The Red Pen’s Revenge

The excitement builds. The whisky is poured. Draft two is complete. It is a relief. The first run, you see, doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel like the end product. It’s almost as if the first copy is a grainy image of what is to come. It can be lax. It can be unstructured. Things don’t necessarily need to follow or make sense. Great slabs of story are missing. Other flabby bits are hanging off the sides, waiting to be cut out.

What a mess! What a disaster! How can we clean this thing up and get it into something readable? Well that’s where the second draft comes in. Still on the machine, I read through it all, start to finish, and cut out what needs to be cut out and put in what needs to be put in. I correct obvious errors or grammar and spelling and correctness. I think whether the timing makes sense, the locations, the people and the settings.

Is that what this character would do? Is that really the best way to describe that? Bit by bit I massage the story out from its amorphous shape and, with a pinch here and a cut there, it becomes a story with a purpose. Great. That’s the point I’m at now. That’s the moment of ‘woot’ where I can take a breather and fix up the garage or fly a kite with Joey.

That’s not the end of it, though. For now comes the nasty part – the Red Pen.

The Red Pen is ruthless. The Red Pen cares not for fancy constructs, nor for passive tense. The Red Pen spots that naughty comma and herds it into the right spot. It scrawls its thoughts down in haste, it draws arrows and brackets and, when it gets really steamed, it draws thick lines through words, sentences, even whole paragraphs!

That’s what happens when you leave a Red Pen in a cup for half a year. It gives it time to plot and scheme. I only hope there’s something left after it has had its fill.

What week is it?

Is it Wear your Best to Work week? I’m all for that kind of thing. I mean, we live in a fantastic age where we have incredible choice for what to wear, so why not bust that suit out and wear it with pride? But no, no, it’s not that week.

Is it Stay in Bed week? Unfortunately no. While I would welcome the change of pace, I’m sure the economy wouldn’t enjoy workers dropping tools, wheels, keyboards and pens to take a kip.

Is it Put your Phone Away Week? I wish, I wish, I wish it was. You know how much fun it is when you can talk to someone without a black rectangle covering their face?

Alright, alright. I’ll let you in on the gag. It is, in fact –

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Smashwords Read An E-Book Week!

And to celebrate, they’ve got a bazillion titles up on discounts. 25%? Yup. 50%? You bet. 75%? Even so.

100%??? There sure are! In fact, if you head to my profile page:

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JeremyTyrrell

You’ll find all of my books for… free. That’s right, gratis. Go nuts. Get the entire set of Adaptation (Just get the compendium, it’s easier). Go on. What’s that? You want an octopus detective? OK, go get Tedrick Gritswell of Borobo Reef and, while you’re there, get Tedrick Gritswell Makes Waves.

Not your thing? Grab Atlas, Broken or the Bullet. Or if you’re into Paranormology, grab all five books and shove them in your cart. Electrons come free, baby, so go nuts.

Then, when you’re done, go and visit some other authors and give them some love. And then… and then… and then read them! That’s part of the whole ‘Read an E-Book’ week deal. If you enjoy them, great! If not, that’s fine too. Oh, and if you don’t mind, please come back and leave a review when you’re done.

If reading really ain’t your thing, might I suggest you listen to the audiobook versions? It’s kinda sorta still almost and E-book, right? It still counts. It’s just that you’re reading with your ears. Yeah. Let’s run with that.

What are you still doing here? Go and read a book!

Read an E-Book week goes until March 7, so get in while you can.

Hampton Court Ghost Audiobook

It wasn’t too long coming, I hope.

Hampton court posed its own challenges. Female voices, specifically. How do I take my voice and make it sound more feminine? More than this, there were not one, not two, not three but four women to deal with. Annie and Miss Fitzgerald were ok – although I think Miss Fitzgerald ended up sounding similar to the Professor – probably because they were older.

Lisa and Sally, though, they… they were tough. Lisa had to have a condescending tone in her voice, be a bit haughty and snooty, overly affectionate and bossy. Sally was quite the opposite, being bubbly, chipper, and homely. And, of course, they were both young.

