Berserk Vol 1 cover

Review of Berserk Vol. 1 by Kentaro Miura

I fell in love with Guts through the 1997 Berserk anime. It’s one of my favorites, and ever since I finally watched it two years ago, I’ve been craving more. The movies were pretty good too, but they followed the same arc. Then came the 2016 show. It was… lacking. But at least it was more Guts (the MC).

You can also read this review on Goodreads.

Scene from Berserk 1997 anime

I wanted more of what I’d seen in the 1997 anime, and I figured the only way to get it was to go to the source material. So I read book one and was surprised to see that it follows the storyline of the 2016 show.

What I liked

It’s fun, albeit a gore-fest. I’m pretty desensitized when it comes to violence in fiction, so the frequent gore didn’t bother me. For the most part, I found myself enjoying the entire read, which took me the better part of an hour.

What I didn’t like

Berserk Vol 1 coverGut’s seems like a very flat character in this book. He kills stuff because he’s badass. He wins fights because he’s strong. He survives inhuman amounts of damage because… I’m not clear on that yet. His motivations aren’t always clear from scene to scene.

**SPOILERS**

Here’s an example, and it’s contains spoilers for the first half of the book. We see him dismantle tens of bandits one scene, and the next he’s confronted by soldiers and just gives up without a fight and let’s himself get tortured. Then he escapes by…. I actually don’t know how he escapes because one scene he’s in prison unable to move on the cell floor and the next he’s suddenly out killin’ dudes. Sooo…

**END SPOILERS**

This was annoying because in the ’97 anime he’s definitely all the attributes I listed above but he’s a much more complex yet internally consistent figure. I assume what happens is Gut’s gains this depth over the course of several books. I’ve heard a few books it the series has a massive jump in quality, so I’m willing to give several more a shot before I make an informed opinion on the manga.

Overall – 3.5/5

I enjoyed aspects of vol. 1, but as a whole it’s flawed and flat. That’s fine when it only takes you an hour to get through the entire book, but I’m hoping for a jump in quality in later volumes.

MY RATING SCALE

5 – Excellent. Either this book was incredibly enjoyable, or I learned something that will improve my own writing.

4 – Fine. The book was pretty good/fun, but was held down by several issues.

3 – Meh. The issues in this book hampered my enjoyment.

2 – Not for me. I didn’t like it, but I can see why other people might.

1 – Not for anyone. I hated it, probably didn’t finish reading, definitely didn’t take the time to write a review.

Note: I don’t write fully negative reviews. Books I don’t like will be given a star rating on Goodreads with no review. As a writer, I don’t want to add my voice to a conversation that might negatively affect another writers income.

 

 

Become a Beta Reader

Calling All Beta Readers – Read Grim Curio Before Anyone Else

Hello dear readers, it’s that time again. Beta readers, assemble! Who among you will rise to the challenge and beta read Grim Curio before it’s submitted to contests, agents, and publishers? To become a beta reader, follow the link below and fill out the short form.

Become a Beta Reader [link]

Become a Beta Reader

The beta reading period is quickly approaching, with a targeted date of Tuesday Jan 2nd for the first three chapters to be handed out. If you want to be a part of the process, sign up now! Beta readers will receive a free copy of Grim Curio upon release, and I’m going to try to come up with another way to thank you, maybe a t-shirt or something — I’m open to ideas.

About Grim Curio

The story of how the world ends begins on a near barren planet within the last and only city on earth, along a narrow empty street, dusk sunlight casting the toxic air in rainbow streaks of red, purple and green. This story begins and ends with James.

James is rogue veil researcher. He seeks evidence that will prove parallel realities exist, hoping to save humanity from the caustic, dying waste the earth has become. In order to make this discovery, he will cross paths with violent teenage nihilists, scientists attempting to cut a hole in the fabric of reality, a researcher hell bent on following the rules, a politician struggling to maintain order and stability, and many more strange and dangerous people.

When the fate of Refuge is at stake, can these disparate people with conflicting goals band together to survive or will their discord be their downfall?

What does a Beta Reader do?

A beta reader is one of the greatest people living on the face of the earth. They receive chapters from the Grim Curio manuscript, read it, answer questions and leave feedback, then return their notes to me. We’ll talk about the novel, about your opinions, and laugh at my stupid grammar mistakes. In the end, you’ll get a signed copy and another gift yet to be determined.

Do I have to read all of Grim Curio?

Nope. If life gets in the way, or if you just don’t want to keep on beta reading, you can drop out at any time. Beta reading is purely optional, but in order to receive any of the beta reader gifts, you must read and offer feedback for at least 85% of Grim Curio.

What if I’ve never edited anything before?

That’s fine! All you need to be is a passionate reader. If you live for science fiction and fantasy novels, then you’re the perfect candidate to become a beta reader.

How much feedback should beta readers give?

As much or as little as you’re willing to share. If you want to write a full-page critiquing each chapter, that’s great. If you only want to share a few sentences on how you feel about the material, that’s great too.

 

What is the process, in detail?

The process is pretty straight forward.

  • Receive 3 chapters starting with chapter 1
  • Read through, comment, and answer a few specific questions within a timely manner (3-5 days)
  • Return chapters and notes back
  • Receive next 3 chapters, etc.
  • Enjoy an occasional Skype call where I thank you profusely and we chat about the novel

Can I invite my friends to be beta readers too?

Please do. The more the merrier.

How to Become the DM – Everything You Need to Get Started

Recently I took the plunge into playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time since high school. What’s more, I decided to DM. DM, short for Dungeon Master, is the player who creates and dictates the Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) game to the other players, known as PC’s (or Player Characters). It takes a lot of work upfront, but it’s fun, rewarding, and well worth the time investment.

