Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Juggling Projects

I'm at a point in my writing where I'm easily distracted. Case-in-point? I've tried to come up with at least six different ideas for my blog post today.

Finally, though, I've come up with an idea. For a book. Yes, another book. And, as much as I love my idea, I'm loving my current WiP.

Well, love is an accurate word, but not the whole truth. I'm kinda stuck. I wrote myself into a corner, and I'm not sure how to get out of it. Yet.

My solution? I'm going to jump between projects. When I get stuck in one, I'll move to the other. Back and forth, back and forth, until I have two complete manuscripts. Will this work? Or will I write two mediocre books at the same time?

Only time will tell. However, I'm aware of my limits. I'm also capable of looking at a project and discerning when it's a lost cause. So basically, I'm going to fiddle around with these two ideas until one of them stands out as the project that will "work." This isn't a choice I make lightly, either. I like to work on one project at a time. Focus on it, dedicate a full year to making it the best it can be.

However, getting stuck in my current project makes it hard to push forward. I don't want to give up on it, so I need something to keep my creative juices flowing. What better than another project that's totally different from the first?

We'll see how this works out, and I can assure you that it's the only kind of juggling I'll engage in.

This last weekend, Giles taught a workshop on podcasting for artists. It went well, despite the fact that he's been sick and exhausted.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Nerd Friends and Novel Endings

Fifteen years of writing novels. Four years of critique group. Two and a half years of interviewing authors and discussing nitty-gritty writing craft.

And I still – STILL – approach endings as the writing equivalent of Chinese water torture.

Ask Giles and the Emilys…endings are my downfall. Snark? Got it. #SquadGoals? Definitely. Endings? Ehhhhhh. I get to the last five chapters and every gram of my writerly brain goes, “Da heck you doing? You can’t end it like this! You suck!”

My beta readers give me similar notes (without the “you suck” part, of course). “I loved the first two parts, but the ending... It’s like you lost your groove.” And they’re right. I can’t even pull the “You just don’t understand my art!” card. I get to the end, and my tension flatlines and my characters listlessly wander the landscape. 

Sometimes, even stepping back doesn’t help. The problem gets bigger. My WTF Alarm rings constantly when I’m in the middle of writing an ending: “I don’t understand. The rest is SO GOOD and this is PURE CRAP.” And then I let my insecurities become an excuse for inaction: “If it’s going to turn out like this every time, I’m not even going to write. So there!”

Enter the nerd friends.

Without my nerd friends, I wouldn’t finish anything. They bug me about rewrites and help brainstorm edits. When I sit at the table mumbling to myself about soldiers on the street and teleporting with passengers, they nod and smile and make me sketch things so they can glance at them and say, “You’re making it too complicated.”

So here's to Emmy, who listened to my ideas for a totally different ending and whose excitement made me glad (instead of sad) that I was rewriting so much. To Emer, who shoots down my terrible ideas before I can become attached to them. To Giles, who reminds me to be enthusiastic about my story because it's awesome, gosh dangit. To my critique group, who didn't realize at first that they were telling me to delete and rewrite three entire chapters, yet managed to do it in the nicest way possible. 

The only way to fix your book is to let your friends boss you around. Sit down, find where the problem starts, and write.

Michelle spent twenty minutes trying to come up with a cute bio for this space, and she just can't anymore. Can "I just can't even" be an excuse to go home early? That should be a thing. Let's make it a thing. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

AnomalyCon 2016!

Whoohoo! Starting today and going through Sunday, we're at AnomalyCon in the Denver Tech Center! If you're at the convention, come say hi. We have a table downstairs and will be running around all weekend.

Tonight, we're teaching Tropes 101 at 6 p.m., then interviewing Delilah Dawson about Star Wars and steampunk on the main stage at 8 p.m. Emily and Giles are also on various panels throughout the rest of the weekend (sorry, Michelle), so you might see us elsewhere, too! We have candy and jokes available at our table, so make sure you stop by!

We've all been looking forward to this for weeks. It's an amazing con with fantastic programming and incredible guests--and gorgeous costumes to boot! Tickets are still available at the door, so come join us at Denver's steampunk and alternate history convention. We're pretty dang sure you'll have an amazing time.

Emily is really looking forward to trying on her new costume for the first time. And looking at everyone else's amazing costuming. And talking about pirates and The Legend of Korra. And basically everything. She's excited for everything.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger

The final installation of Gail Carriger's Finishing School series was nothing short of astounding. It took me far too long to make time for this book, but when I did, I rushed through it. Because I couldn't stop reading.

Once again, Carriger wove a full tale of surprising twists, dastardly plots, and graceful parties. As always, this is a spoiler-free review, but be prepared for surprising twists and world-ending revelations that pin a bow on this fantastic finale.

