Why and How I’m Creating a T-Shirt for Grim Curio

Lately I’ve had my heart set on designing a t-shirt. As all my friends in the office can attest, I’ve been bugging the hell out of them over t-shirt logo’s and designs. It’s a weird obsession, I get it, but one I’m gonna see through.

Why create a t-shirt?

For the Beta Readers

Over the last few months, I’ve had tremendous support from my team of beta readers. They read an early copy of Grim Curio, enduring my own slow pace. I’d call them all out to thank them by name, but I know privacy is something a lot of them care about, so I won’t do that. But these guys are the best.

Do I need to clarify that by guys I mean men and women? I’m from the North West and that’s just what we call everybody.

As a way to show my thanks, I want to gift my beta readers something special. Not something that will be stored away and forgotten, or worse yet, thrown away. Something they can show off and be proud of. A symbol of their contribution to Grim Curio. So naturally, a t-shirt.

For fans and supporters

If you’ve been a writer in the trenches, you know how important it is to have swag. When you stand behind a table trying to sling books, it gets rough sometimes. But then comes someone who want’s to support you all the way to the bank. They like you, your work, and want you to keep creating, so they buy everything. These wonderful people fuel the arts, and the more you can offer them, the more they’ll give back to you.

Why a shirt?

To be fair, a shirt is probably just the beginning. But shirts are awesome for a few reasons. It’s a walking piece of art that I’ve created. That’s pretty cool. More than that, if someone wears it, they’re also spreading the word about my work without have to, you know, interact with people 👍. Not only are they supporting me with their hard-earned money, but by spreading the good word. We call these people saints.

Eventually there might be mugs and posters, but we’re getting way way WAY ahead of ourselves……

The Design

Here’s the status of where we are. I’ve been coming up with concepts for almost a month, and I think I’ve finally landed on one that’s pretty good. Here it is.

This design is representative of several themes from Grim Curio. At the top we have the planet Mars, the place where many people on Earth dream of going. Below that, an eye looks up, showing the only place where hope lies in this book. The eye is red, a side effect of not wearing a full face respirator outside. The eye also appears to be stabbed by the tower below, just as an eye is gouged in the novel — which comes with plot affecting benefits.  Then there’s the tower itself, which is a massive part of the third act. Behind it is the red sun whose rays look like flames, representative of a specific even in the novel. Then there are the ruined buildings, which are the city, and the rolling earth before it which is inspired by the cover of Roadside Picnic and represents the rubble and the wastes.

So there’s a lot here that relates to the novel. Is the design good? I don’t know. I think it needs polish, but it’s maybe 80% of the way there. Some of the lines need to be cleaned up. Mars needs to be smaller, and maybe the eye too. Also, I need to figure out the color of the shirt.

If you are a beta reader, or if you have any thoughts, insight or suggestions, feel free to let me know in the comments. If are interested in buying a shirt, sign up for my mailing list in the link at the top of the site, and I’ll let you know when they go on sale.

Behind the scenes

I’d been trying to come up with a t-shirt design for a while. Here’s a concept I had midway through the process.

I liked this because it’s a minimalistic self-portrait and could be cool on a shirt. I don’t like it because, as one of my friends pointed out, no woman will wear that… Haha. So no go for the first shirt, but I might revisit it for later.

Then I came up with this.

I kind of like the idea of this… but in practice it looks pretty… phallic. Soooo…. it needed some refinement. But you can see how the design above was born from this.

I decided to draw several elements of the design on their own sheets of paper. So I started with the eye and mars. Then I layered on top of it the tower and the cityscape, cutting them up with an exacto-knife.

Finally, I added the sun in the background to come to where we are today. Here it is again for good measure.

That’s it. Sign up for the mailing list to get the opportunity to pre-order this shirt when all the details are ironed out. See you around.

Planning a Novel: The Spark of an Idea

While writing Grim Curio is still in full swing (but nearing its end), I’ve been thinking about future projects a lot lately. I have two other novels in the works, The Gin Thief episodes and an untitled novel I’m co-writing with my wife, Tana.

She’s not much into social networking or blogging, but she’s a voracious reader and you can follow her on Goodreads. Last year she read well over 100 books and this year she’s already on track to surpass that.

