S.C. Barrus Progress Report

The state of S.C. Barrus – Updates on Discovering Aberration, The Gin Thief, Grim Curio & more

I’m juggling a lot of projects right now which is keeping me really busy. But from the perspective of an outsider, it may seem like I’ve been twiddling my thumbs.

Despite the void that is my recent releases, I’ve actually been progressing nicely on a number of projects. In the last year, I wrote a novel, edited another, began work an a novella, rebooted my newsletter, began a YouTube channel, and I even took some time to plan a surprise for you guys 🤫

In light of all this, today I’m taking a moment to share the status of nearly every single project I’m working on. So let’s get started.

Release Order

Before diving into the specifics, let’s take a look at the current order of releases any dates attached—because I don’t do that anymore 🧐.

  1. Super secret short story 😮
  2. Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition
  3. The Gin Thief: Ep 2
  4. The rest of The Gin Thief episodes.
  5. Grim Curio (perhaps released in the middle of Gin Thief episodes)
  6. Half-price Hitman (we’re talking at least two years out)

My goal here is to hit a cadence of at least one major release every year from here on out. The one caveat is The Gin Thief episodes. I consider 2-3 episodes to equal one major release.

When you want to move a freight train, it takes a while to build up steam, but the momentum carries it forward. So I guess my books are a freight train or something.

via GIPHY

Don’t be surprised if a short story or two get thrown into the mix. I’ve been contemplating starting a pattern of releasing a short story between each novel with a collection released every few years. Why not?

Ok, now on to the specifics.

Discovering Aberration: Revised Edtion

A few months ago I revealed I was fixing some issues that Discovering Aberration was facing. Technical errors and irregular pacing made it into the release, so I took it upon myself to clean it up and rerelease it before I strike out on this second stage of my publishing career.

I finished editing the book several weeks ago then passed it along to my editor. A few days later I heard back from her. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “But it lost a lot of the charm in the rewrite.” 😱

On the upside, she hardly found any errors. Sooooooo……. I guess that’s a win.

I overdid it, plain and simple. Now I need to go back through it with a lighter touch, so a second round of edits is in order. sigh.

via GIPHY

Together, we’ve come up with a strategy to address this nightmare. I’ll go into what we’re doing in another post, but we think we can keep the improvements and not lose any of the charm along the way.

It’s going to take some work. I suspect this pushes back the release a couple months. But I think we’ll still hit a 2018 release date. I mean, please let me hit this dateoccasionally one. Please? Fingers crossed.

The Gin Thief: Episodes

The delay of DA: RE is sadly going to affect the release of The Gin Thief: Ep. 2. 

I know….

Delays have this cascading effect that isn’t much fun. I really don’t know if Episode 2 is going to squeeze in 2018 anymore (didn’t I once promise it out by February 2018? See why I gave up on release dates), though I remain pessimistically hopeful.

I’m trying hard to make 2018 happen, but it may turn out to be an early 2019 release. Sorry. For real, sorry. But it’s coming.

After Episode 2 is released, I’m going to soldier on and draft all of the remaining episodes in one go. Then I’ll set them aside much like I did for Grim Curio, focus on finishing Grim Curio, then return to the episodes for a final round of edits.

Grim Curio

Grim Curio is currently in a state of hibernation. The draft is done, beta reads are done, editing round 1 is done. Now I have some rewrites to do before it goes through the editing process again, but I won’t start rewrites until after the release of The Gin Thief Episodes are all drafted.

I think this strategy will lead to a stronger novel while also keeping me on track to push out those episodes. It’s not easy to write this way, but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Get it? Green Day? I’m taking the long view. Like the Green Day song. Wow that’s a stretch.

via GIPHY

Half-price Hitman

And at last, we come to Half-price Hitman. This one is just a small side project which isn’t actively being written. I’m using it as a way to demonstrate my writing process to patrons.

So occasionally I’ll document myself in one stage of the writing process or another using this as an example. It’ll eventually turn into a full-fledged project, but it has no release date in sight. If you become a patron you can see it evolve as I share everything behind the scenes.

As for the super secret short story…

Delay’s aren’t fun, and I need to get something new out there.

I thought I’d have Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition out within a couple of weeks, but since that’s no longer the case, I wracked my brain for a way to deliver something to you without a substantial time commitment on my part. It had to be something I’d already written, something good enough to see the light of day, something I could put out there and be proud of in less than 2 weeks.

Tall order. But I found it!!! Get this, it’s still super secret. I’ll tell you this, it’s a short story that has an indirect relation to both Discovering Aberration and Grim Curio but isn’t directly set in either universe. And it’ll be free to newsletter subscribers and patrons.

That’s all from me today. Hopefully there’s something in this list that you’re excited about. And if so, why not subscribe to my newsletter. There are some cool benefits nobody even knows about yet (plus you get a free copy of Discovering Aberration).

