Hampton Court Ghost is on Pre-release

HamptonCourtSmallQuick post to let you know that Hampton Court Ghost, the third book in the Paranormology series, is in pre-release. Over the next few days I’ll be hooking up a new spot here on jeztyr.com, and getting it ship-shape for y’all. The release is set for 27th of September.

Of course this means that I need to update the Paranormology series graphic, get the blurb nailed down, distribute at all the usual places.

It’s now at Amazon, and should be at iTunes, B&N and Kobo by the end of the week, so be patient, unless you want to get it directly from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/573017

or Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014O0YOIA

Feedback is welcome. Enjoy!

Ironing out the Kinks

Hot dog! You’ve finished the first, second or even third draft of your book. Kudos, congrats, and give yourself a pat on the back. Seriously, well done. Not everyone gets to this stage and it’s a big achievement, one that really ought to be celebrated.

Now take a deep breath and brace yourself, because you’ve only just hit the foot of the mountain. Yes, really. Do you remember when you first sat down and started to type? When you first decided, “Hey, I’m doing this, come Hell or high water”? Remember that? It seems so long ago, so surely this must be the end of the journey, right?

Keep going

A draft is called a draft for a reason: It’s not the final piece. But it’s close. Just spelling, punctuation and all of that boring stuff. Uh, no. It is not necessarily, and necessarily it is not.

Fast-forward your life about a year, then revisit your book. Can you see yourself holding your head in your fists, cringing? Aw, geez. Did I actually write that? Wow, I could have made that paragraph more exciting. Ew, I’ve gone and used the wrong turn of phrase there, there and there. That smells very cliche. And I’ve gone and used the term ‘predetermination’ seven times in one paragraph.

Crud. That must mean you’re a terrible author, having all those things in there. No one wants to read that, you might as well never publish a book again. Yeah, yeah it would mean that unless you… Zzzzzip! Rewind a year and sit back down. Breathe again. You’re back in the present. That was a scary future, wasn’t it?

You see, you’ve done the hard yards. You’ve crafted your sculpture, it has the shape it needs, some part are very finely crafted, other bits have been slapped on, other bits don’t actually belong at all. And, what’s more, there are greater issues you might want to worry about now rather than later.

Continuity is a big one: If your character laments the loss of his parents in one chapter, then is chatting with his father in the next (and it’s not time-travel sci-fi) you’ve got a whopping hole in your plot. Other examples may be more subtle, but they’ll stick out like a sore thumb to your readers.

Let’s say the city in which your protagonist resides is a sprawling metropolis, void of plant matter. It’s like this because you are demonstrating a futuristic dystopia, and it’s necessarily sterile. If your protagonist then hides from a rioting crowd by hiding up a tree or behind some bushes… yeah. “Oh, um, there happened to be a small park in the city I forgot to mention.” Too late. You’ve busted the concept of the stark city and you’ll have the reader scouring for anything ‘else’ that might be wrong.

But it’s not just the structure you should be looking at. The way something reads is equally as important. Just because a sentence is grammatically correct doesn’t mean that it’s the right one to use. Repetition and tics are just a couple of nasties that you don’t really get to see while you’re writing, but are glaringly apparent on review. A lot of these come from common speech, and they can be really useful in dialog to give realism to a character. I’ll get into these in a later post.

Iron out the kinks

If a character always says, “Yeah, but…” at the start of a sentence, or answers regularly with “Um,” or is a highway patrolman who suffixes any statement with “real quick”, then that becomes a nice handle for the reader to know who’s speaking. And, if the text is an informal narrative, spoken by a local recounting a situation or in a casual manner, these tics can also lend credence.

Outside of this, they can become really, really annoying. If a character takes a ‘little’ bite and runs a ‘little’ way and pokes his head over the wall a ‘little’, the reader is liable to become annoyed. I recently read a book where everything was ‘almost’. The author was using this to an effect, to deliberately draw attention to the main character’s plight, but he almost lost me.

Can’t someone else do it?

Doing a review is tedious. After all, there isn’t any surprise for you. Not only have you read the book before, you’ve done it ten times, analysed the sentences until they lost their meaning, scrutinised the characters and places and underlying metaphors and the premise and the theme and the setting and…

You have a few choices. You can pay someone to do it. This is good, if you have cash to splash. If you don’t, you might consider asking a friend to help you out. Aroogah! It’s at this point you need to evaluate your friendship.