I’ve been asking her for a while, “When are you going to write your own novel?” and she shrugs.

She’s the reader, I’m the writer. But I knew there was a story inside her if I could just coax it out. So during an hour long drive, I grilled her. I started with the broad questions. “If you were to write your novel,” I asked, “What genre would it be?”

She was skeptical of my motives, but after a little coaxing she opened up. “My favorite books are mash-ups of Science Fiction with a Fantasy element,” she said. Turns out, she likes the Sci-fi aesthetic, and magic systems from novels like the Mistborn trilogy. Sounds good to me.

“I really like the plot of Treasure Island,” she said. One of my favorite novels. Scored a big point with that one. “I’m interested in a science fiction retelling of Treasure Island with magic and a heist.”

I was taken aback. “That sounds amazing. I’d totally read that. In fact, I’d totally write that.”

We tossed ideas back and forth, getting more and more specific along the way. And what we came up with was this.

It’s a mess. But it’s also a jumping off point.

Let’s say you’re interested in writing your own novel, but don’t know where to start. What can you take away from this?

Find someone to bounce ideas off of

As it turns out, Tana has more interesting ideas than I do. Go figure. She’s read everything under the sun. She’d throw me an idea, and I’d build on it and throw it back. Pretty soon we had the seed of what could be a promising story.

It’s important to remember that there really isn’t such a thing as a bad idea in this stage. It’s ok to say, “That’s been done before,” or “I’d rather see something like…” But don’t shoot the other person’s ideas down. They are doing you a service, and if you want their continued support, be encouraging.

Start broad, then go more and more narrow

You’ll notice that in the beginning there wasn’t a specific idea. But as we explored settings and themes and plot structure, we began to get more and more specific.

Of course this isn’t the only way to go. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to create a novel this way. But it seems to have worked well.

Alternative ways to begin a novel include: start with a character, start with the plot, find an idea you want to explore, find an aesthetic, or just find a book you want to emulate. It really doesn’t matter where the spark of the idea comes from. Just find a something you love and run with it.

Ideas change

What you brainstorm here will likely not be your final product. What sounds amazing in the idea generation phase may be terrible once executed. There’s no way to know until you do it.

Embrace change. Pivot once you realize something isn’t working. Don’t hold yourself to your early ideas, because in the end it doesn’t matter how you started, only how you finish.

Realize that this is just the first step

The work is only just beginning. An idea isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless you follow through with it. Writing a novel is a lot of sustained hard work. Be prepared to follow through for months and months in the trenches, taking fire and shooting back until… you’re novel is written I guess. Not a great analogy, but I’m keeping it.

That’s all I have for today. Hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes. If you’re looking for more on this subject, checkout my blog post called Find Inspiration, Generate Ideas, and the Myth of the Perfect Concept.

My Roadmap: A flow chart of what I’m working on

Right now I’m working on so many projects, sometimes it’s hard for me to keep them straight. I imagine it might also be difficult for you to follow along. So to try to, eh, clarify, I created this flowchart.

The bar on the left measures a project’s level of completeness. The bar on the bottom signifies time. So the projects in the top right are nearly complete but way in the future. To be honest, I’m not sure how much it does clarify. Maybe I’ll take another crack at it sometime in the near future.

There’s a new look around these parts

Check out the new look on S.C. Barrus' blog. Click To Tweet

I’ve taken up illustrating. I’m drawing myself as well as other random things.

I’ve started sharing these stupid little sketches with you a bit already, but there’s more coming whether you like it or not.

Anyway, you’ll notice the site looks way different. New pictures, new theme, everything is dog gone new.

The reasons are simple. I want more simplicity, plus I want to have a distinctive presence online. I’ve blended in with everyone else seeking attention online. I’m sick of it. So drawing. Not to worry, the content here will still largely focus on my writing and other writing and reading related topics, but now with a bit more permanent marker thrown in.

 

The sweet sorrow of finishing a novel

I’ve nearly finished writing Grim Curio. 92,000 words written, and when it’s done it’ll be just shy of 100,000. That’s pretty damn close.

I’m a little sad to be at this point. Grim Curio has been a very rewarding book to write. I’ve expanded my skills and pushed myself as far as I can.

