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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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
Every 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fostering Habits to Encourage Constant Inspiration
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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 properupdate, 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.
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.
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.
Behind the scenes of favorite books can be a complicated place, especially when you’re talking about editors. There are so many stages of editing, so many kinds of editors as well as generous readers who give up their time to offer their opinion on works in progress. So if you’re among the many readers who doesn’t know the difference between a Developmental Editor, Proofreader and Beta Reader, this post is for you.
We’re going to break down editors into three categories, Editors, Beta Readers, and Alpha Readers. Editors are your professional brand of book doctors who get paid the big bucks to gut manuscripts before their published. They come in many varieties, and we’ll address the nuances below. Then there’s Beta Readers who are more or less hobby editors who volunteer their time to read manuscripts before they reach Editors and offer their advice. Finally, there are Alpha Readers who come early in the process often in the form of critique groups, writing workshops, etc.
For a more detailed overview on these publishing heroes, read on.
Editors are professional readers, critiquer’s and proofreader’s. They are paid to offer their expert advice to an author in order to make the authors work more marketable (also better).
There are many kinds of editors including: acquisition editors, copy editors, line editors, content editors, and more. Rather than rewriting what’s already been written hundreds of times online, I’ve founds another source to do that work for me. Below is a quote from a blog post from The Helpful Writer. They do a great job of calling out the differences without diving too deep. You can read their complete, original post here.
Most of you already know, or at least heard of, the AE. Generally, they are the ones picking up the books for a publisher, and the go-to for the author while prepping a book for publication.
Used by big publishing houses, and often ghost writers. You can find a few freelancing DEs. They are best with non-fiction writing, but can be hired by fiction writers. Their primary function is to ensure a book moves in a forward motion, watching plot and characterization. Think writing coach.
The very big publishing houses have Content Editors, the one overlooking all the plot, characterization, voice, and setting.
The copy editor specializes in grammar, punctualization, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting. The Copy Editor is used most often in journalism publications, but utilized by some smaller publishers.
Also known as a Copy/Content Editor, often employed by the small – medium publishers, and self-published authors. They do it all – grammar, fact-checking, spelling, formatting, plot, sentences, characterization, setting, punctualization, and voice. They go through every inch of an MS, word by word, line by line.
Many get a proofreader and an editor confused. A proofreader is the one who goes over your MS after an editor. They look for the glaring mistakes missed, generally in punctuation, spelling, and formatting. They look for the glaring mistakes that may have been missed during edits.
Hey guys, I’m back! Let’s talk about beta readers. Beta readers are the salt of the earth readers who want to be a part of the process. And they’re awesome. They volunteer their time to read early access, unkempt, unpublished manuscripts. They then share their thoughts with the author in the form of notes and/or interviews. If all goes well, a better book is birthed kicking and screaming into this cruel world.
The beta reading process for me is a structured, chapter by chapter read through. My beta readers are given chapter deadlines and are asked to answer a series of questions to send back to me. Occasionally we may have one on one conversations where they share their deepest, darkest secrets… ahem, thoughts on my novel. It’s the semi casual version of Editing!
Want to become a Beta Reader? Send me a message through my contact form, and let me know. I’ll add ask you a few questions and potentially add you to the list.
To boil it down, Alpha Readers are to Beta Readers what Beta Readers are to Editors. Hows that for a flashback to the SAT’s? To clarify: Editors are a professional grade arsenal of long-range weapons. They get paid to read at a professional level. Beta readers are avid readers willing to share their thoughts. They’re your infantry.
Alpha readers, on the other hand, have access to some or all of the early versions of chapters, they may read it in order or random bits and pieces, and they are not beholden to schedules or deadlines. They come earlier in the process than Beta Readers, often before much of the book is even written. They are your spies.
For me, Alpha Readers help determine aspects of the novel while I am writing it. They share input during the drafting process.You can include in this group writing partners or workshops. Lately I’ve been using /r/DestructiveReaders for my alpha reading process (learn about how I used this community to improve my writing skills). Some readers there are professional writers, other amateurs, still others just readers wanting to share their input.
