Monday, April 24, 2017

A Mysterious Poet

Now do not stop. Don't lay your writers down–
Your pencils, felt-tips, Smith-Coronas, Bics–
Please keep them softly pressed to notebook pad
And make them dance around and through your life.
Fill pages, tablets, journals, books. Sling ink
Across your years, and paper-mate your mind.
Keep track on lines, look back in time, and see
Some stranger growing there. Where once you wrote,
Now ask, "Who thought that thought? Who was I then?"
The draft revised, syntax transformed, your slant
May lead you to some fresh enlightenment.
Then join with me; repeat the poet's lines:
"No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind."

I adore this poem. Not only does it sound lovely when you read it aloud, it conjures up the exact feelings of being a writer looking back at years of ink-slinging. The only problem is, I have no idea who wrote it. I found it on a photocopied sheet of paper stuffed into my high school writing portfolio–no author, no indication of the book of origin.

While I love research, it can be daunting to try to track down this Mysterious Poet ("M.P."). I've Googled every line of the poem–which led me not to an online version, but to Robert Frost's 1939 "A Considerable Speck", which my dear M.P. referenced in the last three lines of this poem. The first Bic pens, however, didn't appear until 1950. Since I photocopied M.P.'s poem in 2005, I need to find a poet who wrote between 1950 and 2005. I'm sure that's a short list. 

So, I've decided to try to cut some labor by asking all you wonderful people one question: Do you have any idea who wrote this charming piece?

Michelle is working on a book with rake heroine who absolutely refuses to play nice with the other cast members.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fandom Manners

There's a lot of craziness happening in fandom all the time. I've been lucky to be only tangentially aware of most of the drama, but it's a thing. Things like comic book geeks pretending to be gatekeepers by giving female fans "a fake geek girl test," or gamers complaining about people playing on easy mode (which I do because I want to enjoy a game, not be frustrated by it), or putting on airs and claiming someone can't be a real anime fan because they haven't watched X, or whatever.

And that's dumb. We're all fans, aren't we? We all started somewhere, and not everyone enjoys fandom the same way. Some people collect trivia and others write fanfic. Some people put together elaborate cosplay and others memorize every line of their favorite episode. No method is wrong or makes someone less of a fan.

We all enjoy our fandoms--our books, tv shows, movies, games, etc.--however it works for us. And as long as that isn't telling someone else they're doing it wrong, or bullying someone else because they have a different headcanon, or something just as jerky, we're all good here.

I'll leave you with this lovely Doubleclicks song as a reminder:

Emer is super excited for some fandom things happening in her life. Mostly cosplay planning. If anyone has any suggestions on where to get sparkly driving gloves for an Ignis Scientia cosplay, let her know.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Big News

In case you missed it, we made a HUGE announcement over on our Facebook page last Saturday. If you haven't seen it yet, go check it out. It's exciting!

For a while, now, I've wanted to move forward on something like this. Granted, each of us have had our hesitations at times, but we put our head together to start working out how we can build on what we've created. This isn't going to be easy. Just figuring out the rewards system is already a challenge.

This isn't the first time we've each tried something like this, either. A few years ago, all three of us sat down and created alternate Twitter profiles meant to inspire some back-and-forth between our real selves and these alter-egos. Mine was Angsty Author, and I planned to do a weekly Q&A show where I gave solid writing advice in response to angsty cliches from writers (very much like myself) who are struggling to keep motivated.

Obviously, that never turned into a thing that I did.

But now we're exploring ideas, options, and opportunities. It's exciting, and we can't wait to get into more detail. Once we've figured those details out.

Giles is getting super excited. Can you tell?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Staying Productive While Jobless

A little over a month ago, I was let go. I could go into the backstory and pile on the woe, but Mondays are depressing enough. It's been equal parts rough and liberating, however, and looking back, I'm not heartbroken over the situation. But being unemployed until my next gig starts means a lot of time to myself–time that needs to be filled.

I've blogged about productivity before, but all those posts have been geared toward people with jobs. People who had so much to do all they actually wanted to do was watch Netflix. Now I'm faced with a different problem: How do I stay productive when I feel like I have all the time in the world? 

First, I don't actually have all that much time–not when you consider that I have to apply for unemployment, take care of health insurance (ugh), figure out a new budget, apply for a teacher's license, write a short story, edit a novella (twice), edit a novel, participate in a wedding, do flowers for two weddings... That's half the list. Half. 

Since I don't want to sit around watching Netflix all day, most of the things on my long-term list are self-imposed and not at all required. I enjoy getting things done, and I don't like being idle. 

I used to fill out a weekly notepad planner with everything I needed to do on breaks and after work, but I've decided to change my tactics. I found an old whiteboard calendar in my closet, and as I schedule responsibilities, I write them down. I'm a huge fan of writing things down. Putting it on my Google calendar helps me prevent double-booking, but I never look at it otherwise. So, big responsibilities go on the whiteboard. For instance, today says "French" and "Blog" because I needed to grade some French assignments and write a blog. 

Then, every morning before I work out, I write the order of my day on a piece of notebook paper. Fancy, I know. I list my projects by priority and split them into related categories. Here's how today's list went: Grade. Money order. Fingerprint card? Folder for resumes. BTT Blog-->BTT emails and interview reqs. Text Clara. Supernova. Dress fitting 6 p.m. 

The nice thing about to-do lists is that you can break things up into so many steps that you feel like you've accomplished much more than you really did. I could just write "BTT" for all my Beyond the Trope Monday responsibilities, but I like crossing things off, so I write more things down. In the end, my motivation to complete everything on the list is partly the idea of how terrible it would be not to ever get anything done every again (a.k.a. guilt trips) and a reward of a TV show and/or a food splurge when I finish things on time. It takes discipline, but it's worth it!