Now that I’ve gone through the learning process, I want to simplify becoming a DM for other hopeful game masters. So here is a resource just for you that will provide you with everything you need to get started. How to find inspiration, where to get free and legal resources, fun ways to learn the rules, and cool stuff to buy.

If you have any questions or would like to suggest an addition, feel free to let me know in the comments. Till then, best of luck in your DMing journey.

Have you been thinking of becoming a Dungeon Master? Check out this guide to getting started featuring tips, videos, and resources. #dnd #dm #dnd5e Click To Tweet

Get Inspired

Before you DM for the first time, it’ll be worth your while to watch some people do it well. There are a ton of live streams out there, so there’s inspiration aplenty, but what follows worked for me.

D&Diesel

This is a great one-shot to watch. A one shot is an adventure that lasts a single play session, rather than one that’s ongoing. D&Diesel is short, so you can get a quick taste, but also hugely fun. Pay attention to the players reactions to the narration by DM Matt Mercer. I try to emulate his use of voices, but I’m not very good. Even so, I think the effort adds to the atmosphere, so even if you can’t voice act, give it a shot.

Harmonquest

I love Dan Harmon, but he seems to inspire love and annoyance from different people. If you’re squarely in the Harmon camp, as I am, then you’ll love Harmonquest whether you’re interested in DMing or not. Spencer Crittenden is the DM here, and he does a fantastic job. Bear in mind that this show edits out all of the slower moments, so it’s not representative of the entire play experience, but it’s hella fun and worth a watch. You can watch it on YouTube or Vrv.co. Either way, you’ll have to pay. Sorry bout it.

Critical Role

You can’t talk about live streamed DnD without mentioning Critical Role, which basically started the whole craze. It’s a great show to watch, but each episode is around 3+ hours in length. I sometimes watch while I code or do yoga. Pay attention to how Matt Mercer goes along with his players ideas. He has a very “yes and” attitude, which I’m trying to get better at. “Yes and” is an improve idea where when someone else (one of your players) suggests an idea, you go with it and build on it, rather than shooting it down.

Learn how to DM

Before you dive in to running your campaign, you’ll need to know the basic rules. Start by watching the many great videos on YouTube that delve into the core rules of D&D. You’ll still need a Players Handbook at some point, there’s no getting around that, but watching the videos is an entertaining way of absorbing all the basic knowledge you’ll need to get started. Here are some I particularly enjoyed.

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons

This animated guide is a great intro into the rules. Much more fun than reading through the Players Handbook. If you’re not sure yet if you want to invest in the books, this is a great place to start. However, you will need a copy to play for reference. You’ll want to watch all of the intro videos, and probably videos on classes of your PC’s, before starting.

GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer

This is my third mention of Matt Mercer, and that’s not a mistake. He’s not only a great voice actor and DM, he’s also great at bestowing his knowledge in quick and easy to understand and utilize chucks. I enjoy the brevity of these videos. It allows me to pick up a lot of skills and ideas without needing to wade through a 30 minute video, which seems to be the norm in the DnD YouTube world. Watch the playlist below, cherrypick whichever feel most relevant to your current issues, and you’ll receive lots great advice without a major time commitment.

Your First Adventure, Running the Game

Speaking of 30 min videos, author, game writer, and DM Matthew Coville is the more in-depth and long-winded type, but his information is clear, full of context, and usually entertaining to watch.

For my first adventure, I literally the exact campaign from his video below, and it went better than I could have hoped. From there I branched off into my own homebrewed campaign, which I highly recommend. If you want to see the process of creating a campaign in action, learn about the various features of an adventure, and get all of the materials for free, then this is a great place to start. I’ve also posted links to some of the materials below.

Things You Need Before You Play

There are a lot of things you’ll need eventually if you plan on playing regularly. However, you don’t need everything all at once. In fact, if you’re strapped for cash, there’s enough free material out there for you to get started with nothing more than a set of dice.

Below is a collection of everything I think you need before you dive into your first game. Skip the books, skip the plastic minis, right now you just want to dip your toe in and figure out if this whole DM thing is for you. After your first session, you can begin getting all that other stuff.

Rules

D&D has a lot of rules, and you’ll need to reference them from time to time. Lucky for us, Wizards of the Coast has a free starter rule book for new DM’s. So get the rules here.

Another helpful tool is the app Complete Reference 5e. I believe this app is on both Android and iPhone. I own an Android and it works well for looking up things quickly mid-play. You’ll have a hard time learning how to play if you only use this app, but you’ll save a lot of time referencing things when you download the Complete Reference 5e.

Pre-made Characters

The Players Handbook is about $40, and learning how to build characters from scratch takes a lot of time. Instead, start with Wizards pre-made characters to take some of the load off your shoulders. I think there are 16 characters for your players to choose from. If you have a Players Handbook, make sure you’re players read through their class descriptions before your first game, otherwise have them look them up online. Get premade character sheets here.

Printable Minis

Miniatures are one of the best things about DnD, in my opinion. They’re so damn cool, and add an extra dynamic to the game. However, like everything else in D&D, they’re expensive when you’re starting out. And even more expense when you dive in. Instead of dropping some serious coin on a bunch of figures, download and print them from Printable Heroes. There you’ll find high quality, printable minis that work just as well as actual figurines for a fraction of the cost. Find printable minis here.

Here’s the Dragonturtle from Pritable Heroes. There’s way more great stuff to print there too.

Dice

There’s no way around it, you’ll need to buy dice. I bought this kit and am very pleased with it.

Everything Else You’ll Need If You Keep on Going

After you’ve run your first adventure and decided it’s something you want to keep doing, there are several more things you’ll want, and some other resources you’ll want to dive into.

