Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Last week I mentioned that I was trying to get through Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses. I'll admit that it was a tad difficult for me to get into, but once I hit the halfway point, I found myself not being able to read fast enough.

Let's start with the great things. First, I'm a sucker for anything related to Beauty and the Beast. In Maas' story, the Beauty is a huntress and the Beast is a shape-shifting faerie, but the familiar plot is still there. The setting is at once dark and vividly colored–everything from the landscape to the beings in it seem to have more color and life on the faerie side of the world.

Other elements I enjoyed include the story's tone and the side characters. It's possible I loved Lucien (the best friend to the Beast character) more than the protagonist and her ill-fated lover. Maas made every secondary character seem real and full, which is not always the case in many young adult books.

I personally had very few problems with this novel. In the end, it was alluring and I couldn't put it down. In the beginning, however, I considered not finishing. Feyre, the narrator, had so little to recommend herself to me that I didn't care if she died or not. When I finally met Lucien and had a character to look forward to, I read much faster. And then something changed when I was about 40-50% done with the book: Feyre finally had a degree of likeability.

I won't spoil the ending, as it's a great twist on the typical fairy tale–just don't expect happy little rainbows and unicorns to come out of it. Final recommendation: A great read for lovers of Beauty and the Beast, faerie stories, and sassy female protagonists who don't let anything get them down.

Michelle's next book is going to be Winter, the final installment in the Cinder series. She's so excited to drive to work so she can listen to the audiobook!

Friday, July 28, 2017

When Fan Theories Come True

My roommate and I have been watching the new Little Witch Academia on Netflix over the last week. It's freaking adorable, btw. But I'm not going to gush about it for a whole blog post, I promise. Instead, I'm going to gush about the fact that weird fans like us are now becoming creators, and providing content we adore to other weirdos like us.

Long story short, we were two or three episodes in and my roommate came up with this theory about a character named Shiny Chariot. Neither of us honestly thought her theory was going to be more than this little fan theory to amuse us (and maybe, you know, write fanfic about later). It seemed totally off-the-wall and, while it was entertaining, we've consumed enough media to realize the odds of this actually happening were pretty slim.

But halfway through the season--it came true!

She also called a character development in the second season of Voltron: Legendary Defender on minimal hints.

While this could be dismissed as my roommate just being super good at reading tiny hints in shows and extrapolating, I think it's also a huge possibility that it's a cool little side effect of people in our generation becoming creators and putting their work into the world. There are little things, plot twists and tropes, that people who grew up in fandom tend to enjoy--and those little things are now making their way into popular media instead of remaining relegated to fanfic and fan art.

Those of us who grew up participating in fandom in some way or another are now the ones putting out webcomics, new TV shows, books, and other media--and we're not at all ashamed to use those tropes and ideas and goofiness we put into our fics and headcanons in our 'legit' work. In my opinion, it's super cool to watch as things continue to evolve and change and encompass more diverse ideas.

Emer is still plugging away at her massive fanfic, which is taking up most of her downtime and creative energy. But she's still making time to watch anime, because she's a massive nerd.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What A Good Movie Needs

Short answer: entertainment value.

You see, I've watched a lot of bad movies. Many of those movies were panned by critics, and I loved them. Many of them were panned by my friends. And I still loved them. And many of them were loved by critics and/or my friends, and I thought they were the most boring waste of my time in the history of film. Obviously, it's all subjective. But what I always want in a movie is to be entertained. And it really only has to have a 60% Entertainment Index for me to say, "Yeah, I liked that."

Now, I can hear you, sitting at your computer, reading this, saying, "Giles, we need an example. What does a 60% Entertainment Index LOOK like?"

Well, I'll tell you, lucky reader! For me, it's not enough to be entertaining some of the time. And, for that matter, if all 60% of that entertainment shows up in one solid chunk with the other 40% of the film just sucking, then there's a good chance I'm not going to like it. We're not looking at a bell curve or a rising graph. We want something more like a sine wave, but unbalanced, with the peaks higher than the drops. If it's as low as 60%.