How do you stay productive when you don't have a boss hanging deadlines around your neck?

Michelle found folders from elementary school stashed in her library. Twenty-year-old Lisa Frank art is appropriate for holding resumes, right?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


When I was a child, I remember seeing Columbo and that kid from The Wonder Years talking about this farm boy and the woman he loved. There was fencing, a pirate, enormous rats, and fire that sprayed from the ground.

And kissing. Ew.

I'm speaking, of course, of Muppet Treasure Island...wait, that's not it. The Princess Bride!

I loved this movie. It was full of action, adventure, and giants. Even the romance was epic. And this week, my wife and I get to go see it at a special screening with Cary Elwes!

Tell me, have YOU seen The Princess Bride? Is it one of the best movies of all time, or THE best movie of all time?

Giles' wife asked if he wanted to go to this screening. All he said was...

Monday, April 10, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

I didn’t grow up watching “Beauty and the Beast”. I was Belle. I dressed like her to watch the movie. I taught myself to walk and read at the same time. I knew (*cough*know*cough*) every song, and I secretly called my bike Philippe. My neighborhood was surrounded by open space, and sometimes I would ride Philippe to the fields to run to the top of a hill and sing.*

You can imagine how intense my fangirling was when they announced the live-action film. They were going to make my movie! It was going to be real! I had loved the live-action Cinderella, so I had high hopes for Beauty and the Beast.

Maybe that was the problem–I was so excited and hopeful that nothing could’ve lived up to the world inside my head. I enjoyed the movie. Really, truly enjoyed it. But there were a few things amiss, and I’m curious to know if anyone else agrees with me.

First, let’s talk music. It was beautiful, wasn’t it? Nearly every character who sang did justice to their songs. I was impressed with Luke Evans; actually, his songs were possibly the best scenes of the whole movie. But… (how do I say this without being mean?) Emma Watson’s songs felt out of place. The autotune put my teeth on edge. I found myself bracing myself whenever one of Belle’s songs was coming up, simply because I hate autotune. It doesn’t make a tune. It makes a robot.

Which leads me to casting. Was there no Broadway ingenue who could have sung for Ms. Watson? Don’t get me wrong–I think she was a great choice to be Belle. She is a wonderful actress and person. But I think the movie would have been better if someone had sung for her, since the producers obviously thought her voice wasn’t strong enough.

I also question the casting of Ian McKellen, whose voice didn’t really do it for me. It felt like he was relying on his presence as the Great Ian McKellen to carry Cogsworth’s character, but it just didn’t work out. Mrs. Potts was slightly better cast, but still not 100% in my mind. Yet, if you ask my bff, the absolute worst, most despicable casting choice was deciding that Philippe was no longer a draft horse.

On the other hand, Le Fou, Gaston, the Beast, Lumiere, and Maurice were perfect. So. Perfect. Can anyone claim that pub scene wasn’t fantastic? I wish I could love the rest of the cast choices as much as I loved Gaston. And for the backstory changes they made, Kevin Kline’s portrayal of Maurice was splendid. Or maybe that’s just my crush on his version of Cyrano talking…

I did appreciate the world: the castle, the village, the feeling of being somewhere you loved dearly. The story choices the writers made were well-done and believable. Those added details made the screenplay feel fuller and rich.

So, all in all, Beauty and the Beast is worth it. I didn’t love all of its parts equally, but the great ones tended to make up for the ones I didn’t fall head over heels for.

What did you think of it?


For another lovely Beauty and the Beast story, Michelle recommends Robin McKinley’s Beauty, which is one of her Top 5 favorites of all time.

*I’m not ashamed. I was adorable.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Why I'm Excited!

I've been a fan of Beth Revis for quite some time. Yes, it's true. Want proof? Check here, also here, and this spot, too.

Now, what do you think my reaction was when I heard she was coming on the show? No, not that. Sure, I was excited, but no jumping or clapping. Just a smile. A wide smile.

This is going to be a short post for a couple reasons. One, you have homework to do. Go read those links, then go buy Beth's books. Also, if you haven't, listen to the interview with her. She's amazing.

Two, I found 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. I'm COMPLETELY hooked. So much so that I'm ready to go get the book, too.

So, go read everything by Beth Revis.

Yep, a short post. Because Giles is hooked on good stories.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Concerning Vacation and Accidental Writing Constraints

I didn't mean to constrain my writing time while on vacation–my intentions were, in fact, completely opposite. I would write every day. I would finish editing my novella, then I would attack two sessions' worth of critique notes on my novel. I would be consistent. I would be triumphant.

I would...get on the first plane, exchange a wary glance with my laptop, and pull out a book.

When jetlag had me awake at 4 a.m. three days in a row, did I whip out the computer and go tap-tap-tapping away? Nah. I turned on HGTV* and drank hotel coffee. You can guess how much I knew about the rest I needed: ZERO. I thought I needed a break from my job, not from fun. (Writing is FUN, day job is DUMB: this has always been my mantra). I was increasingly confused when my daily word quota ended up piled with the dirty laundry instead of checked off my to-do list. I finally stopped expecting myself to write at the end of the first week. It was a relief to stop berating myself for not writing.

I learned that I needed a hard reset from the past year. Job problems, losing family members, podcast responsibilities–everything whooshed around and made it nearly impossible to get a creative footing. Have you ever tried to cross a stream or river on foot? You know there are rocks down there, and you can even see some of them, but every once in a while, you step on a hidden, huge, slippery rock, and as you crash into the water you can't help but wonder, "Why in the world didn't I see that coming?" That was me. I kept trying out different rocks, but I either went nowhere or wiped out.

