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!