All the books – At this point, it’s time to start investing in the books. Buy them in this order:

  1. The Players Handbook
  2. The Dungeon Masters Guide
  3. The Monster Manual
  4. Any campaign of your choice

I included a campaign book there even though I’ve been playing with homebrew content. While I don’t run my games out of one of these pre-made adventures, before reading this I was spending too much time creating content that didn’t really matter. After, I read through one which greatly aided me in knowing how much content of what sort I needed to prepare.

The Home Brewery

Once you start writing your own adventures, you’ll want them to look pretty. Enter The Home Brewery which does an excellent job of making your home brew content feel legit.

Whiteboard

You can buy battlemats which have grids and stuff on them, and they look great. I didn’t want to spend the extra money, so I found a whiteboard I had lying around and I use that to draw the environments on. It’s quick and liberating to layout something with ease.

Dungeons & Dragons Lore

These lore videos delve into the various aspects of a lot of D&D’s most iconic creatures, gods, realms, etc. I went through the entire series in a week. It’s a shame there’s not more, but what there is is really great. Lore adds depth to your campaign, and throwing in some little details here or there will make your world feel more real.

Fantasy Name Generators

Coming up with the ton of fantasy names you’ll need is a chore. Use Fantasy Name Generators to come up with names for Cities, Taverns, Wizards, Elves, Pirates, Rivers, Monsters, etc. Really they have just about everything in a very simple to use setup. Generate fantasy names here.

Who The Fuck is my DnD Character

If you’re players are having a hard time coming up with character ideas, this is a fantastic resource. I ran a one shot adventure featuring  only characters inspired by this tool, and it was a lot of fun. Get character ideas here.

Fantasy World/Dungeon Generators

These procedurally generated worlds and dungeons work really well. Create a detailed world or encounter with very little effort. Not as customizable as I’d like, but great for what it is. Build worlds or dungeons here.

Short Run Posters

Now that you have a world map, you’ll want to print it out and start drawing all over it, creating countries, expanding on the features of different zones, laying out area’s of interest, etc. I printed my map through Short Run Posters, and it turned out great.

I love being able to show my players where they are in the world, and let the map inform some of their choices. I only layout the areas around my players though, and only draw in cities their characters would already know about, adding more as they discover places. Print your map here.

This is my campaign setting map featuring countries, roads, and area’s of interest. I drew this out over time, maybe adding two countries every week or so. It adds a lot to my own world building, and would like to think it adds something for the players as well.

Hero Forge

Finally, once you’ve dived in deep, it’s inevitable that the miniature craze will hit you. Enter Hero Forge, a fantastic 3d printing service where you can design custom characters. They run about $30 a piece, so they aren’t cheap, but they’re great for adding a bit of ownership to the PC’s minis. Trust me, if one of your players buys one, they all will. Check out hero forge here.

Conclusion

There you have it, a collection of all the things I found useful on my journey to becoming a decent DM. I still have a lot to learn, and there is so much more you can do beyond this. I’m thinking about releasing some of my homebrew content for you to play too very soon. Keep an eye out :).

Review of A Darker Shade of Magic

I recently finished reading A Darker Shade of Magic and, as usual, I left my review on Goodreads (follow me). What I’ve been neglecting to do is share my reviews with you guys, readers of this blog. So I’m gonna start doing that now. Over the next few weeks, I’ll copy over some of my reviews so they live here as well and in the future I’ll post all my 3.5 stars and higher reviews here.


Read this review on Goodreads

A Darker Shade of Magic coverWhat was setup to be an interesting exploration of a setting that involves parallel worlds and follows a charming MC turned out to be a run-of-the-mill, fantasy action story where intrigue is paid off with cliché, and the stakes are artificially lowered through a dash of deus ex machina. So, there were good parts and bad parts.

I really loved the first third of A Darker Shade of Magic, written by V.E. Schwab. The slow pace let the author explore MC Kell and the parallel worlds he inhabits. I felt like his character was well fleshed out and the pace of reveals was perfect. Not to mention his awesome coat.

Then we get to Delilah, and the story goes south. Where Kell feels like a three-dimensional character, Delilah feels like a more violent, less intriguing, one-dimensional version of The Artful Dodger. Her motivations rarely go below surface level, her actions are often kind of dumb, and when she’s shown as a badass it feels contrived.

Speaking of unearned, let’s talk about the climax. Ok, so I didn’t hate it, but I expected way more given the setup. The second half devolves into a fairly basic chace sequence, followed by a standard “dramatic showdown” with the villains. Will good triumph? Of course, but will good actually earn their inevitable victory? Solid no.

What’s more, the villains are wholly uninteresting. They are bad, and because they are bad they want to take over the world. They do bad things to show how bad they are like drink blood, touch people in weird ways while they talk, have a floor made out of bones, etc. etc. If you’ve played any video game ever, you’ve seen these guys before.

Spoilery stuff follows

I think this was my greatest disappointment. We get to the end, and all of the baddies are defeated because their bad people. Literally, that’s it. The good guys might strike the final blow, but if the baddies weren’t so mean to their subjects, then they totally would have won.

If an editor had told the author, “we get that their villains, could you tone it down a smidge” the author would have been forced to find a new, more interesting demise. Too bad this didn’t happen, cause the end could’ve been so much better.

End of spoilers

As it was, the final chapters chalk full of deus ex machina (the hand of the author comes in to save the characters, not the actions of the characters themselves), which was very disappointing.

I enjoyed aspects of A Darker Shade of Magic. I like Kell and wish this would have been more of a character focused story around him. I’m told the sequels solve a lot of these issues, so I think I’ll pick them up in the near future, but to be honest, I’m not chomping at the bit to dive into them. However, the first third of the narrative gives me hope that from the ashes of this book a better story can rise.

3.5 out of 5


MY RATING SCALE

5 – Excellent. Either this book was incredibly enjoyable, or I learned something that will improve my own writing.