Stoner by John Williams - Book Review by S.C. Barrus

Book Review – Stoner by John Williams

Stoner by John Williams is an absolutely beautiful novel. Perhaps the best novel I’ve read this year. I’ve tried to share it with several people, but I think the appeal is lost in description. It’s a quiet, understated, sad novel, but it will make you feel deeply.

[You can also read this review on Goodreads. Follow me there for frequent updates on the books I read.]

Your heart will split for William Stoner as he quietly goes about his day, taking life’s blows like a reed bends to the wind. He’s not a strong-willed guy, not heroic or wise. He just tries to do what he loves and makes little effort to change the world.

As his life slowly becomes more difficult due to his family relationships, he approaches his work as a literature professor with more vigor and love. This passion brings him a brief time of fame within his university but results in a confrontation with a student that sends his professional life into a downward spiral as well.

He does rally from time to time both in his personal and professional life. The moments of accomplishment and happiness feel all the more powerful for the quiet sadness that envelopes most of the pages.

And the ending… This was the first book in some time that made me shed literal tears. I cried for the final two chapters. They are beautiful and devastating.

You should definitely read this book. As I stated in the opening, Stoner is a difficult book to sell because a lot of its value is the depth of emotion you’ll feel for this simple man. But give it a chance and you’ll absolutely fall in love with perhaps the best book I’ve read about the life of a simple man.

Recommended Reads after Stoner by John Williams

If you read and enjoy Stoner by John Williams, then I recommend reading Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger which was recently featured in a recent blog post on nine books that changed my lifeJohn Williams has also written a western called Butcher’s Crossing which I intend to read in the near future.

Join the S.C. Barrus newsletter to receive a free copy of Discovering Aberration and exclusive monthly updates.

Stoner was an excellent read which I consider among the best of the best. I’m adding it to the Books That Changed My Life list on Kit. Check out the other books that made the list right here.

Nine Novels that Changed My Life

I also filmed a video version of this blog post. Watch it on YouTube.

Most readers can put together a list of life changing books. I have my own. A list of novels that shaped me in some way. Some of they expanded my perspective of the world, others inspired they way I write my own works. So today I’m sharing a list of nine life changing novels.

This is an abbreviated list. If I were to list every novel that affected me, we’d be here for days. So I set up a kit, an ever-growing list of books that changed my life. If you want more life-changing books, check it out too.

Treasure Island by Robert Luis Stevenson

Treasure Island was one of those early books that encouraged my love of reading and writing. While I started reading illustrated abridged versions of young readers, as I grew older I revisited it several times. Unlike other novels (and movies for that matter) of my younger years, this one held up because of it’s fun and fast-moving plot, engaging characters, and standout villain.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is an inspiration (buy his complete works). I continue to draw from his works again and again, but never live up to anything he’s accomplished. I love King Lear and Titus for the passion in their protagonists. There’s something so compelling in watching a person at their height brought low. The Tempest is surreal, and Othello is captivating. If you haven’t seen a live Shakespeare performance, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Generally speaking, people tend to talk about Catcher in the Rye as J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece, but I personally think it pales in comparison to Franny and Zooey. The novel is mostly dialog, so we Perdidoget to know these characters. If you’re looking for a study in dialog to improve your own writing, you can’t do much better than this.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Doesn’t it have a fantastic title? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time follows a young autistic boy as he investigates the murder of a dog in his Perdido yard. But it goes much deeper than that as we follow him day by day and see everything through his perspective. It does a great job of immersing you in a characters head that may be very much unlike you, which is why it affected me so much.

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days heavily influenced the writing style in my first two books, Discovering Aberration and The Gin ThiefI love the way he strings a sentence together, so when I set to writing a steampunk novel, I thought a voice similar to his would make a great fit. Not only that, but his novels are pure fun. Sure there are a few boring sections here and there where he get’s overly specific on how technology works or how an economy functions, but if that bores you, simply skip a paragraph or two and you’re back into the adventure.

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hess

In my college years, Hermann Hess affected me more than any other writer. I felt a real connection with him that I haven’t felt with a writer since. While everyone reads Siddhartha, a book that’s fine, most don’t move on to his real masterpieces like Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, or The Glass Bead Game. All of these novels shaped the way I think permanently, gave me perspective on life, sex, religion, and art. If you’re looking for the standout author who really changed the way I view the world, it would be Hermann Hess.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

The grand achievement of this book is the fact that as soon as I finished reading it, I started again from the beginning. I don’t think I’ve done that before or since. It’s world is so utterly engrossing, and so wildly different from our own. If you’re searching for a fantasy that throws out all of the genre norms, builds a world fresh from the ground up, and tells an engaging and dark narrative, look no further than the masterpiece that is Perdido Street Station.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

