The Plot Calling the Kettle Black: Crafting a Better Beer and/or Novel by J.P. Sloan

Welcome author and homebrewer, J.P. Sloan with some excellent tips on writing and brewing. He's got his new release, The Curse Servant, here today, and a giveaway.

Be sure to scroll down for your chance to win one of five copies of The Curse Merchant, the first novel in The Dark Choir Series.

The Plot Calling the Kettle Black: Crafting a Better Beer and/or Novel

Hi. I'm J.P. Sloan, an author of speculative fiction and a homebrewer. When I'm not chained to my desk in the daily grind, I split my attentions between writing and brewing. As I navigate through these clearly distinct avocations, I've discovered there are some strikingly similar strategies (ooh, alliteration!) toward crafting a better novel. Or beer. So, follow along with as I outline some of these parallels, and perhaps you, too, can improve your beer. Or novel.


One of the keys to brewing a solid beer is using fresh ingredients. Stale grains? Muted malt notes. Old hops? A beer that stinks like funky cheese and cat pee. Chlorine in your brewing water? Rubbery-plastic chloro-phenols that make you wish you never tried brewing in the first place.

And you have to strike the right balance in your recipe. If you're brewing an IPA, you're going to want a healthy handful of hops (again, with the alliteration!) if you want the requisite bitterness. Not so much, if you're writing a Middle Grade novella about a codebreaker's son during the first World War.


What I mean is this: hops are sex. And by that, I mean you need the correct recipe for what you're writing. Penning a hard-boiled noir thriller? Bring the heat! The aforementioned MG novella? Might want to pump the brakes on the boobs and f-bombs. There's a point to considering how much profanity goes into your work. Or violence. Each genre and subgenre has its own un-articulated rules, and it helps to know your styles. Same goes with beer.

So what are the ingredients for beer? Water, malt, hops, and yeast. For a novel? Goals, motivations, characters, and conflict. Keep your ingredients fresh, folks. Roll out a few tired tropes, and your book might stink like old hops.


One of the most nerve-racking aspects to homebrewing is the long wait. Once you've brewed your balanced recipe, used the best ingredients, adhered to proper sanitation practices and temperature control… nothing you do at this point will improve the beer. You must wait until it's fermented. Cultivating patience in brewing leads to better brewing practices. Every time you open up that closed atmosphere inside your vessel is an opportunity for contaminants to inoculate the batch with off-flavors.

So, too, does patience benefit the writer. Once you've hammered out your first draft, just let it sit. Ironically, I find about the length of a proper ale fermentation works the same with a first draft… four to six weeks. Let the manuscript age a bit, allowing as many of your internal assumptions as possible to fade away. Then, when it's new once again (at least in your mind), you can see what needs to stay and what needs to go.


Oh, yes. Sometimes either our sanitation practices or our brewing process fails us, letting in the flavors and aromas one wants to avoid in one's manuscript. I mean beer. Those dreaded contaminants I mentioned before? Lactobacillus, lending a sour note. Wild yeasts kicking up all kinds of funky flavors. A little Dimethyl Sulfide turning your lager into a can of creamed corn.

Know what contaminates your manuscript? Clichés. Plot holes. Weak motivations. Dead-end characters. The longer you practice the craft, the better grip you acquire over these bugbears. In the meantime, writers have an advantage over brewers… you can search and destroy these "off flavors" in your manuscript. One it's in the beer, it's there to stay!


No man may improve his beer without subjecting it to analysis by more experienced palates. This is why I've studied world beer styles, acquired a National rank with the Beer Judge Certification Program, and attend so many homebrew competitions. I know my beer would never have improved unless I got input from others. Brewing clubs and competitions are like critique groups for beer. If no one tries your beer, then you have no idea how to improve it. And you should consider your advisors… bad advice is rife in the world of writing and brewing!

Likewise, choose your critique partners well. Ideally, they should be objectively distant from your personal spheres (Aunt Ethyl and Mom won't cut it, kiddos), and have experience in your specific chosen genre. And as with beer… sometimes taste can't be disputed. If your critique partners don't like horror… they just won't like your zombie fic, no matter how hoppy it is.


Everyone should drink more craft beer and read more independent fiction. Go out and explore, taste and peruse. Expand your horizons… be it fiction or beer. Drink and read widely.

The Curse Servant

The Dark Choir

Book 2

J.P. Sloan

 Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press

Date of Publication:  February 26, 2015

ISBN (eBook): 9781620078228

ISBN (Paperback): 9781620078235

ISBN (Hardcover): 9781620078242

ISBN (Smashwords): 9781620078259


Number of pages:  346

Word Count:  99,400

Cover Artist:  Conzpiracy Digital Arts

Book Description: 

The one person standing between Hell… and an innocent girl… is a man without a soul.