Halfway into my vacation, I took the sentiment of "OK, I don't have to write" one step further: I told myself I wasn't allowed to write. I could observe, and I could make mental notes, but I wasn't allowed to turn on my computer or open my notebook. It was easy for about a week. And then everything flipped on its head. I had ideas. Inspiration. Cool things were happening in my brain, but I wasn't allowed to do anything with them. It became physically painful–like when you hear someone badly explaining a subject you know everything about.

I've had a couple of days now of "allowed" writing time, and those hours have been the clearest my creative brain has been in months (years?). I am once again excited to sit down and work through my muddle of pages. Sometimes when you think you're happy writing, you're not. And sometimes when you think you want to do something, you don't. Resting doesn't make me a failure–it simply means I'm becoming aware of how clear my creative stream needs to be in order for those crossing expeditions to be better than vacation.

Michelle's vacation is coming to an end, which is sad, but at least she'll be able to devote her time to getting the podcast ready for future interviews and fun summer awesomeness!

*This is how I know I'm on vacation: 24/7 HGTV.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Form Bending

Recently, I've kind of stepped away from fiction writing for a multitude of reasons. I'm not currently pursuing traditional publication with anything, and I'm very slowly picking at a co-authored piece that should have been up a month ago. But that's about it as far as fiction goes right now.

But over the last two weeks or so, I've been exploring other writing forms. I checked out a couple books from the library about writing personal essays, and I've read a handful of online articles about revising poetry. I have the a couple rough poems and the beginning of an essay so far, and it's a very interesting experience.

I've been focused on writing fiction since high school. I would always try to turn an essay into a short story, if I could. My college essay was a short about one of my characters telling me how great I was because I couldn't figure out how to write about myself. Oh, yeah. That happened.

So it's kind of weird to be looking at writing creative nonfiction without gagging, honestly. But it's something totally different, and it's been helping me catalogue and examine my thoughts recently. I don't know if it'll ever go anywhere, but it's been an interesting experiment so far.

Emer has always been a fan of poetry, but her tendency toward length has consistently made a problematic exercise. But who hasn't written angsty poetry the world never sees, right?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Zeroing in on Goals

It's been a fantastic month so far. I'm hitting goals square on the bullseye! And this despite the fact that I'm not exactly feeling "motivated."

That's right, motivation isn't particularly "high" these days. Well, maybe that's not true. I'm motivated because I still want success. Just not driven, I guess. I'm content. Relaxed. Enjoying peace. Which doesn't make for high levels of productivity.

That being said, I'm putting a lot of effort into reaching some of my goals. In fact, I submitted three —yes THREE—workshop proposals for RMFW's Colorado Gold conference. That's the most I've ever submitted, and if any of them get excepted, it'll be the first time I present at that conference solo. It's exciting to me because RMFW changed my life so much. Yes, I've presented several workshops before, even solo. But RMFW is kind of a dream for me...

Next goal: finishing this short story so I can start submitting it. I have one...maybe two...more passes, and I'll be done! The only reason I'm not working on it tonight is that I finished a pass yesterday. I like to let a day or two sit in between edits on short stories so I get a "fresh" perspective on each run-through. Seriously, I'm excited for this short! It might be one of the best things I've ever written. I hope.

The next goal will be a novel. Of course.

Any goals that you're reaching so far this year?

Goals achieved, including a blog post. Giles is rocking it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Breckenridge Brewery and DCC Press Release

So, every year, Breckenridge Brewery (a major sponsor for Denver Comic Con) brews a special beer for the convention. And every year they open up a contest to name that beer. This year, it's one of my favorite styles: a Bohemian Pilsener!

Here's the official press release for you:

Breckenridge Brewery and DCC Open Up Submissions For “Name the Denver Comic Con Beer” Contest

WHAT: The annual “Name the Denver Comic Con Beer” contest starts today, March 21. This is the sixth year Breckenridge Brewery has brewed a special beer exclusive for Denver Comic Con (DCC). The 2017 DCC official beer is a Bohemian-style Pilsner. It’s delicate and well-balanced, light yet complex. Saaz hops, a classic pilsner ingredient, impart a pleasant, earthy aroma while giving spicy flavor characteristics and a crisp, dry finish. Past winners of the "Name the Comic Con Beer" contest are, The Fantastic Pour, The Caped Brewsader, Brews Wayne, Hulk's Mash, and Snape-ricot.

  • March 21 - “Name the Denver Comic Con Beer” contest starts
  • March 23, 5:00 pm - Deadline for name submissions
  • March 24 - Final four names announced and voting period opens
  • March 29 - Official name and winner announced
  • April - May - Stay tuned for more info on final artwork and beer release date

HOW: To submit an idea for a name, comment in the section of this Facebook post here by 5:00 pm on Thursday, March 23rd. Check back on Facebook, Friday March 24th to vote for one of the four select entries decided on by Breck and DCC.

WHY: This year’s winning name will be illustrated by a local comic book artist and featured on this year’s DCC pint glass. The winner receives a custom prize package from Breckenridge Brewery that includes free beer for a year and a Denver Comic Con beer tap handle.

So if you're a geeky beer drinker, go submit your name ideas. And don't forget to go get your passes for Denver Comic Con!

Giles is a HUGE beer fan, and every year, he's excited for this contest.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Learning Rocks

I'm sure at least a couple of you noticed that I missed another blog post last week. I have a really great excuse: I was sitting on my couch...and I couldn't get up.

The thing is, I spent nearly four hours of last Monday taking the Praxis for English Content Knowledge. By the time I got home, my brain was so mushified I couldn't get it coagulated enough to do anything. I nearly forgot to eat dinner. And I love dinner.

