Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Giles' Writing Playlist

Yes, we all have writing playlists, and now that I'm working on a new project, I have music to inspire me. It's mood music, meant to get me in the mindset of the book. Inspire feelings. And keep me motivated to write.

There's a collection of new hits (like some Twenty One Pilots' Heathens), some less-known hard rock (like Bring Me The Horizon's Happy Song), and several punk covers of popular songs. More will be added to the list as I go, but if you're curious, here's a link to it on Spotify.

Now guess the genre of the book I'm writing.

Yep, Giles is a good way into this WiP. It's getting fun, and it's stretching his abilities as a writer. The music helps keep him focused, and it inspires him to explore new emotions for the characters.

Monday, August 29, 2016

May Disney be with You

Thanks to a heck-ton of stress and very little sleep, I have nothing fascinating or helpful to offer to you today.  Zilch. Nada. BUT I do have a totally random, amusing anecdote to offer you:

The neighborhood I grew up in was surrounded by open space. Miles and miles of tall grass, rolling hills, prairie dog holes, and secret hiding places.  To me, it was the grassy field behind Belle’s house—the one that she runs into after Gaston proposes to her.

When you hear Giles and Emer tease me about singing Disney songs on the podcast, this is why: my childhood was Disney. More specifically, my childhood was me pretending to be Belle. Brown hair, hazel eyes, loves books, open field around her house…you can see where it all began.

One summer evening, we were supposed to go see Black Beauty as a family. I was so excited about this that I got ready over an hour in advance. My little sisters, on the other hand, moved like sloths. (Of course they did, they were only 6 and 3, ha). I was frustrated with my family for not being obviously worried about missing the movie. I was distraught over the thought of missing even the first few minutes.

So, I grabbed my bike and rode out to the fields*, where I rushed pell-mell into the twilight. As I dropped my bike behind me, I couldn’t help myself. I took a deep breath and sang, “I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!”

Oh, yeah.

The funny thing is, I got so caught up in distracting myself from being mad and worried that I forgot to go home. We almost missed the movie because my parents had to drive around our neighborhood looking for me. They weren’t amused when I said I was Belle, and I needed to sing in the fields.

Go sing in the fields, people. May Disney songs be with you as you face this Monday and the workweek. 

Michelle still sings Disney songs to cope with the horrors of adulthood, such as trying to eat healthy foods and remembering to do laundry. Someday, these things might not scare her. Today is not that day.

* I used to do this cool thing where I’d go really fast and put both legs on one side so I was riding my bike side-saddle. It made it really easy to leap off in classic, dramatic Disney style. I highly suggest that everyone learn to ride there bike this way, as it makes you feel awesome and talented. 

Friday, August 26, 2016


Instead of gushing more about World Con, since my cohosts pretty much have that covered (eeee I got to have coffee with Tamora Pierce!!!), I'm going to talk about fanfiction. It's been on my mind a lot lately, since my roommate is writing pretty great Voltron Legendary Defender fanfic right now. We discussed it a little bit with Susan Spann on an episode a while ago, but that was more on the legal side, not on the fun side.

Like probably a lot of people, I got my start writing with fanfic. I wanted to see my favorite characters on other adventures, and I'm not ashamed to say I had some pretty intense self-insert characters for them to interact with, too. And, you know, untenable, crazy ideas of smashing various fandoms together. Seriously, I once tried to write a fic where the Stargate opened up to all of the other worlds I loved and a whole bunch of my favorite characters at the time joined the SGC. Because why not throw Drizzt d'Orden, Edward Elric, Aragorn, and and some random, obscure characters together? (Hint: too many characters, not enough plot. That's why.)

I think fanfic gets kind of a bad rap. Legal issues aside, it's a fun way to explore writing, and you're more likely to get feedback on a fanfic than an original story, depending on where you post it, which can help you improve. Plus, you can get a handle on small parts of writing craft one by one, since you don't need to worry about worldbuilding and character development right out of the gate.

The major thing to be aware of with fanfic is that these are not your characters. Be respectful of the original creator's vision and intention and if an author has asked for no fan works to be created of their world, for the love of all that's holy, listen to them. They created their world for people to enjoy, to tell their own story as a creator, not for people to trample through it and tell them how it's supposed to be run. Respect the creator's wishes and ideas, don't be a jerkface, and have fun!