It is the first book of a now famously unfinished trilogy. The fact that it’s unfinished doesn’t bother me a bit, and it shouldn’t bother you either. Let genius work. Time has always been a major ingredient in the writing of these books. Anyway, The Name of the Wind is an outstanding novel that drops you into a characters head as he goes about life, grows up, learns magic, and seeks revenge in this fantasy world. It all sounds fairly typical of a fantasy novel, but in its execution, it really stands out. I’ve read it several times and will read it several more.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

This is a novel with perfect prose. I’ve never read a more perfectly written novel. It’s astounding. Blood Meridian is an extremely dark tale that will stick with you well after you put it down. There are scenes that get etched in your mind. I’ve loved some of Cormac McCarthy’s other books, such as The Road and No Country for Old Men, but even those fantastic novels don’t hold a candle to Blood Meridian.

PNWA Novel Contest Results

Before we dive into the results of my PNWA novel contest entry, I’ve got a bit of an announcement. I’m making video content now! That’s one more way for you to get to know me. I may not be great at it yet, but I’m learning as I go. More videos to come.

So, the contest. 

About five or six months ago I submitted my manuscript for Grim Curio to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association novel contest. Recently I received the results of my entry, and unfortunately I didn’t win.

But I feel really great about it anyway. Why?

As part of the contest, I received two detailed critiques from literary agents who were judging the competition. These were rave critiques. In fact, they lead me to believe that I didn’t advance in the competition due to a technical error on my part. I was supposed to submit a synopsis of my novel, but I submitting something closer to a query letter.

In the video above I share a bit more about the process, some of the feedback I received, and talk about why this rejection has actually boosted my confidence. There’s always next year.

Interview with Patrick H Willems

Patrick H Willems is a YouTube creator who produces a wide variety of content, but is best known for his videos that discuss movies in interesting and insightful ways, praise films you should give a second chance, or critique the current state of Hollywood. 

Trust me, these are more than your typical video essays. Check out his channel here.

Patrick H Willems

What I love most about his content is the creative lense he puts on everything he does, making each video it’s own story, often displaying the techniques he’s discussing—like shooting a chase sequence before talking about what makes a great chase scene—or framing his arguments with often hilarious bookends.

Here’s his latest video to give you an idea of the kind of content he’s known for.

However, Patrick Willems isn’t just a creavie video essayist. He writes and directs his own short films, has written a horror screenplay, and hosts the We Heart Hartnett podcast.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the interview where Patrick discusses all of these things, and even gives us a little peek into what makes him tick.

Hey Patrick, I’m a long-time fan of yours. It’s been exciting to watch your channel (Patrick (H) Willems) grow from a basic a film essay format to something much more creative and unique. You’ve evolved to incorporate creative devices like the ones featured in the Patrick Explains series and the bookends to the Ethan Hunt and Jurassic Park videos, among many others.

Could you explain to me the process of evolving the channel in this way?

Patrick: The evolution actually goes back way further. From 2011-2016 every video on the channel was a narrative short of some kind. The nonfiction videos and video essays didn’t start until November 2016, but since then they’ve become what I’m best known for (something I have mixed feelings about).

When I made the first video essay, “Why Do Marvel Movies Look Kind of Ugly,” I thought it’d just be a one-off experiment that no one would watch, so I used the classic video essay format, just voiceover over movie clips. Then that video was a big success and people demanded more video essays, so I started making more and just stuck with the same style.

What inspired the change?

Patrick: But after a year of doing them that way, I got really bored with the process. There were a million people using the same style. The videos felt so impersonal. Like, not to shit on the video essays I made last year, but I have zero emotional attachment to any of them.

I consider myself a filmmaker first, and a video essayist second, so I realized what I had to do was blend the essays with the narrative shorts we had been making for years. And since making that shift at the beginning of the year, I’ve enjoyed making the videos so much more.

Is it difficult to keep it fresh?

Patrick: Yeah, they’re more complicated and time-consuming to create, but more fulfilling. That said, I want to create more of a balance between the nonfiction videos and the regular narrative filmmaking. There haven’t been nearly enough shorts this year, and that bugs me.

One thing I really enjoy about this generation of creators is a willingness to bootstrap it until they fulfil their dreams. There are plenty of examples of people who “made it” because they forged their own way. The cast of Always Sunny in Philadelphia wrote and filmed their pilot because no one was giving them jobs. Seth Rogan wrote Superbad because Judd Apatow told him the best way to make it was to create his own material.

Correct me if any of this is wrong, but from what I gather you started your channel with the same kind of intentions. Could you tell me about your state of mind before you launched your channel? Did you launch it with the goal of eventually “making it” as a Hollywood director? Or was the channel a goal in itself?

Patrick: Yeah, this goes way back to when I graduated from college in 2010. I knew I wanted to make movies, but I had no idea how to go about making it into an actual career.