4 – Fine. The book was pretty good/fun, but was held down by several issues.

3 – Meh. The issues in this book hampered my enjoyment.

2 – Not for me. I didn’t like it, but I can see why other people might.

1 – Not for anyone. I hated it, probably didn’t finish reading, definitely didn’t take the time to write a review.

Note: I don’t write fully negative reviews. Books I don’t like will be given a star rating on Goodreads with no review. As a writer, I don’t want to add my voice to a conversation that might negatively affect another writers income.

Cause That’s Just The Way it Goes

It’s quarter past eleven at night — quarter til midnight at the time of publishing — and I’m still writing. About to head to bed when I realized I haven’t posted in a while. Got to throw you guys something before you forget about Grim Curio. I feel so great about this novel, better than I’ve felt for anything I’ve ever written. I feel it, this one is going to make a splash.

Anyway, here’s a few snippets from the novel. I hope you enjoy them.

1.

In the dark of this hole, their faces are cloaked in hoods, disrupted but shadow, lenses, cloth. Only a green glint in their goggles, the reflection of the abused computer monitor, betrays their eyes. Even so, James reads their emotion in the constance of their stair, the stiffness in their shoulders, the way they contemplate the first words that might tidy this strange situation. He bristles when he see’s the sidearms strapped to their thighs, see’s the military precision in the packing gear.

‘There’s got to be an easier way to make a buck.’ The phrase springs to his mind, and he almost smiles. It’s not the buck’s he’s after. Anxiety runs down his back in a skittering of pinpricks, and suddenly the world is hyperreal. It’s moments like these — when the only thing between him and consequence is his tenacity — when he finally feels in control of his destiny. No system brought him here, no misguided ideology. He walked upstream, against the current like a boss, and now he’s ready to see how close he come’s to oblivion.

Then he’ll pull himself back out again. Cause that’s just how it goes.

2.

Note: Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a piece of writing within the world of Grim Curio. These are emails, journal entries, propaganda, and in the following’s case, a poem.

Girlies an’ Boy’os, do not break a rule,
Sit straight, listen, when ya go to school,
Them cleary* bastards won’t stand none’ya fight,
Mark ya in they ledger, ya stupid little fool.

Girlies an’ Boy’os, do not break a rule,
Just ya wait’n listen, soon come the ghoul,
Them cleary bastards’ll get’ya come the night,
Dis’pear ya to nothin, ya stupid little fool.

Mind all ya manners
‘Member who they was
When top ‘comes bottom and bottom the top
Show ‘em then what we lil’ shit’s think of ‘em,
Cut ‘em, gut ‘em, hang them from the rafters
That is all.

– Untitled Poem from The Outlaw’s Book of Rhymes

*cleary is a derogatory term for people who live in the undercity. After hundreds of years below ground, their skin has gone opaque. The undercity residents tend to be the elites, politicians, artisans, scientists, teachers, students, and stability officers.

3.

Note: Last bit. This is just a snippet of a conversation that is currently in chapter 6 between James and the student Gretchen. James is from the surface, Gretchen from the undercity. I’m trying to make their cultures very different and their confines tight. Ok, here it is:

Gretchen frowns thoughtfully. “There’s an empty hut up the hill, I’ll ask an elder if we can use it. If he says no, though, there’s nothing we can do. Fringes Protocol states we follow tribal rules.”

“Fine. Do what you can. Introduce me as a spiritual healer. Stress that I use natural methods to expel spirits and demons, lift curses, that sort of thing.”

“You mean lie?”

“I mean embellish. Just a bit.”

“But protocol—“

“I’m above protocol and I herby grant you permission to rise above the protocol with me and get shit done. Temporary leniency granted, congratulations. When you talk to whoever… who will you be talking to?”

Suddenly preoccupied, she says quietly, “Probably Elder Nevin.”

“Tell Elder Nevin that I’m not with associated with you. Call me weird or something, point to my skin, the way I talk and move, make sure he can see as clear as day that I’m an outsider here. That’s the only way I can build my own reputation at this point. Also, mention how strange it is that I don’t use tech.”

Gretchen studies the ground, contemplates the lies she’s been ordered to pass along.

“You alright?” asks James evenly.

She nods.

“I know they’ve taught you’ to follow protocols your entire life, and what I’m asking you to do feels wrong, but you asked for me and now you’ve got me. Do you want to help this village? Their children?”

She nods.

“Then what we’ve got to do is create a scenario with the greatest chance of success, and this is what I’ve got. If you’ve got a better idea, name it. How ‘bout you, at the computer. Any killer ideas?”

Ryan shakes his head.

Back to Gretchen, he says, “This is what I do every single day. Stick with me, and we’ll have you breaking protocol left and right, and trust me it’ll be the best you’ve ever felt. But if you don’t feel comfortable, I’ll manage.”

 

That’s all for now. Hope to be sharing more soon 🙂

Falling down the deep hole that is Dungeons & Dragons

Lots has been happening lately. Between writing, family, and working on the remodel to get it ready for the move, my free time has been eaten up. So I thought, why not add another major time suck?

And I did! I’m now playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time since high school. It’s a twisted path that got me back into this awesome RPG.

I’m a huge fan of the show Community, have been for years, and I love Rick and Morty. After the second or third time watching both of these, I realized they shared a creator, Dan Harmon.

I fell deep down the Harmon hole, watching interviews, a documentary, and a half ton of YouTube videos. Somewhere in this deep dive, I discovered another show he produces called HarmonQuest.

He and some friends, Jeff Bryan Davis, Erin McGathy, and their DM Spencer Crittenden, and a guest star all play DnD in front of a live audience and their adventure is then animated. Trust me, it’s hilarious.