Emily hasn't written fanfiction in years, but has plenty of ideas for little stories. Of course, she's trying to focus on a modern day AU (alternate universe) of Norse mythology for a more original-feeling story right now, so it might be a while before she writes about Pidge being obsessed with Broadway musicals, or transposing the Circle of Magic characters into a cyberpunk setting.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I love reading this book in public. When people ask me what I'm reading, it's fun to say, "Shades of Grey" and watch their faces go carefully blank. Don't worry, this book is nothing like the other series whose title is so close to this one.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is a comedy/mystery/thriller that follows Edward Russett as he is banished to the Outer Fringes of his society to conduct a chair census to learn humility. Before Eddie and his father reach their destination of East Carmine, however, Eddie meets Jane, a girl who balks against the strict rules of the Colortocracy they live in. When Eddie begins asking questions (which are considered incredibly rude and can lead to Reboot) Jane begins to reveal to Eddie the problems of the society that they live in.

To quote the book blurb, "In this world, you are what you can see." In a Colortocracy, citizens are ranked socially from the reigning Purples down to the Reds, and the Greys are the outcasts of the society. Eddie, with the last name Russett has the ability to only see the color red. In this society, people can move up and down the color ladder by marrying people either in their color, or in Eddie's case, a Blue to create a Purple child.

One thing I love about Jasper Fforde is that he is known for burying pop culture references in all of his books, and Shades of Grey is no exception. From the Parker Brother's Badly Drawn Map to book titles like The Science of the Slams (whose real titles have been forgotten through the ages), the references are fun for the reader to piece together. I also really enjoyed the many layers of the story that Fforde wove together seamlessly. Will Eddie have to marry the horrific Violet deMauve to move up in society? Does Jane actually trust him with the secrets she has discovered? Is chicken officially a vegetable on the first Tuesday of the month? You'll have to read the book to find out.

My only complaints about Shades of Grey are that at times, the story feels a little disjointed. The reader really needs to be aware of how the society works to be able to figure out why certain events in the story are relevant. For example, in this society every citizen is required to participate in team sports, complete their Useful Work every day, and beware of swans, ball lightning, and the dark. I've read this book twice now and I'm still finding new parts to the story that I did not pick up on before. So, my other complaint? To get the whole story, you will probably have to read this twice. But, if you're like me and you enjoyed it the first time around, I don't think you'll mind too much.

Jasper Fforde is also the author of the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series. Thursday Next is a police officer who discovers she can jump into books, and the Nursery Crime series follows Jack Spratt and Mary Mary as they try to find out who murdered Humpty Dumpty. If Shades of Grey sounds a little strange and not so appealing, definitely try one of his other series. Both Michelle and I will recommend these books until the day we fall over dead!

Emily is really sorry she missed last week's book review, but she was having way too much fun at World Con. The best moment for her? Getting a picture with the Trio, Tamora Pierce, and Gail Carriger. She will be on cloud nine for a very long time!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wow, What a WorldCon!

I really enjoyed my first WorldCon. Similar to Michelle, this is the first non-writing conference/convention that I JUST attended rather than showing up because I'm there to work. All of the cons we've been to as Beyond the Trope have been to provide content for cons and promote the podcast. Before that, I worked for an audio/visual company to provide A/V service to conferences and conventions (I work for this company as a warehouse supervisor, now).

But aside from the RMFW Colorado Gold conference, I've never simply attended a con before. And it was a lot of fun. Very stressful because I felt overwhelmed and alternately excited and discouraged (it went back and forth a LOT), but still a lot of fun. And it was SO cool to meet people who have listened to the podcast but never tweeted or emailed the show. More than that, I got to meet other podcasters who have inspired a great deal of what we do at Beyond the Trope (whether Emily and Michell realize it or not, I've shifted a few of my processes based on some of the things I've heard on other shows to increase the quality of my performance).

It's fairly surreal to meet people I admire and respect who are, not only aware of what I'm doing, but who also enjoy it. For some, this may be inflating for the ego, but for me, it's very humbling. These are people who are changing the face of publishing. People who have amazing, new ideas that are making writers improve their craft and get their work out before an ever-widening audience in an era where the printed word is often SEEN as fighting to hang on.