Being the odd person that I am, I loved every second I spent studying and taking the exam. I learned all sorts of new things, such as the origin of the colon, the process of language acquisition in children, and the fact that I might be the only person not impressed with Finnegans Wake. I filled an entire notebook with notes, and my to-be-read list grew by leaps and bounds. I'm so excited to tackle that list. Who am I kidding–I'm so excited to start studying again.

Every once in a while, when I consider my choice to change careers, I drive myself crazy with "What the heck are you even thinking?" thoughts. But studying (and passing, yay!) the Praxis reminded me that I love school. I love learning, and I love sharing my passion for learning. I am a bit sorry that I didn't keep up with blogging, but all's well that ends well, right?

Michelle is headed on vacation in the morning, hurray and huzzah!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cosplay Perks

One of my favorite things about cosplay is that it often requires you to be super inventive and creative. I mean, anime physics doesn't exactly apply to real life, so how can you possibly create a costume that captures the impossible design?

While my steampunk costume isn't anime-inspired, it still has some pretty unique touches. I had to research a bit of leatherwork to make my new hat band (which includes several cups worth of tea leaves), and I still have to figure out how I want to attach the epaulettes my friend made me (with teaspoons!), which will be a whole other creative endeavor.

In cosplay, there are no limits, except by time and how much effort you want to put in. It's an excuse to learn new skills and be able to show off the results to a bunch of other nerds who will appreciate them. It's a chance to express your love for something in a visual way. And there's something really confidence-boosting about wearing something you made that's totally awesome.

In short, I love cosplaying, and I can't wait to put the finishing touches on this year's steampunk. If I remember and have time, I'll try to post photos on our Facebook page. Otherwise, I'll be wearing it again at DCC, in all likelihood, so come find us to see it.

Emer will be at AnomalyCon all weekend, looking dapper as heck with her burgundy spats and tea hat. Find her and say hi!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Video Game Review: Watch Dogs 2

A few weeks ago, I sat down and realized I wanted to play video games. But I didn't necessarily want to sit down and focus on in-depth missions like the ones in Dishonored 2, and I need a bit of a break from Fallout 4 still. My solution? Buy a new game. One that's gotten good reviews and gives me some open-world run-around space that I've always enjoyed.

My first introduction to a game of this style was actually The Godfather for the Nintendo Wii. I've never been interested in the Grand Theft Auto games.

This game starts out by jumping the player right into the main story, giving them a glimpse into this alternate reality where the government and corporations are spying on citizens and collecting their information for criminal profiling, marketing, societal control. The player follows a series of missions to expose the data collection firm for the unconstitutional monsters they are.

Despite how serious that sounds, there's a lot of humor and whimsey to the game. The characters are a little cartoony, like a Hollywood caricature of early nineties hackers. But it's subtle, too, because the characters have depth, personality, and a consistency that makes them feel like real people, except that one or two of their personality traits are focused on to make sure they stand out from each other (not that it would be a problem).

What I like about this game, really, is the humor. Due to the extremely serious subject matter, the bright colors, missions and side quests meant to gain more "followers" bring a lightheartedness to the game that keeps it from becoming stressful and disconcerting.

And, of course, there's driving. Some cool cars, taxi missions, and sightseeing in a beautiful rendition of San Fransisco make for a great experience for those moments when I need to just shut down my brain.

All in all, I recommend this game to anyone who likes open-world games. There is some violence, and the occasional interruptions from other players in online gameplay can be annoying (at times), but it feels like a real world. An awesome city with places to climb, machines to hack, and cool clothes to collect.

Of course, this game reminds Giles of Hackers. Not a great movie, but still one of his favorites.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Steampunk Ahoy!

After two weeks of various illnesses, I'm finally feeling myself again. Breathing and eating are kind of nice things to be able to do. Just saying. You know, in case you forgot about that.

I'm super glad I'm doing better with enough time to finish putting together my new cosplay for Anomaly Con next weekend. This will be an interesting con for a couple reasons:
  • It's the last year of Anomaly Con
  • I'm the only member of Beyond the Trope that's going
  • We won't have a podcast table
  • I didn't apply to be on panels at all
The last two years when we went to Anomaly, we had a table and were on panels and discussions. If you visited our table, you probably picked up a sweet magnet. This year, it's just me. And my awesome new outfit (complete with giant feather in my hat and lovely spats).

Now that I can breathe again, I'm working on putting the final touches on said awesome outfit. I'm planning on making a tea-themed hat band, with vials of loose leaf tea and a strainer attached, so all I'll need is a cup and hot water to have tea anywhere. Because tea is life. My friend is also making me some other tea-themed accessories, because she's amazing.

I'm kind of looking forward to not having to worry about a table this year. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having a podcast booth and meeting listeners. But it's also nice to be able to go to a con at least once without working it. I went to the second year of DCC (before Beyond the Trope was even an idea), so I'm good with tabling there. But we've only ever been to Anomaly with a table before! So, for this last year, I'm super excited to be able to roam freely and not worry about scheduling conflicts.

If you're coming to this year's Anomaly Con, look for the person in a bright yellow shirt with a burgundy cravat and hat feather, and come say hi! I promise I don't bite.

Emer is trying to focus on little, good things right now. Conventions, costumes, good music, Pokémon, cartoons--things like that. It's been a rough week, but she's made it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Video Game Review: Dishonored 2

Now that I've had a chance to actually sit down and work on a second play-through of Dishonored 2, I feel like I can review it well.

I'm not finished with my second play-through, yet, and I'm not sure when that's going to happen. You see, with Dishonored, I couldn't HELP but keep playing it, again and again.* It wormed into my brain, drew me into a story and world that engaged my imagination, made me care about the characters, and pulled at my heartstrings in ways that convinced me that I NEEDED to play through a specific way.