Before you go and thrust your novel underneath their nose with expectant eyes, put yourself in their shoes and ask, honestly:

  • Can they criticise your work, openly, without fluffing about?
  • Can you accept their criticism, openly, without getting defensive?
  • Have they got the time and motivation to read your first draft?
  • Are they ‘competent’ to make critical comments?
  • Very importantly: Are they a member of the target audience?

Don’t be offended if they decline the request. It’s work, after all. In terms of motivation, someone might be an avid reader, great, but they won’t be too happy if you offer them a Romance novel when their preferred genre is Zombie Horror.

Having someone read your book is a most useful thing – if they get it. You can ask things like ‘Did you get the underlying metaphor?’ or ‘Was Sally too weak at the end?’ or even ‘Not enough gore? Too much gore?’ and expect decent answers. Remember that they aren’t writing the novel, so they don’t get to dictate terms, and their advice might be completely wrong, but at least it’s a fresh set of eyes.

If they aren’t your target audience, you’re wasting your time: “I just don’t like this, Jez, the characters are too violent and what’s with all the blood? Can’t they sort out their differences with diplomacy and tact?”

“Grandpa, it’s called ‘Attack of the Killer Tentacles from Outer Space‘ not ‘The Diplomats of Venus‘!”

Hmm. I think I just found the title of my next book…

A peek at the next in the Paranormology Series

I’m chuffed to announce that the third book in the Paranormology Series is on its final run and will be ready for pre-release in the next fortnight. Hampton Court Ghost continues the story of ghost hunting as seen through the young eyes of the narrator. HamptonCourtSmall

The Professor takes him on a journey to investigate strange happenings for an important client. As we might expect, we learn that there is more to hunting ghosts than jumping at shadows.

I’ve got a bit of work to crack on with, still. My red pen is still warm and there are some final issues that need addressing, then there’s the blurb, the dedication, converting it all (cover included) for hard copy… I’ll stop blabbering now.

I’ll announce the official pre-release as soon as it’s ready. Cheers!

Slow down there, Tiger!

Great stuff, Max! You knocked out your draft, you managed to find some people to read over it and give you advice. You probably even went back and deleted a bunch of crud, reworked some bits, softened your metaphors. Come on! What are you waiting for? Now you’re ready to publish.

No, you’re not. What? Aw, come on! I’ve got to go through it again?

Yes. Yes, you do.

Don’t Rush It

One of my biggest mistakes when I was fumbling about in the dark, figuring out how to get Adaptation out to the big, wide world, was pushing too hard to see it online. In software terms, I released an untested beta version.

There were spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. There were issues with names being consistent (true story). I’d even left some markers in there. Wow. Bad. Very bad. Crawl under the bed and hide bad.

I had, as a dummy check, run the word processor’s spell and grammar checker over it. Didn’t pick up everything. I hadn’t managed to get anyone else to help proof it, I had different copies all over the place, and I was reaching the end of my tether trying to get hold of someone to talk to about publishing.

SlowDownIt wasn’t perfect, I knew it wasn’t perfect, and, wait for it… I pushed it out anyway. The reasons behind the rush was frustration, impatience and ignorance. The fact that it was digital meant that pushing out the update wasn’t as painful than if it was a hard-copy, but please, please don’t rely on that. That’s disrespecting your audience and it’s something I regret to this day.

Learn from my mistakes. Being an independent author is hard enough without having to lose sleep over a bungle let loose in the wild. Take your time, be patient and do it right the first time.

Doing it Right the First Time

Spell checkers are great. They can pick up little mistakes here and there. Grammar checkers have come a long way, too. You can tune them to your style and they can warn you about dropped words, poor sentence structure, and all of that cool stuff.

They are not perfect. Just because the spell checker passes, and the grammar checker is only complaining about the silliest of things, does not, NOT, mean that your book is flawless.

Having another reader run over it, either paid or unpaid, increases the likelihood that mistakes will be spotted and weeded out. Increase. Likelihood. We’re talking about probability here. If you’ve given your book to the butcher, do you think he spent his time cutting up meat and serving customers, or kicking around in the back with a red pen correcting your mistakes?

And this is what it comes down to: No matter what technique you use to clean up your act, no matter how fine your digital nit-comb, no matter how many people you pass your paper to, you are responsible for the end result.

