Monday, January 30, 2017

The Evolution of Snowflake Writers

Instead of a regular blog today, I thought I'd take a humorous look at "snowflake syndrome". Enjoy!

Pro tip: If you're having trouble viewing the image (thanks Blogger you jerk), right click+View Image, then use your handy-dandy zoom tool.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Take Care of Yourself

Because I've been staring at this screen for basically an hour, haven't come up with a better idea, and love you listeners, here's a list of ideas on how to take care of yourself, no matter what's going on in your life:

  1. Snuggle something fuzzy, like kitties or puppies
  2. Wear a blanket cape for an hour and zoom around like a superhero
  3. Drink a cup of your favorite tea or coffee and actually spend time tasting and enjoying it
  4. Watch a comfort movie (mine are How to Train Your Dragon and Mirrormask)  
  5. Read a comfort book (mine are Odd and the Frost Giants and The Two Princesses of Bamarre)
  6. Color in a coloring book (if you're really angry, there are profanity ones!)
  7. Get some sunshine, if you can
  8. Listen to your favorite, uplifting music
  9. Take a long shower or bath
  10. Go on a walk
  11. Eat some fancy chocolate (or your favorite kind of treat)
  12. Spend some time with good friends or people who make you feel good about yourself
  13. Wear clothes that make you feel hardcore and strong
  14. Unplug from the internet and phone for a couple of hours
  15. Listen to more Beyond the Trope

Okay, the last one is totally self-serving, but can you blame me? This is, after all, the Beyond the Trope blog!

Emer is tired and brain dead, so she apologizes for the short post. But rest assured, she'll be doing several of the things on this list this weekend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Small Victory

I reached a small milestone a couple weeks ago: I reached the "word goal" for my WiP. This is a huge deal for me because I haven't gotten this far in a draft in a very long time.

What's even better? I'm not done with the first draft! My last book, the one I'm querying right now, came in at around 62k in the first draft. After SEVERAL revisions, I worked it up to 80k. After that, I fought to finish drafts, and they only reached about 52k-58k, and then I realized the plot kinda sucked, and I had zero interest in revising.

This book is OVER 68k, and I still have at least 5k-8k to go before this draft is finished. I'm going to have a lot of revising to do, but in the end, I think this book is going to come in around 78k by the time I get ready to query.

My plan is to continue to push forward. I'm going to query this book, and the plan is to do that by the end of this year. Then I'll have TWO books that I'm querying!

Small steps, just one at a time. That's how Giles is moving forward.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Nostalgia of Old Journals

Nine years ago, I visited Paris for the first time. Today while diving for blog topics, I got a little nostalgic and dredged up the blogs/journal entries I wrote during that time. If you’ve never gone back and read something you wrote nearly a decade ago, I highly recommend you do. It made me alternately laugh and cringe.

Some things haven’t changed—my tone of voice, for example, is the same. Young Michelle was also a little ridiculous. I read a few posts and all I could think was, “Wow. I certainly took myself seriously.” I was 21 and headed to a semester abroad, and I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into.

Reading these old blog posts is a lot like going through one of my trunk novels. Writers are familiar with the term “trunk novel”—a manuscript the author deemed too terrible to ever see the light of day. We’ve used a few trunk novels for podcast episodes, and those “critique” sessions are a lot of fun. I enjoy looking back on things I’ve written (and laughing) as well as showing writers that even if they think what they wrote is worthless, it might still have potential.

Not everyone wants to see their own autobiography as a trunk novel, but if you pick a time of great memories, it is worth the cringes. It’s painful hilarity, if you will. It also reminds me that my present problems are temporary. Whatever stresses I have from losing my job, losing a loved one, and trying to find an agent are problems I can beat. It's so good to know that no matter what happens this year, life will get better. I’m wading through a lot of crap right now, but soon I’ll be on the other end of it, probably shaking my head and wondering why I took myself so seriously.

Just for kicks, I’ve pasted one of those old blogs down below. It made me laugh, and I hope it brings a smile to your face, too.