With Dishonored 2, there's just something off about the game. They added another character, who is AWESOME and has powers that are super cool and fun to use. But the way some of the powers work, including powers carried over from Dishonored, just feels different. And not different the way you'd think they'd feel based on the storyline reasons for changing how they work.

I think part of it is that, rather than using the Unreal Engine, they created their own game engine (The Void Engine) for this game. The physics don't feel any different, and the combat feels the same. So maybe it's not the engine so much as just some of the "magical rules" that they've updated.

Story-wise, I found it hard to engage with the reason and agency behind the characters' motivations. Without spoiling either story, in Dishonored, the storyline is a vindication/redemption/vengeance arc where the main character has to clear his name and save the empire and the princess. In Dishonored 2, it's not personal with either character you can choose. Sure, if you pick Corvo, Empress Emily needs to be rescued, and that's the end-game. If Emily is your chosen character, then you have to rescue Corvo. But the how and where they go and who they pursue? I didn't connect the dots. It didn't feel like a cohesive plot or a logical direction. Which means some of the missions feel like filler in between chasing the TRUE end goal, and not in a side-quest manner like they're supposed to be.

More than that, most of these missions take place in broad daylight. In Dishonored, several of the missions took place in daytime, but there were plenty of places to hide. For a stealth assassination game, that seems like the way to go. But only a small percentage of the missions take place at night in Dishonored 2. More than that, most of the places where you're expected to "sneak" around to finish the mission don't even have great places to hide unless you know how to get up REALLY high and move around over peoples' heads (which is pretty often an option). But this is a stealth assassination game. It brings me back to figuring out motivation and reasoning within the characters. Why sneak around to go after a target in the bright sunshine when everyone can see you when you can wait for nightfall and hide in the shadows?

Overall, the gameplay is fun, and I find myself thinking about jumping back into it a lot (when I have serious free time). But it's not as engaging. The motivation feels forced, and the characters lack dimension. Despite the fact that they got voice actors to record dialogue for the protagonists this time around. If I had to rate it, I'd give it 2/4. It's not a BAD game, it's just not as good as the first one. Which may not be fair, but if they'd changed just ONE of the things that bothers me about this game, I think it would make a world of difference.**

Giles might be overcompensating with such a long post since he missed last week's blog. Don't mind him, though, because he was actually working last week instead of goofing off like he could've been.

*I played through the main campaign two full times and the DLC campaign two full times, and I'm about half way through my third play-through of the main campaign. Which will be started over on the PS4 now that I have the Ultimate Edition with updated graphics.

**Seriously, if ALL they did was make MOST of the missions take place at night and/or inside in the dark with just one or two taking place in the daytime with STRONG reasons why, that would fix this game. Story would NOT matter nearly as much.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Are we Postmodernists?

One of the last things I studied* before going to sleep last night was the timeline of Western literary movements. It's too easy to forget that literature doesn't pop up from a vacuum–it amazes me how simple it can be to see how an author's themes fit in with their peers. Everyone who has ever written prose or poetry has been a product of (or reaction against) the world around them.
As I finished my review of Postmodernism (generally considered to be the movement beginning in the late 1900s and continuing to the present day), I wondered if my writing would be considered Postmodernist, or if I'm part of a different movement altogether. How do you classify a literary movement you are literally in the middle of? Many critics would say that, being a writer in 2017, I am a postmodernist. I'm just not sure I agree.

Postmodernists are big on deconstruction, which reads texts with particular attention to contradictions. Famous examples of postmodern literature include James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and Alan Moore's Watchmen comic. When I look at examples such as these, I have a hard time identifying my own work with this movement.

Yet, the very definition of postmodernism is founded on a sort of subjectivity. The Renaissance may have created writers and artists who created for creation's sake, but religion still held sway over many creatives. Even if they weren't painting or writing as an act of worship, their works revolved around their religion. It wasn't until the early 1900s that (I think) writers truly became aware of what and why they were writing, and I see that as the final move from objectively evaluating art to subjectively seeing it in a greater context**.

Postmodern writing also tends to be experimental, such as James Joyce's stream of consciousness style, and I wouldn't put my science fiction adventure stories in the "experimental" column. I use punctuation, for Pete's sake. Also, I don't know that I've read a postmodernist work besides Watchmen that I actually enjoyed. Many of them deal with heavy, where-is-the-meaning topics in a way that I simply don't care to follow. In that way, however, they are certainly brilliant. What better way to find meaning than to craft a novel whose very style and form reflects your search?

Am I writing in reaction to Postmodernism and therefore, a part of whatever literary movement came after, or am I a postmodernist? I'm a fan of postmodern subjectivity, and I'm fascinated by David Foster Wallace's description*** of pop culture references in postmodern literature:
"...a generation of new fiction writers who saw themselves as sort of avant-avant-garde, not only cosmopolitan and polyglot but also technologically literate, products of more than just one region, heritage, and theory, and citizens of a culture that said its most important stuff about itself via mass media."

That could be me–especially being a product of multiple heritages and theories. And yet, when I compare the themes and style of my work to that of the postmodernist works I've read or studied, I simply don't see the resemblance. I'll need to find a new perspective to base my research on, or at least start brainstorming names for this new movement I may or may not be a part of.

What do you think of this literary movement?

 Michelle really just wants to read all the things.