There's a level of disbelief in it, too. These very kind and generous people are EXTREMELY busy. And I'm recording a podcast with two of my friends. Yes, we enjoy it, and we know so many of our awesome listeners enjoy it, too. But Writing Industry "Insiders"* are too busy, right? Well, apparently not. And that's humbling because it reminds me that this is a community to which I belong and can contribute. More importantly, it's not just the three of us who have put us in this position. It's all of our listeners, other podcasting friends like Patrick Hester and Dave Robison, and ALL of our super awesome guests who take the time to come talk with us for the sake of our listeners. I'm exciting to find out that our guests have gotten so much exposure, and the fact that people would tell US that they like what we're doing made the trip so much more amazing than we expected it to be (and we had HIGH hopes for this convention).

I won't be going to WorldCon next year as it will be in Finland, and I can't afford that flight (unless a LOT changes in the next six months). But I'm hoping to go again VERY soon!

Giles is excited to get back to writing and working on podcasts. It's been an exciting week and a half, but the real world beckons. Not in a bad way, simply a return to "normal" life.

*Industry Insiders is kind of a misnomer on all levels. All of these wonderful people have worked very hard to get where they are, and they are all fans of excellent writers. I admire and respect them, and I would NEVER call them gatekeepers. They simply worked their way into a position to be releasing content on a professional level.

Monday, August 22, 2016

I Know How to WorldCon

I have a lot of not-super-nerdy friends who find the idea of cons absolutely fascinating. Before I started going to cons with the podcast, I had no idea what to expect.. I’ll be the first to admit they're weird—even crazy—but they're also fun, and I think anyone with a bit of nerd in their heart can find something to enjoy at a con. For those of you who have never been, but would like to know what World Con was like, here’s a quick look!

The Location
Kansas City isn’t a city. It’s City’s little sister, Small Town, after Small Town stole City’s party clothes for a night. Seriously, does anyone even live there? I went on a run at 7:30 a.m. and over the course of 45 minutes and 3.5 miles*, I saw approximately ten homeless people and five men and women in business clothes. So…fifteen people live in Kansas City, from my best guess.

You Forget to Eat
At a giant nerdfest like WorldCon, there are a zillion things to do at all hours of the day. This means you spend so much time running to the next cool thing that you may forget basic things like drinking water and eating lunch…or dinner. This leads to hanger. Hangry people don't have as much fun.

A Typical Day is Atypical
I have some friends who went to WorldCon just for the networking**. I know there were a lot of people who stayed in the dealer’s room most of the time, and some split their time between panels and sitting in their favorite chair in the hallway. Everyone goes for a different reason, and while some of those reasons make no sense to me, I’m glad everyone can find their own way to enjoy themselves.

My typical day involved a slow morning of coffee and breakfast, a quick change from pajamas to a dress, and a speed walk to the convention center. We snagged an apartment on 17th and Broadway, and the entrance to the con was up on 13th. It wasn’t a bad walk! I generally went to back-to-back panels from noon until 6, then edited my work-in-progress for four-ish hours. It was glorious. I filled half a notebook with notes about worldbuilding, nuclear fusion, gravitational waves, and making up languages, AND I finished going through three beta readers’ notes for my entire manuscript.

You Will Get Crop Dusted
…and it will be nasty.

Here Be Cool People
On our first morning, Emer, Giles, Emmy, and I strolled through the dealer’s room and happened to walk right past George R. R. Martin. We didn’t stop him, but we did freeze and stare (like the classy people we are). We spotted fellow podcasters, favorite writers, astronauts, and well-known intellectuals. At BarCon (when con attendees converge on a local hotel bar to chitchat), we hung out with old and new friends. Everyone you talk to has something interesting to say.

It’s Fun
Even if you don’t care about learning or networking, WorldCon has fantastic people watching. The dealer’s room is full of art and books for sale. You can meet your favorite authors, attend book club conversations, or just stake out a spot and read or write all day. I loved finally going to a con I wasn’t working—while it’s nice to have an on-site table as home base, it was even nicer to be able to leave whenever I needed to recharge.  

What’s your favorite part of going to nerdy conventions?

Michelle's loves include physics, Bastille, and alliteration. She's absolutely brilliant on Twitter (@redactionaire), but you shouldn't believe everything she tells you...OR SHOULD YOU?