Miss Sophronia finds herself in the middle of yet another plot to overthrow the supernatural leaders of Queen Victoria's government. She embarks on one final mission to save the nation with subtle espionage, ladylike grace, and wonton destruction.

Many of the questions left open at the end of the last two books are finally answered. New questions arise through this story, as well, and Carriger successfully gives the readers what they want: a satisfying conclusion full of answers. It even ties in to her Parasol Protectorate series by the very end.

The only disappointment is that this is the final book in the series. Seriously. It's been a fantastic adventure, and I'm so sad that it's over. I want more books from her, in this series, and elsewhere in her colorful universe. We do have one more book to look forward to, which will be reviewed in due time.

Until then, I suggest each and every one of you go start from the beginning, read (or reread) her books. Better yet, go pick them up in audio format. You won't regret it.

Giles Hash reads and writes Y/A Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Reviewing them for Beyond the Trope is simply a perk that he enjoys at every opportunity.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Living in Idea Denial

Living in denial is one of my favorite hobbies.
There are day-to-day denials, like:
“I can get ready for work in five minutes.”
“Psh. I’m not addicted to cake.”

The most painful denial a creative person can inflict upon themselves is that every idea we come up with is pure gold. I found myself swimming in the waters of denial as I edited on Saturday. I was in my favorite coffee shop and two guys were watching Star Wars fight scenes on their computer behind me. (Not that it matters…it just made me smile).

So there I was: mocha in hand, eyes on the screen, ears full of lightsabers… and I honestly wanted to cry over the massive amount of words I was cutting from my novel. Not just sentences or paragraphs. Scenes. Chapters. I sighed, highlighted, and then very quickly hit ctrl+x to save those precious scenes in text documents in my Scrivener sidebar. I don’t need to delete them forever. I might be able to use some of it later! I thought I was being thrifty. In reality, I was simply indulging my denial.

Creatives have their own brand of denial:
“Just one more editing pass, then I’ll query.”
“That other guy is so much better at this than I’ll ever be.”
“I might be able to use some of it later.”

Yesterday, Maggie Stiefvater posted a Tumblr note about the disposability of ideas. While at a writer’s retreat, she and her co-teachers spent the days coaching aspiring writers about being creative and forging stories. And then they made those writers burn their ideas – LITERALLY BURNED THEM IN A FIRE.  I almost had a little panic attack thinking about what it would feel like to spend three days lovingly pouring my creative ideas out…only to be forced to throw them on a bonfire on the last day.

And yet, even if I think I can use some of that dross later, I probably won’t. It doesn’t fit anymore. Artists can’t erase a limb, alter shading, change some textures, then expect the new product to be able to use pieces of the part that was erased. You don’t paint an eye and cut it out of the canvas thinking, “It doesn’t quite fit here. I’ll try to use it on a different painting.” It’s amazing how ridiculous it sounds when you apply the concept to art, yet writers constantly save old work in the hopes of using it down the road.

If you burn an idea and can’t think of it later, was it really that great of an idea to begin with?

Michelle likes all* superhero movies and making dinner in her waffle maker.

*Green Lantern? Yes. Tobey Maguire Spider-Man? Yes. Andrew Garfield Spider-Man? Yes. New Fantastic Four? .....ugh, OK, you got me there. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sick Day

You know, I don't call in sick. It's just not something I do. I've worked with a temperature of 101 degrees, a throat that feels like it's coated in barbed wire, and muscles that feel like rubber bands ready to snap. I only call in sick when I know I'm going to be a danger to others.

At least at my day job. It may not be the healthiest choice, which is why I actually CONSIDER it now and then, and have even taken advantage of a handful of sick days over the last few years, but there's work to get done. Sometimes, as a working adult, I just need to take some over-the-counter painkillers (NEVER prescription at work!!!), and get the job done. Especially as an employee of a small business.

However, today I'm taking a sick day on this blog. I love writing for this blog, and I enjoy doing what I do for Beyond the Trope. The last sick day I remember taking for the podcast was last year at Anomaly Con (where we'll be NEXT WEEK, so don't miss it), and I think missing one day here and there probably isn't a big deal.

So let me leave you with a question: how often do you "push through," emotionally, mentally, and/or physically, when you're not feeling 100%?

Giles doesn't feel well. Hence the short post.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why We Write: Hobby vs. Passion

For the past few critique group sessions, the conversation during the walk back to the cars has sounded a little bit like this:

Me: “Well, that was painful.”
Emer: “Yup.”
Me: “I think I’ll go home and delete everything I’ve ever written.”
Emer: “Me too… *sigh* Why do we do this, again?”