I’d been making movies with my friends from high school and college for years, and already had a big network of collaborators, so I decided to start making weekly short films, put them on YouTube, and hopefully reach enough people that eventually it might lead to other filmmaking work.

This was way more appealing to me than the more traditional route of moving to LA and working PA jobs for years, since at least this way I got to keep making stuff and would be creatively fulfilled.

Now that you’re coming up on 200,000 YouTube subscribers, have your views of your channel or its purpose changed?

Patrick: Definitely. For years I was convinced the channel would never become profitable and was basically just a way to get the attention of places that might hire me for other work. Now it’s my full time job. I still hope to make bigger projects not on YouTube, but in the meantime, I definitely view the channel as a viable career and not just an online portfolio.

You’ve been stepping up production values lately. You seem to have a growing staff too. Has this been completely enabled by your Patreon campaign, or are the sweet YouTube bucks starting to finance your efforts?

Patrick: I wouldn’t really say the staff is growing. We have an unpaid summer intern, and the rest of the cast and crew is the same group of people who have been working on the channel for years. They’re all good friends of mine who lend me so much of their time, most of whom I’ve been working with since high school.

Are you guys working full time on the channel these days?

Patrick: Right now the income from Patreon, YouTube, etc is just enough for me to get by, but my main goal is to get to the point where I can be paying the team and they can devote more of their time to this.

How’s the script coming?  What are the biggest hurdles you see in terms of getting it made?

Patrick: I should clarify some things about the screenplay Jake and I have been writing. We’re not actually planning on producing it. This would require a budget of several million dollars. And since I don’t have any non-YouTube directing credits to my name, it’s highly unlikely a studio would trust me to direct it. Our goal is just to sell it once it’s done.

Could you give me the elevator pitch for the movie you’re making?

Patrick: I don’t want to say much about the story, so I’ll just say it’s a teen-centric horror movie.

Sooooooo…… Josh Hartnett? What a weird choice for an actor to explore the career of, but I dig it. When I told my wife about your podcast (We Heart Hartnett), she was like, “Is Josh Hartnett even in movies anymore?” I’m working my way through the episodes and having a fun time with it.

Here are a few rapid-fire We Heart Hartnett questions. Note: links point to We Heart Hartnett episodes.

What is Josh Hartnett’s best movie you’ve seen to date?

Patrick: Probably either Black Hawk Down or The Virgin Suicides.

Best performance?

Patrick:Virgin Suicides.

Biggest missed opportunity?

Patrick: There are a lot, but I’ve gotta go with The Black Dahlia.

Funniest episode of the podcast?

Patrick: Probably either Lucky Number Slevin or Here on Earth.

Any indication that he’s going to make it onto the podcast?

Patrick: None yet. He’s a hard man to reach.

How did you like Bunraku (next episode I think)?

Patrick:It’s pretty nuts. It doesn’t totally work, but I like what it’s going for, and there’s some great stuff in there.

Why no Dredd video? It’s a totally fantastic movie that failed at the box office. It knows what it is and sticks too it well, taking inspiration form The Raid (also fantastic) with the “fight their way up a multi-level building to the boss” trope which is weirdly compelling for a straight up action flick. Plus apparently there’s a TV show in production, and I’d love to hear what they should and shouldn’t do. Come on Patrick! As a comic book guy, you should be all over this!

Pa trick:I saw Dredd once back when it was in theaters, liked it, didn’t love it, and honestly haven’t thought about it much since then. But people bring it up to me a lot so I should probably revisit it.

Lightning round! Answer as quick as you can, no cheating even though I can’t see you.

Top three directors?

Patrick: Spielberg, Edgar Wright, Soderbergh.

Biggest source of inspiration outside of film?

Patrick: Comic books.

Dream actor you’d like to cast as the lead in your film?

Patrick:The one we’re writing right now? That’s tough, since the character is a teenage girl. I haven’t really thought about it.

Anime, yes or no?

Patrick:Yes, mostly just for Ghibli.

Favorite Comic Book?

Patrick: Scott Pilgrim

Best YouTube channel other than your own?

Patrick: It isn’t really active anymore, but Waverly Films. For years they made these brilliant, inventive hilarious short films every week. I became obsessed with their videos in college and they’ve been one of my biggest inspirations since then. And those guys have gone on to do huge things, like writing and directing Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Any fan encounters yet?

Patrick: Lots, and everyone has been super nice and cool.

Can I cameo in your movie?

Patrick: I won’t be directing, so it’s not up to me!


So there you have it. It was great having a chance to talk Patrick Willems. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel and podcast. For the many hollywood producers who read this blog, give this man a directing job.

If you enjoyed this interview and want to support my work, it’s super easy! Just buy one of my books, or support my efforts on Patreon. Until next time.

Why I joined Patreon & why you should too

Thanks to the advice of two books, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (my review here) and Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins (still reading but highly recommend), I’ve launched a Patreon page.

First, let’s talk about what it is, then why I—or any other creative—might want to try it out.