*Holy canoli. I just now clocked that. I only meant to do 3 miles.

**Five days of networking sounds like hell  to me. My introvertedness won’t support five days of talking myself up to strangers. I think it might actually be psychologically impossible. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

World Con

In case you hadn't noticed, we're at World Con this week! As such, I'm writing this quickly before rushing out the door to get some writing done before the first panel of the day (I'm going to an armor demonstration in the hopes of figuring out how to make some lightweight costume armor for a cosplay next year).

Instead of gushing about how amazing it is to connect with people we only see rarely or only know from the interwebs, or how cool it is to sit in a restaurant and have George R.R. Martin walk by, or how fascinating some of the workshops have been, I'm going to keep it short. I've been trying to post at least one picture a day from the con on my personal Instagram feed. Since we're all busy and there are cellular limitations, they haven't made it onto the podcast feeds (we do have some other awsome pictures there, though), but if you're interested in seeing my view of the con, hop on over to eksauthor on Instagram.

We've also, as promised, taken some video for you, so look forward to those shenanigans!

Emer is trying to remember how to be a functional human being. It isn't working so well at the moment. She is, weirdly enough, getting quite a bit of writing done, though. Which is always a good thing. Now let's just hope it's as funny as her con-brain thinks it is. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Thoughts Before Worldcon

I'm sitting in a rented apartment right now with my wife and two of my best friends. It's early in the morning in Kansas City, especially after a long drive from Denver, and I'm drinking a cup of what must be some of the worst coffee on the planet. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but it's pretty mediocre, for sure.

This is going to be an interesting con for me. You see, I've been to conferences and conventions before, and the ONLY one I've ever attended without actually doing work was the RMFW Colorado Gold conference from 2011-2014 (because we actually presented at 2015). For the last 20 years, I've been working conventions and conferences, so even if I get to check out some of the programming, it's interrupted by something I'm getting paid to do.

Worldcon 2016 isn't like that. We're here to have fun. All four of us. We downloaded the app to our phones, set up our schedules for the week, and even blocked out time to hang out with friends, sit down and write, and generally have fun.

And this week needs to be about fun. There are so many people we've met over the last two years, but only over the internet. For the first time in my life, I got to shake hands with Dave Robison of the Roundtable Podcast (though we've been chatting off and on through Twitter for several years), and Michael R. Underwood is going to be here, too. He's absolutely someone we need to meet. As well as Dave Koboldt, an excellent guest, and a few of our listeners who are just absolutely amazing.

But, again, there's going to be a lot of playing. The first four hours of my schedule for the con itself are dedicated to sitting down at a gaming table to play the Star Wars tabletop RPG. And tomorrow I'm doing a playtest of the Mistborn: House Wars game (inspired by the Brandon Sanderson novels).

It's going to be a good week, relaxing and refreshing because, even though we're creating SOME content for the podcast, this is a real vacation.

Giles is tired. Better rested, but tired. He (foolishly) drove all the way to Kansas City without asking anyone else to fill in for him. But they all made it without harm, and the convention will go on!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Artists You Need in Your Life

I love (read: LOVE) DeviantArt. Once you filter out all the creepy over-sexualization, it’s actually a really great place to find inspiration. Here are a few new artists I’ve found while browsing in the last few weeks. You should check out their stuff* and buy prints!

This U.S.-based artist does a exquisite paperwork. Ermahgerd. The way she manages to distill a landscape down to such a simple design…it’s amazing. Some of her pieces aren't just paper, either--she uses all kinds of materials to get the perfect look. 

This artist caught my eye with a few graphic novel snippets in dreamy watercolor. She lives in New Zealand and has a free comic called Thicker Than Blood. Her style is incredibly unique. AND she does fan art and nerdy things in other styles, which is fantastic.

I use DeviantArt to find character inspiration, and it can be hard to find people who draw young women who aren’t overblown Barbie dolls in string bikinis. Chelsea from the Philippines rocks in both style and portrayal of her subjects. Recently, she’s done some GoT fanart that’s simply delectable.

 “Aesth” by munette – Digital Painting

I try not to play favorites, but come on. That handle. That style. Remember Paperman, that Disney short that played before Wreck-it-Ralph? Corinna takes that style and shows it who’s boss. I want her to be my personal character design artist forever and ever.