Even so, I’m ready finish. Writing Grim Curio has been exhausting. So while I’m sad to see the experience drawing to an end, I’m also relieved.

It's a Roller Coaster of Emotion in here

To celebrate this milestone, here’s three takeaways from my writing process.

I found my own voice

It seems to me that a writers voice is always evolving. But for the first time I feel the voice I’m writing in is my own.

While I enjoy the narration of Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I think it’s fairly obvious that I was emulating the style of the Victorian Era (drawing heavily from Jules Verne).

With Grim Curio, it was just me. 

I improved my pacing

Pacing is critical. Bad pacing can cripple an otherwise great novel. I’ve struggled with pacing before, especially with Discovering Aberration‘s drawn out introduction and drastic shift in tone.

But with Grim Curio I feel like I nailed it. Beta readers seemed to agree. Now I’ve got to carry that structure to future works.

Layered Story

While my other novels are straight forward adventures without too much subtext to dive into, I feel like I’ve added a depth to Grim Curio I’ve never written before.

Grim Curio can be read as a straightforward post apocalyptic story, but there are layers and layers here that I weaved into the narrative. Some of my beta readers picked up on these deeper themes, others were content to read it at a surface level.

The fact that both were possible and both sets of readers reported high levels of enjoyment tell me I did something right there. Go me. Gotta pat myself on the back sometimes. God knows I pile on the criticism enough.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Lot’s more coming in the weeks ahead. I’m getting back into my regular blogging schedule again now that things are calming down. Keep an eye out, and if you want to be notified of any future releases, sign up for my mailing list.

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

Eyes on the Future – Two Years of Writing & Publishing Goals

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

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.

Writing Goals

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 Thief was 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:

  1. 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.
  2. I don’t feel right about pushing TGTuntil TGT2 is finally released. It’s been too long between episodes, and I don’t want people to feel swindled.
  3. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Until next time, keep on keeping on.

Building the Plot & Structure of Grim Curio

It’s been radio silence on my end for the past few weeks, which isn’t cool at all. So today I’m jumping back into the game, filling you in on what’s been going on in my world, and update you the production of Grim Curio.

Mo’ House, Mo’ Problems

Last month I bought my first house. Woohoo! It’s a bit of a fixer upper, and I’ve been doing a fair share of the work myself as well as juggling contractors, suppliers, and getting the whole furniture situation worked out.

This effectively destroyed all of my blogging and social media time which is why there’s been little coming from me lately. Worry not. My actual writing progress has been as good as ever despite the work. Setting aside two hours a day four or five days a week has become an ingrained habit. Social media and blogging, isn’t on that level yet. Maybe one day.

Grim Curio Progress

You may remember the major rewrite I undertook about two months ago. It was an attempt to better establish the setting, as well as shift from first to third person perspective and from past tense to present tense. That work has finally been 100% completed!

On top of that, there used to be quite a bit of stuff I’d written that I realized would never make it to the final version, but I held on to it for a long while. All the dead text has been stripped away. I ended up cutting around 15,000 words and adding around 20,000.

The result is a tighter, more immediate story that can effortlessly shift perspectives and weave an intricate plot. There multiple perspectives and several storylines that affect each other, subtly at first then more pronounced as the story progresses, and these changes made that structure much more natural feeling.

Plotting

When I first started writing Grim Curio I had beginning, middle, and ending scenes in mind, but nothing outlined. I simply started writing by aiming the plot in the direction of the middle scene, building future scenes in my mind as I went. Some writers call this method “pantsing it” or “discovery writing”, and it’s the way I wrote Discovering Aberration.

This worked fine for Grim Curio so far, in fact I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. But sometimes it’s nice to have a better idea of a slightly more granular view of where things are going.

Recently I read about one of Brandon Sanderson’s plotting techniques (then quickly began watching his writing course on YouTube). Basically he writes a list of his most important scenes, then adds bullet points as to how the characters will “earn” each of those scenes. The bullets points are then turned into their own scenes, and boom, he has a plot.

I’ve never been a fan of traditional storyboarding, but this method sounded great to me, so I gave it a shot. The result is the fully plotted story structure of Grim Curio. I have to say that I really like this method so far, we’ll see if that holds true as I continue to try it out.