What is Patreon

The creators of Patreon describe the platfom like this:

Patreon exists because when artists get paid, they can create more amazing things.

What is Patreon

Sounds pretty good right? It’s a platform for people like you to support the artists you love by pledging a monthly payment them. This enables artists to have a predictable income, and helps funds their projects. In return, you get cool exclusive stuff and peeks behind the scenes.

Why Patreon is important to creators

In Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins share’s many arguments for why an artist needs a patron, or several. He explains that a patron can take many forms.

If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate—a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. This isn’t just about money. You need someone to give you a chance, maybe even connect you to the right people. The publisher who pays an author’s book advance is a patron. The venture capitalist who funds a start-up in Silicon Valley is one too. But so is the church who gives a minister a salary or the donors who support nonprofit organizations around the world. Patrons do not just make the arts possible; they make the world we inhabit—and so often take for granted—possible.

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins

Back in the day, a patron of the arts would literally commission an artist full time in order to support them. But as times changed, patrons became rarer.

These days, artists need patrons to survive. Published authors are making less and less money, even while publishing is doing better than ever. If you want to make it in the arts, it’s not enough just to have a book that sells. You need someone, or a group of someones, who are willing to champion your work, and even give you a little cash to support it.

In the New Renaissance, patrons are not some elite class of influencers. They are all around us.

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins

Why join Patreon now?

I’ve had a plan for a long time to eventually join Patreon, but I was waiting for the right timing. I wanted to re-edit Discovering Aberration and wanted to release The Gin Thief: Episode Two, and then I thought the timing would be perfect.

But what I’ve come to learn lately is that if you want to make it as an artists, the timing is now! If you’re always waiting for the timing to be perfect, then you’re going to miss out on all kinds of opportunities.

When the Starving Artist waits to be noticed, the Thriving Artist finds a patron and shows that her work is worth investing in.

I

What you get by becoming my Patron

If you decide you want to support me by pledging $1 or more per month, you get several fun things in return. First, $1 get’s you all of my ebooks.

Right now you have access to Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief: Episode one plus all future releases, and early access to upcoming releases like Grim Curio (the first 55 pages are available on Patreon now). In the coming days I’m adding short stories and some unpublished manuscripts.

Beyond this, I’m trying to cultivate a fun fan experience. First of which is our Christopher Nolan movie club where we watch and discuss every movie Christopher Nolan directed. We’re starting with Following and will end with Dunkirk.

There will be more fun stuff too. My patrons will have the chance to really get to know me, see exclusive behind the scenes material, and more. Should be a good time.

If all this sounds like something you want to support, all you need to do is visit my Patreon page and pledge $1 or more, and you’ll have access to all of this.

And if you’re a creator, now is probably the best time to cultivate your own patrons, because if you wait you’ll be missing out in the support your fans want to give you.

The Third Law - The Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings

Book Review: What’s Wrong with Joe Abercrombie’s The Third Law Trilogy & How to Fix It

I just finished reading the mammoth First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie consisting of The Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. [You can read this review on Goodreads too]

Let’s map out how I felt through each novel.

The Blade Itself – This book shows some promise. If it keeps getting better from here, then this may be a fantastic series. Can’t wait to read more.

Before They are Hanged – What an awful title, but that doesn’t mean anything. The narrative is slipping a bit, the journey is overly long, and I’m starting to get tired of all the characters catchphrases, but this series has time to recover. I’m sure book three will make up for any missteps.

Last Argument of Kings – This is it? Really!? This is what we were building toward? WTF. It’s tedious. It’s boring. It’s depressing as all hell but not even in a good way, more in a “how did I waste so much time reading this garbage” kind of way. How did such a great start get brought so low? Do I even want to keep these books on my shelf anymore?

Let’s go over what made this series end up sucking so hard.

The First Law - The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings

It’s too damn long — There’s nothing wrong with a long book or series as long as knows where it’s heading, is interesting along the way, holds a sense of purpose, is well paced, or is at least somewhat enjoyable.

But The First Law is none of these things. It’s an overly long meandering story featuring mostly bland two-dimensional characters whose actions have no tangible consequences.

Character actions don’t really mater — One character gets hurt one time, and it gave the books an illusion that mistakes matter. But as cities fall resulting no negative consequence at all, plot armor is revealed in all other interactions.

Yes, there are times that character A is transported to place B, and they being there saves the day. This happens a lot. So much so, that whenever situations look bleak, there’s no tension because we know someone is just around the corner, especially if they haven’t been featured in a few chapters.

One of the worst crimes in story telling is showing the reader the author behind the curtain pulling the strings, but once you see it, you cannot unsee it. We saw the strings in book two, and they just get more pronounced as the story goes on.

