time! And thank them for their work!

Yay art!

Emily has a long list of people she'd love to commission artwork from, when she's rich and famous. And a long list of characters waiting to be drawn. Because of course she does.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

If you listened to yesterday's episode of the Beyond the Trope Podcast, you know what's coming. For those of you haven't, yet, we interviewed Holly Jennings, author of Arena, due out April 5, 2016. And today, I'm reviewing it.

This is my very first advance review of a book. And I was super stoked to read this book. I planned on buying it the day it came out (and STILL plan on picking it up), but getting to read it before we talked to Holly was pretty much the best thing that could've happened for both this blog and the episode we released yesterday.

So, what do I think? The story follows Kali Lang as she maneuvers the world of VR Gaming, along with her teammates. Without giving the story away, I can tell you that it tackles the topics "competition without fun" and "substance abuse" in both a deep, meaningful manner, and keeps them realistic. They aren't ham-handed, the way some "controversial" topics can be, and it's not a bunch of moralizing. But the conflict is there, it's something all of the characters face to one degree or another, and the resolution is satisfying.

I don't want to ruin the rest of the plot, but the main arc alone is worth the read, and the character arcs bring in a depth that fills out the story in a way that makes me excited to see what happens in the NEXT book.

Jennings' word-craft is solid, too. She paints vivid pictures of a world reminiscent of a bright future in direct opposition to old-school cyberpunk. The VR world is just as clear and real, and often times (as designed) more real than the "real world." Many times over the read through, I got lost in the story, rather than focusing on the words themselves, because I could clearly see what was being painted by the narrative.

One line stood out among all the others, though, that smacked me so hard, I was immediately reminded of the opening line Neuromancer by William Gibson. Yes, many of the scenes felt like an homage to classic cyberpunk, but this scene stood out so well that, when we talked to Jennings for the podcast and she told me she'd been reading Neuromancer, I almost shouted, "I knew it!" (I kept my tongue, though, and refrained from killing anyone's eardrums.)

All in all, Jennings has a bright future, and if you DON'T read this book, you're missing out. Seriously, go preorder it RIGHT NOW so you don't forget. And look for the sequel, too.

Giles is a reader, writer, and fan of geeky games, books, and movies.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Best Voice Actors in Audiobooks

A voice can make or break an audiobook. Paper or e-reader versions of books depend solely on the reader liking the author’s style, but an audiobook is a whole different enchilada. Not only does the writing have to be on point, the actor needs to have the chops to carry the personality of the main character….the secondary characters…the tertiary characters… I think you get my point.

I listen to audiobooks at a rate somewhere around two a month, so I’ve heard many different voice actors succeed (and fail) to bring a book to life. Only the best books can recover from a dreadful, dull, or odd voice casting*.

In the past year, though, I’ve discovered some of the best audiobook performances I think I’ve ever listened to. I always have an audiobook in my car CD player – these are the ones that make getting out of my car nearly impossible.

James Marsters – The Dresden Files

If you haven’t read any of the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher, you’re missing out. They’re all the best parts of fantasy and a hard-boiled detective novel. Buffy fans will recognize the reader’s voice as Spike. Marsters’ tracks feel raw and uncut, like you’ve run into Harry Dresden in a seedy bar and are hearing the stories from the wizard himself.   

Will Patton – Raven Cycle Series

When I read that Will Patton read this series, my brain did NOT connect the Remember the Titans actor with the gravelly, intense reader of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. He’s a perfect match for the dark, oft-times creepy world of Blue Sargent and her boys from Aglionby Academy. There’s a lot of tension in these books, and Patton’s voice is like a bit of magic that weaves the nitty-gritty moments of real life in with the mysterious power of Stiefvater’s fictional world.

Tim Curry – Sabriel

I’ve read this book several times since I discovered it in middle school, and I have to say that Tim Curry is probably the only person I can think of who could possibly have handled the portrayal of Mogget. Or, really, the portrayal of ANYTHING and ANYONE set in the Old Kingdom. His brilliant use of different voices and tones makes it seem like you’re listening to a full cast recording, but no, it’s just Curry calling to you from a world of Free Magic and necromancy.

Lauren Fortgang – The Darkest Part of the Forest

If my young adult novels ever make it to Audiobook Land, I would do anything** to get Lauren Fortgang to read them. She’s just…she’s the bomb. That’s all you need to know. She’s the bomb, and she made a wonderful book even better with her performance. Her timing is impeccable, her tone perfect.

Emily Gray – Soulless

Comedy is not easy, and sarcasm can be difficult to detect in text. Gray masterfully tackles both of these tricky items and makes it look as easy as taking a bite of pie. Other comedies I’ve listened to have sometimes had moments of, “Shouldn’t that have sounded different?” I never thought that while listening to Gray read as Alexia. I especially loved the way she could speak a wry aside without making me feel like I was missing out on the rest of the scene.  

Who do you think are the best audiobook readers out there?

Michelle LOVES old school detective novels and just realized she hasn’t read enough of them. 

*First on my list of “odd” voice casting: Using a male reader when the narrator of the book is female. I’m sorry, what? Why? What in the world made producers think a dude would be a better choice for that?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Way Back in Days of Old

Hey guys, guess what? That's right! I've re-discovered a love of something and have been slightly obsessed! What is it this time? The ABC musical comedy, Galavant. The second season just wrapped up and I might have been listening to the soundtrack since we watched the finale.