I’m a fan of anyone who can draw an animal that looks more like a bubble with stick legs (which is how I draw them). Romania’s Christina Manderscheidt draws animals the way I wish I could . Her human subjects look phenomenal, but her animals make my artsy soul say, “Yaaasss!” I want a zoo-themed art gallery filled with pieces by Christina.

I hope you've enjoyed this round-up of incredibly talented artists! Have you found anything recently you'd like to share? Let us know!

Michelle is bad at drawing feet, good at drawing cartoon fire, and ridiculously good at telling other people how to draw things.  

She blogs here every Monday and usually remembers to be on Twitter during the week. Follow her: @redactionaire!

*But really. Thou shalt not steal! Buy their art. I borrowed these pictures to show you how wonderful these artists are—now go out and support them so they can keep making cool art!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Magic Writing Formula

Recently, I haven't written much. Finding a new job, adjusting to said new job, preparing for World Con, trying to retain sanity. You know, the normal. But yesterday I sat down during my lunch break and actually got a few paragraphs on the page. Which felt good. Despite being exhausted and not quite braining well, I'm really excited to get back to it and work on this story again. You know, in between all the cool panels and hanging out I'll be doing at World Con next week.

Apparently my magic formula (not that that's actually a thing, but I'm going to pretend) is:
  • A London Fog latte (earl gray, vanilla, and milk) 
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Watching my friends do awesome things like finish their manuscripts and participate in Pitch Wars and feeling totally inadequate because I haven't finished a long piece in ages 
  • Being totally overwhelmed by trying to squeeze con prep in between the rest of life 
Wouldn't it be nice if there was actually a magic motivation formula? Something we could use consistently to recharge and kick our own butts back into motion when we're stuck? Everyone's got their own tricks, but none of it's really magic (or is it??) and, at least for me, it tends to change pretty often.

So, what's your current magic writing formula? What gets your juices flowing?

Emer is super excited for World Con and hanging out with so many cool people. But for now, she's going to try to get some more words on the page.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Book Review: His Fair Assassins Trilogy by Robin LaFevers

We all know the old saying: don't judge a book by its cover. Well, in the case of Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin series, it paid off for me. After all, who wouldn't be intrigued by a cover with a girl in an old fashioned red dress, standing in front of a castle, wielding a crossbow almost as long as her leg? 

LaFevers' series is historical fiction set in Brittany, starting in 1485. The first novel, Grave Mercy, follows Ismae, a girl whose father essentially sells her to a local pig farmer as a wife. On her wedding night, Ismae is rescued from her abusive husband by a local hedge priest and smuggled across Brittany to the convent of Saint Mortain. When she arrives, she learns that the daughters of Mortain serve the old Breton god of Death and are trained as assassins. After three years of training, Ismae's first assignment places her as the mistress to Gavriel Duval, a man in the service of Brittany's duchess, who is under suspicion of treason. Ismae has to discover if Duval is actually a traitor. And if he is not, she then has to figure out who is selling the duchess's secrets to the invading French.

LaFevers is a talented world builder. All three books in the series have a strong current of politics and war. I really liked Ismae as the main character in Grave Mercy. She is strong and brave, but has incredible demons that haunt her every waking hour. While Ismae does have a "superpower" because her father is the god of Death, she is forced to train before she is sent out on her first assignment. I like that LaFevers made Ismae more human by making her train, as opposed to Ismae waking up one day suddenly knowing the best way to kill a man. There are so many complex layers to this story and LaFevers' world that I cannot tell you all of them here. While some people may see that as a problem, the author does a wonderful job of touching on each layer often enough throughout the series that it is easy for the reader to follow along. 

There seems to be a trend in the publishing industry where a series of books is composed of multiple stories that take place in the same world but are told from the point of view of different characters. I'll be honest, I'm still getting used to this idea. When I finished Grave Mercy, I was expecting the next book to be a continuation of Ismae's story. Timeline wise, the second book, Dark Triumph, does pick up right where Grave Mercy leaves off. However, instead of a continuation of Ismae's story, the second novel is the story of one of Ismae's sisters at the convent, Sybella. And the third book, Mortal Heart, is told from another sister's point of view, Annith. This is one of the first series of books that I didn't mind the point of view change. All three of the novels in this series are one continuing story from beginning to end. The sisters show up in each other's stories often, and I loved the fact that in the third book, all three sisters fight together to preserve Brittany. 