*I'm getting ready to take the PRAXIS–the test that teachers must take to prove they're smarty pants-type people. I have to pass it in order to jump into my Master's degree studies later this year. Most people take it straight out of college after four years of English lit classes. Not me!
**...I did say I was a nerd, right?
***From his 1990 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is one of those authors that everyone seems to know about, but I had never read one of her books. I won a copy of Spindle's End at a book swap party a while back and began reading it the week after. It did take me a while to get through it, but that isn't a bad thing. In fact, reading through it slowly made me enjoy the story even more.

Spindle's End is a retelling/twisting of a classic fairytale. And by twisted, I mean Robin McKinley took the story of Sleeping Beauty we all know and turned it on its head. The story begins by following Katriona, a fairy from the outskirts of the kingdom who takes the baby princess (Briar-Rose) after she is cursed by the evil fairy Pernicia on her name-day. Katronia takes Rosie to her home in Foggy Bottom, and between herself and her aunt, raise Rosie as one of their own. No one knows Rosie's true identity, and, if she is to survive beyond her twenty-first birthday, it needs to stay that way.

What I loved about McKinley's version of this story is she took it far and beyond the Grimm Brothers' tale, and even further past Disney's version. McKinley's version begins even before Rosie is born, follows her while she is growing up, and does not end the way that you expect it to. Spindle's End is like drinking a cup of hot cocoa....with a shot in it. Warm, comforting and familiar, but also different and a bit of a shock when it veers away from the story you're expecting. I throughly enjoyed the plot, characters, and world building.

Was I absolutely in love with everything about the story? No. But that was because there were a few things that just didn't fit my particular tastes. While I loved all of the human characters, the animal characters with their names and descriptions were difficult to keep track of. Sunflower is a dog (I believe) but I can't for the life of me tell you much more than that. I liked the little guy (or girl) and Sunflower plays a pretty significant role towards the end of the book, but I can't tell you what he looks like. Unfortunately, that happened with more than a few of the animal characters.

Also, McKinley's writing style was a little difficult to get used to. She's not a straightforward writer; she likes to use great descriptive words and flowery language to describe Rosie's world. Eventually, I did get used to the style, but it took a while to do so.

Will I read another one of McKinley's books? Most likely. After reading Spindle's End and The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, I'm developing a taste for retellings of old fairytales.

Emily is not sure what she's going to dive in to next. She has a stack of books that are calling her name; she just doesn't know where to begin! 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not exactly a book review...

Sunday evenings are traditionally game nights. This weekend, my friend Jeremy received a new players manual in the mail that he helped to Kickstart a while back. A few minutes after I walked in the door, he handed it to me and said, "Sniff this." Now, most people would think that that was an awfully odd thing to tell a person. But for me, and a lot of the people I know, sniffing a brand new, full color, hardcover book is very nearly heaven. I love that smell of glue, cardboard, ink, and whatever that other mystery smell is that no one can seem to recreate.

When my grandmother passed away almost a year ago, my dad asked if I would like to have some of her old books. Um. Absolutely. No question. I was thinking they were going to be some old novels that I would never read, but would still keep for sentimental reasons. I was wrong. I wound up with her high school yearbook (Class of 1945!), her commercial arithmetic book, and her shorthand textbook from her college days. Later on, my dad also sent along a New Testament that was owned by a relative of mine who I still can't seem to find in the family tree.

I thought that new game manual smelled good.

It really is amazing how books can make an impact on us, even if we never actually read them.

Emily is feeling awfully nostalgic today, hence this seemingly random topic. But, she's almost finished with the book she's reading now and will have a new review for you next week. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tiny Novel Break

I'm taking a break from writing my new novel because I'm really enjoying the short story that I worked on for a bit last year. It's been a story that poked and prodded at my brain for a long time, and I never sat down to finish editing it. Now that I'm back at it, I feel like it's still really good (obviously that's my opinion, but as a writer, I often hate what I write until other people tell me they REALLY like it). I'm going to send it through Critique Group one more time, and then I think it's time to send it out to short story markets.

Aside from that, I have some other projects with deadlines. Including the RMFW Colorado Gold workshop submission deadline. I'm putting together two or three workshops this year, and I really hope they select all of them. It'll be a challenge, but one I want to take on, for sure!

There are some other personal projects that I'm working on, too, and then the BIG NEWS that we're working on for the podcast. So all in all, this tiny novel break is going to be hugely productive.

Who knows, maybe I'll throw a second short story in there so I'm pitching two at a time (obviously different publishers for each story, never two to the same market at once).

Giles does have a lot going on, but he's keeping busy, as always.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I Wreck/Wrack/Wreak/Rack My Brains

While I was writing this weekend I got stuck. I needed a character to rack her brains…I mean wrack…or wreck? Wreak? This is what happens when you speak a language that stole so much from other languages—you end up with words that sound identical yet have various definitions and inferred meanings. I turned to Almighty Google to shed some light on the situation.

“Rack” comes from a mix of the Middle Dutch and Middle German words “rec”, “recken”, and “rek”. A “rek” is a horizontal bar or shelf, and “recken” as a verb means to stretch or to reach. This is the word we use in phrases related to pain or intense stress, thanks to the old torture practices of putting someone “on the rack” (where they stretched you by ropes on your arms and legs. Ow).

“Wrack” is generally considered to be a variant spelling of “rack”, though one definition does show it to mean a shipwreck. In that case, the word came from Middle Dutch “wrak” and English “wreak”. It carries a strong sense of being pushed too far (i.e. a ship to shore), as well as damage and destruction.

“Wreak” is on Old English word (“wrecan”) with Germanic influences. Like “wrack” above, it carries a sense of pushing or shoving, but it also indicates an infliction of vengeance. This is the word we use in the phrase “wreak havoc”—whatever people wreak, it’s usually destruction. It’s incorrect to say “wrack havoc” or “wrack destruction” because “wracking” has no sense of cause or infliction as “wreak” does.