Structure

Now that this plotting exercise is complete, I have somewhere between 40-50% of the story written. What’s done is the first act (which is generally the longest act in most stories). Act 1 is mostly a self contained story with a side plot which will build into the meat of act 2.

Act 2 introduces new characters (Tannea and Simon, two scientists experimenting with parallel universes) and a new conflict which will permeate the rest of the novel. James will be drawn into this conflict in a much different way than he was drawn into the conflict of act 1.

However, Nat (antagonist who’s had the second most screen time of all the minor characters) will be incorporated into this conflict as well, but her screen time will be shared by the newly introduced characters as well as the rest of the Sisterhood.

Act 3 will be a doozy. By act 3 I think we’ll have the final set of secondary characters established (namely the government officials who’s actions drive much of the conflict of the final act). The conflict will build on what came before in act 2, but the stakes will be much higher than at any other point in the story (as might be expected from the climax). I even have an idea of what the last few sentences of the novel might be.

Stay tuned for more.

Hopefully that gives you a peek into my progress without giving too much away. But there’s more I’ve been preparing aside from Grim Curio. Recently I’ve been thinking about my publishing career as a whole and what I can do to right the wrongs I’ve done in the past (ie. not finishing The Gin Thief). There’s a lot I have on my mind, and a lot of planning that needs to happen, all of which I’ll address in the near future. Till then, you all keep reading!

Grim Curio Writing Goals – A Deep Dive into the Ideas Behind The Process

When writing any work, it’s a good idea to establish goals. Some authors may focus their efforts on exploring the entire life of a character in a compelling way (Patrick Rothfuss and Name of the Wind). Another may focus on terse, expressive sentences and a relationship between father and son (Cormac McCarthy and The Road). Another may focus on exploring an interesting city and all the varied inhabitants therein (John Berendt and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil).

Of course I can only guess if those goals were established by their authors. I haven’t talked to them about this or anything, but Pat, if you want some free coffee or beer, hit me up and I will gladly buy 😉. Either way, it’s a safe bet that these authors followed guidelines set up by themselves at some point during the creative process.

3 Novels Inspiring Grim Curio by S.C. Barrus

What are my goals while writing Grim Curio?

I’ve been considering my goals for Grim Curio for quite some time, and I have a pretty solid idea of what I want out of the book, at least in this stage of the process. Things may change, and that’s ok, but for now these are the driving So let’s dive in.

Minimalist style

A post apocalyptic world is a barren, caustic place, so the sentences should match.

Discovering Aberration by S.C. BarrusMy writing style morphs a bit from work to work. While writing Discovering Aberration my goal was to write as though I were a steampunk Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson love-child. I wonder what those two would think of that sentence. I believe form should match content. A post apocalyptic world is a barren, caustic place, so the sentences should match. This doesn’t mean writing as many three word sentences as possible, but I do like the occasional one or two word fragments for emphasis. The trick is not overdoing it.

The final thing I enjoy about minimalism is the rhythm. By the time I get to a third or forth rewrite, the rhythm and flow gets really established. It’s fun to establish a series of short and medium length sentences, then subvert that with a long, flowing thing that builds the scenes and expands the action. Then short again.

Relatable Antagonists

Like many disenchanted teenagers, Nat deals with harsh reality by destroying things.

One thing I loved about the novel The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson was the eventual relatability of the villain. There’s something special about a story where even the bad dudes give you the feels. I want that in Grim Curio, but in my own way. There are a few antagonists in Grim Curio, but one of the major ones, who is introduced in the second chapter, is Nat. She is a sixteen year old girl who’s still figuring out the world she lives in. Like many disenchanted teenagers, Nat deals with harsh reality by destroying things. It starts small, smashing windows, but what happens when she’s adopted by an extremist group?

If I do my job right, you’ll love her and hate her. You’ll want to give her a hug, or wish someone would shoot her. The same goes for my other, secondary antagonists, but in different ways. Each should be understandable, relatable, even when they’re doing something terrible.

Perdido Street Station by China MievilleStrange but familiar

All of the fantasy elements are grounded in an in-world science.