As an adult, I really enjoyed this series. I would be cautious in giving the second book to a young adult, however. Sybella's story is very dark, and when it is revealed what she went through before going to the convent of St. Mortain, the events in her life even churned my adult stomach. Also, while these books are an adventure/historical fiction/supernatural/romance series, there is a lot of politics, and the politics are the core of the story. Unless a reader has a base interest in politics, they may not like this series. 

While the His Fair Assassin trilogy can be difficult to find in your local bookstore, they are definitely worth the hunt!

Emily spent yesterday helping her sister in law paint the nursery for her baby niece, which is why this review is a little late. She's really excited for World Con next week and hopes that she'll get to meet Kate Elliott and Tamora Pierce!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Big Things!

I'm excited. There are a lot of awesome things going on this week and next, and I can't help but be super stoked about it. We have four—that's right FOUR!—awesome interviews this Saturday, and we're planning to record a fifth episode with a trunk novel. The podcast is going to be so awesome in the next month and a half, you don't even know! And I REALLY wish I could tell you who we're talking to (though if you keep an eye on the Episodes tab on the website, or our twitter feed, you'll have an idea pretty soon).

But why else am I excited? Well, I signed up for Pitch Wars, all thanks to Michelle and our two-time guest, Dan Koboldt. I don't know how it's going because nothing's been announced, yet. But this is the best state my book has ever been in, and this is also the first time that I've seen mentors actually request Space Opera, which is the genre this book belongs in. The query is more solid than ever thanks to one of my critique partners, as well as a friend of the show who I met through RMFW years ago. Regardless of how Pitch Wars turns out for me, it's huge for me to be ready to query again.

And, finally, we're going to World Con. In less than a week! That's right: in six days, we're all piling into a car to drive out to Kansas City for one of the biggest sci-fi conventions in the world. Why is this exciting? Well, for me, this is the first fan convention that I'm going to attend purely as a guest. I won't be working, I won't be "contributing content," and I'm not necessarily there to enhance my craft (though I'll go to a few of the panels and workshops to learn about some writing techniques). Yes, we're going to try to put together some content for the podcast, but it's all about having fun. A vacation. With my wonderful wife and a few good friends.

So as you can see, big things are coming, and I'm excited for them. What about you? What are you excited about in the coming months? How can we share in each other's excitement?

Giles took a payed day off to catch up on projects, including this blog post. He's been working hard over the last few months, and if nothing else, he's excited that he got to sleep in for once.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Writer's Worth

Writing a great book is hard. Every word you write has to be evaluated. Balanced. Checked. Re-checked. And, then, after all that, every word is rewritten. It can be a painful process.

Yet, the hardest part of writing for me isn’t the writing/editing/rewriting process. It’s the chunk of time between, “Dear Reader, here is my story” and the subsequent digestion of the reader’s feedback. Waiting to hear back from a beta reader or contest judge feels like jumping out of a plane with a 50/50 chance that the parachute on your back is actually an umbrella.

When I first joined a critique group, I thought those sessions were some of the most painful, awful hours I had ever endured. Even when I tried to prepare myself for rough feedback on a difficult set of pages, it still hurt. Even the weeks of positive feedback left me feeling like there was something about me that simply wasn’t enough. If my words weren’t perfect after a year* of working so hard, maybe it wasn’t worth it. Maybe I just needed to quit.

I think I was at a writer’s conference—RMFW’s Colorado Gold—when I heard someone say that the only way to survive critique was to make sure there was a wall between your worth as a writer and the comments/feedback from readers (especially total strangers).

As I wait to receive a Yes or a No from the mentors I submitted to for Pitch Wars, I keep reminding myself of this fact. My worth is not directly proportional to how much people like my stories. If they don’t adore my novel, I’m not less of a writer or less of a creative person. Don’t get me wrong—it’s fantastic to hear a beta reader say they loved this-or-that setting and so-and-so in that one part. It’s important to remember that the way stories are told is so subjective. If there was a concept that defined “subjective”, it would be “whether or not a person loves your book”.