Michelle loves Paris more than Denver, but she currently loves Colorado more than France.

January 26, 2008

Lundi. That's Monday in French. I'm pretty good at remembering lundi and mardi and mercredi just because it's fun to say and know that you're saying a day of the week. It's the days afterward that my brain decides to forget. And of course, I hope you realize, when I say "decides" I mean it's a complete and utter accident.

Anyway. Lundi the 21st was the day that I got in to the airport so early. I slept on the chairs in front of the very doors I had just walked through [Note from 2017: I literally left customs, walked six feet to a line of chairs, and camped out]. It wasn't that bad, once I figured out that it's a lot more comfortable to use the suitcases as an ottoman, rather than a pillow support. Oh, man, I am so glad I took my little travel pillow with me. It has been one of my best friends this entire time. I think I might see if I can marry it...

Around 630 (yes, AM) Christie's plane got in, and the two of us walked to Terminal C, where the rest of the group was supposed to be waiting. We were a few hours early. So we sat. And kinda talked. Mostly sat and were quiet. I read a little, and wrote. Then a few minutes after 930 we went to the middle of the terminal and met the group of really obvious American students trying to not fall asleep on their feet. They were also all struggling (ok, no, not all were struggling) to understand everything Staci and Andrew, the two leader peeps, were saying. That's because, quelle surprise, it was all in French. The group stood there for little over an hour, tentatively introducing themselves around the mob, and then we piled into a bus and drove from Charles de Gaulle into the heart of Paris.

I still laugh now when I think about the ride. No one knew one another, except for a couple kids (adults?) who are from the same school. At least, no one was already best friends with anyone else in the group. Plus, I was completely conscious. Sure, I was tired, but I was just travel and thinking tired, not jetlagged tired. PS THANK YOU GOD FOR THAT. That ride was so quiet, oh man oh man. It was like we were all gagged and in straight jackets. I sat more in the front, just behind Staci and Andrew, and near three girls who are all pretty much amazing, Sophia, Jessica, and Anna. We had the normal first-year-college-student-help-I-need-to-be-funny conversations; and of course I tried to be cooler than I actually am, because that's what everyone does the first day.

When we got to the auberge de jeunesse (youth hostel) they did all the saying hi stuff (minus ice breakers, grace à Dieu) and gave us pocket money and metro tickets and mini maps. Then they said, "Ok, you're free, we'll be eating lunch at 12h30. Bye." I don't really remember who I walked around with then...I think it was Sarah and Amanda....? We walked around and discovered that hey, that's the Seine! And there's...wait, is that Notre Dame? That's Notre Dame! It was literally just across the river and over like a block.

After lunch we got our rooms. I was almost excited. Part of me was just so tired of hostels at that point, as it was my fourth hostel of the month, and I was just really really really looking forward to not having to lock up my things all the time. But then again, the shower was super big. And the water was hot. And Jess and Julie were très cool. More walking happened that night, and then dinner at a pretty nice restaurant that made us beef bourguignon and crème brulée and wine. Well, they didn't make us the wine. But they served it to us. Yum. I was so tired after dinner that when we got home around 21h30, I went to sleep. Very few others actually did, since for everyone else it was daytime and not sleepy time.

A bed was a fantastic change from the airport chairs......

Friday, January 20, 2017

We Need Art

Art is underrated. There's not really two ways about it. With art programs getting cut in schools, museums closed down, and artists of all stripes struggling to make ends meet, it's not hard to see.

It's easy to say, "oh, that's just a story; it doesn't have any impact on my life," or "I have to worry about paying the bills tomorrow instead of enjoying the museum." It's easy to focus on the nitty gritty of life and let the beauty pass us by.

But it's my firm belief that we need art in order to be fulfilled human beings. We need to read fiction and poetry, or sing and dance, or paint, or take photos, or sew, or make jewelry. Or do all of the above, or something else entirely.