It’s too damn boring The Blade Itself was entertaining enough. See my mostly positive review here. Before They are Hanged had its moments, though the long journey was loooooooong (spoiler: and fruitless). Last Argument of Kings was 300 pages of battle sequences, some of which had fun moments, but mostly it just dragged on and on and on till I didn’t care anymore.

For me, books are not the best medium for hundreds of pages of: “And he swung his sword, and she parried and threw a blow in return, and he ducked and hit her in the head, and she rebounded and kicked him in the shin”. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

Action in books is best when executed with building tension and a quick release. The first book does this well. But this technique is lost near the end of the second book, and completely ejected from the writing process by the third.

I had a bit of a crises while writing this book review. Follow this thread to watch me make up my mind to write reviews on books I don’t enjoy, or read about the decision here.

Characters are two dimensional — The only exception to this is Glokta. He’s fantastic in the beginning, and the only reason I didn’t prematurely throw the book against a wall. But I grew bored with even him by book three. All of the inner monologue that provided depth in book one became a tired, repetitious exercise.

Logan had as much depth as a murky pond. His gimmick of uncontrollable blood lust became predictable, and whenever it was about to have real consequence, he was deus ex machina’ed out of it.

All the other characters were wastes of paper and ink. They were flat with one-track minds and the simplest of motivations. The fighters fight because the fight. The revengers revenge because they revenge. Most of these characters have absolutely no depth, and the ones who do, such as Biaz, are so convoluted they grow boring.

And a note on Biaz. While he’s written as this wise man, [spoiler] by the time it’s revealed how much of the world he controls, I was left wondering why he didn’t handle things better in the first place. Oh, that’s right, Joe justifies it with a short aside about Biaz being distracted because he was reading books for a while and forgot about the world, or something. Kind of a lame thing to pin a trilogy’s entire plot on.

And the catchphrases — “You can never have too many knives” was probably said a bajillion times. “Say one thing about the third law, say it’s prose are repetitive.” “I want vengeance fool!” These catchphrases add nothing, and become grating 400,000 words in. Cool it with the catchphrases. This isn’t a sitcom.

Maybe it’s my fault? I’ve heard about Joe Abercrombie for a long time now, and I looked forward to reading his work. Maybe my opinion is sullied by anticipation? I don’t think so, but maybe.

I don’t know, maybe you’ll like it. The series currently averages around a 4.3 rating on Goodreads. I don’t get it. Some people seem to love simple characters swinging swords and talking about vengeance for 900 pages. If that sounds like your cup o tea, then dive in. You’ll probably love it.

How I’d fix it — While I didn’t enjoy The First Law, I do think there’s a good story hidden within if you’d be willing to go haywire with a hacksaw. Here’s what you do.

Forget every character except Glokta and Biaz. Rip them all out, you won’t miss them. Now we follow Glokta along basically the same plotline, with only glimpses of Biaz and occasional confrontations as the tension mounts. And as Glokta digs deeper into the corruption of the empire, he discovers by himself (ie. the information isn’t handed to him!) that Biaz is the puppet master of a vast conspiracy. Now it’s up to Glokta to bring him down or fail trying.

I think that could a compelling, tightly plotted 100,000 words fantasy noir.

I wish so badly that was the story I read. Or anything else with that didn’t string me along for so long. But instead I got the equivalent of a blob of rambling fiction with nothing compelling to say, nowhere compelling to go, which now takes up space where better books should be my shelf. What I’m I going to do with those books? They were expensive.

Why I Chose to Start Writing Reviews for Books I Don’t Like

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a dilemma which can be summed up in one simple question. What is the point of a book review?

This question grabbed hold of me after I finished writing a particularly negative book review. Should I publish it? Why would I publish a review of something I hated? What’s to gain out of it? This brought me around to the original question: what is the point of a book review in the first place?

On the surface level, the answer seems obvious. We write and read book reviews to discover new books and share the books we love. We didn’t start writing reviews because we hated something. We started because we loved it and needed a forum to talk about it.

It wasn’t until later that we were faced with the dilemma. What do we do with books we dislike?

For a long time, I would keep quiet about these books. My thought process was, I don’t want to hamper the career of a fellow writer. I got in it to share the love, not to bring people down.

But now I realize that there is more to book reviews than simply sharing the love. As a writer, when reviewers are critical of my work, I learn something from it. I understand my weaknesses which gives me a chance to grow. Without feedback, both good and bad, how will I ever fulfill my goals? I don’t think it’s possible.

Beyond this, a negative review isn’t necessarily going to send all readers to the hills. Some of my favorite novels are controversial. People love it or hate it, and they leave reviews accordingly. Furthermore, if all readers thought like I did, then bad books would skew high because those who didn’t enjoy it were silent.

The top review on Goodreads on Blood Meridianperhaps my favorite book ever—is 2 stars. The top review of the book I recently finished and was so disappointed in was 4 stars. They average about the same rating.