I couldn’t ask for help with this. It was a mission I had to face on my own. And so I did. For Lisa, I took on a breathy, higher pitched voice. It took a good ten minutes to get it ballpark. At first she was squeaky and not at all lady-like. It oscillated between a mouse and a baritone until I landed somewhere in the middle.

2781 Best images about 19th C. Photography - Women on ...
Oh, don’t be so dramatic! It is a small thing.

The best I could do was imagine someone like this in my head and try to match her voice.

Sally took longer. For her, I needed something a little younger. Cue the baby voice. Nope, no good, too young. So I experimented a little, holding my noise, squishing my face. Then I relaxed my cheeks, letting them flop about a bit. It’s hard to explain.

Think of Richard Nixon:

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“I’m Richard Nixon, and I wholly endorse this product or service!”

He’s got those jowls that flop about a bit, giving a kind of hollow sound to the mouth. Not that Sally has jowls in my mind’s eye. She’s more of a happy-go-lucky button that sees the good in the world before the bad, a tad naive, but not stupid. Only, I couldn’t get that playfulness in her voice to come through and, after experimenting a lot, I came to the conclusion that I could only do so much with the equipment God gave me, and that the whole ‘hollow-cheek’ thing would have to do.

Now I’m really sorry for Sally.

I’m really happy for Hampton Court Ghost, though, because that is up and out on Audible and Google and Chirp and all the good places!

Cooper Alley Ghost Cover – Pt 4

I’ve used the same general layout for the Paranormology series – Two thirds picture at the top, one third writing at the bottom. The top is of the haunted building. The bottom contains the title and author upon a close up of some of the material making up the structure.

The Smashwords guidelines specify a minimum width of 1400 pixels, with a height greater than the width. I use 1400 x 2278. For the lower section, I’ve chosen a piece of wall with some cracks and flaking paint:

The two sections of the book – house and brickwork

After that, I’ll add in the title and the author, along with a flourish to separate the two. I used the font Augustus because it was narrow and crisp. I’ve made a duplicate of the writing layer to have a slight coloured rim around the lettering.

Title and author, with a flourish to separate them

Now that’s alright by itself, but the brickwork needed to be contrasted a tad more with the writing, so I added a glow to it, reduced the contrast and added in a purple and yellow wash. I then put a shroud on the outside and bordering the two images, to give it a slightly darker look.

Shroud around the outside, purple haze and yellow wash

I threw in some faint plasma for a swirling, mystic look and finally added some snow at the bottom panel to tie it all in. The result:

Add the series number caption at the top, too

Tada! And we’re good to go!

Cooper Alley Cover – Pt 2

I really needed a picture of this house for the front cover. But taking the photo is only the first part of the job. Next was turning this rather old looking piece into something one might consider haunted.

The image of the house, without cyclist or Joey (although he would have been a cute addition)

The house, captured in broad daylight, was not exactly ‘creepy’ looking. Not only that, as you can see there are artefacts within that would not belong in a Victorian era story. Anachronisms, perhaps? Either way, they had to go:

First things first, get rid of the bits what don’t belong in there.

We can see the walker, the plastic bins, the electrical junctions and the wires. The letterbox looks fine and the number on the door is too small to make out, so that’s good, too. Oh, right, and the compact fluorescent lamp as well. Another little ditty is the reflection in the glass – there’s a ute in there. Aaaand that building over to the right.

To get rid of these things, I used the good old ‘clone’ tool in Gimp. The technique is to carefully clone parts of the surrounding background and surface over the top of the unwanted anomalies.

This works best with consistent (like the grey bricks) or noisy (like the mulch on the ground) backgrounds. It’s a pain in the bum with distinct, contrasting objects like the fence rods and the window. For these, I had to match up the cloning very carefully indeed to avoid a glaring inconsistency with the straight lines.

Not that anyone is looking that closely, but still. It’s also a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have a Joey jostling your arm every few seconds.

Tada! Purple and red shades bring the house a mouldy feel.

I then removed the sky, twiddled with it, darkened it and kept it for later. The colour of the house and the leaves needed to be duller and more dreary. For this I adjusted the grey bricks to be more purple, and the green leaves to be more yellow. The top windows needed dulling (because we can’t reflect a blue sky at night, right?) which was a matter of using the magic selector and reducing the lightness.