I’m a huge fan of weird fiction, like Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. I love the effect of making the strange feel familiar. Now I’m not attempting to dive as deep into the strange rabbit hole as Mieville. Rather I’m drawing heavy inspiration from how fantasy is portrayed in the anime (and manga I suppose, though I’ve not read it) MushiShi.

So how is fantasy incorporated into MushiShi? Very naturally. All of the fantasy elements are grounded in an in-world science. The Mushi themselves feel like an extension of our own reality, like slightly more fantastic bacteria, strange sentient swamps, or parasites that grant supernatural hearing that drives people to madness.

If you’ve read any of my snippets, you’ve probably seen similar things. Namely the disease in Clayton that afflicts children, causing them to scream in the sunlight, slowly eating away at their consciousness. I want these fantasy elements to feel like an extension of reality, strange but familiar.

Great things from small beginnings

James motivations are often selfish, but when the time comes will he abandon those selfish desires, or will he give in to nihilism and abandon meaning in life, abandon the will to continually struggle to survive?

There is a type of story where the protagonist begins with a relatively small task, and from that is sucked into an epic adventure. One example of this is the movie China Town (and many other film noir or hardboiled novels). In China Town the detective begins with a relatively small case that expands as he uncovers… why don’t you just watch the film, it gets intense.

In these stories, an often reluctant hero must escape his/her comfort zone and rise up to the challenge, otherwise the results could be disastrous. Grim Curio will take on a version of this. What begins for our protagonist, James, as a small case in an inconsequential village will escalate into a story of survival for the last city on earth and the entire human race. James motivations are often selfish, but when the time comes will he abandon those selfish desires, or will he give in to nihilism and abandon meaning in life, abandon the will to continually struggle to survive?

Conclusion

So those are my goals for Grim Curio as I see them now. They may expand or morph over time. Writing is an iterative process, and what seems to work in concept doesn’t always pan out in execution. So I suppose a last goal is more of a process one: to have the ability to roll with the creative punches, to abandon any goal that isn’t working for the story’s benefit.

That’s it for now. What do you think of these goals? Let me know in the comments, and we can continue the discussion there.

Grim Curio Gets a Shift in Perspective

If you’ve been following the production of Grim Curio, then you already know that it’s a story told in first person, past tense. Well that’s changing.

The Problem

I’d written 30,000 words before I realized that first person, past tense just wasn’t working out for the story I wanted to tell. I want an epic story told from intimate perspectives, so first person felt like a natural choice when I began.

But I also want the city of Refuge to be a character, and I want to build a world that can engross the reader. And in my execution using first person, that felt clunky no matter what changes I made.

I also want a feeling throughout the second half of the book that no character is safe, but first person practically gives characters narration armor (the idea that the character can’t die because he or she’s the one telling the story).

I considered using this to my advantage buy killing off a character in first person, but in past tense that felt a little off. I could be done, and it might work, but mixed with my other issues, I didn’t think it would be worth it.

The Experiment

After a while, I began wondering if a change to third person, present tense would make things better. To test this, I saved a backup of the first couple chapters and rewrote them from the new perspective. Instantly I loved it. The story feels more in the moment, I’m able to explore the city more, and I build scenes more fluidly in this environment.

The Result

Here’s one example. Below is the opening scene of the book which sets the world up in three paragraphs (and one is a single sentence):

The world never ended. When flood came, many survived. The sufferers shuffled about from place to place, some finding shelter, others not. When fire came, some survived. It blazed over continents fueled by primal fear, justice and revenge. Fire has no conscious. When radiation came, few survived. The survivors were not a chosen people. They lived in the correct geographical locations with mountain ranges and northerly winds and had access to a little infrastructure to support a small, terrified wallow of survivors.
Years passed, the pockets of humanity dwindled. Some starved and died, others fought and died, and others fell to indiscriminate forces: massive storms, poisonous air, and not a little stupidity.
But the world never ended.

Scenes like this are nearly impossible to get right in first person, and I was trying so many different ways. The switch to third person was like a breath of fresh air, and these three paragraphs just came naturally without much effort. A good sign.

I wonder what you think of this change? Be sure to let me know in the comments.