Due to these factors, I’ve decided to change how I operate when it comes to critical reviews. If I dislike a book, I’ll now tell you about it, explain why, and dive into what I might change to make it better. On this note, I’ll be sharing my final review of The First Law Trilogy next week.

Thank you to everyone who discussed this topic with me on Twitter, effectively changing my mind. You all rock!

Interview with Book Reviewer Lilyn G from Sci-Fi & Scary

Today I want to introduce you to book reviewer Lilyn G (@ScifiandScary). You may know her from her fantastic site Sci-Fi and Scary where she blogs about science fiction and horror novels and movies, along with several other reviewers. I interviewed Lilyn via email, and I think you’ll enjoy our discussion on writing over 2000 posts, what’s so intriguing about science fiction and horror, and some author recommendations that may be under your radar.

Q: You’re the founder of Sci-Fi and Scary which you started in 2015. What drew you to writing book reviews? What’s kept you going over the past 3 years?

A: I actually addressed this in my very first blog post [link mine – check out the post, it’s interesting]. I read that the average adult only read 6 books a year. That stunned me. I can’t imagine reading so little. On top of that, I have a coworker that I introduced to books who now loves to read because I took the time to figure out what her reading level was, what she enjoyed, and was able to guide her to the appropriate books.

I wanted to talk about books like I talk about them to my friends. Nothing high-brow, but more “Was it fun? What made it fun?” That type of thing.

As for what’s kept me going? Not going to lie, it’s at least 30% that once I start something, I have a very hard time breaking from it. However, free books, free movies, my excellent team, and the great community on Twitter have all played a big part as well.

Q: If my math is correct, you’ve published nearly 2000 blog posts, many of which are book reviews. That’s incredible! Thinking back, is there any posts from your early days as a book reviewer that you’re especially proud of?

Not particularly. But I am proud of the fact that the first year I managed a post a day all on my own without any assistance. I worked my butt off that year.

Q: You’re obviously a fan of the Sci-Fi genre. What draws you to science fiction?

Specifically, I like hard science fiction (though I do occasionally enjoy the softer stuff.) I like the logic of it. It’s not fantasy where an author can make up whatever he wants. Instead, hard sci-fi starts with a solid base, extrapolates probabilities based on current science, and builds a story around that. Or it takes a near-future, gives us a character we like, and gives him realistic problems to solve, for example. All of that appeals greatly to me.

I love classic science fiction too. It’s so filled with hope and wonder. You really can’t beat it. Even though some of it is balls to the walls crazy (Ie: Death World, Harry Harrison), and you can’t deny the complete saturation of the genre with strong white male heroes, it’s still just so fun and imaginative. And it’s clean fun too.

Q: I assume horror has a special place in your heart as well, seeing as you founded Sci-Fi and Scary. What drew you to the horror genre, and why do you tend to focus on Sci Fi?

I like science fiction because of the logic and the hope it offers. I like horror because, blast it, sometimes a girl just likes to see someone get smashed over their head with their own ribcage. And, in seriousness, because it’s a safe way to be afraid and let off some of that fear and anxiety that boils up in my life.

It’s not really a misconception on your part, it’s just when you happened to check the site! Seriously, for the first few months of this year, I think I maybe had three science fiction reviews? The rest were horror. I go through spurts where I’m heavily into one or the other. (I think it depends on my mood.)

But yes, in general, I try to focus more on sci-fi for the reviews for the site, and explanation for that is simple: My cohosts Gracie and Nico prefer horror. If I read a lot of horror too, it would throw off the balance, and the site’s name is Sci-Fi AND Scary. Gotta keep them both going!

I hope to add a few more team members soon with a sci-fi love in them.

Q: If you were to meet a reader new to the Sci-Fi/Horror genres, what books would you recommend to ease them in? Why these books?

That’s a trick question, sir. You didn’t give me nearly enough information about the reader to be able to answer that.

A good bookworm doesn’t just recommend their favorite books to a potential reader. They recommend ones that they think that person would genuinely love.

I mean, I love middle-grade dark fantasy, for example, and some of it is very creepy, but I wouldn’t recommend it to your average adult.

Q: What under-appreciated books do you think seasoned readers should be paying more attention too?

Well, obviously indie books! [here here!] Seasoned readers need to step away from the Big Five, and plumb the depths of the small-press world. There are some fantastic stories out there that you aren’t going to find in mainstream because they don’t fit in the conformity boxes just right.

Q: Is there an author you’ve followed who you feel doesn’t get enough attention?

Oh, lots. Let’s see…

Science fiction: J.B. Rockwell, Michael Drakich, Mathew Isaac Sobin, Greg Spry

Horror: Sue Rovens, Michaelbrent Collings, Michael Hodges, Alan Baxter, Michael Patrick Hicks

Q: Have you ever found yourself excited for a particular read, then supremely disappointed? Do you finish the book in this situation, or are you like me and toss it aside with gusto?