If you’re participating in Pitch Wars like I am, or if you’re sending your manuscript to betas for notes, remember that no matter what anyone says or thinks, you wrote a frickin’ book. A whole book! That’s awesome! Don’t let fear, doubt, or insecurity get in your way. Your worth is not defined by someone else’s opinion of your writing.

How have you learned to keep your chin up when you're being critiqued?

Michelle is currently writing a short story about a French drug runner working for the sidhe. The catch? The drugs are fancy cheeses that make the fae go ballistic. One could say it's a seriously cheesy story. 

You can find Michelle here on Mondays or on Twitter nearly every day, @redactionaire (except for when she’s avoiding it because #PitchWars and #PWTeaser make her nervous).

*Oh, Lord. A WHOLE YEAR. I really did think that one year of critique group was enough to make me perfect. Bless my heart. Luckily, I know better now!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

A long time ago, in a Colorado town not so far away, I was eagerly awaiting the last installment in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At the time, I was working at Borders and was excited for the end of our midnight release party so I could take home a copy, bury my nose in it, and not come up for air until the story was over. It took me two days. At the end, there was an epilogue that took place nineteen years after the Deathly Hallows ended, and I thought, “Well, there’s the end. No more Harry. I’m glad he lived happily ever after!” (Seriously, if you’re thinking “spoiler alert Emily!” for heaven’s’s been nine years.)

Then, almost ten years later, J.K Rowling announces that she is writing the eighth story. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And I almost cried with despair. Why? Because the story was going to be a play, and the play was only going to be performed in England. Then, a few months later, they announced the script was going to be published for the masses. And I cried with relief.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place immediately after the Deathly Hallows finishes. So immediately in fact, that the first two scenes of the play are almost directly ripped from the end of the eighth movie. The story is multilayered and takes place over about five years. One layer of the story follows Harry’s son, Albus, as he attends Hogwarts, while the second layer follows Harry himself, who is desperately trying to have a relationship with a son who has come to resent his father’s celebrity status. The minute Albus sets foot on the Hogwarts Express, he befriends Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, and the two begin their own adventure. The Cursed Child is a story of time travel and regret, set in a familiar and well-loved world.

Reading the Cursed Child threw me back into J.K. Rowling’s world with barely enough time to take a breath. The reader is transported directly onto Platform 9 ¾ in Scene One and then taken to new locations in the wizarding world, as well as familiar places such as the Ministry of Magic, Hogwarts, and Godric’s Hollow. All of the familiar faces are in the story: Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, and there are even (because this is a story of time travel) a few faces that many fans have had to mourn for over the years. I appreciated the story setup and how Rowling easily wove this new generation of Albus and Scorpius into her world. True fans of Harry Potter will find story elements from the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Goblet of Fire, and the Deathly Hallows sprinkled throughout the play which is why reading it is a lot like going home.

The drawbacks? First, for someone like myself who does not read plays on a regular basis, the formatting took some getting used to. I had to remind myself to actually read who was saying what and had to slow down my own reading pace so I wouldn’t mix up the dialogue between characters. The second drawback was because this book is actually the play’s script, there is very little description of the settings. I loved Rowling’s setting descriptions and explanations in the other books, and I missed them during the narrative. Finally, while many characters are included in the play, at times I felt they were only there because someone would have complained if they didn’t make an appearance. For example, Lily, Harry’s youngest child, appears a few times in the beginning but then completely disappears for the rest of play. Voldemort also appears in the play (remember, time travel story!) but even his involvement seemed a little far fetched to me.

J.K. Rowling was asked if the play was going to begin a new phase of stories, and she said, “I'm thrilled to see [the play] realized so beautifully but, no, Harry is done now."* As a die hard Harry Potter fan, I’m satisfied with this final ending. Bye Harry. Thanks for the adventure!

It wasn’t a surprise to most people when they found out that Emily had finished this book in one sitting. She’s definitely looking forward to the next J.K. Rowling installment when the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” comes out in theaters on November 18th!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Video Game Review: Lifeless Planet

Lifeless Planet, developed by Stage 2 Studios and put out by Serenity Forge, is a sci-fi planetary exploration game with elements of some classic puzzle-solvers.

My first impression was genuine intrigue as the opening scene shows the inside of a space capsule with an audio "replay" of a "media interview" between a news anchor and the protagonist. We learn right away that this planet is supposed to have significant signs of life, but when we land, we find out that those readings from Earth were way off.