We need art of some kind to remind us to live life to the fullest, and to explore new things, and to appreciate what's around us. We need art to show us beauty in dark times, and to make us think, and to sometimes to make us cry.

Art has been at the beginning of civilizations and at the core of revolutions. Art has given people hope and helped them connect to each other in new, unexpected ways. Art has literally saved lives.

So, as Neil Gaiman said, "make good art." Whatever your medium, however you work, make good art. Put something out in the world, even if you don't think it's perfect. Tell your story. Maybe you'll change someone's life, and maybe you won't, but at least you'll have made the world incrementally more beautiful.

Emer is working toward following that advice, too. She's currently beading profanity bracelets for stress relief, gearing up for recording tomorrow, and looking forward to a TGIF beer after her day job.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Things I've Been Obsessed With Recently

Simply put, I haven't finished reading the book I was going to review this week. *sigh* I'll be reviewing The Young Elites by Marie Lu next Thursday!

So, anyway...Things I've Been Obsessed With Recently

1. Supernatural - I love this show. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am not a horror person, but between this show and Nightmares Unhinged I'm beginning to appreciate it more. I'm not going to take up watching horror movies any time soon, but it's a step in the right direction. Plus, it's fun to convert people over to a fandom. (So far I'm up to three people!)

2. Podcasts - I know. This should be obvious. But seriously, with my new job I'm actually able to listen to podcasts on my way to work and on the way home. I've been listening to ours (and laughing probably more than I should), the Functional Nerds podcast (because it's like listening to friends have a conversation), and the Roundtable Podcast (I'm pretty sure I want Dave Robison to narrate the story of my life and/or give the eulogy at my funeral).

3. My Office - I'm pretty sure my new office is the perfect setting for a horror movie. It's almost dead silent, the only sounds you hear is sporadic maniacal laughter, and the clicking of a ton of keyboards puts me in the Predator movies. (Not that I've actually watched Predator, but I know what sounds they make.) I can't help but think of this at least three times a day.

4. Learning German - Have you heard of the Duolingo app? It's amazing! I spoke pretty decent German as a child (it comes with the territory when you live there for three years) but I lost all of it when we came back to the States. Duolingo teaches you to speak, read, and write a language, and the best part is that it is absolutely FREE. Give it a try, and if you choose to learn German, let me know. We'll start a German club in the app!

What have you been obsessed with recently?

Emily has also been obsessed with the farting penguin Christmas card that is hanging on her living room wall. She's also really excited that her sister is going to fly in for Denver Comic Con this year. If you can't tell, Emily is a little scatterbrained this evening. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Backing off on Cons

I'd love to say that this year we're going to step it up and double our con schedule from last year. To be honest, though, we pushed so hard last year that I think we're going to stick to just a few. We don't have anything confirmed, yet, but Denver Comic Con is our number 1 choice (when we get more details about our potential involvement, we'll let you know), and then maybe a writing conference and/or Mile Hi con.

It's unfortunate, for sure, because going to cons is a lot of fun, and we recommend it highly. With so many life changes, though, getting time off is going to be a real challenge, and rather than stress ourselves out, we decided that this year (unless some major changes happen), we'll go where we can and say hi, then we'll focus on getting into the studio for the rest of our episodes this year.

In 2018, this might all change. So with that in mind, who has cons they'd love to see us at? Or just cons we should try to get to, even if we're not there to work?

Giles would love to get to one con every month this year, but that's expensive and exhausting. The idea that he may have several months with very little to do makes him much more restful, especially now that he's settling into his new job.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Review in Progress: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Last week my office buddy excitedly told me about the absinthe fountain his girlfriend had gotten him. I stared at him a little blankly, and after he realized I didn’t know what an absinthe fountain was*, he exclaimed, “You need to read more Hemingway.”

So, here I am a week later and a few audiodisks into For Whom the Bell Tolls. It’s like standing in front of a master sculptor’s chef-d’oeuvre and not being sure where to look because every element is overwhelming.  I read some Hemingway in high school and college – mostly short stories and excerpts. Never a full novel. My last impression of the author was actually from Corey Stoll’s portrayal of him in Midnight in Paris.