After watching two seasons of this, I went out, bought all the books, watched some DnD videos, and discovered an entire sub culture of DnD Celebrities. All that was left was to invite a few friends to play DnD, and now I’m officially a dungeon master! Not an especially good one yet — there are a LOT of rules — but I can hold my own once I’ve thrown back a few beers.

That’s the latest in my life. Ok, time to put my head down and hammer out more pages in this novel. See ya!

Grim Curio Preview – The Story of How The World Ends

It’s been a while since I shared anything from Grim Curio. There have been some significant updates since the last scene I shared a couple of months back. My dad is about to head out on a three-week business trip for Boeing and before he left he asked if there was anything ready to read yet. So I figure now’s a good time to share something. This one’s for you dad, the first scene from Grim Curio.


Check out this preview of the first scene from Grim Curio. #fantasy #scifi #novel Click To Tweet

 

This is the story of how the world ends. It’s not pretty or even necessary, but it happens and so it will be told. It begins and ends with James, who walks along the narrow empty streets of Refuge, the last city on earth. He breaths through a filter on his mask, the sound rushing in his ears, mingling with his footfalls against the disintegrated road. Black lenses block out his eyes. On either side of him are patchworks of rusted steel walls welded together with thick seams like veins. On some walls, groaning air filtration systems struggle and cough. On others, the systems aren’t more than dead metal boxes, tombstones.

James marches a fixed path toward Grievances with a few ill earned dollars in his pocket. He never set out to con anyone, not originally. But things happen and a guy’s gotta make a buck. Guilt isn’t an emotion he feels anymore, or so he lies to himself, hurrying his pace.

At night, streets are usually empty, so when he passes three figures — each masked, carrying heavy duffel bags — he passes on the far side of the street. The black, emotionless masks follow him as he passes. Before rounding a corner he pauses, looks over his shoulder. They stare intently. What mischief are they up to? Doesn’t matter. Not tonight. Tonight he has only one goal, to drink and forget for a little while. He continues on.

He arrives. A hand drawn sign next to the entrance chamber reads “Grievances”. The last few letters are squished together as the artist ran out of space. Below a smudged charcoal sketch of a masked stability officer pointing a sting box at the viewer has been ineffectively erased.

James knocks against the thick steel door. It clicks. He spins the hatch, pulls it open, and enters. Air is sucked out in a rush and his ears pop. A fine mist coats his clothing for a second, then the next door clicks open. Entering anywhere is always uncomfortable.

The room is dim, the air thick with fungal smoke rising off steel pipes. Sweet sounds of the beautiful Astira Lockhart’s crooning makes James smile. He removes his mask, takes in a deep breath and sighs. Graying stubble, wrinkles around his eyes. He’s not old, but he looks it. Sometimes he feels it. He takes an empty seat, places a couple bucks on the table, and watches Astira sing.

“Drink?”

James nods. A cup of frothy brown wine is set before him. He drinks, savoring the mossy flavor. He listens and time melts. The mild hallucinations make his brown and gray surroundings shimmer at the corners of his eyes.

Mal takes a seat next to him. Light brown-red hair and skin off-white with freckles, and a hawkish nose. She’s cute if you don’t know better. But James knows her, so he tenses and ignores her. She looks at him, savors the discomfort for a second. “Haven’t seen you in a while, James,” she says in a matter of fact way. James nods. “Things must be good for you lately.”

“Yup,” he says humorlessly.

“I bet. Guy with your credibility, you’ll be doing well for yourself by now. Business treating you well?”

James lets the question hang, tries to focus on the way Astira swivels her hips and winks from time to time as she sings, but Mal lingers like a cancer so he turns to her and says, “Is there something you want?”

She smiles, leans back and puffs on her pipe. The smoke is thick, rising to mingle with the rest of the haze. “Solve any doozies lately?” Mal holds a straight face for a few seconds before she snorts. “I have a hot tip for you. I hear North Commune has ghosts. How much do you charge to take care of ghosts?”

“More than you can afford.”

“Ha, I bet.”

“Look, you need something or are you just here to be a nuisance?”

“Yes actually,” she replies. “You owe money to Silke Thomas.”

“So. What’s that got to do with you?”

“A lot actually. Hired me last week to settle his debts. Your name’s on his list. You might be a small fry compared to some of the communes, but you know me. Thorough. Lucky for you I’m off duty. I’ll give you another day before I collect.”

“If?”

“If you buy me a drink.”

James laughs, looks at her sideways. “I’ve got two bucks and change.”

“Put it on the table, I’ll cover the rest.”

James shakes his head, unsure if she’s extorting him or coming on to him. Either way, he’s not in the mood for a fight. He puts the money up, she tosses a couple more dollars down. Wine comes and she raises the glass. Mal talks occasionally, and James answers when prompted, but the conversation is stilted. He can’t remove that barrier he’s built up over the years, that distrust. Eventually she quits and they both just listen to the music with tension between them.

She leaves and James grows agitated. Did he want her to stay? Not really, but he didn’t want her to go either. He downs the last of his wine, then rises, puts on his mask, and exits in a bad mood. Outside, the wind blows, the gusts cut through his jacket. He curses his rotten luck as he walks back in the direction of home. His eyes adjust to the night and soon he see’s them again, three masked figures with duffle bags hovering around the walls of Grievances. They pause, watch him, and this time a shiver runs up his spine. He ignores it, continues on till they’re out of sight.

Then it hits. From a quarter-mile away, James hears the boom! He spins around in time to see the glow, a plumb of smoke. Eyes wide behind his mask, he stumbles, breath caught in his throat. He rushes back to Grievances, see’s the twisted metal, the still standing hatch, rubble strewn about his feet. It’s eerily quiet, only the sound of flames.