From there, we go on a deep exploration of the planet, including what appears to be an abandoned soviet village, to find out what happened to the people, plants, and animals who used to live there. I won't spoil the story for you, but what I will say is that I didn't feel compelled to learn more.

My first impression of the game is that it looked very cool, especially considering the full game is under 1 GB of data. Some of the modeling felt rough, like they fit better on the PS3 than on my PS4, but overall, the scenery was beautiful and intriguing. The gameplay, too, is fairly intuitive and easy to get into. And the voice-acting is far and beyond better than half of the games I've played over the last decade.

That being said, this game let me down. To follow the actual storyline (of what happened on the planet, not what happened with the protagonist), the player is required to read a lot of text. The audio that accompanies much of the data I stumbled on was all in Russian, and since I don't speak Russian, I would've had to read paragraph after paragraph. But as a player, I didn't feel a draw to find out what had happened. "Story questions" that get set up didn't catch my interest strongly enough to push me through to find answers, and when I got those answers, they didn't live up to my expectations. I tried, from beginning to end, to engage in the world, form an attachment to the protagonist—who was interesting but still too two-dimensional to connect with—and find a compulsion to become a hardcore fan of this game.

In my opinion, too many pieces were missing. The story felt half-formed, there were a few minor gameplay glitches (when respawning, the camera glitches briefly, and occasional object interactions failed to work the first few times I tried), but most of all, the agency of the character simply wasn't there. This is in large part due to the fact that the challenges in gameplay, while smooth, are easy to beat. And the consequences of failure aren't strong enough. Fleshing out the protagonists backstory and motivation, and making it easier to engage with the history of the planet with less text would have gone a long way toward making me "need" to get to the end of the game to find out what happens. If they had also (or instead) given me a chance to "fight for my life" with enemies who chase after me that I can defeat with some combat mechanics or escape with clever ingenuity, that would have made this game SO much better more engaging. But, unfortunately, neither of those elements were present.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad game. And I'm interested to see what's coming out from both the developer and the publisher over the next few years. However, while it isn't bad, it's not finished. One of the two suggestions above would've made this game feel complete, like many indie games I've gotten into lately. And adding BOTH would've put it on par with some early-day PS3 tripple-a games with graphics that belong on a PS4.

Overall, I give this game 2/5, mostly because it's not a full game. It really feels like an extended demo. And as a demo, it's interesting.

Gaming is becoming a great way for Giles to relax these days, and he's excited to see where the indie game revolution takes the industry. Stay tuned for more reviews in the future.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Importance of Trying

If pursuing writing as a career has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t achieve what I don’t aim for. If I sit around all day browsing DeviantArt or Twitter, my writing will suffer. If I don’t query, actively attend critique group, or let total strangers read my writing, I probably won’t get anywhere. If I want to succeed, I have to try.

On my first day as a French teacher, I handed out a syllabus, pointed out the percentage categories for each part of their grade, and then said, “If you want to pass this class, all you have to do is try.” Over the course of the next semester, I discovered only a handful of my students actually understood what I meant.

The thing is, the class was set up to make passing simple. If they paid attention to lectures and did their homework themselves, it was relatively easy to earn a B in the class. That’s all they needed to do. Pay attention. Do homework. Instead, they copied from friends and Google translated entire paragraphs, and then they came crying to me about low grades and not being able to understand anything I said in class*.

What they didn’t realize—and what many of us don’t realize—is that they were doing the bare minimum. They wanted to put in the least amount of effort in order to get a huge pay-off. The work they were willing to do was sowing the seeds for failure.

When I get nervous about querying or entering a contest (PitchWars opens on Wednesday!), I remind myself of the talk I gave my students. I won’t fail if I don’t try, but I won’t succeed, either.

How do you keep yourself motivated to keep “trying” at your craft?

Michelle is entering Pitch Wars because…well…probably because she’s insane. (Most writers are, you know). She snickers at her own jokes and has an affinity for 1940s style dresses. You can follow *cough*stalk*cough* her here on Mondays, or nearly every day on Twitter as @redactionaire. 

*Yes, there were exceptions. THERE ARE ALWAYS EXCEPTIONS! But this example requires a focus on the lazy bums, not the go-getters J