But that's not really an EXAMPLE, is it? No, what I'm talking about is best described by Pacific Rim. I loved that movie. It's robots vs. monsters, for crying out loud! But taken from an "objective" analysis of it's individual parts, it should have been a colossal failure (and box-office-wise, it was). The writing was sub-par with several plot holes, mediocre dialogue, shallow character development, and contrived story events that didn't flow naturally. The acting left something to be desired, too. But it was beautiful! And what it lacked in writing and acting, it made up for in excitement, energy, and engagement. For me, it was entertaining and exciting. Even my complaints couldn't overcome how much I loved it.

One the other hand, we have movies like Revenge of the Sith. Which I only saw once because the writing, acting, and visual effects felt shoehorned and unnecessary for the story itself. Yes, there was an awesome lightsaber fight. One of the best in movie history! But aside from Ewan McGregor, the performances didn't engage me. They stood out as stiff, awkward, and forced.

So, what does a good movie need? Engagement. Entertainment. And a story that's good enough to make up for all of its other failings.

Yes, yes. Giles is aware that this post doesn't really answer all of the burning questions his reader might have about how to find the best movie of all time. But, like he said, it's all subjective.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Science for Your Stories!

I'm always on the lookout to find scientific discoveries (or dreams) to include in my stories. The manuscript I'm querying features quantum mechanics, and the one I'm editing has elements of nuclear fusion. I'm still a few months away from starting a new first draft, but I couldn't help but look up a few new-ish discoveries. If you're a science nerd like me, maybe you can use some of these in your writing!

Pull water out of thin air
Your desert city doesn't have to live without water–now you can simply pull it out of the air. A porous, metal-organic layer captures water from the air, the water is heated and released via fancy solar elements, and then a condenser turns the vapor into liquid water.

Microchipped employees
Why carry around a key fob or your credit card when you can just get a microchip injected into your hand? Some people believe that these implants will soon replace passports, passcards, and most forms of payment. At least it'll be harder to lose your wallet?

Replace steel with graphene
Instead of using the same ol' metals for your world, why not fuse some lightweight layers of graphene? Graphene is essentially a latticework of carbon atoms, and as such is incredibly strong, but scientists so far have had a hard time translating that 2D strength to a 3D world. MIT has started fusing graphene flakes and reports that the resulting pieces have 5% of steel's density but are ten times as strong.

Time crystals are the new matter
Oh, yes, you read that right. Scientists have created a new phase of matter–a "time" crystal whose 3D atomic patterns repeat not in space, but in time. They hope this discovery can be used in quantum computers.

Michelle geeks out about science on a daily basis. Especially quantum mechanics.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Linguistic Evolution

Last week, a friend and I had an interesting conversation about what the internet is doing to the evolution of the English language. I used to be one of those "English Purists," who corrected people's grammar, insisted there was only way "correct" way to use English, and shuddered at the thought of chat speak. But during this conversation, I was the one defending internet slang.

Here are some things I think are really cool about the way the internet is changing language:
  1. Easier access to words from other languages that describe things we have no good words for in English. Some of my favorite posts on Tumblr are lists of these types of things, and I love being able to better research other languages in general (but, seriously, stay away from Google Translate, okay?). 
  2. More breadth of tonal punctuation. There was a post going around a few weeks ago that explained this better than I can here, but basically the casual evolution of the way people talk on the internet has provided some really incredible ways to punctuate things in order to provide better tone context, like sarcasm or confusion, or getTING SUPER EXCITED. Sure, it looks weird at first to see typing in crescendo like that or a bunch of question marks in the middle of a sentence to denote an up-tone, but the fact that people have basically agreed that these particular changes to punctuation and capitalization mean these particular things is just really cool to me. 
  3. A whole new level of connotations to use. My roommate and I basically communicate almost purely in memes and pop culture references--it's a pretty common thing to see on the internet, too--but this actually provides us with a very deep level of communication, due to the specific connotations, emotions, and memories tied to a particular reference or meme. So instead of just saying "hey, I appreciate you," we say something along the lines of "hey, thanks for being my Prompto," which comes with the same basic gratitude, but with the added connotations of "you make me laugh; I couldn't do this without you; and I love and appreciate you, please don't let me accidentally throw you off a train in the middle of a frozen wasteland." 