He looks for anyone. Beyond the flames, a glint catches his eye, and there they are slinking away. He’s alone with the wreckage, the too afraid to see the bodies inside but he steps forward anyway. He stops short when he realizes what will happen if he’s found here by the officers. Stability must be preserved, the city survives on a knifes edge, and he’ll feel the edge of that knife if he’s implicated with this. He turns and hurries back towards home.

I just read a preview of the first scene from Grim Curio. Check it out! #fantasy #scifi #books Click To Tweet
Mushi-Shi - Scene from the Anime

The Three Greatest Influences on Grim Curio

This week I reached a major writing milestone in Grim Curio. I wrote my 50,000th word. This is a big step in the process and to celebrate I’m going to share some of the works that have influenced me over the past few months.

What follows are GC’s three greatest influences, which is by no means a complete list. Each of these books feature specific elements in the area’s of tone, character arcs, and genre elements that I’ve taken, made my own, and tried to emulate. Let’s get started.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy - Book CoverEvery Cormac McCarthy novel has blown me away. The guy is a master of prose, at genre subversion, and at non-conventional storytelling techniques. He has a voice all his own and manages to write genre fiction with deeply embedded literary flair.

Of his works, you might expect The Road to be the greatest source of inspiration. It shares the Post Apocalyptic genre with Grim Curio, and it’s probably his most well-known book at this point. And while The Road is certainly a book that makes me aspire to being a better writer, there are only really superficial similarities between that book and mine.

No, the McCarthy book that had the greatest impact on GC is easily No Country for Old Men. From the tightly paced narrative and the interesting moral dilemmas to absolutely stunning prose and fantastic character arcs, there’s so much to draw on.

Is No Country for Old Men an action novel? You could argue that it’s an action subversion, taking the guise of an action narrative while flipping all the tropes on their heads. Or perhaps it’d be better classified as post-action, especially in the way the book ends. Whatever it is, it’s a damn fine novel, and one that inspires me continually as I write.

Check out the three biggest influences on Grim Curio by @SCBarrus #novels #thriller #fantasy #scienceficiton Click To Tweet

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson - Book Cover

Switching genres, the next major influence is the Mistborn trilogy which consists of The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. These books feature an epic fantasy plot with a unique magic system and massive twists all along the way. But it’s not really these elements that inspire any element of Grim Curio.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every aspect above, but what really caught my eye was the near perfect character arcs. While reading I kept picking up on these often subtle character changes. Almost none of the major characters are static, they all end up as drastically different people than they started as, but the progression feels so subtle and natural.

Taken by the character progression, I ended up watching a series of novel-writing lectures from Brandon Sanderson on YouTube hoping that his secret would be revealed. Turns out it totally was, and it changed the way I write.

He has a unique approach to novel planning which I’ll dive deep into in a future post. It involves listing out all the major moments in a characters arc, then figuring out how that a character will earn that plot point. Each of these will turn into a scene. The end result, when done well, is subtle character growth leading to major changes over time.

While Grim Curio isn’t going to be anywhere near as long as Mistborn, I hope it still carries elements of this kind of character progression with all the major characters.

Mushishi

Long time followers may have guessed Mushishi would appear on this list. Mushishi is a quiet, contemplative and amazing piece of entertainment. Some may criticize it for being slow, but to them I say “no one asked you!”

Mushishi follows Ginko, a sort of traveling medicine man in feudal Japan. He wanders the rural villages to cure the ailments brought on by Mushi, creatures that exists in a different plane, yet affect our world in sometimes subtle and sometimes drastic ways.

While this one isn’t at all an edge of the seat thriller, it does instill the viewer with a sense of awe rarely felt while watching TV or movies. While technically Grim Curio will likely be categorized as Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction, it’s really Fantasy masquerading as Sci-Fi. The fantasy elements are all written through a Sci-Fi lens, but really it’s closer to Mushishi than any sort of hard science fiction.

GC attempts to take these small moments of wonder, and then build and build upon them until the scale is massive and the stakes are higher than ever. But it also seeks to capture periodic quiet moments of contemplation.

Mushi-Shi - Scene from the Anime

Mushi-Shi - Scene from the Anime

Conclusion

There you have it, the three biggest influences on Grim Curio. If you’re interested in learning more about inspiration, be sure to check out this post where I explore how to live a lifestyle that encourages constant inspiration and idea generation. Or if you’d rather get more peeks behind the scenes of Grim Curio, check out Building the Plot & Structure of Grim Curio.

Find Inspiration, Generate Ideas, & the Myth of the Perfect Concept

Writing a novel is a massive undertaking. Even a short one will consume hundreds, if not thousands of hours of your life. So it’s no surprise that so many people look for effective novel-writing strategies. What follows is the first post in my series on novel-writing. Through this series we’ll explore my current novel-writing process from conception to wherever the future takes us.


Writers write because they are inspired, don’t they? In film, writers struggle for that perfect idea, for that flash of inspiration. They struggle over a blank page, cursed with genius yet a lack of inspiration for they’re next novel. If we take movies at their word, no writer would ever write until they discovered the perfect, world shattering idea.

Lucky for us, writing doesn’t actually work that way. Good ideas are important, but they aren’t the crux that every novel depends on. Moreover, while inspiration may simply strike some people, most of us have to fashion habits that will coax ideas out of the back of our minds on a regular basis.

Inspiration is important but it's not the crux every novel must depend on. Click To Tweet

So how important is the inspiration behind your next (or first) novel? How do you create habits that ensure ideas come freely and with relative ease? Read on to dispel some common myths, learn a bit about the nature of inspiration, and build the habits that nurture ideas, generating them on a near daily basis.

The Prefect Concept

Do I need the perfect idea before I start writing?

You’re about to devote months, perhaps years to writing your masterpiece but it all starts with an idea. One bud of a thought can fuel countless hours of your life as you tackle the thankless task of sitting in a room, alone, writing. So you should wait to begin until you have the best idea ever, right?