If you want to be notified when chapters are available for alpha reading, reach out to me through my contact form and let me know. I’ll email you whenever a new chapter is available to alpha read.
So there you have it. In short, all forms of editors are great but each serves a very different purpose. If you’re a reader who wants to get involved, find what works best for you and offer your services to an up and coming writers. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled. If you’re an up and coming writer, keep an eye out for these kinds of readers and learn how to utilize them. It’ll be highly worth your time.
This week got away from me fast. Recently I bought a house from the sixties, a ‘real fixer upper’ my four-year-old son calls it. It’s a great little house with a room for my office and a library. For real, I’m going to be able to tell people, “I’ll meet you in the library”, and it won’t be ironic :D.
But it is a real fixer upper. Over the last few weeks, I’ve torn out the kitchen, covered the ceiling in 1/4″ drywall, and managed a collection of contractors, cabinet and hardware companies, and dealt unfavorably with Lowes on more than a couple of occasions. I think it’s official, I’m a Home Depot man. First time those words ever came out of my… I was going to say mouth, but fingers I guess.
Luckily I have the help of a super knowledgable father-in-law and a kick ass brother-in-law who can do all the things. They’re each teaching me a ton. Not that I didn’t know nothin’. I was a laborer for a local custom home company called Boitano Homes for a few years and I know my way around a hammer — I did eight years ago anyway. Now I’m learning again.
This past week I’ve spent roughly ten hours sanding sheet rock, which I tell ya is a real pain in the eyes. I wear glasses, and something about the air flow around glasses sucks all the dust straight into my eyes. I tried goggles, I ain’t no dummy, but they quickly fog so you can’t see what you’re doing. So dust in the eyes it is. Yay!
Library, office. Library, office, remember that! You almost have it, you just need to build it. And maybe a place to hang my punching bag, and a pump track in the back yard…
Anyway, all of that to say that I’m behind on blog posts so I’m writing this off the cuff. I have two posts written, but I need to go through them before I post. First one will be on all of my writing progress in the past month and will feature an excerpt from my current chapter in progress.
The second one is more for reference. It’s on Editors, Beta Readers and what I call Alpha Readers. It’s pretty straight forward and on the nose, not meant to just be read for fun. Instead, when I talk about this awesome collection of people, I’ll reference this post for anyone who’s not in the know.
Last thing. Grim Curio is still making progress, but the work on the house is taking its toll there too. I think I wrote 14,000 words last month, so progress is probably around the medium mark. Nothing to feel bad about, but not super stellar either. I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to finish drafting by end of November.
I’ve been building a killer writing playlist on Spotify for a year. I somehow created a 19 hour behemoth of music I can reliably count on whenever I need to get into the writing mood. Shuffle play, and instantly I get pulled into a more contemplative piece of mind.
It’s a mix of chill out, down tempo electronic, psychedelic post-rock, and movie and video game soundtracks. Almost all of the songs have a steady but relaxing beet and trance inducing rhythms. Few have any singing, and those that do feature the kind of vocals that blend with the music rather than drive it.
Below is the playlist. I called it Creativity Juice – A Writers Playlist. Look down further for a sample of some of the artists included. And if that doesn’t float your boat, scroll way down past that where I share some of my playlist creation wizardry tips. So good.
Listen to The Playlist
The artists include:
Want to give this playlist a test drive? Check out some of the artists.
The Album Leaf
Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon
And Many, Many More.
What if you hate my taste in writing music?
Make it yourself! Below are some thing’s I’ve learned building a the perfect writing playlist for me. Feel free to give it a shot and before you know it, you’re going to be rocking your own masterpiece.
Add Songs Liberally
I like to add liberally. I start by picking an artist I like, listen to an album or two and add a song to the playlist every time I’m compelled to. Usually my criteria is to answer “will I ever like to hear this again while writing?” with maybe or greater. This builds your playlist quick, especially in the beginning.