A regular life isn’t in the cards for Dorian Lake, but with his charm-crafting business invigorated, and the prospect of a serious relationship within his grasp, life is closer to normal than Dorian could ever expect. In the heat of the Baltimore mayoral campaign, Dorian has managed to balance his arrangements with Deputy Mayor Julian Bright with his search to find his lost soul. Dorian soon learns of a Netherworker, the head of a dangerous West Coast cabal, who might be able to find and return his soul. The price? Just one curse.

Sounds easy… but nothing ever is for Dorian. A dark presence arrives in the city, hell-bent on finding Dorian’s soul first. Innocents are caught in the crossfire, and Dorian finds it harder to keep his commitments to Bright. When the fight gets personal, and the entity hits too close to home, Dorian must rely on those he trusts the least to save the ones he loves. As he tests the limits of his hermetic skills to defeat this new enemy, will Dorian lose his one chance to avoid damnation?

The Curse Merchant

Book one in The Dark Choir series

The Curse Servant

Book two in The Dark Choir series


Available at Amazon

Excerpt- The Curse Servant:

I knew this wasn't going to be the typical meeting with Julian Bright when, instead of the usual political organ-grinders at the campaign headquarters, I found a soccer mom duct taped to a chair, foaming at the mouth. Her grunting and growling echoed off the bare sheetrock walls of Julian's office, vacant except for the three of us.

I peeked through the blinds covering the locked storefront to make sure none of volunteers were back from the morning rounds. Satisfied we were alone, I turned to Julian.

He waved his arm at the woman in a lazy circle. "So, this is why I called."

"Who is she?"

"Her name is Amy Mancuso. You know her?"

I shook my head.

"She's a volunteer. Her team was working Cold Spring by Loyola when she started swearing and spitting at the residents. By the time her team captain called me, she'd kicked someone's dog. Terrier, I think. Or one of those purse dogs."

I winced. "Remind me not to hand out yard signs for you. Jesus."

"It's not like we do background checks on volunteers. I figured she probably missed some meds or something."

"But you called me instead of the paramedics."


"Why?" I asked as I took a step toward her.

Amy's grunting halted as she straightened in her chair. Her head swiveled slowly in my direction, and her eyes sent the creeping chills up my neck.

With a nerve-rattling tone she growled, "Is that Dorian Lake I smell?"

I'd never enjoyed the sound of my own name less.

Julian turned a shoulder to me and whispered, "That's why."


I slowly approached Amy, pulling my pendulum from my jacket pocket in a slow, non-threatening motion. Last thing I needed at that moment was to send a crazy person into a panic. I assumed she was crazy. My pendulum would determine whether she was unnaturally energized or the usual cat-shaving flavor of lunatic.

Her eyes were dilated; her mouth twisted into the most unsettling smile one could imagine on the face of an otherwise average woman.

"Have we met?"

"Poor little Dorian lost his soul."

Okay, this was probably a legitimate problem.

I dangled the pendulum in front of Amy. The little nugget of copper spun from the end of its chain in a perfectly Newtonian fashion. Nothing pulled it contrary to the laws of Nature. I couldn't even feel a tug on the chain.

She continued, "Lost his soul, he lost his soul. Dropped it down a rabbit hole."

"I suppose you think you're being clever?"

"Is he doomed or is he dead? Will he damn your soul instead?"

This conversation had lost all of its charm.

"Who am I talking to?"

She sucked in a huge gulp of air and craned her neck at a painful angle toward the ceiling. A sick squealing noise leaked from her lips as her arms trembled. When she finally released her breath and sank back down into her chair, she simply chuckled.

"We're going to find it, you know. And when we do, we're going to eat it."

I leaned in as close as I dared and whispered, "If you think I'm afraid of you, then you need to know something. I'm not impressed."

"It won't be long now."

"Did someone send you, or is this just a courtesy call?"

She smirked. "We're going to enjoy this."

I was knitting together a clever response when a loud rip of tape crackled through the room. Her hand slammed up underneath my jaw, fingers clamping around my throat. My head filled with blood, and I tried to cough through the gag reflex. The harder I beat on her hand to let go, the wider that creepy smile got.


About the Author:

J.P. Sloan is a speculative fiction author ... primarily of urban fantasy, horror and several shades between. His writing explores the strangeness in that which is familiar, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, or only hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed.

A Louisiana native, Sloan relocated to the vineyards and cow pastures of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina, where he lives with his wife and son. During the day he commutes to the city of Baltimore, a setting which inspires much of his writing.

In his spare time, Sloan enjoys wine-making and homebrewing, and is a certified beer judge.

Tour giveaway

5 Digital copies of The Curse Merchant, Book 1 of the Dark Choir series.

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