“Wreck”, like “rack” and “wrack” comes from words that indicate destruction and ruin. In the 12th century it was used as “to take vengeance” (just like “wreak”. That’s not confusing at all.) This word is used almost exclusively to describe shipwrecks and—now that we have other vehicles—the broken remains of cars, planes, trains, and even people.

Many dictionaries give definitions for these words, and in the next sentence they say, “But so many people use it incorrectly that the incorrect usage is now correct.” I know I’m a grammar  and spelling snob because this approach frustrates me. But I did finally figure out which word to use: wrack. It’s the one word that carries a sense of being pushed to a point of intense pain—the pain of thinking incredibly hard, as in the case of “wracking one’s brains”. 

Michelle enjoys the rabbit trail that is etymology.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Exhausted Excitement

I feel like I should keep up the trend and post about something I'm super excited about, but it's been a rough week for me (as, you know, all weeks have been recently). So how about that beautiful Colorado day yesterday, huh?

Seriously, though. I'm thrilled to bits about the mysterious mystery Michelle teased on Monday, and our episode this week is really fun. I'm just too exhausted to be my normal bubbly, bouncy self about it.

So I'll keep it short and sweet this week. Exciting things coming! Whoo! Three years! Huzzah! Big project! Yay!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play cat and curl up in a beam of sunshine while I read Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology and listen to the to Yuri on Ice soundtrack to try and recover some energy.

Emer apologizes for the nature of this blog post, but it's Friday and her brain's been running on reserve power all week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Exciting Occurrences

One of my favorite features of this podcast is being able to share our old writing with our listeners. For those of you who write, it's a great opportunity for us to show where we went wrong (and occasionally right). Another favorite feature is interacting with our listeners when we're able to make the time (wish we could do it more!).

When those two things combine, it's just awesome! This week we had a chance to review pages from a listener's "trunk novel," even though he admitted that it's actually the opening to a book he's currently working on. And it was a lot of fun!

Like many works in progress, this book had a lot going for it and several things that could use improvement. And unlike the episodes where the three of us dig into our own pages and have fun at our own expense to help listeners learn from our mistakes, Dan had an opportunity to get well-intentioned feedback from FOUR writers who have also been working on writing for years (yes, we had FOUR writers in the room, and one of them works for a literary agency).

Obviously, what he takes from our ideas is totally up to him, like any critique. But it was fun to take a different approach to this episode format. I really do hope we were able to help him, and it'll be nice to hear where his writing goes from here.

As for the things Michelle mentioned on Monday, we're all excited for that, too.

It's a late blog, but Giles had a lot going on today.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Upcoming Excitement

Many of you know that we had an awesome recording day this past weekend. But what you don't know is that we finally took a huge step toward something we've been talking about doing for at least a year.

Let's see if you can guess what we have up our sleeves...
It means perks for you, our awesome friends and listeners.
It'll provide more ways for us to share our love for the nerd world.
Stage 1 involves brainstorming, forms, and building a giant social media buffer.
We'll need some time to prep for Stage 2.

What do you think? We're going to drop more clues as we get closer to the glorious summer months, and I hope you all will enjoy the surprise as much as we're enjoying planning for it.

Michelle just finished her last working Monday at The Coleman Company. It's a great feeling. Now if only the rest of the week will go this fast...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Three Year Memories

Yesterday, a memory came across my Facebook feed. You know, one of those generally obnoxious reminders of "X years ago, you posted this!" that Facebook occasionally feeds you. Well, this one was my first ever announcement that we were creating this thing called Beyond the Trope. From three years ago.

Three years, guys! When we started this thing, we all thought we'd maybe do it for a year and then disband, and never really get any traction in the meantime. And now we're at our three-year anniversary and we've interviewed some incredible people, had fantastic conversations, and learned a lot.

It's kind of weird. In a good way. But weird all the same.

We've been through a lot of changes in three years. Changing the length of our episodes, what we talk about, new day jobs, different books/stories we're writing, new name it, it's probably changed at least a little. I mean, remember at the beginning when I tried to get a Doctor Who reference in every episode? Yeah, I'm kind of glad I let that quirk die.

Tomorrow is recording day. Assuming we don't let ourselves get distracted, we'll also be having our annual "state of the podcast" meeting. It'll be really interesting to look back over three years and figure out how we want to move forward.

But one thing's for certain--we wouldn't be here without all you amazing listeners!

Emer is wishing she could be outside reading Neil Gaiman's new Norse Mythology book today instead of at her day job. Because, no matter what else has changed, she is still a huge mythology nerd.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book Review: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

A long time ago, in a classroom far, far away, (hey, it was Aurora after all) there was a teacher who needed a book to read with her small group. This small group was about as diverse as can be. While they were all sixth graders (oh, the hormones!), the group was a mix of both boys and girls, a blend of races and backgrounds, and they did not like to read. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was sitting on the classroom shelf. It was battered, fixed multiple times with tape, and had a thrift store sticker on the back. My co-teacher at the time recommended that I use it for my reading group. I didn't think it was going to go over well. I was wrong.

"Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty." So opens the story of Charlotte Doyle, a girl who lives in 1832 and is about to board the Seahawk, a merchant ship that is run by a ruthless captain, a mutinous crew, and owned by Charlotte's father's company. When the story opens, Charlotte is returning to the U.S. from a boarding school in England. She is supposed to travel with another family aboard the Seahawk, but through an odd set of circumstances, is forced to travel alone. At first, Charlotte attaches herself to Captain Jaggery because it is considered the "proper thing to do". After Charlotte reluctantly befriends the ship's cook, Zachariah, she learns of the true feelings of the crew on board the Seahawk and finds herself having to choose sides when the crew decides to overthrow Captain Jaggery.