There’s this one scene, when Stoll’s version of Hemingway is sitting in a cafe, drinking (of course), and he says, “I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing.” It’s not a true Hemingway quote (unless someone can prove me wrong?), but it captures the essence of his tone so well.

Hemingway’s every sentence is like hitting a nail on the head. Wham. He writes with a mesmerizing straightforwardness that makes every scene feel perfectly complete and fully imagined. There is nothing outside of what he tells you—even if there was, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the hard-hitting solemnity of his narrator’s thoughts and feelings.

I’m excited to finish the book and analyze how my opinion of it changes from beginning to end. It’s a far more serious type of book than I’ve been reading for the past several years, and it’s refreshing to read something that is more of an intellectual challenge.  

Oh, and yes, there has already been a scene with absinthe. No fountain or slotted spoon, though. :)

Michelle would eat pizza every single day if her silly conscience would shut up about eating "healthy" food.  

*OK , but in my defense, I thought it was just made with a sugar cube on that slotted spoon thing. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW ABOUT ABSINTHE FOUNTAINS? At least I knew you had to mix it with water. Psh.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Co-Authoring Epiphany

I don't know about you, but until recently, I had this bizarre idea of co-authored books being things only done by two kinds of people:

a) an incompetent writer who needed help
b) a pair of already-famous authors teaming up to combine their audiences

Obviously, this idea is more than a little silly. I'm not sure at all where I got it, but it's definitely not true!

When we were talking with N.J. Tanger for this week's episode, I seriously re-thought co-authoring. It's not about one author needing help or leveraging big names. It's about collaborating with other people to make something neither of you could make on your own. It's about sharing ideas and exploring the creative process with other people. It's about balancing out your strengths and weaknesses with other peoples' to create something awesome.

It's one thing to collaborate with other people on something like a podcast or a webcomic (and I do both), but it was always odd for me to consider collaborating with someone on a prose story. But I'm working on that now. We've been plugging away at this project together for several weeks now (during my hiatus), and I'm really loving the way it's making me look at writing differently. It's a totally different energy, and I think I've finally made a way to make writing fun for me again.

What about you? Have you ever collaborated with someone on co-authoring a story? What was your experience like?

Emer is hoping the warmth of project excitement will help her keep warm as the next cold front blows through, but she's not holding her breath. In the meantime, she suggests a cup of hot cocoa and maybe reading the webcomic she collaborates on. Because it's fun.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater because Michelle was gushing about it one night on the way...somewhere. Critique group, maybe? Who knows. Doesn't matter, I read it, and I enjoyed it!

The Raven Boys follows multiple characters throughout the narrative, but at the center of the story is Blue, the daughter of a famous local psychic. Once a year, Blue follows her mother to the local ley line where her mother can see who is going to die within the next twelve months. This year, Blue sees the ghost of a boy about her age who, according to his school uniform, attends the local private school. Usually Blue stays away from the boys who attend Aglionby, but she finds herself mysteriously drawn to Gansey, the soon-to-be dead boy. When they finally meet in real life, Blue joins Gansey and his friends on a missions to find something Gansey has been looking for for a very long time.

Overall, I liked the major aspects of the story. I liked Blue as a main character and thought Gansey and his friends had well-developed personalities. I especially related to Gansey's friend Adam because he felt the most realistic. I could easily picture the setting and events as Steifvater described them through the eyes of her characters. The Raven Boys was part mystery and part fantasy without being too stereotypical. I really enjoyed the fact that the author did not answer all the questions I had by the end of the book. She put a bow on this particular story but left one of the loops undone. For a perfectionist like me, the ending made me want to go get the second book in the series to find out what happens next. The Raven Boys was a great introduction to The Raven Cycle series.