Now, I have to admit that I love satire/parody (when it's done well), fantasy, and musicals, so this show kind of played to all of my likes. The general gist is Galavant, a daring knight with a huge reputation of daring-do, must rescue his true love. Of course, things don't go as planned and shenanigans ensue. If you're more spoiler-curious, you can read the plot summary for both seasons on Wikipedia, or watch the opening number from season one (complete with sing-along lyrics).

Alan Menken (who wrote the score for Tangled, Enchanted, and other Disney movies, as well as musicals like Little Shop of Horror) and Glenn Slater (lyricist for the stage production of The Little Mermaid) wrote the songs, and the actors pull them off wonderfully. Plus, it's really entertaining watching Timothy Omundson go from straight-laced Detective Lassiter on Psych to goofy, not-quite-grown-up King Richard in Galavant. Because, you know, reasons.

Anyway, one of my favorite things about this show is how it plays with fantasy tropes and points them out as kind of ridiculous. I mean, in the opening number for season one, they call the hero "a fairy-tale cliche." And that's just the beginning. In season two, there's a whole plot line involving a sword in the stone parody. Throughout both seasons there are multiple references to minorities in fantasy--including an entire song about our fantastic squire being Jewish (and Black, but that's not referenced in the song). Plus, there are constant breaks of the fourth wall (which are always entertaining to me), a dragon that may or may not actually be a dragon, anachronisms everywhere, and some really spot-on singing.

For a full list of the entertaining trope-y things Galavant does, check out its page on TV Tropes. Seriously, there's some really fun stuff here.

Emily is kind of a sucker of musicals, especially if they're also parodying things and include some kick-butt guest stars. She's also learned that musical soundtracks are not the best background noise to make her want to write, as she tends to try and sing along instead. Last but not least, she super-believes in Tad Cooper. Which you would understand if you watched Galavant season two.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Knowing When To Pause

There are a lot of opportunities to walk away from a project. Good times to say "this isn't working" and "maybe I'm wasting my time." It's important to know when to drop a project. That's a lesson that takes time to learn, especially when you're starting to "get good" at writing but aren't "quite there" yet. Sometimes, the writing itself is good, but the plot pieces don't fit, scenes feel out of place, and nothing goes anywhere. It's so tempting to try to wrestle that story into place and force it to be what you wanted it to be.

If the story is something you don't want to throw away, and if you genuinely believe you CAN fix it, BUT you're having so much trouble that you're not being productive, it's time to step away. Some books should be trunked (NEVER to be seen again unless you want to use them for educational purposes in one of our trunk novel segments), and some should be shelved (to be returned to at a later date).

I'm facing this situation right now. You see, I finished the first draft of a novel back in December. I really like a lot of the scenes, the characters, and parts of the story arc. But many of the vital plot points turned out to be troublesome. I didn't buy them as likely causes/motivations/believable sequences of events. There's a lot that I feel is well crafted in this draft (though the basics still need some solid polishing), just not the story itself. Or the main character's motivation. Both of THOSE are vital elements to a good story, let alone a great story.

But I'm not trunking it, yet. I'm working on something else. A new novel. One that's just flowing right now (I got 1,500 words written yesterday!). I'm hitting pause because spending a lot of time with this broken book could end up being a waste. I need to be writing, stretching my brain-muscles. The part that's supposed to be able to FIX these story problems just isn't working as well as it did for the novel I'm querying right now, which means I need to work it to get it back into shape.

For writers, it's vital to write every day. Even if it's just 200 words. Editing isn't writing. Staring at the screen isn't writing. Working on story ideas and plotting comes CLOSE, but it's still not WRITING (though all of those things are IMPORTANT). And I'm not getting any younger. If I want to make a career out of my passion for story, I need to knuckle down and produce stories. My goal, from here on out, is at least one a year. One novel each year that I can query.

But that's a different post.

Giles has a story in his brain, and he's liking it. That's the other reason he's shelving a book. He's excited about a project, and often enough, his writing is far better when he's excited about writing it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thesaurus Abuse!

There’s nothing wrong with using a thesaurus. All the cool people do it. Genuinely, you could adopt it without exception and at no time drive erroneous*.

Unless, of course, you use it on every other word and just grab the first result you see (i.e. that glorious sentence in the previous paragraph). Sometimes when I’m reading, it feels like the author picked up the thesaurus and went down the alphabetical list of word alternatives.

When I hear people complain that such-and-such published author “just used the thesaurus for every other word”, I laugh to myself. I use the thesaurus all the time – but that’s not really what readers are complaining about. We don’t mind new words, we mind words that don’t make any sense. It’s easy to be lazy and choose the first synonym that sounds good, instead of doing our research on an unfamiliar word (or rewriting the sentence altogether). My French students used to do this ALL THE TIME, and it was both hilarious and frustrating.

I’ll be the first to admit it: words are hard. Wording is hard. And writing a story without re-using the same stock words ad infinitum? Haaaaard. Seriously. Some words and phrases don’t seem to have good synonyms. Take “sigh” for example. Roget’s thesaurus gives me “cry, exhale, gasp, groan, howl” as the first/ most relevant choices. All right. So, if I’m trying to avoid the word sigh, my characters can just “exhale”? Mehhh.

Everyone exhales, unless you’re writing paranormal. “Groan” could work if you want an undercurrent of frustration, or “gasp” for surprise. In the end, though, “sigh” has me stumped. This might mean I need new rules for when a character's allowed to sigh. Or there's going to be a lot more forceful exhaling. 

Oh, yeah. That'll work ;)

Michelle ate junk food all weekend and doesn't even feel bad about it. She also cut over 5,000 words from her work-in-progress in order to finish a major rewrite. WOOOO!!! 

*Writing this sentence was physically painful.