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.

Writers Life

Think about 20 different ideas

Winnie the Pooh Thinks

Narrow it down to one.

Think some more.

Outline maybe… Or just start writing.

“We’ll, that idea sucks. Time to rewrite.”

Expand on everything!

Expand

Oops. Expanded too much. Cut it down.

Write! Write! Write!

Almost done, don’t get burned out.

The last chapter isn’t working. What did I do wrong?

More rewrites!

Share with beta readers. (quietly die inside)

Get their feedback.

editor

Rewrite some more. Does it never end!??!

Walk away from it for three months.

Read someone elses novel, feel inadequate.

die inside

Read it, see if it’s as good as you remember it (it isn’t).

Rewrites!

Editors, agents, proofers, publishers.

Promotion… nooooooooooo!

no

And start again.

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.

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.

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!

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

A week in the life of S.C. Barrus – Construction, Construction, Construction

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.

The Pain! How a Surprise Root Canal Derailed My Week

What a week. How much writing did I scribe? None. Ok, maybe 300 words. It’s a terrible feeling when life gets in the way of producing art. I read that Friedrich Nietzsche was so sick near the end of his life that he couldn’t write for years. Imagine that. Terrible.

I didn’t write because of the pain in my jaw. I suffered for a week, losing sleep, staring off in a daze. When I sat to write, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the scenes. I’d type a few words, then drift into the pain again.

Finally I went to the dentist. Turns out a nerve in my molar was trying to resign from S.C. Barrus LLC. It wanted it’s benefits, so it complained until I let it go.

So I won’t have much to say this week. In fact, this is it. All the time I would usually spend blogging or scheduling my social network quips will be spent writing to make up for lost time. That’s all for today, I hope you’re week went better than mine. Till we meet again.

Welcome Back

I’ve been blogging on Tumblr for a month or two, and it was nice while it lasted. But Tumblr quickly became too small for me. There’s more I want to to with this website and blog than what Tumblr will allow. So, here we are, new home on the (ahem) old home.

Badass Writing Day #1

Recently I made a major career change: I went from being an internet marketing guy to a programming dude. One of the many benefits programming has over my last job is more vacation time, which in turn means more writing time.

This year I’m setting aside four full vacation days which I’ll dedicate to writing Grim Curio, and I’m calling them my badass writing days! Not very on brand or whatever, but it’s fun to say.

My first BWD will be this Friday, and I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t been able to set aside full writing days since college, so I plan to take advantage of it.

BWD: The Plan

A day like this will be most effective if I have a plan, so here are my priorities:

1. More words on page.

This is a simple but important one. No book was ever written without putting a substantial amount of words down. Depending on my other focuses, I’d like to write at least 1,000 green field words – meaning these are brand new sections of the narrative, not words added through rewriting.

I can often get 1000 words in about an hour and a half, but I run out of steam once I reach that point. To combat this, I plan on working on some other aspects of Grim Curio once my momentum slows.

This initial sprint of writing will focus on Chapter 2. Chapter 2 introduces us to the two other protagonists: Simon and Julia (not sure I’m happy with the name ‘Julia’ yet). These two scientists have succeeded in punching a hole through the veil that separates our reality with the Base reality.

If that’s confusing, no worries. It’s all layered reality stuff, a concept that runs through the core of Grim Curio. The more I post here, the more I realize that I really need to write a post on the layered universe, otherwise you’ll likely get lost. Another time.

[what follows is more spoilery than usual] In this chapter, Simon and Julia attempt to repeat the experiment and punch another hole in reality, but something slips through the hole. It dives into Simon’s eyes. This entity then begins mapping itself to Simons neural network, and slowly begins taking control of his body.

So it’s not good times for Simon, or Julia for that matter. Anyway, I’ll be working on that bit.

2. Determine whether to cut chapter 3.

This is a toughy. Chapter 3 was the original piece I wrote when I thought up the concept of Grim Curio. Because it was the first thing written, it’s also the part the stands out the most as potentially not belonging.

This may not make sense, so I’ll explain. I’ve found when I come up with a new idea I’ll write it a quick as possible, often getting 5 – 7,000 words written before I need to recoup. In this burst, my ideas are usually simple and direct. 

But as the story grows, these ideas break down for one reason or another. Maybe a character isn’t working as well as I had hoped, or maybe the setting isn’t as cohesive as I had thought, or add other thing here.

As I continue to write, the ideas begin to bloom. I’m able to adjust for the weaknesses in the original concept, and the writing style of the piece has been solidified. So when I go back to read the original pages, they don’t really fit with everything else.

In the case of Grim Curio, the idea behind Chapter 3 was to introduce the reader into a day in the life of James Bartlebee. You follow him through a particularly gruesome case that ends poorly for him. Along the way you’re introduced to the narrative universe.

Since writing this, I realized that Grim Curio needed a better introduction, so I started working on what is now Chapter 1. In this new chapter a similar thing happens: James goes out on a case, solves it, and comes out worse for it. It also does a far better job of introducing the world.

I can revise Chapter 3 to be congruent with the rest of the story, that’s not a problem. But do we really want a second case of 7,000 or so words before diving into the guts of the plot? I really don’t know. 

Part of me thinks “yes we do want this chapter because it shows us James’ rhythm, and gives the reader a formula to expect”. This could be good because it’ll make the rest of the story feel bigger as the story zooms out from the day to day life of James to a reality splitting attempt to stitch the universe back together (or something like that).

On the other hand, it may feel too repetitive. Grrr. I don’t think I’ll know until I rewrite this chapter and read it in the context of the rest of the book. It’ll be very painful to cut if it doesn’t work out, but I could also release it as a stand alone short story if that’s the case. We’ll just have to see.

3. Rewrite Chapter 3?

If I choose to keep it, then I’ll still need to do some major rewrites. This will likely take me a significant chunk of time. Still, I don’t loose steam while doing rewrites like I do when I write green field, so I’ll be able to devote myself to this for a good long while.

4. More words…

And of course, I’ll want to end the day with another sprint of green field words. I’m not sure if all this is realistic, so even if the second sprint is 500 words, I’ll consider it a success.

So that’s what I have in store for my Badass Writing Day. What do you think of the idea? Have you ever devoted a day to a side project? If so, tell me about it in the comments. If you’ve never had a project day like this, then tell me what you would work on if you had the time.

Until next time.