Emer might spend entirely too much time on the internet, but since she can now justify it as linguistic research, she doesn't really care. If you need her, she'll be working on her fanfic and re-watching Yuri on Ice again. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Things I Missed

Okay, I've talked a few times about going back to revisit books and/or TV shows that I really enjoyed but never thought about going back to. For books especially, I always thought, "I already read this. I know what's going to happen, and I don't need to do it again." But despite the fact that I've listened to a bunch of my favorite books on audio AND read some of them twice, I never realized how much I forgot or even missed.

I'm rereading The Dresden Files right now. Started out with the first book, and now I'm just going to hit the entire series. Because why not?

And, wow, I missed a lot in Storm Front. There are full chapters and sub-plots that I don't remember from the last two times I went through them. Characters I don't remember seeing. Other characters and locations, scenes and events that only spark a memory because they show up in later books, too.

Now that I'm a couple of chapters into Fool Moon, I'm really excited to reread stuff I don't remember. It's probably been at least six years since the last time I read this one, which means a lot of this is going to be new to me again.

The same thing is happening as I rewatch Burn Notice, and I find it incredibly interesting and exciting. I can't wait to go back to some of my old novels, too, and see what I missed there that could take them out of the trunk!

Writing, rereading, and rewatching are a new passion for Giles, especially as he hammers his way through his WiP.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Books to be Tasted

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested….”  –Francis Bacon

Why do you read? Why do any of us read? Is it to jump into another world, to grow your mind, or for another reason entirely? I haven't been reading as much as I normally do. Without a lot of time in my car this summer, I didn't gorge on audiobooks. And since I was out of town a lot or trying to actually be a productive writer, I didn't get many "real" books from the library. I don't like it. I feel lost without a book to chew on.

I spotted the quote above as I was reading through Colorado's state English Language Arts standards. It speaks to me because I have always enjoyed books of all types: those that are tasted, swallowed, or chewed and digested. The last really chewy book I read was For Whom the Bell Tolls. I want to find another classic like that to dive into.

I am "tasting" a book right now: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas. I haven't quite decided if it's truly to my taste, but it came on a recommendation from a bookish friend I trust. When it comes to book I gulp up, the answer is Beauty by Robin McKinley, hands down. I'm not reading each of these books to give my mind a good workout–I like to read a variety of genres to keep things interesting.

What do you think of Francis Bacon's quote? Do you think we should read with such lofty goals in mind?

Michelle is in Week Two of her teacher's seminar, and even though it's only Monday, her brain is already exploding with information.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emer Might be Crazy

If you listen to our show (what are you doing here if you don't?), you've probably realized by now that I'm kind of the biggest fangirl-type nerd of the three of us. I'm the one who gets super obsessed with things, reads all the wikis, cosplays, and now writes fanfic.

But for all that, I've actually been involved with fandom only on the peripherals. I've never participated in big fandom things like group cosplay, or maintaining a fan blog, or writing a fan zine. The most involved I've been is reblogging memes and theories on Tumblr--until now.

Next week, I'm signing up for what's called a fandom Big Bang--which connects fanfic writers with fan artists, editors, and cheerleaders to produce illustrated stories of at least 20k words around a specific fandom or relationship (ship). Each piece is released within a certain time frame, so there's this explosion of new fan content centered on this fandom/ship, hence the term 'Big Bang.' I had honestly never heard of something like this before (because, you know, I've never delved all that deep into fandom with other people), but I'm thrilled by the idea. I mean, who doesn't want artwork based on their stories, right?