Remove Songs Liberally
Once you’re listening to your playlist, you’ll quickly find that some of the songs that you thought would work just don’t strike the tone you want. Cut it as soon as you notice. Nothing is worse than listening to a playlist and skipping every other track. If you ever feel like skipping, just remove it instead. If you want, you can add it to another track later.
Utilize Recommended Artists
Once you’ve had your fill of any one artist, jump on a few of the related artists. I’ll generally give an artist I’ve never heard before a three song test. If I only skip one out of three songs in a row (adding songs I liked along the way), I’ll pick an album and listen to it from the beginning, otherwise I go back and pick again. Don’t just listen to their most popular tracks. Instead, pick an album and start from the beginning, adding songs you like as you go.
Listen While Your Not Writing
When you’re writing, the last thing you want to do is stop writing to manage a playlist. If a song comes on that you want to skip, if you’re like me you’ll just suffer through it unless it’s really grating. Instead, listen to your writing playlist when you’re not writing and remove the songs that aren’t working.
That’s all I’ve got. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a method that works for me. So what do you think of the playlist? If you listen to it during a drafting session, let me know how it went in the comments. If you’ve created your own writing playlist, feel free to share a link.
You can’t get far in life without a plan. Well, maybe you can, but I’ve never had much luck without it. When I try to pants my life, things tend to get missed along the way. Over the past five years, I’ve become more of a planner, plotting out points I want to hit in order to reach my goals.
After a few months of thought, I’ve created a series of goals for both the writing and publishing side of things and now I want to share these plans with you. The idea is: 1) as a reader of mine, you can have a clear view of what to look forward to in the future (yay!), 2) if you’re an emerging writer, you might be able to draw a bit of inspiration from my goals and learn from my mistakes to inform your own career.
The following all center around projects I plan to begin and finish within the next two years. Let’s dive in.
1. Output – Write a book per year
First a soft goal. Many writers I follow have mentioned this magic number for building a career out of publishing, both trad and indie (read traditional publishing and self publishing). Most recently, Brandon Sanderson mentioned this goal in his Fantasy/Sci-fi college course which I highly recommend both for readers and writers.
This is a goal I think I can hit, as my writing output has increased dramatically since the first stage of my writing career. This might not be readily apparent to you, my reader, but give it a year and you’ll start to see the fruits of my labors as the books start hitting shelves with a regular cadence.
2. Complete Grim Curio by November
I plan on finishing a complete draft of Grim Curio soon. I wrote 35,000 words in 4 months, and that included a massive rewrite that halted progress for a full month and a half. Given my current output, I think November is a tight but realistic goal to hit, and I’ll keep you posted on this as we get closer.
Once the draft is done, I’ll do a full revision to make sure it’s as good as it can be on my own, and then I’ll send it out to beta readers (which will hopefully include you 😍). While Grim Curio is being shredded to pieces by you lot, I’ll start looking for the right literary agent while drafting my next project. Which leads us too…
3. Write The Gin Thief: Episode 2 by February 2018
The Gin Thiefwas the follow up to Discovering Aberration an episodic series of novellas I pitched via Kickstarter a couple years ago. It got funded to the tune of $500. Shortly after I published the first episode. A few weeks later stuff happened in my life, and as a result I stopped writing for two years.
The Gin Thief was the main casualty of this upheaval… apart from losing my entire marketing funnel and all the good will I’d built up with my reader base. Sorry about that. I’m working hard on fixing it as best I can.
For a long time, The Gin Thief has had this emotional brick attached to it that really weighed down my efforts to pick it up again, but I’ve finally worked past that. Now I’m ready to jump back in. I’ll write Episode 2 by end of February, and hopefully publish before summer of the same year.
From there, I plan on immediately finishing the series and publishing episodes regularly.