While I liked the major aspects of the story, I had a difficult time getting pulled into it. The point of view of the story changes at the end of each chapter and it wasn't always clear to me who was speaking. The voice stayed the same to me throughout the novel with the only difference being that the reader could see into the mind of a different character for a time. That being said, Michelle listened to the audiobook of The Raven Boys and was pulled into the story completely. Apparently, the narrator of the audiobook did such an amazing job of changing voices in his narration that she didn't have the same problems that I did. I'm thinking about going back and listening to The Raven Boys to see if I would enjoy it more on audio.

I think that adults would enjoy The Raven Boys as a quick read, and, since Michelle is a reliable source, I would recommend checking it out in audio instead of print. I would be curious to hear if any of you have read it/listened to it and if you agree with Michelle or not. (Don't worry, I won't tattle if you don't.)

Emily's new job is giving her more opportunities to listen to podcasts during her commute every day. If you have any recommendations for awesome podcasts to keep her entertained, please pass them along! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

At Long Last

My new job is awesome. And I mean awesome in that, I'm rarely exhausted at the end of the week despite the fact that I've never worked harder in my life. Don't get me wrong, I do miss my old job, and I'm still kinda surprised with myself for taking this risk. But I don't regret it.

All that to say: I'm finally at a point where I can build a new "routine" for myself. You see, I jumped into this new life position at a crazy-busy time of the year for my new employer. As a result, I've worked hours and hours and hours of overtime pretty much every week since I started. While I haven't been pass-out tired at the end of the day (like a 50 hour work week at my previous job would've been), I haven't had the capacity to think beyond a few simple motions between the front door and the bed at the end of the evening.

More importantly, because of my loooooong hours, I've wanted to try to focus on my relationship with my wife as much as possible, too.

Again, I'm finally in a place, though, where I can make time to write and actually be productive. At long last.

It feels good, too. Which is why I'm looking forward to what this year has in store for me.

It's still weird for Giles to be at this new job, and it hasn't really sunk in yet that this is where he is full time. It's not bad at all, but it's taking time to set in as reality rather than the weirdest vacation of his life.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Looking Forward

As the rollercoaster that was Fall/Winter 2016 transitions into a new year, I can’t help but face 2017 with skeptical hope. After all, I’m still dealing with stresses and problems leftover from 2016. While I’m slightly worried that the waves of awfulness won’t stop, I’m trying to be optimistic.

In order to stay positive, I find myself planning a full schedule for the next several months. I know for certain that some things will indeed be better—my bills-paying career, for one, is about to do a complete about-face,  and my writing career is diving head-first into the agonizing limbo of querying. The first change for the better will come at the end of February, when everyone in my office gets laid off.

Things will be better with a new career and querying limbo? What in the world? I laugh at myself and my doublethink, too. Changing careers is going to involve two full years of grad school (one year of which is an unpaid teaching residency in Denver, while the following year will be “regular” teaching). Going back to school is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I earned my bachelor’s degrees. I thought my masters would be in creative writing or linguistics, not education, but hey, life is quirky and surprising, right?

Even though becoming a teacher is going to mean an insane amount of hard work, I’m so excited about this adventure that I don’t care about the obstacles. And when I think about querying and writing, I feel the same. Great things don’t follow on the heels of karma (at least, not in my life), they come from putting my nose to the grindstone.

For those of you who, like me, can only see a year of hard work and obstacles ahead of you, take heart. We aren’t alone, and we have amazing things to look forward to. And if all else fails, remember what the Old Astronomer says:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
--Sarah Williams, from “The Old Astronomer”

No fear, friends. Read on. 

Michelle is currently studying for the PRAXIS and is way too excited to learn about logical fallacies and their Latin names.  

Friday, January 6, 2017

She's Baaaaack

Yes, it's true! I'm back from hiatus (just like our show haha).

I don't have much to say today, due to this week being kind of horrendous for me, but:

  • Happy New Year. I hope you accomplish your goals this year. 
  • Remember to take care of yourselves, like I'm trying to do with shifting my project focus. 
  • If you're in Colorado with us, stay warm and drive safe. 

Here's to 2017. Let's hope it's less of a dumpster fire.

