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How to Twist Tropes for Fun and Profit by Delilah S. Dawson

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I didn’t get psychic powers the day I got my period, which really disappointed me. Stephen King’s Carrie was the first book that made me realize there was a really slim possibility that when one became a woman, one could also become a pyrotechnic mutant capable of exacting revenge. That was one of the first tropes I remember seeing twisted in a story, and I found it very satisfying. Instead of menstruation causing panic and fear, it could trigger empowerment—and someone was actually talking about it instead of acting like it was some shameful secret. That’s why I covered the trope of First Period Panic in the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling from Apex Book Company, although my protagonist’s new powers further twist the trope in a different direction from Carrie.

The goal of Upside Down was to bring together a wide variety of writers working in fiction and nonfiction and let them twist the tropes that we see so frequently—or discuss and define the tropes. For many of us, it was a delight to take an annoying literary conceit that usually makes us roll our eyes– a chainmaille bikini, really? And turn that on its head. After writing their story, each author was asked to explain their trope and why they chose it, which further enhances the reading experience. It’s almost like reading secrets. It’s got great stories on the Damsel in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Chosen One, The Super Soldier, The Black Man Dies First, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Blind People are Magic, and so many more, often written by people who have experienced these tropes first hand.

I love twisting tropes in my books, and here’s how I make sure the story is about more than just a single twist.

  1. Decide on a trope to twist, usually in a fit of anger. Wake of Vultures, for example, is based on watching Lonesome Dove and being annoyed that women in the Wild West could only be portrayed as whores, martyrs, or lunatics, and also that people of color had very little power during that time of history.

  2. Craft a protagonist who embodies the twist and will be uniquely challenged by the world. In Wake of Vultures, that’s Nettie Lonesome, a mixed race girl raised as a slave who longs to be a cowboy.

  3. Create a rich world that offers tons of possibilities while uniquely challenging the protagonist. I wanted Nettie Lonesome to be more than just a regular cowboy, so I turned mid-1800s Texas into Durango, an alt version of our own history that’s full of monsters. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, harpies. Taking it a step further, I looked at the Texas Rangers and their spotted past and turned them into a monster hunting outfit … that sometimes performs atroticities in the name of what they consider public safety. And then I made Nettie become a monster-hunting Ranger. So … instant conflict.

  4. Begin the book just before the moment when everything changes so that we see where the protagonist begins and go with them on their journey. Wake of Vultures starts when Nettie is awakened from her nest of rags and goes outside at midnight to find … well, the beginning of her story.

  5. Find places in the plot where the protagonist will fail, nearly fail, or make stupid mistakes. I was also sick of women in stories being simpering and polite, so I made Nettie rough, rude, and violent, which gets her in plenty of trouble.

  6. At any point where you must make a decision, don’t go with what’s expected. Part of twisting tropes is to delight the reader by doing something new. There was one point where Nettie was feeling sick, and instead of having her be super tough, I decided she would be the victim of a troublesome digestion. She threw up on a coyote … who was actually a person. They had lots of arguments, from then on.

  7. Discover new tropes to twist along the way. In Wake of Vultures, a shapeshifter named Coyote Dan shows up to help Nettie and seems like he might be playing into the “Magical Negro/Native” trope, but he busts up that trope pretty fast.

  8. Remember that every character is the hero of their own story. Each character needs motivation, a reason to be near the protagonist or to push them away. The villain needs to have good reasons for what they’re doing. Ultimate Evil is just another crappy trope. Real people are ambiguous, not all good or all evil. The bad guys Nettie fights are never just in it for the hand-wringing Dr. Evil of it all.

  9. Have fun with it. Part of the joy of twisting tropes is to explore new ground. Everybody else went down the trope path, but you’re forging a new trail. If you get bored writing it, the reader will get bored reading it. So spice is up. When in doubt, throw in some sex or violence, I always say. Nettie agrees on both counts.

For more ideas on how to twist tropes, pick up a copy of Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. Believe me: You’ll find plenty to love. And plenty of blood, at least in my story.

delilahauthorpicDelilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series, the Hit series, Servants of the Storm, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon and Scorched, and Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series, written as Lila Bowen. Her first comic, Ladycastle, is out in January with BOOM! Studios. She teaches writing online at LitReactor.com and lives with her family in the north Georgia mountains. Find her online at www.whimsydark.com.

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Posted by on December 20, 2016 in Guest Post

 

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Guest Post: Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka

Today I’d like to welcome Erica L. Satifka to the blog, chatting about her new release STAY CRAZY, which releases August 16 from Apex Publications.

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After a breakdown at college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’scrazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chick nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well … pretty sure.

An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. Escodex needs Em’s help to save his dimension and to keep hers from collapsing. But Em isn’t certain she wants to help Escodex. She has other things to worry about, like staying off the Savertown USA bowling team, busting her sister’s chops about her new found religion, and getting out of Clear Falls, PA.