I haven't written anything longer than 10k-ish words in a while (all three of my published short stories capped out at around 10k), so I'm a little intimidated by the word count requirement. But I started my story early and I'm already 10,500 words in with a lot of story left, so I'm pretty sure I can do it.

Add the lack of pressure to be 'traditional publishing worthy,' the knowledge that I'm going to partner with an editor who also loves this fandom/ship, and three more months to write this story, and I'm almost bouncing up and down excited. I'm annoyed that my brain turned what was supposed to be a fun, fluffy story into something that's going to be incredibly angsty and potentially very dark, but I'm writing again! And falling in love with fan fiction again.

Has anyone else ever done something like this before? How do you get involved with your chosen fandom?

Emer finds it very refreshing to be creating again, even if it's not completely original work. She's also excited to see what other people create for this event and might never climb out of this fandom hole she's dug herself. It's comfy down here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Saving the Day vs. Saving the Hero

I'm working on a book right now that's very different from all of my other books. The hero in everything I've ever written saves the day. If not for the entire planet, at least for one or two innocent victims of a terrible crime.

This hero, on the other hand, is battling an enemy who's after her specifically. No other victims, no planet-shattering threats, just this protagonist. More than that, this hero is fighting her own inner demons. It's a unique approach for me, and it's really pushing my abilities. But in a good way.

For me, I read a lot of "let's save the world" novels. It's what I love about the stories I read. From Harry Potter to The Dresden Files. Parasol Protectorate and The Sprawl Trilogy. There's something I realized about all of these books, though. The characters all change as people throughout the entire book. My characters do, too, but as I'm writing THIS book (and as I'm writing this blog post, actually), I'm realizing that what I love about those stories, above and beyond the "saving the world" action, I love to see the characters grow. To overcome their self-imposed hurdles more than the ones put in place for them by the "world-destroying monsters."

Rather than spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make sure these changes are powerful for my sub-plot, I decided to make it my main plot. So far, it's working out well. Instead of saving the world, or even saving a friend, my hero is (hopefully) going to save herself.

Funny side-note: I'm also pantsing this novel rather than outlining. So I'm not sure how this book's going to end, yet.

Giles wanted to write a blog about Denver Comic Con purchases. But due to circumstances beyond his control, he couldn't make it happen. It's complicated.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Power of Language

While reading through a book for my teacher's seminar (which starts today!), I read a sentence that blew my mind: "...I focus on those things teachers say (and don't say) whose combined effect changes the literate lives of their students" (from Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston). That sentence led me a million different directions, but I zeroed in on just one: Everything you say to a person changes their life. 

Loaded words, right?

As an incredibly sarcastic child*, I didn't need to be told that a well-phrased jab was more effective than any physical injury. Everyone has experienced hurtful words–whether they came from someone intending harm or a person who thought what they said wouldn't matter.

The thing is, the words that come out of our mouths don't simply fall out. Writers talk a lot about agency; in the book world it's about characters who do rather than react. In the teaching world, agency is about showing students that their actions have immediate and delayed effects on the world around them.

Looking at the world around me, it often feels as though the general public has no sense of their own agency. They allow anything and everything to pour out of them, as easy as dumping out a glass of water. We call names and talk smack without realizing that every time we label a person a certain way, we might be turning them into the monster we assumed they were.

As I jump into being a teacher, I hope I can choose my words well and use them for good. 

Michelle is back to a (relatively) normal work schedule, huzzah! Hopefully the new routine doesn't kill her... D:

*child...and adult. Let's not make the mistake of thinking I grew up and lost my dry sense of humor. Heaven forbid!

Friday, July 7, 2017

More Thoughts on DCC 2017

Man, I can't believe this was our fourth Denver Comic Con. So much great stuff!