In case you haven’t noticed, creative people struggle. We struggle to make money. We struggle with our craft. We struggle with crazy people who don’t think our work is the pinnacle of perfection. The struggle is real. This leads to a very important question: Why the heck do we torture ourselves with the struggle if it’d be so much simpler to just collect stamps and cats? We must be insane.

Honestly, reading back over this blog makes me shake my head at myself. Is it really that bad? Good grief, I’m making such a huge deal out of nothing. Yet, if you’ve ever been the writer who realizes your favorite scene doesn’t make sense, or the artist whose friends inform you your angles are off, you know. You’ve felt the pain. It’s heartbreak. Self-loathing. Frustration. Disgust. All the reasons you’ve ever thought of to drop it all and go back to retail rise up around you and won’t go away.

This has been my writing life for the past three weeks. It hasn’t been pretty, people. And yet, while it hasn’t been pretty, it has also been temporary. I had a revelation last Friday which led me to the startling realization that my writing doesn’t suck. I’m not the worst writer on the planet. I don’t need to delete everything I’ve ever written. Gasp!

You see, some people are hobby writers. They like writing stories and putting pen to paper. For them, writing is an escape, kind of like a mini vacation. And that’s great. If this is you, don’t feel like you should worry about being any other kind of writer. While writing for me is definitely an escape, it’s also far more than that. I’m passionate about it. It’s ridiculously hard, painful, and frustrating, but I always go back to it. No matter how much critique notes make me weep crocodile tears, I constantly find myself back at the keyboard, writing even more words to submit to beta readers. That’s the difference between a hobby and a passion: one is only for fun, and the other involves work even when it hurts.

We do this because we are so passionate about stories, it would hurt more to stop writing than it does to work on our craft.

Michelle's new project is a YA sci-fi/fantasy featuring a crazy girl with a rainbow birthmark, bad guys with cool guns, a ginger, explosions, and a pair of sisters who can move things with their minds. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is It Time to Let Go?

I have a problem, like most writers I think, of not wanting to let go of a story. It's why I spent eight years working on my first novel and still sometimes think about going back to it. It's hard to let go of something you're passionate about. But sometimes it's necessary.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a project that we get feedback and suggested improvement and we desperately try to make them work, even if it changes the story we're trying to tell. Sometimes we get so obsessed with the story that we refuse to see it isn't actually salvageable and spend months or years trying to fix something that has a fundamental flaw we're willingly blind to.

That is how we as writers don't finish anything. That's how we shoot ourselves in the foot where a writing career is concerned. If we spend forever trying to perfect a story despite knowing that it isn't working on some level, or if we simply spend too much time polishing it in an attempt to make it as pretty as we think it should be, we never get our work out there.

There's no hard and fast rule of when you should set aside a project, unfortunately. I'm struggling with that right now. I've been working on a short story for a (now defunct) magazine for the last few months. It's gone through three or four rewrites and just ran through critique group again last night, which basically brought up the fact that I haven't fixed the fundamental problem in this story yet. I keep going back and forth as to whether I should keep going with it and find somewhere else to submit it, or just toss it in the trunk for now and move on.

It's a tough call, and one that doesn't really have a right answer. The only thing I can say for certain is that we all need to make sure that we're actually finishing things!

Emily is really bad about obsessing over things. She just wants her stories to be perfect, dang it! Of course, she also knows that's not actually possible.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Audience Interaction

First of all, thank you to the readers/listeners who have been keeping in touch with us over the past few weeks. It's been nice to hear from you, especially in the midst of our chaotic lives.

For many people who try to put together a platform of any kind, whether it's social media, a blog, or a podcast, the most elusive element is interaction with the audience. As bloggers/podcasters, we're putting out content and then hoping people get a chance to consume it in one way or another. The key, I've heard, is to make sure you always respond to people who interact with you. That's not always easy because we have several methods available for response.

That's not to say that we don't WANT to interact. We want to hear from you, especially on this blog. And when we can, at least one of us will TRY to respond to comments. Because it's awesome to discuss blog topics! But what we want to encourage all of you to do is interact with each other. In the comments on the blog, talk back and forth about stuff. We don't generally "administer" the comments (at least not on the newest posts), and we'll only step in to delete/block comments if they get mean and/or disrespectful. We'll jump into discussions when we can to stay involved, and we try to do the same on Twitter and Facebook, too.

But the best way to get in touch with us is through our contact form. It may take a few days or a few weeks, but for the foreseeable future, we'll try to respond to each email we get. There may be exceptions (like mean, hateful, or disrespectful messages), but as long as you're not giving a review (because we don't respond to reviews: it's a general rule to let the reviewer maintain their opinion without us trying to change it), we'd love to talk. Even if you don't necessarily like what we do.

Long story short, we love sharing this podcast/blog with all of our listeners/readers. And getting to talk with people about something that we love is fun for us. So drop us a line, say hello. And talk with each other in the comments section below.