When her coworkers start mysteriously dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her though the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone StayCrazy.

Behind the Scenes of STAY CRAZY by Erica L. Satifka

I came up with the story of Stay Crazy while working at a certain small town big-box store that I’d rather not name, but just think of the most obvious American possibility. And while the aliens and interdimensional beings that infest the fictionalized big-box store of Savertown USA are pure speculation, essentially everything else about the store arises from real life. 

Stay Crazy revolves around Em, a young woman with paranoid schizophrenia who goes to work at Savertown USA but gets more than she bargained for when paranormal beings start speaking to her. Because she also experiences voices and delusions unconnected to the store, she’s unsure whether these happenings are even real. The book takes place in Clear Falls, Pennsylvania, a fictional small town whose dying economy revolves around Savertown USA and other service industries. Em hates both the store and the town, but feels herself trapped, unable to return to college due to her illness. When the alien being starts killing off workers, she must join forces with a voice from another dimension to keep this universe from destruction.

My time working at the Store That Shall Not Be Named wasn’t nearly as eventful as that! Like Em, I worked in the frozen food section. The job was monotonous, involving the opening of large pallets of merchandise and the placing of said items on the shelves. Every day started with a corporate jingle, which I’m proud to say I never participated in. Just like at Savertown USA, the store manager read the stock report for the day and congratulated the workers, as if (to paraphrase Em), the work effort of a bunch of small-town rubes would impact the stock price. And as in the book, there’s intense rivalry between the workers in the grocery side of the store and the ones in general merchandise. (The feeling, both in the book and in reality, is that GM workers are a bunch of slackers.)

While Stay Crazy has a lot of important stuff to say about neurodiversity, it’s also intended to be something of a critique of capitalism. Whereas a town like Clear Falls may have supported dozens of small businesses once upon a time, the advent of Savertown USA with its unbeatable low prices directly caused the downtown stores to shutter. Local businesses gave way to one single megacorporation that funneled its profits not to members of the community, but to stockholders that wouldn’t even be able to find Clear Falls on a map. The workers, especially Em’s supervisor Judy Nguyen, realize on some level that the store is evil even if they can’t see the same monsters Em does. But what can they do? There’s nowhere else to work. This is a common situation in real life small towns.

Working at Store X was dreary and dehumanizing, but I’m glad I did it, and not just because Stay Crazy wouldn’t exist without that experience. Before I worked there I was political, but not really political. Over my six months with the store, I saw first-hand what happens when unions crumble and profit reigns over all. While I did escape from the store and the town, my hatred of big-box stores remained. I hope that readers of Stay Crazy who didn’t grow up in small towns can recognize the authenticity of Clear Falls and have empathy toward people caught like cogs in the corporate machine.

About the Author
Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Lightspeed, andIntergalactic Medicine Show. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats. Stay Crazy is her first novel.
Twitter: @ericasatifka
~Suzanne~
 
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Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Guest Post

 

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For Exposure: An Interview with Apex’s Jason Sizemore

What does it take to become a Hugo and Stoker Award-nominated editor and publisher? Follow Jason Sizemore’s unconventional professional path as it winds through a tiny, overheated Baptist church deep within the coal fields of Appalachia, Kentucky, past a busted printer and a self-serving boss that triggered an early mid-life crisis and the epiphany that he should open a magazine spreading the gospel of science fiction to the masses, all the way to WorldCon 2012 and his first Hugo Awards ceremony.
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In this collection of semi-true and sometimes humorous essays, Jason exposes the parties, people, and triumphs that shaped him into the Apex Overlord. He also lays bare the hardships and failures that have threatened to take it all away. Meet Thong Girl, heed the warning about the ham, receive rest stop bathroom wisdom, and visit an emergency room straight out of a horror movie in this extraordinary account of life as a publisher and editor.
With rebuttal essays from Maurice Broaddus, Monica Valentinelli, Lesley Conner, and more, For Exposure tells Jason’s story with insight from key players along his road to success. It is a comprehensive and frank look at what Apex and the genre publishing business is about. Take a shot with the publisher, dance the night away, and become a legend.

And do it all For Exposure.

 

Q. For Exposure seems to be equal parts Apex tell-all, an honest look at the publishing business in general, and a hopeful outlook on the next 10 years of Apex Publications. When you first set out to write the book, did you always intend to mix these themes or did you initially plan to focus more on one than the others?

A. One of my worst traits is that I am an optimistic. When something isn’t working out, my mindset isn’t “Cut my losses and run” but “If I simply work harder things will turn around.” Of course, you can’t just force of will into success, and some of these disastrous and poor decisions derived from my stubbornness I tried to share in For Exposure. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, ya know.