There’s no use turning around, after the fact, and pointing your finger at someone else and saying, “You should’ve picked up on that!” Why not? Because your book is out there, being read by a bunch of people all around the world, and they aren’t going to give two hoots whether you or your spell checker or your editor or your butcher didn’t pick up a mistake.

So what can you do? Give your book the best chance possible. The longer the story is unpublished, the greater the chance of finding those little flecks of mud that would spoil an otherwise golden scene. Hold off. Put the book down. Go onto something else. Get some well deserved exercise. Come back to it in a week, a fortnight, a month even, enough time for you to kind of forget about it so you can experience it with fresh eyes.

Another technique I’ve found works really good is printing out a hard copy, bulldog clipping it, taking out a red pen and sitting down to read. I’ll elaborate more about this approach in a future post, since it’s a bit more than just printing and skimming.

Lastly, even when you’re sure you’ve got it just the way you want it, print it out in PDF or create an ePub and pop it on your favourite reading device. You can get programs that will do this for you (Calibre – I’m looking at you), so you get to see a preview, including the front cover, of just how it’s going to be.

Then sit down and read it. If you need to give yourself another fortnight off before you start, do that. The book will be published soon enough, so relax about that, think long term: in six months, you’ll be sleeping easier knowing that you’ve spent some of your precious time giving your readers something you’re proud of.

When It Just Ain’t Right

I got to the end of my first draft of Hampton Court Ghost. I smiled, patted myself on the back, content that the hard part was over. I had started with a premise, refined it and wrote it down, got my characters in order, plotted out the various bits and pieces and cracked on with it bit by bit.

What went wrong?

What makes you say that, the title of this post? Yeah, well, good pickup.

I went back to read it the next day and, half way through, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. I had done it again. I had ignored that little voice inside me, that voice that tells me, “Dude, that’s not believable. It’s convoluted. Whoa! That’s just wrong.”

Now that voice was back, nattering like a parrot, “I told you so! I told you so!”

It is too hard to ignore now. And, what’s more, it is 100% right.

So I got to thinking about why I had ignored it while I was writing. If I had stopped and paid attention to it, back then, back when things were pliable and fresh, maybe I wouldn’t be in such a pickle. Maybe. So I was silly to push forward with an unworkable idea. Again, maybe.

Hindsight, my old companion! How do you do? Can you shed any light on this? Am I an idiot or was the a valid reason for attempting to defy the laws of common sense?

No, says Hindsight, for that’s just part of the writing process. You would be an idiot if you decided that, after the review, after the cringing and face-palming, you’d run with it anyway. That would be stupid.

But, I counter, wasn’t I silly to have gotten to this state when I could have nipped it in the bud all the way back at inception?

No, says Hindsight again, why, do you want be an idiot? That nagging voice is there for a reason. It’s your moderation. It’s your censor. It’s your doubt and disbelief. It’s your ultimate critic. Without it, you would have been very happy to publish that garbage and pin your name on it.

Yeah, but…

But nothing! (Hindsight can be quite rude at times) Quit interrupting and listen: When writing fiction there’s the creative side and the critical side. The creative side comes up with really cool ideas, “What about this? How about that? Instead of X why don’t we try Q?” It’s fun, it’s kooky and it’s insane. You cannot rely on it to come up with something purely sensible since its origins are abstract.

When it just ain't right

The critical side is that pesky, droll-voiced know-it-all that picks out flaws here and there as you’re going along, circling bad grammar, asking you politely, but firmly, to read that last paragraph before you go too far. It’s the voice of reason, keeping you on topic, on premise, on character. It’s boring and stiff.

The two work toward a common goal, yet are in opposition to each other, like bipartisan politics without the snarkiness and bickering.

So which one is to blame?

I must have given too much influence to my creativity, right? Or was it that my critical side spoke too softly and didn’t wield a large enough stick?

Neither.

Boo! What a cop out! No, really, and this is why: The creative side did exactly what it was supposed to do. It came up with a weird, albeit unworkable, plot, full of holes and unwritten with a bold flourish of nonsense.

Still, it was interesting, not like that’s a good enough consolation. I’ve got to rip out eighty percent of what I wrote, think up a new plot and practically write it all again! Yeah, true, can’t deny I’m pissed at that.

But what if it worked? What if the gamble paid off? I could have had a really zany, compelling story on my hands. Like an artist being unfairly critiqued while laying down the sketches, the creative side needs freedom to experiment, to push the pre-defined boundaries and, of course, to make mistakes.