With all that done, it was time to add some layering in there.

The story is set in winter, and while it is not full-blown midwinter, it’s still cold and there is a smattering of snow about. Well, that means I needed to add snow. Where and how the heck could I do that? It took some doing, but I think I got there. More on that in a tick.

Cooper Alley Ghost Cover – Pt 3

In the story, it is winter. It is cold. It is snowing. The problem I faced is that this photograph is in Melbourne, in Summer, when it’s hot and definitely does not snow. I could think about, say, grabbing a can of shaving cream and spraying it about, but I doubt the owner would be impressed and the result wouldn’t cut it. The only thing for it is to add fake snow over the top of the image:

Manually added some snow

The snow was done in three passes. I use Gimp to do the dirty work, mostly because I’m comfortable with it, and also because there are a lot of little tools and filters that can help out.

First, I used the chalk shaped brush, with a white to grey gradient, and passed it over the ‘top’ surfaces of things, so the window sills, the fence posts, the railings. It’s not a heavy coating, more a smattering, because it’s early winter. I was going to do more on the footpath, but it turned out, when I did a quick check, that the image on the book wouldn’t be able to include the lower quarter. Ah, well.

The thing is, the image above is still too sunny and happy, so I wanted to add in some more, falling, snow. So be it:

Falling snow

So there’s snow on the ground, some falling snow, and I’ve gloomified the setting. It’s looking a bit more like what I had in mind, but there’s still more to go. I need the sky back, for starters, and I want some highlights on the house so that it’s not one grey, amorphous blob.

Duplicating, blending and putting the sky back in

I duplicated the house layer and blended it together with the underlying house to bring up more of the detail. The clouds in the sky looked about right with a dark filter on there, so I left that alone.

Right, all that’s left is to add it into the general template for the Paranormology series.

Cooper Alley Cover – Pt 1

It’s getting harder and harder to find houses that fit the front covers for my stories. The latest, Cooper Alley Ghost, needed to be old, craggy, two storey and squishy. Why? Because it’s in an alley, not a street or avenue. Trolling the haunts of Moonee Ponds and Essendon, hunting about for the right one, I came up with a whole lot of not much. This one is single storey. This one is too grand. This one is way too modern. The houses in that area, you see, tend to be sitting on large blocks. There’s a nice, comfortable feel about them and those that have be squishified into apartments and the like tend to have been built only within the past decade or two. Not at all suitable.

So I gave up on that and scratched my head some and thought and thought and thought. If only I had a jet-pack, I could fly about the suburbs and rapidly cull from my list the houses and buildings that weren’t suitable, and narrow in on those that were. I don’t have a jet-pack. And even if I did, I doubt that it would be the most practical way to… and I struck upon an idea. Google Street View, of course! Why bother driving around, slowly crawling the backstreets and looking creepy, when some gigantic tech company has done that already? No, really, have you seen the cars? It’s a little creepy the way they putter up and down, and even more creepy when they go into the back-alleys of Carlton and show you the insides of people’s backyards.

Anyway, after comparing the tomato gardens of the people of Fitzroy and Carlton, I got back to my task and hunted about for a house that would fit the bill. After twenty minutes, boom, there it was – the ideal house. Two storey, slightly creepy and crumbled, squished between two other houses. A tiny front yard and a smattering of plants. Perfect. Now I just had to get there and take a photograph.

Well, it’s school holidays, and that means I’m taking care of Joey, dragging him about, taking him to the pool, to work, to boxing, to the shops. None of those places are anywhere near Carlton. Bum. OK, so we had to make a special trip. On the hottest day of the year. And we were in Port Melbourne, had to fight through the city traffic to reach the other side. That, or go on a long, sweep around. Either way would be unpleasant. The city, at that time in the morning, I reasoned, shouldn’t be so terrible. That’s a relative term. The traffic was lighter than peak-hour, granted, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been faster walking. And don’t get me started on the terrible driving. The day was getting hotter, Joey was getting crankier and my patience was getting drier. We finally popped out the other side and reached Nicholson Street.

