Flipping Tropes: A New Anthology Turns Cliches ‘Upside Down’

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Image: Apex Publications, used with permission
Image: Apex Publications, used with permission

This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction! I welcome editors Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates to talk about what made them geek out while editing their new anthology, Upside Done: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling!

First, here is Monica’s take on coming up with the concept of the anthology and how they gathered together such an awesome group of authors:

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is, conceptually, a collection of stories tightly focused around tropes and cliches. To form the foundation for this anthology, we invited a group of authors and asked them to pick a worn trope, and then write a story inspired by it. In fact, that was our only criteria to be a part of Upside Down, with the goal being a broad range of tales that highlight this aspect of storytelling.

Tropes and cliches may sound boring, in part because they are, but I’ve been fascinated by how artists address them–especially as more games, stories, television shoes, movies, and comics are released constantly. Since their omnipresence in our popular media so hard to ignore, many writers think of them as tools to wield, and I was curious to see how this would manifest in our collection.

Working with over a dozen different creative minds has been tremendously exciting and full of geektastic moments. When I first started editing the project, I had no idea the scope and breadth of the tropes our writers would choose, nor did I realize they’d be examining them in multiple and creative ways. For example, some authors integrated their trope into their characters and naming conventions, while a few writers devised a way to flip their cliche by coming up with a satisfying twist. Others, however, shifted perspectives to critically examine powerful race-and-gender based cliches through the eyes of their heroes and villains. Combined, our collection is shaped by stories that we hope will be enjoyable from a reader’s perspective and fascinating for writers and other artists as well.

Hopefully, I’ve sparked your geeky interest in tropes and cliches. If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to check out the updates on our Kickstarter page where we share pointed insights into the making of this unique collection.

Jaym Gates tells us more about how they proceeded with the open submissions and discovered new talent for the anthology:

Open submissions are my favorite. There’s so much potential in them, so many authors waiting to be discovered. Some of my favorite authors have come out of my slush pile, people who’ve gone on to amazing careers and awards, people who’ve become lifelong friends.

It’s not even the people, though. It’s the stories. I’m a word geek. The best thing in the world is finding That Story, the one that won’t leave me alone. The best stories, in fact, are the ones that aren’t perfect. I love finding that rough gem, the one that is almost there. The process of cutting off the unnecessary parts, fleshing out the weak ones, and developing an author’s best voice…that’s what keeps me opening submissions.

I get a lot of queries asking what, exactly, I’m looking for in a story. What A, B, and C ingredients will make this happen, what plot structure is a surefire yes.

The answer is, “Nothing.” I’m not looking for A Thing. I’m looking for that story that the author bled over, the one they don’t think is worth being seen by anyone. The story that needs work but that gets under my skin and creeps me out slowly, over days or weeks or months. The one I’m reading that makes me have to fight not to cry in public. The one that I email my coeditor and say “I know you said this one was too rough, but just give me a week, and you’ll be desperate to buy it.”

Those are the stories that make me geek out. Those are the stories I’ll buy.

It all comes down to honesty, and investment. Don’t write the story you think I want. Write the story you can’t get away from, the one you’re afraid of. Write what’s clawing its way out of you.

Many thanks to Jaym and Monica for sharing their word geekery with us! Their anthology, Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, is currently on Kickstarter. Featuring authors like Delilah S. Dawson, Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Anton Strout, Michael Underwood, Shanna Germain, and many more, there is bound to be a trope smashing tale in there for everyone!