And when the juices are flowing, I make it a rule not to get in the way of creativity: Bad grammar, punctuation, notes to self, all of it takes a back seat when I’m on a run. When the dust settles, the red pen comes out, the Punctuation Parrot sits on my shoulder and the going is slower, but safer.

The lesson to learn here is that there isn’t a set formula: 1 hour creative, 1 hour critical isn’t going to work. Creativity comes in spurts, at random intervals, sometimes not for days or weeks at a time. Let it go, let it run free, let it make the biggest friggin’ mess you’ve ever seen BUT, after the fun, you need to get your mop out and start cleaning up.

If you’re a budding writer and you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t lose heart. It’s all part of the process. Sure, it’s painful. Sure, it’s just doubled your effort for no perceived reward. Sure, it’ll delay the release of your book.

This is what defines you as an author: Are you willing to suck it up and revise your book, or even scrap it altogether, so that you only serve up fresh dishes to your readers?

The Bullet Animation – All Together Now

Let me go back to where these updated began: As an independent author, it is up to me to organise any form of marketing or promoting of my books. To this end, I embarked on an adventure – Yes, I’ll go as far as to call it an adventure – to create an animation about The Bullet. Let’s see how this came together.

The Pieces of the Puzzle

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Here is a rough chronological list of my tasks:

  1. I considered what I was after. I made a plan, sketched out my ideas into scenes, refined these down to what was I considered was doable, selecting five main sections.
  2. I researched software that was available for sketching, vector drawing and animations and downloaded Inkscape for creating the vector graphics, Synfig for animation and Gimp for image manipulation.
  3. I sketched out my characters faces and brought these into a digital format, converting them to vector graphics.
  4. Using Synfig, I created my scenes, one by one, according to my original design.
  5. I recorded a bunch of sounds on my phone, uploaded these to the machine and edited the soundwaves with Audacity, and hunted down a gunshot for the climax.
  6. With the aid of Anvil, I wrote the musical track.
  7. I used VirtualMIDISynth and the “Fluid GM” Midi Soundfont to get a richer sound
  8. I exported the music from Anvil and blended this as a separate track together with the sound effects in Audacity.
  9. I rendered the animation from Synfig to a movie file.
  10. Lastly, using Microsoft’s Movie Maker, I added the audio to the video and exported the whole shebam to a YouTube ready file and uploaded it.

The end result is a one minute and twenty second clip that I’m pretty chuffed with:

Sure, it’s not refined, it’s not going to win any medals. If I get to do it again, if I ever have time, there will be several things I’d concentrate on.

Post-Mortem

In the programming world, we use retrospectives or post-mortems to see what went wrong, what went right and what can be done better. Forgive me if I cannot resist giving the animation the same treatment.

The first issue that jumps at me is the lack of sophisticated motion. It was suitable for what it needed to be, and that’s fine, but as I think about how I might create other animations, I figure there will be more ‘going on’. Background motion, moving lips with synchronised speech, blinking eyes, torsos turning, limbs flailing. While too much can be distracting, too little can be boring.

The music I enjoyed. A lot. Creating it piece by piece, getting the soundfonts, discovering reverb and chorus (albeit too late to apply it) and adding tracks as layers was just fun. Pure and simple. I reckon I could lose hours just knocking out tunes and mucking about with rhythms.

Then comes the sound. That was a headache. It was the opposite of fun. It doesn’t matter how I look at it, it just didn’t sound ‘right’. I guess I just don’t have the skillset or the proper equipment for sound engineering, so I’d probably ask for help, or try and find someone to hire.

Likewise with voice-overs. I think a voice-over would have been great. Again, lousy recording equipment and an even lousier voice let me down, to the point where I omitted the voice-over altogether. For this I’d definitely hire someone with a voice appropriate for the context.

Lastly, I think the sketching and vectorising the characters worked out just fine, only I’d spend more time getting details and layers so as to add more dimension to them. And I’d really like to try the ‘bones’ feature out in Synfig and get some complex motion happening. Oh, for another lifetime!

In any case, I’ll call it a wrap. I’ve got to get back to writing, so I bid a fond farewell to the Land of Animation – for now. I’ve got my little bag of tricks for next time, and I hope to share with you my next foray when I get a bit of breathing space between titles.