Even as an adult, I really enjoyed this book. By now, you know that I am a sucker for historical fiction. But historical fiction that is so well written and researched that it feels like a biography? It's bound to become one of my favorites. In every edition of the novel that I have come across, the author has scattered illustrations throughout the novel so the reader is not forced to imagine, or research, what a particular object would have looked like in the 1830s. I also appreciated that the book's appendix included an illustration of an 1830's merchant trading vessel, complete with labels to explain the rigging, deck, bowsprit, and mainmast of the Seahawk. Even someone like me, who has been landlocked her entire life, was able to picture in my head exactly where the events of the story took place on the vessel. Finally, the author included a note after the appendix explaining how time was kept on the ship, even in the middle of the ocean.

I really enjoyed Charlotte as a character. Keeping in mind that Charlotte's story takes place only twenty-ish years after Pride and Prejudice, I kind of expected her to be a flouncy, weepy, mopey sort of character. One that drives the reader mad after a while and has them shouting at the book to "pull yourself up girly! There's work to be done!" I'm happy to report that Charlotte is not one of those characters. She does start out in the story that way, but quickly learns to adapt to her surroundings through observation and a certain amount of manipulation. She isn't what I would necessarily call a "kick-butt" heroine, but considering the time frame of the novel, she certainly would have been considered an anomaly in her time period.

Was there anything I didn't like about it? Yes and no. While I liked Charlotte, Zachariah, and the other members of the crew, the ruthlessness of Captain Jaggery seemed forced. The author did set up the story with the idea that Captain Jaggery is well known around Liverpool for being a tyrannical leader, but there was very little of the human spark in Captain Jaggery that we all desire in a villain. Also, the ending of the book wasn't very realistic. However, that doesn't mean that I didn't like the ending! But after thinking about the ending, I realized that it was pretty unlikely and Charlotte wouldn't be able to do the things she did without some pretty major repercussions. (Vague, I know, but no spoilers!)

I know, this is another middle grade to young adult novel, but it is definitely worth a read. After all, there are very few adults that I know who don't like a story filled with adventure, pirates, and mystery.

Emily went to a book swap party a few weeks ago and was given her first Robin McKinley book, Spindle's End. She's beginning to fall in love with twisted fairy tales!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Art and Angst

The concept that, without angst, there is no art has always bothered me. At various point in my life (when I was less mature and far more belligerent), it even made me angry. To say that joy, happiness, and general good moods have never led to beautiful music, sculptures, paintings, or literature is simply untrue.

But now that I'm older, I can definitely appreciate art as an OUTLET for angst. The more I look at writers, actors, and musicians admired by the masses, the more I seem to see various forms of clinical depression, anxiety, and various other soul-crushing mental/emotional conditions. For those who survive without professional assistance (doctors of some sort), their art MUST be a fantastic outlet, and a way to manage what they're going through. And for those who have found the help they need to move forward each day (which takes a LOT of strength and should be applauded!), many of them have created amazingly fantastic works of art DESPITE the fact that they want nothing more than to collapse into a broken pile of human existence.

In my own life, I've never faced the need for professional help. In many ways, when I feel angsty, depressed, angry, and broken, I retreat into my writing. I write the pain into the characters, the story, the world. It's not necessarily the best writing I've created, but it has forced me to face the problems in a way I otherwise would not have. And, often enough, it's given me an escape from many of the problems I've needed to avoid until there's enough distance to face them and work them out without making poor decisions.

Question: what is your relationship with angst? Is it something for whiney teenagers who are pissed off that mommy cut up the credit cards? Or is it a genuine, soul-crushing reality to every moment of every day? Maybe somewhere in between?

Whatever it is in your life, don't let it control or ruin your art. But if you can, take it and use it as the inspiration for an amazing story, a hope-filled painting of what the other side will look like, or a song that makes the listener cry.

Giles has been in a great mood lately, but there is still angst in there. Somewhere. And it's helping to inspire some new ideas.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Everything I Know About Writing

Twenty-five-ish years of writing novels and short stories;
Five-ish years of writers’ conferences, conventions, and classes;
Three-ish years of interviewing writers, artists, and nerds.

I finally know something about writing. I know, I know. Took me long enough. But this is something so important and complex that it needed to be researched for YEARS.

Here’s what I’ve learned: 

  • Writing forces you to make weird faces so you can describe them. This usually happens when you’re in a public place.
  • Talking to critique partners often feels like going to a support group for addiction recovery. “Hi, I’m Michelle, and I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.” [Insert people making appropriately sympathetic, concerned faces here].
  • The first draft is, and always will be, perfect as long as you don’t let yourself think about it*.
  • The second draft is, and always will be, possibly the worst thing you’ve ever written*.
  • Your furbaby can offer some of the best plothole-filling advice in the galaxy—you just need to be a couple of shots in (whiskey, wine, Kombucha, OJ…) before you understand any of it.
  • No matter how often you remind your characters that they live IN YOUR HEAD, they will continue to act completely independent from you. Especially during tense scenes when you have spent HOURS briefing them over exactly which actions they need to take.
  • Sometimes you will love something, and someone else will think it’s pretty much on the same level as sliced bread. Nice, but not revolutionary. This is normal and should be encouraged.
  • Nothing you write will show up in the reader’s head the way you expect it to. Ever.
  • No matter how much research you do about what to write, how to write it, and the industry, nothing beats learning things the hard way.  

 Michelle is still learning.

*IMHO, mind you. I know of a few people who detest their first drafts. I do not understand this. Why are you writing it if you hate it? But really. WHY.