This year, my personal goals were to find some other cosplayers from the things I was cosplaying from (Final Fantasy XV and Yuri on Ice were my last-minute decisions), bring home merchandise from a few specific fandoms, and not totally freeze while interviewing Diana Gabaldon on the main stage. I'm thrilled to announce I accomplished all of those goals!

Friday, I stumbled upon two other cosplayers from Final Fantasy XV and, as we were taking photos together, two more found us and we wound up with a fabulous group who might even get together for non-con cosplay photos at some point. It was fantastic to nerd out with these other people who were also super into this game and discuss how they put their costumes together, their favorite parts of the game, and what they were looking forward to at the convention. On Sunday, when I was Yuuri, I happened upon a Victor in a flower crown who let me get a picture, too. I seriously love cosplay nerds, guys.

As far as merchandise goes, I wound up with way too many keychains, some beautiful art prints, and a set of stickers that still need to go on my water bottle. There was so much to see this year, so many incredible artists, and I still feel like I somehow missed out on a lot despite being on the con floor most of the weekend between interviews and panels.

On Saturday, for the Q&A with Diana Gabaldon and Andrew Gower, I was dang glad I had theatre training! I was doing okay the morning before, but the minute we got to the backstage green room and Diana and Andrew came in, I got super nervous. I'd never done a mainstage event on my own before, and I'd been table watching when Michelle did it last year, so I had no idea what to expect. The DCC crew was fantastic for making sure we were where we needed to be, had microphones and water, and were running on time. The mainstage crew are some seriously fantastic people! Once I hit the stage and the lights were on, my theatre brain kicked in and I went from "omg, what am I doing?!" to acting-mode, and I like to think the panel went brilliantly. We have audio that'll go up on our feed soon, and I believe DCC will be posting video as well. We'll definitely cross-link when they do!

So, yeah, overall, it was a fabulous weekend, even though I'm still recovering. Not having a table meant a lot more walking!

Emer is a rebel this week and posting a photo of her Final Fantasy XV cosplay instead of her normal headshot because she can. She's also going immediately back to sleep to try and fully recover from the amazingness of DCC.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Thoughts on Denver Comic Con, Year 4

First off, I'd like to give a huge shout-out to Pop Culture Classroom for bringing us to Denver Comic Con this year. If you're not familiar with their mission, go check out their website and read up on what they do for the community.

This year was different for us because we didn't have a table. It meant that putting together interviews was a bigger challenge, forcing us, not only to rely on the schedule of our interviewees, but also the media room schedule. As a result, we got a lot more interviews at guests' tables in the middle of the show floor than we have in years past. In my opinion, this is actually a good thing. Sure, my legs STILL hurt from all the walking and standing I did over the weekend (over seventeen miles!), but we got out onto the floor, into panels we may not have attended, and into Main Events we might've otherwise had to skip.

The biggest highlight for me was going to see James Marsters. I may not be an uber fan who has to track down every project he's worked on, but I really loved his work on Buffy, and his narration of The Dresden Files audio books. And when he got up on stage to start talking, it was obvious that he's a down-to-earth guy who loves what he does and loves his fans. I even heard that if people couldn't afford an autograph, he was letting people walk the "signing" line to just come up and say hi. I don't know if this was all weekend, but my wife told me that on Friday he would just chat with fans for a casual meet-and-greet at his table. Which he REALLY didn't have to do.

His stories were amazing, too. He knows how to share anecdotes, to draw in the crowd and get them engaged. He can make the audience laugh, sigh, and cheer. And, again, he comes across as an average guy who just happens to act and sing.

The Diana Gabaldon/Andrew Gowan event was cool, too, and I have to give some serious props to Emily Singer (my fantastic co-host!) for doing such a great job as moderator. She was a little nervous before the event started, but up on stage, she asked amazing, insightful questions, engaged both of the guests, and kept the audience involved and moving with the Q&A. She's a real pro, and no one can convince me otherwise.