Parking. Yay, hadn’t thought about that. I normally ride a scooter, so there’s no need to worry about parking. On Nicholson Street was not an option – all the parks were gone. So I hit up Leicester Street and poked about there. Permit parks over here, no standing over there and lots and lots of ticketed parking. Heck, all I wanted to do was jump out, take a happy snap and go home. Not happening. So then it’s around to the next street and the next and, a stroke of luck! There was a two hour spot just waiting for us next to a (much needed) water bubbler.

We got out, headed to the house (just up the road) and, wouldn’t you know it? There was roadworks signs and parked cars all over the place, with no clear shot. I tried from a few angles. No good. I stood closer and further, tried the zoom on the camera. Still no good. Joey was at boiling point. So was I. “Blow it,” I said, “Wasn’t there a 7-Eleven on the way over?” A slurpee took joey off the boil and shut him up for at least thirty seconds while I thought. I didn’t fight all that way to give up, and considering the general feel and age of the suburb, there had to be other samples about. We wandered up and down for a little while. At last! A house! Two floors, old, etc. Sure, there’s a car parked in front but it’s back far enough that with the wide angle on I should be able to…

And just at that moment, the occupant of the house comes home on his bike. No, seriously. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, of course. I was on the sidewalk, taking photographs, but you can appreciate how uncomfortable it got. So there were a few shots with said occupant in the picture, putting his bike inside. Can’t use those:

Oh dear…

Nope. I went to the house next door, but its front was way too close to the street, so that was no good. Nope, it was this one or nothing. I stole back, distracted Joey with something shiny in an alley, flipped the phone to wide-angle and took the shot. Boomshakalaka and thar she blows, a fine specimen of an aged house… complete with treadmill out the front, plastic garbage bins and electricity.

I’ll have to do something about those.

Number Six

Number six of what? Of the Paranormology series, of course! There are so many avenues I could have taken, and it seems that every time I start one of the books, I set myself up for some to and fro before I can settle on just how it should be. I have learnt my lesson, though, to make sure I know what I’m going to do (at least in rough terms) before I go plodding along, and to keep asking myself, “Does this make sense?” while I’m doing it.

During my lunch breaks earlier on last year I tapped out the skeleton idea. It wasn’t so great. I flopped it about, got rid of some rubbish, added a bit of this and that, and had a look again. Not too bad, this time, not too shabby at all. There were elements that I particularly wanted in there, one of which was a psychic medium, with a play between scientific analysis and psychic phenomena.

The setting has changed from the previous books. The protagonist and the Professor have moved to Exeter, permanently, because there are more opportunities for the Professor’s research, and the narrator has landed a job with Mister Belfiore, the clock maker. This means the setting is within a city, as with Portsmouth Avenue, only the protagonist has become familiar.

The other thing I really wanted was to bring some humanity to the Professor. He can get cranky, and he certainly has his failings (how very human), but humanity is more more than this. We get to see that underneath his cantankerous exterior, he is vulnerable and fragile, and that there’s a good reason he’s as skeptical as his is about everything.

So, how far along am I? Happy to say that I’ve finished the first draft and I’m going to sit on it for a bit. First, I need to make the front cover and get the blurb sorted. Once that’s done, I’ll be finishing off some of the Audiobook work for the other books. After this, it’s back for round two and getting some eyeballs on.

Which reminds me: If you’ve ever wanted to be part of the creative process and give the book a going over in draft two, drop me an email and let me know. I’d be very appreciative.

Eh? What’s that? What’s it going to be called? Well, the working title is Dreyford Alley Ghost, however I’m not one hundred percent sold on that, so we’ll see.

Edit: I wasn’t sold. I’m now running with ‘Cooper Alley Ghost’.

The Quality of the Merchandise

Forgot to mention yesterday about the quality of the print of the books that arrived.

I’ll start with Tedrick. I got Tedrick Gritswell of Borobo Reef and Tedrick Gritswell Makes Waves delivered so I can give a final check to the quality of the print. I have to say, I’m impressed. The stock used was a cream paper, nice and easy on the eyeballs, with a good sized font and proper looking margins.