Emily has been fighting off a migraine all day, so she apologizes for the brevity of her come-back post.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It's Coming...

The snow is coming.
I mean, here in Denver it is supposed to be snow-mageddon this evening and through the night. This sad weather change really makes me want to stay home, wear the fuzziest pajamas I own, drink copious amounts of hot tea, and read my favorite books.

We all have favorite books. The ones we pull off our shelves time and time again because we just can’t get enough of them. You can tell which ones are my favorites because the poor dears have cracked spines, their pages are on the brink of falling out, and there are most likely food stains scattered throughout their pages. Poor, poor babies.

My favorite books are, fantastically enough, spread across all genres. If I'm in the mood for a narrative fantasy, it's the Harry Potter series. Hermione is one of my heroes and I think Professor Umbridge is one of the best, most vile characters ever written. To quote Harry from one of the movies, "Hogwarts is my home!" Me too, Harry. Me too. 

If I want a real life story, I reach for Julia Child's book, My Life in France. I find Julia Child to be a fascinating human being and a terrific role model for people who have no idea what they want to do with their lives. Did you know that before she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu she had no idea what a shallot was? I like to think that Julia Child gave me a little bit more courage when it came to my recent career change. 

If I need a best friend at 2:30 in the morning, Miss Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice comes to my rescue. Pride and Prejudice is one of the very few ebooks I have on my phone. My motto: Be kind like Jane, fearless like Lizzy, studious like Mary, adventerous like Kitty, and NEVER wind up like Lydia.

Spend some time with your friends this winter. You won't regret it! 

Emily is really not looking forward to her drive to work tomorrow. However, she is looking forward to the cup of cocoa with gingerbread liqueur she's planning to have later. Stay warm friends! Spring is on the way!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Giles' Plans for 2017

Yes, last week I took the week off. In my defense, it was inventory day at work. We counted every item in the warehouse, adjusted the computer to reflect reality (after tracking down any missing items we could), then I came home and took my wife out to dinner. Because it was our anniversary. So, yeah, I missed a blog post because I was working my day job and prioritizing my wife.

On to new things, though! 2017 is a big year for me. Not because of any definite change that's coming, but mostly because of changes we've already made. My day job is still very new to me, but I'm learning a lot and gaining new skills I didn't even know I didn't know.

Writing is still a little in flux for me, but I'm making time here and there while I try to figure out how to adjust my schedule. That being said, I'm going to complete a draft of a novel I'm really enjoying, and I'm going to revise it and (hopefully) start querying it soon.

And I'm going to finish a short story I started last year and have ONE more pass to make on it before sending it out to publishers.

Generally, I don't do "New Year's resolutions" because if I need to change something about myself, there's no reason NOT to start immediately. And the same is true this year, as much as it's ever been. But this year I'm going to shift priorities a little, as much out of necessity as out of a desire for change. Last year, I pushed to read more and more books. Which is good, and I want to consume as much fiction as I can this year. But I want to focus on quality over quantity this year and actually ABSORB what I read.*

As always, brewing is something I want to pursue, but I'm not going to declare huge plans. I'm going to dig out my equipment, put together the ingredients, and ENJOY this hobby I love. It won't be the epic, amazing extravaganza I've always hoped for, but it'll be relaxing.

And over all, I'm going to try to have more fun while PURSUING a stronger career (both day job and writing).

What about you? Any thoughts on the year to come?

Giles is going to try not to stress about all the little things.

Don't laugh, it could TOTALLY happen!

*To be fair, I can't listen to audio books at work. It would DESTROY my productivity. So I'm going to read, but I just won't be able to do AS MUCH.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

It's 2017.

We can do this.

We will succeed.

It's time to face the things that scare us, do all the things we've been putting off, and hit the ground running. Whether you make resolutions in January or during every month of the year, this is your time. Let's band together and become better than ever. New year, new slate.

May the odds be ever in our favor.

Michelle is excited for some crazy life changes she has lined up for 2017. It's going to be a great year!