No. In my experience, aspiring writers place too much importance on the idea behind their story. They seem to believe that if they think and think and think, they’ll come up with the perfect concept, and a book will eventually form. They will often say, “I’ve been working on a story for years.” But when it comes down to it, no words have been written.

What’s the issue with placing too much emphasis on the idea?

Some people will build their ideas for years. They may even change from one concept to another, developing ideas so thoroughly that they may as well have written their novel to completion. People I know and love have developed tons of ideas but have nothing to show for it. What they don’t realize is that an idea is only a fraction of the work involved when writing.

In reality there’s no need to labor over an idea until it’s perfect. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. Even a really solid idea is worthless without the right amount of ass in chair time.

Even a solid novel idea is worthless without the right amount of ass in chair time. Click To Tweet

A Case Study featuring Tim

Let’s consider Tim. Tim spent years developing his idea, and it’s damn near perfect. If you could see the visions inside his head, you’d be brought to tears for it brilliance. When Tim finally sat down to write, an awful thing happened. The words didn’t sound right. They felt amateurish and sloppy.

The trouble is, Tim knows what good writing is. He’s read it over and over again. But Tim never practiced the actual craft of writing. He’s read great novels, read amazing books on story structure and character arcs. He knows when writing is good or bad, but he hasn’t spent enough time practicing the craft, so his perfect idea in theory is now a mess in execution.

Had Tim settled on a half-formed idea, wrote it out, and admitted it was bad, he would have had hundreds of hours of experience writing. Maybe his first effort will never get published, but by the time he gets to his second or third novel, his writing will be leaps and bounds better, the ideas will come easier, and his ability to communicate through text will mature.

In other words, don’t put too much emphasis on the idea of your book, especially your first book. Find something that interests you and start writing. The more you do this, the easier the entire process will become.

Follow your interests & write even w/o inspiration. Do this & the process will get easier. Click To Tweet

Fostering Habits to Encourage Constant Inspiration

This is my first attempt at illustrating my blog. It’s a new thing I’m trying out. I’m not great at it, but it’s something I enjoy and will try to continue for future posts.

Now that I’ve spent roughly 1000 words downplaying the spark that incites your novel, I’m going to admit that ideas are kind of important after all. Before you sit down to a blank screen and flashing cursor, you’ll want to start somewhere. So where does the inspiration come from?

Idea’s can come from anywhere, you just need to condition yourself to generate them. I’m a firm believer that anyone can be a good writer, talent be damned. Sure, in every walk of life there are some people who are inherently talented, but there are far more people who simply worked really hard to get what they want. Everything about the writing process will come easier if you put the hours in. That includes finding inspiration.

The three B’s

I once had a professor tell me that inspiration comes from the three B’s: bathroom, bedroom, and bus. What he meant was, there are certain points of the day where you’re doing nothing, and it’s these moments where you’ll find yourself inspired. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s likely while you’re commuting, falling asleep, or doing your bathroom business.

But if you’re a writer, you probably need more than that. You’ll want to create habits that insure you have constant moments to think, explore ideas, and hopefully be inspired.

Make time for contemplation

All of my best ideas come in times of quiet contemplation, which for most people doesn’t just happen. You need to create the times to think, which can unfortunately be quickly overrun by the busy world, much like a gym membership. This in turn forces you to be ever vigilant in protecting you thinking time, deliberately setting aside regular time for it.

Most people only reserve this kind of thinking time for the three B’s — and bathroom has now become the place of the smartphone so maybe the B’s are down to two. To be in a state of constant inspiration, or to at least aspire to that state, you need to consciously develop a habit of turning off distractions (including other people) and just think.

Thinking time is too easily is pushed aside by the busy world, like a half used gym membership. Click To Tweet

How I search for inspiration

For me, habits are easiest to maintain when they easily fit into my schedule. Let’s be honest here, creating new habits is hard, especially with my busy schedule filled with family, work, writing, reading, Muay Thai, video games, Harmonquest, Rick and Morty, and anime. You likely have things you’re passionate about too, so tailor your novel meditation schedule to work best with everything else you’ve got going on.

Tailor your novel meditation schedule to work best with everything else in your life. #writing Click To Tweet

Here’s when I do it:

Driving – At least a few days per week I spend my 40 minute commute to work listening to this playlist and just thinking. No audiobooks, no podcasts, no damn commercials. Just me and my thoughts for 40 minutes straight. It’s amazing how much will come out of these driving sessions once you make a habit of it.

If you have the privilege of a long commute, this is a viable option for you. It’s time you wont get back anyway, might as well invest is as a thinker rather than a passive talk radio listener. But if you don’t commute, find time where you’re doing constant, mindless things, and inject your mind into the equation. Walking, running, shopping, and for some people maybe while working.

Bed – About twice per week I’ll go to bed an hour early. I know that I can rarely actually fall asleep before 10:30pm, so I go to bed with the goal of mulling over current project. Since I’m already in the middle of writing Grim Curio (sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss it’s release) I’ll spend that time thinking on character motivations and arcs, plot points, and themes.

When one of the ideas feel particularly good, I’ll find a way of putting it to paper. Later I’ll work it into my book summary so when I get to the applicable point in the novel, I’ll remember exactly what I was thinking.

I feel like this is an easy option for most people. Do what you have to so you’re in a thinking mindset, lay down, close your eyes, and just think.

Writing – To be honest, a lot of great ideas and sparks of inspiration come in the moment during the writing process. Sometimes it relates to the current scene, but just as often what I’m writing will spark an idea for a future scene. These ideas can disappear quickly, so make a note of it right away.