All in all, this was the best year for us, in my opinion, especially because it forced us out of our comfort zone. Made us grow, figure out how to get the most out of the con so we could give back, and we also had more freedom to enjoy the entire weekend. Do I miss having a table? Maybe. It's nice to have a home-base with a place to sit. But as I look back, it really limited us in how we covered the convention.

I also want to give a special shout out and thank you to Jason and Margaret from D Street who helped us when we needed to figure out how to cover the con without a table. They ran the media booth fantastically, and coverage of the con would not be the same without them.

Stay tuned to our podcast feed for more of our con coverage, and if you want a sneak peek at what we're releasing, you can sign up for our Patreon.

Giles is excited for next year's Denver Comic Con, and he's still psyched about how much awesome content Beyond The Trope got from the weekend.

Monday, July 3, 2017

10 Things I Learned at Denver Comic Con

  1. You can never drink enough water.
    I had a waterbottle the first two days, but I forgot it at home on Sunday. I thought I was going to die. Water fountains aren't exactly on every wall, and dehydration isn't fun–especially not when you're surrounded by thousands of people in a room with lackluster air conditioning. Next year, I'm making sure to have water with me at all times!
  2. Nerds come in all shapes, sizes, obsessions, and outfits.
    Claiming nerd-dom comes with certain expectations. Example: few people believe me when I tell them I'm a nerd. But I can't even begin to describe how many different kinds of people I saw at DCC. Frat boys buying Spider-Man prints right next to what most people label as the "nerd" stereotype? Oh yes. It happened. Nerds aren't bespectacled wimps, my dear readers. We are everyone.
  3. No matter how many times you walk the show floor, you will find something new.
    I walked the same aisle four times before I discovered the artist who would sell me one of my con conquests: a tiny dinosaur reaching for a bunch of leaves. When you are surrounded by so much art, it can take a while to process.
  4. There is no such thing as too much Wonder Woman fan art.
    I don't even need to explain this as it's common sense and 100% factual.
  5. Take it easy.
    I thought I was taking it easy, but I was wrong. Did you know that walking from 8 to 6 for three days in a row can be exhausting? Especially if you rarely sit still for more than an hour. by the time Sunday evening hit, I never wanted to move ever again. Next year, I'm going to plan ahead and build in time to chill without worrying about what I'm missing.
  6. Your phone might not work, but that's OK.
    Phone service was actually better this year than it ever has been, but it was still iffy. My phone kept claiming my texts had failed, yet Giles and Emer responded to my questions. Odd. I learned to expect my phone to be a fancy clock, which made the times it worked all the more exhilarating.
  7. Con food is expensive.
    And you know what else? It's not a 10/10, either. Unless you have the back power to carry around a cooler with all your snacks and meals, you're stuck. Leaving is a hassle, and any food you buy inside is going to be at least $9. If you have to stay inside for lunch, I say spring for the crepes or gelato.
  8. People are people, whether they're bestselling authors, your favorite actor, or that random dude dressed as Star-Lord.
    There's nothing I love more than realizing that a talented person I admire is also a genuinely cool person. Nathan Fillion, Catherine Tate, James Marsters...these are just a few of the people I enjoyed seeing a completely different side of. And now I just want to be friends with them.
  9. Nothing helps a moderator more than a great audience question.
    Seriously, people. There's nothing worse than a packed house full of silent people who give you no feedback. If you want a great panel, get involved in the conversation!
  10. You can prepare for everything and freak out, or prepare for nothing and still freak out.
    Going to a con as a media person is a lot of work. Giles and Emer and I prepared for weeks to get everything lined up, and there were still a few things we messed up. Luckily, the freak-outs were few and, so far, easily remedied. 
Here's to a great year at a great con! I hope we get to see you all at Denver Comic Con 2018.

Michelle only did one day dressed in costume this year: Lara Croft! Shorts and a tank top were a great idea for the stuffy convention center.