I’m always concerned with the gutter, to make sure that when the book is opened, the words don’t get lost somewhere down in the spine. The guidelines of the KDP template help out there a lot and they point out, quite clearly, if words are going to be squished in the gutter.

The margins, too, are spacious and roomy, enough for fingers to hold without getting in the way. Where the print falls down, in my opinion, is on the cover. I’ve noticed a distinct difference with the brightness of the colours on the monitor versus those on print. The books seem to have their colours muted somewhat, like the ‘volume got turned down’.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the same image, it’s not altered at all, but the realisation into the physical world leaves a little something back in the digital world. I’m sure there’s a term for this.

The Adaptation book is a whopper. It’s printed on white paper with 9.5 point font, 0.5 points below the recommended minimum. That was the absolute largest I could use without blowing the pages out past the maximum of 800. I also used a custom font that squished the words up a fraction more. Each chapter title also uses a custom font to match the title cover.

This was a bit annoying because it means embedding the font into the final PDF. If I didn’t do that, the font would default to something else, and I’d gain an extra few pages and push past the limit. Embedded the font ain’t so bad – it makes the PDF larger, of course, but that makes it longer upload.

The cover came out better than I expected. The charcoal of the carbon-fibre comes up good against the cyan and orange. The back holds a likeness of yours truly in a little circle. The print quality is nice and the matt cover has a definite feel to it.

The only thing that annoys me is the slim margins and small font size. I would have preferred to go to, say, a thousand pages with a thicker margin and 11 point font but, unfortunately, the Laws of Physics only extend so far.

Smoking Bullets

Ha, now there’s a vision.

Once I’d finished with the front cover of Adaptation, I had a look at some of my other titles. Yep, you guessed it, I wasn’t happy with them. I mean, the Paranormology series ain’t so bad (except, let’s be honest, Beaumauris Road Ghost) and Atlas, Broken is almost where I want it to be, but The Bullet stood out as the poor, underloved book that just wanted to have its day.

The Bullet was one of the stories, back in 2014, that I pushed out without too much thought. It was the first to be put into hard-copy, because it was small and easy to manipulate I guess, good for a trial run. But it’s still a book and it still wants love.

So there’s the old cover. Come to think of it, that’s the one for the print, since the text is slightly to the left and squished in a bit, but never mind that. The whole point is that while the bullet is front and centre, sure, and the story is about the bullet, the cover doesn’t really let your eye do anything more than read the text and see the bullet. The factory in the background isn’t prominent. In fact, I was showing Joey just the other day and he said, “Yeah, I like it, but what’s are all those lines at the back?”

Good lesson there, too. Ask a kid. They’ll be honest.

So I got to thinking about covers and what makes this yawn-worthy? Firstly, it doesn’t convey anything about the book apart from the obvious – The Bullet, with a bullet on it. OK, great, what else? The factory is stunted, there’s nothing steampunk about it, and it doesn’t challenge me in any way. It’s also very symmetric (aside from the squishing to fit it to a print book) so, really, there’s nowhere for the eye to go but top to bottom.

I trudged back over my source material again and looked at a bunch of other book covers and realised, yup, it needs a make-over.

So here we have a completely different design. Firstly, it’s darker. There’s no factory to fuddle things up, but the implication is there what with all the smoke billowing about. You’ll also note, there isn’t one bullet, but many, highlighting the major theme of the story, of this bullet and its peers. It’s challenging in that it asks what’s so special about this bullet that looks exactly the same as the ones next to it. The font is an older newspaper-style, formed but haggard, rough and rusted. Lastly, the symmetry is removed, with the words somewhat right aligned, but not perfectly.

The eye is free to bounce about a bit, first gathering the bullet, then the words, then picking at the bullets in the rows to see if there is any difference between them, anything further to see through the haze of steam and smoke. The rows of perfect rounds suggests a factory, a process, so there’s no need to harp on about it.

With such a large print and uncluttered image, it looks waaaaaay better on the small scale which, as I’ve come to realise, is very important, considering most book sites display their wares in small icons and thumbnails.

I asked Joey what he thought about this one. He said, “I dunno. I liked the first one.”

Kids, eh? What do they know?

This cover change was also necessary because, well, I’ll let you know in a bit.