EDIT: This post is here to encourage everyone to interact in any way they feel comfortable, but also to emphasize that the best way to hear back from us is to send emails. We'll try to respond to comments and Twitter and Facebook, too. Email's just the most likely way for us to interact. Thanks!

Giles is a blogger, podcaster, and writer. He's currently listening to classic rock, writing a sci-fi novel heavily inspired by his favorite TV show, and enjoying amazing food and beer.

Monday, March 7, 2016

New Book, New Playlist

Many evenings when I get home from work (aka staring at a computer screen for 8+ hours), the last thing I want to do is sit in front of yet another computer screen. That’s when I turn to my handy-dandy manuscript playlist. Music helps set the mood when I know I need to write, but I can’t get my head in the game.

Here’s the *unordered* playlist I’m working on for my new story*:

“Alone Together” – Fallout Boy“Renegades” – X Ambassadors“I Bet My Life” – Imagine Dragons“Hall of Fame” – The Script“Fixin’” – Walk the Moon“Titanium” – David Guetta“Shake it Out” – Florence and the Machine“Secrets” – OneRepublic“The Best is Yet to Come” – Sheppard“Fight Song” – Rachel Platten“It’s Time” – Imagine Dragons“Halo” – The Pass“Counting Stars” – OneRepublic“Blow” (Deconstructed) – Ke$ha“Burn” – Ellie Goulding

Apparently this book has a thing for Imagine Dragons and OneRepublic. Actually, all my book playlists have a thing for Imagine Dragons. They’re just so good. It’s fun to listen to songs and find some that seem to represent the book as a whole (like “Fight Song”, “I Bet My Life”, and “Blow”) and some that are for certain characters or scenes.  Sometimes a friend will suggest a song to me – something I never would’ve considered, and it makes the list even better.

What kind of music helps define your projects?

Michelle thinks 3-day weekends should be a part of the standard workweek, so she can actually get writing and relaxing and real-life responsibilities done. #amiright??

*Which is a YA sci-fi currently called SUPERNOVA, by-the-by :D 

Friday, March 4, 2016

When Research Becomes a Problem

I have a research problem. I love it. I love reading about things, watching documentaries, sometimes even talking to people about a thing. I love getting as many different takes on what I'm researching before I put pen to paper, and sometimes I can lose myself in it. 

This isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, but it can get problematic when you get so caught up in the research that you don't actually get to the writing/creating. Which is a problem I've had.

My senior project in college was supposed to be the rough draft of an historical fantasy novel inspired by my time in Ireland and the research I'd done. It never happened. I got so caught up in trying to make everything as historically accurate as I could that I lost the excitement of the project and changed what I was doing. I'm now working on a steampunk-esque story and trying to avoid that problem by limiting the amount of research I'm doing for this draft (and reminding myself it is a fantasy, so I have a bit of leeway).

But that didn't stop me from spending all day today researching things instead of remembering to write my blog post! So, if you're like me and enjoy learning things, beware the research!

Emily just really enjoys random factoids and can easily get sidetracked into a whole vein of research she didn't actually intend to follow. She's not even sorry.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Keep It Going!

Two and a half weeks ago, my car got stolen. I've never had this happen, and it was quite an odd experience. "Odd, you say?" I hear you thinking. "Shouldn't you be pissed? Feel violated? 'Odd' is such a mild word."

Well, yes, all of that is true. And the reason it's odd is because I went an entire week without freaking out. My insurance coverage is good enough to take care of a rental for me, which means I didn't have to "figure something out," and on the day it happened, my wife was off work, meaning I had a ride to get to work that day. All of those things you asked about, I felt them when I finally saw my car in impound (it got recovered and towed to a county facility).

Even still, dealing with missed work (about an hour and a half, maybe two hours total over one week), the stress of not knowing if it would be considered totaled (the body was in great shape, but car thieves are NOT notorious for how well they take care of the car's innards), I managed to keep my WRITING momentum going.

Honestly, I don't know how, aside from the Grace of God (not to be too cheesy). You see, ANY interruption in my routine makes me freak out. To an extent, I am obsessive-compulsive.  Having my car stolen should've shut me down creatively, or spurred me to write some very unusual and dark stuff. But that didn't happen. I got to continue writing my FUN, exciting book.

My challenge to you is this: don't let the world around you determine whether or not you'll pursue success. Yes, there are a LOT of things outside of your control. But as far as you DO have control, keep doing whatever you were doing. Adapt, shift perspective, and take time to recover whenever necessary, but don't let it cripple you. I'm going to try to do the same. It's a lesson I learned through all of this.

Giles is alive and well. He's been pursuing his dream, perhaps differently than imagined years ago, but he hasn't given up, no matter what life's thrown at him.