Definitely. I’m really hard to please, probably due to the sheer amount I read, so this happens to me more than I would prefer.

It depends on the situation. Is it a review book? Then unless it’s cringe-worthy, I’m going to grit my teeth and try to plow through. Library book? Probably going to toss it aside with gusto unless I’ve already made it to the 50% mark or something. At that point it’s like “Just go ahead and finish it.”

Q: Lately, I’ve been in search of books that will change my life in some way. Books that either open my mind to a new way of thinking or make me feel in ways I haven’t felt before. Have you read anything lately that fits that bill?

In that situation I say just read outside your current genres. Honestly, I don’t look for books that are going to make me think in a new way or anything like that. My life is extremely stressful, so when I pick up a book, I pick it up for the entertainment factor and nothing else.

C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust is a good one for making you evaluate the definition of humanity and one of the possible futures of artificial intelligence, though.

Q: I would assume being a book reviewer today comes with its own unique challenges. Is there anything you have to deal with that most people take for granted?

The social media / promotional aspects. I’m solitary by nature, like individual persons occasionally, but think people as a whole suck balls. So, the fact that this whole reviewing thing only really works well if people know you and trust your brand… It’s quite literally mentally and emotionally exhausting for me.

I’m a hardcore introvert that keeps getting stuck in extrovert situation.

Q: What is the highlight moment since you’ve started reviewing books?

When I took the co-worker I mentioned in the first question out to the annual Half Price Books clearance sale and saw her face just light up. We were there for a solid few hours, and she came away with a decent stack of books, and was happy as could be.

I like recommending books to other readers. I love knowing that my support of indie authors helps them sell books and put food on the table. But yeah…that smile on her face when we walked in to the book sale – a woman who until I started talking to her had read maybe 3 books her whole life – was the moment that made it worth it.


Thanks to Lilyn for taking time to answer these questions. I hope you enjoyed it too. Be sure to check out here book reviews on Sci-Fi and Scary, and follow her on twitter.

Announcing Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition (and how to get it for free)

Not long ago I announced I was done writing the first draft of Grim Curio. Now it’s time for me to switch gears while I give GC to beta readers and confidants for feedback. I’ll come back to it in a few months, but til then I have a few other projects lined up.

As many of you already know, the next project on my slate is writing the long overdue The Gin Thief: Episode 2. So long overdue, in fact, that I need a refresher on the subject material. So I’m rereading Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief: E1. Which leads me to the meat of this post…

Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition coming soon!

That’s right. I’m giving DA some love this year. The biggest criticisms it received were around mistakes in proofreading. So while I read through it, I’m revising and re-releasing it. In fact, I’m already 20% of the way through it.

What is the goal with this revision?

My plan is to keep my touch as light as possible while addressing it’s issues. It wont turn into a full rewrite. The structure and plot will remain identical. Instead, my goal is to simply clean up sections that need it, trim some of the fat, and fix errors.

Why are you revising it?

Simple, it’s weaknesses are holding it back. Initially the novel released to pretty strong sales, but they have declined to a trickle. I’ve tried to diagnose the issues and believe they are as follows:

  • Reviews that focus on poor proofreading
  • A convoluted first scene in chapter 1
  • A cover that doesn’t match its genre (possibly, will know after I address the issues above)
  • My own hesitation to sell a book with known errors

I need to address these if I don’t want DA to end up holding my career back. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be better.

Will it get a new cover? 

I don’t know yet. I love Discovering Aberration‘s cover. The team at The Book Designers did a fantastic job. They followed all my instructions and created a work of art. I have no complaints about the cover itself or their work.

But…. I’ve now been in publishing for a few years, and I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know then. In this case, the cover I told them to make DA doesn’t look like other books in its genre and that may be affecting sales. It’s likely that a new cover which better matches steampunk best sellers will entice more readers to give it a chance.

It’s a tough question, and potentially one with an expensive answer. Not sure what I’m going to do anything with the cover, time will tell I guess.

Will this delay The Gin Thief: Episode 2?

Just a bit. But as I said, I’m keeping my touch light and in just over a week and a half I’m 20% through it. I’m not rewriting, I’m cleaning up. So the delay should be minimal. I need to read through the book anyway to immerse myself back into that universe, and in the end this will be the best thing for my writing career. TGT: E2 is coming, and this is part of the process.

When will the revised edition be released?

Don’t know. I’ve given up with release dates. I’ve never once made an accurate prediction, so I’m not trying anymore. It’ll be released as soon as it’s done, hopefully not long. My goal is to have both DA: RE and TGT: E2 out by the end of the year. Is that goal realistic? I don’t know, but it’s what I’m shooting for.


If you want to receive a FREE copy of Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition upon its release, sign up for my mailing list. When it’s out, I’ll be gifting every one of my mailing list subscribers a free digital copy.

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