Q. Through Apex Magazine and Apex Book Company, you’ve gotten to work with some of the biggest names in speculative fiction: Lavie Tidhar, Brian Keene, Damien Angelica Walters just to name a few. Is there a particular author you were especially excited to work with?

A. Even after ten years in the publishing business, I still have many fan boy moments. You should have seen me at World Con in 2012 where I think I frightened Jacqueline Carey! My inner fan boy squealed when Tom Piccirilli contacted me with the pitch for What Makes You Die. I believe Tom has written one of the defining southern Gothic novels of our time: November Mourns. Having the opportunity to work with such a gifted writer has been a highlight of my career.

Q. A lot of the stories in For Exposure seem to occur at conventions. How many conventions to do you tend to attend in a year, and how important do you believe they are to the success of a small press publisher?

A. I try to do 5 proper conventions a year. They’re so time consuming, expensive, and exhausting that doing more than five is a real stress on a person’s stamina. Having said that, they’re incredibly fun and are important in terms of networking, promotion, and sales. Convention appearances by ‘Apex’ and associated staff is a lot more cost-effective than taking out an ad in a genre publication such as Locus. Genre small press makes a sizable percentage of revenue from the “true fans”, and many true fans attend conventions. So I believe attending major conventions is of the utmost importance.

Q. There is a particularly disturbing story in For Exposure about ham. Just reading it, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat it again. Do you eat ham or did the experience turn you off of it forever?

A. My mother-in-law makes a really tasty honey baked ham using Coca-cola. I loved that ham. After what happened in Nashville, it took me a couple of years before I could stomach eating her ham again. I’m sure my sudden, inexplicable distaste for her signature dish offended…but when you associate the smell and appearance of ham to the sound of sweaty thighs slapping together…

I’ll not go into further details. You just have to read it in the book.

Q. There are several rebuttal essays written by those who have been a part of Apex over the years. How was it asking people to write rebuttals to your essays? Was there anyone in particular that made you little nervous about the response you might get?

A. No one turned down an opportunity to write a rebuttal. Let’s just say that these people know me well and knew the safest recourse was to offer their sides of the story!

I didn’t feel nervous about any of the rebuttals. But there were a couple that I looked forward to reading the most. In particular, Lesley Conner and Monica Valentinelli. Lesley has worked closely with me for years. To get her perspective was fascinating. Monica’s rebuttal addresses a “controversial” incidental in the Apex mythology: the warm splatter. While I disagree with her take on the situation, I loved that she wrote such a funny, open, and honest(?) response.

Q. Your first book Irredeemable is a short story collection. Your second is nonfiction. Are there any novels in Jason Sizemore’s future?

A. Oh, I get this question a lot! The hope is “Yes, yes, there will be dozens.” The truth is “I don’t know, we will see.” I’m co-writing a novel with Maurice Broaddus titled Serpent. It’s a dark SF crime piece set in the slums of alternate Indianapolis where two factions fight over a new drug created by a preacher with the venom of the snakes he handles at his church.  I just need life to slow down enough for me to finish my part of the book.
 
Buy the book over here:

For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher

About Jason Sizemore:

Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food. Visit him online.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Interviews

 

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Spotlight: Irredeemable by Jason Sizemore of Apex Publications (Seventh Star Press)

Morning! I’m back with another spotlight, this time featuring a collection of short fiction from Apex Publication’s own Jason Sizemore. 🙂

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Flowing like mists and shadows through the Appalachian Mountains come 18 tales from the mind of Jason Sizemore. Weaving together elements of southern gothic, science fiction, fantasy, horror, the supernatural, and much more, this diverse collection of short stories brings you an array of characters who must face accountability, responsibility, and, more ominously, retribution.

Whether it is Jack Taylor readying for a macabre, terrifying night in “The Sleeping Quartet,” the Wayne brothers and mischief gone badly awry in “Pranks,” the title character in “The Dead and Metty Crawford,” or the church congregation and their welcoming of a special visitor in “Yellow Warblers,” Irredeemable introduces you to a range of ordinary people who come face to face with extraordinary situations.

Whether the undead, aliens, ghosts, or killers of the yakuza, dangers of all kinds lurk within the darkness for those who dare tread upon its ground. Hop aboard and settle in, Irredeemable will take you on an unforgettable ride along a dark speculative fiction road.

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About the Author:

Jason Sizemore is a writer and editor who lives in Lexington, KY. He owns Apex Publications, an SF, fantasy, and horror small press, and has been nominated for the Hugo Award three times for his editing work on Apex Magazine. Stay current with his latest news and ramblings via his website http://jason-sizemore.com/ and his Twitter feed handle @apexjason

Irreddemable was published by Seventh Star Press on the 2nd of May – head on over to their website or order your copies here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK.

Until tomorrow,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Spotlight

 

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M.D. Thalmann / Satire and Sci-fi

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist specializing in satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

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