These ideas tend to be on the details and continuity level for me, so their different from what I think of in the previous strategies. Because of this, I would not rely on this time to be your only time to think on your book. At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of simply writing, even if you have no direction at all. Ideas will come to you as you work through all the threads in your mind. So, even when nothing else is working, sit down and write.

With their powers combined

Don’t rely on just one of these times to contemplate your novel. Try a combination or come up with a few of your own. Best results come when taken together.

The personal risks of living in constant pursuit of inspiration

I’m not normal. You probably figured this out already. I’m pretty aloof, I forget a lot of important things, and I have a hard time maintaining relationships with many people outside my family — even inside my family if I’m being honest. For a normal person, this might sound lonely, but for me, it’s what I crave.

This personality flaw, as some might call it, is likely a result of my own pursuit crafting the perfect piece of fiction. I spend so much time thinking about my writing — and other creative projects — that when it comes time for the real world, often I’m a step behind.

For me, that’s ok. I enjoy being alone and spending time simply thinking on things. This is where my inspiration comes from. So be warned, transitioning into a life in constant pursuit of inspiration may come at a cost. Or you might already be an outcast, nerd, or other form of standoffish enthusiast. My people!

Don’t put too much pressure on your ideas

The idea generating phase never ends, so try not to stress about it. The more you allow yourself to think on things, the easier it becomes. Remember, it takes years to become good at anything. Don’t expect the first manuscript you write to be your masterpiece. You could be one of the lucky one’s who writes a classic on their first go, and to you I say fuck off.

It takes most people years to become great at manipulating a thousand ideas into a novel, so just make time for thinking and writing and let everything else go. There’s too much stress in the world already. Don’t make the creative process into a stressful one. Enjoy the struggle, take pride in your mistakes, at least you’re creating something out of nothing! Later on, those early mistakes will be obvious and you’ll find all new weaknesses to strengthen. So it goes.

Young writers, enjoy the struggle, take pride in your mistakes, at least you're creating something! #writing Click To Tweet

When your expectations are too high, nothing feels good enough. Accept that not all of your ideas will be perfect. Some may feel average at best but will create a compelling story in execution. Others may feel great and in execution you’ll realize that they weren’t all you thought they were. It’s all ok. Pivot. Come up with new ideas. Think and think on it, massage it, and eventually something good will come.

Recognize that the initial idea will likely get left in the dust

The spice must flow

When I wrote Discovering Aberration, my initial idea was inspired by a dream of a mysterious island with some hidden technology submerged under a lake protected by a dragon. The island and the ancient technology made it to the final draft. All the rest got written out. In the end I wrote a story involving gang wars, evil archeologists, a lost civilization, and characters driven to madness. Idea’s change, and that’s ok. Let them take on their own life, coax them along, adjusting when you need to.

Conclusion

Ideas and inspiration don’t strike anyone not actively looking for it. The right mindset, discipline, and practice will cause ideas to flow. If you aspire to being a great writer, then the best advice I can give you is to write and never stop. I hope you found this first post in my novel-writing series useful. If you did, I would very much appreciate it if you would be kind enough to share. I’ll see you next time.

All The Threads Are Coming Together

Stats

  • Words added last month – 14,295
  • Total word written – 42,812
  • Named Characters – 24 (give or take a couple)
  • Drafted Chapters – 11
  • Drafted Scenes – 58
  • Paperback pages – 215

Excerpt

“It sucks feeling small, doesn’t it?”

Nat nods.

“And doing what we do, it makes us big. Just like you said, alone you can’t do anything. Nobody listens, nobody cares, everyone is dying and everyone knows it. I’ve seen people dying everywhere in slow and ugly ways. Nothing I can do about it. What I do now makes a difference. Makes a big difference. People all over are scared of me. They don’t know it’s me they’re scared of, but they’re all frightened of my shadow, of my influence, of the threat that my existence brings. Not just the surface dwellers, not just the undercity, all of ‘em. You, the girls, everyone. And if you don’t think so, it’s because I haven’t had a reason to show you yet.”

Above is a snippet from a recent scene written in Grim Curio. It’s been a while since I shared a proper update, so let’s dive in.

Threads are Coming Together

Grim Curio has a decently complex narrative. There are three separate threads that affect each other both directly and indirectly as the story progresses, eventually all merging into a single thread. At times it gets difficult to write in a way that everything makes logical sense and is fun to read, so the further I get, the slower progress is coming. Right not I’m in the thick of it as all three narratives are coming together, but once that’s complete I expect my progress to pick up again.

Feedback

I’ve also shared the first four chapters on /r/DestructiveReaders, a subreddit I frequent in order to improve my writing and get feedback from readers while the book is still in progress. Feedback has been great!

Three or four months ago I shared these same chapters in an earlier form, and the critiques prompted me to overhaul the style (you can read about the decision to rewrite everything I’d written here). I’m glad I did because readers are responding much more favorably to GC now, with feedback focusing on specific elements rather than the broad strokes.

By the way, I wrote a blog post on how to use critiques like these to improve your writing. If you’re interested in improving your prose, read my critique feedback loop strategy here.

Become Part of the Process

Some readers have approached me with a desire to become part of my writing process. There are actually lots of ways to do this, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Become an alpha reader

You may have heard of beta readers, but with my GC I’ve been taking it one step further with alpha readers. While beta reading is a structured process with a predefined set of readers giving regular feedback, alpha reading more free form. You can learn the differences here.

I share chapters on /r/DestructiveReaders, and you read and either leave comments in the Google Doc, and/or write a short summary of your thoughts. If you want to be notified whenever a new chapter is released, go to the contact page and send me a message. I’ll email you whenever a I share a new chapter.

Conclusion

That’s what’s been going on with me and my book lately. We’re chugging along. If all goes according to plan, I expect to finish the novel by the end of the year. Want to be notified when Grim Curio is released? Sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss out!

Aaron Burden