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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


I started a new book. I know, I had this BIG long post about how awesome my current book is. How I was liking it and excited about the end of this draft. Then I got a new idea. An idea that, to be honest, is better than the book I was talking about last week.

What does this mean? I think it means I'm writing a new book. What happens to the old book? No idea.

I guess this is what happens when I read William Gibson and SERIOUSLY get into it.

Yep, that's it. Giles accidentally shared exciting news that isn't news. And now there's news again. Hopefully this one sticks. Though, if not, the previous news probably will.