4. Write Discovering Aberration 2 by mid 2019
This goal is a year or two in the future, and things might change by then. Maybe Grim Curio takes off, and I have a larger Science Fiction fan base than a Steampunk one. In that case I’ll likely jump on another sci-fi work before revisiting DA2. So, while this goal may pivot at some point, the current plan is to follow up TGT with DA2.
After this, we’ll have to see. I have another story I’ve been thinking about writing which I think is technically categorized as Dream Punk (so many punk genres), but 2019 is a ways off, so other ideas might surface.
Publishing Career Goals
This section is for all the things I need to do that relate to my writing career, but aren’t directly writing novels. Mostly it involves communicating with my readers, and building an active reader base to launch future books to. In the end, you guys are what make what I enjoy doing possible.
1. Write a formal letter of apology to The Gin Thief kick started backers
Wow, it’s hard to publicly mess up and recover. Nobody has been after me about TGT stalling, no one is breaking down the door or anything, but I still feel terrible about the debacle. When I set out to launch TGT kickstarter campaign, I didn’t foresee the upheaval my life was about to go through, nor did I imagine that anything would stop me from writing.
Anyway, I’ve put this off long enough. It’s time to repair the damage. My next step before I do anything else is to write a letter of apology, update my backers on my plan, and then deliver. TGT will be completed, and I think I’ll be able to write a better series now than I could have before. Fingers crossed my backers take it well.
2. Rebuild my marketing funnel before Summer 2017
I used to be really good about building my mailing list which in turn did a great job of spreading the word of new releases and book promotional events. I had specific methods for readers to sign up for my mailing list from by website, blog, social networks, live events and book back matter. This was my funnel, and in the past couple years it’s fallen apart.
So it’s time to rebuild. In the coming months I’m going to:
Rebuild the website so its more than just a blog. On it I’ll include easy to discover links to my mailing list and a page dedicated to my books. It’ll look great, and be focused.
Update the back matter in all of my currently published ebooks.
Refocus my social media efforts to connect with readers and direct them to my site or mailing list.
Basically I’m going to take my online presences and revamp it one thing at a time.
2. Get back into the convention game
Back when I was at my most active, I would rent booths at three or four conventions a year, meet people, sell books, and build my mailing list. It was awesome, and I’d gotten pretty good at it. My goal is to get back into conventions in the Pacific NW (USA and maybe Canada) Summer of 2017.
Summer 2017 will be when I really start focusing on spreading the word, and a lot of that work will be around conventions. I need to have The Gin Thief: Episode 2 published before I do another convention for a few reasons:
I won’t do another convention with just one novel to sell. I’ve done plenty of those, and they went fine, but for my next conventions I want at least three novels, plus some swag.
I don’t feel right about pushing TGT1 until TGT2 is finally released. It’s been too long between episodes, and I don’t want people to feel swindled.
Finally, more books to sell just equals better convention for lots of reasons. If someone doesn’t like the sound of one book, I can pitch the other. Also, there’s the chance that someone buy’s all three. When they do that, it’s easier to break even on the costs of renting a booth, getting a hotel, and traveling. Breaking even (and spreading the word) is my goal, making a profit is just icing.
3. Explore Traditional Publishing
I’ve done the indie thing a few times now, and I’m pleased with what I’ve done. I still plan to continue indie publishing TGT and possibly DA2. But I also want to see what the grass is like on the other side of the fence. That’s why I’m not planning on publishing Grim Curio myself.
There’s a few reasons for this. The idea of being a hybrid suites me. I’ll enjoy having other people take on some of the work, and I’d like to see my books have the opportunity to be more widely distributed. I also think that once this happens, my indie books and my traditional ones will build on each other, possibly cross pollinating two different groups of readers. Lots of eggs in lots of baskets feels like the way to go for me.
So that’s my plan in a nutshell. Stick with me through this crazy publishing journey and you’ll see all these things come to fruition. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but that’s ok. In the end, I’ll have more books published, more readers reading them, and more fun as I streamline my approach. I hope you stick around for the long term. If you see me falter, feel free to point it out either here on my blog, or on any of my social networks.