Can’t wait for the next in Paranormology? Me neither! That’s why I’ve been working into the night, propped up alternately by coffee and gin, to work the red pen and exercise my typing muscles to get the second draft down and smash out the third.
When I was working at MacDonald’s, I learnt a very important quote: “Hustle, don’t rush.”
In other words, get your stuff done quickly without sacrificing quality. It’s about being efficient, and thorough, and, above all, not procrastinating. And that’s exactly what I did. By last night, I was completely bushed, but I had in my hot little hand a manuscript that I could call a book.
And do this morning I consolidated and checked and poked and corrected and pushed Cooper Alley Ghost into the Smashwords Meat Grinder. What does that mean? It means it’s up.
Up! As in, it is going through the motions of publishing. First it goes through the Auto-vetter. That’s Smashwords’ fancy device to weed out common issues with formatting and the like.
Then it gets an ISBN: 9780463495261. Woot! With this, and after it has been checked for premium status, it gets distributed to the book outlets like Kobo and Barnes and Noble and iTunes. For Google Play and Amazon, though, I need to do this myself.
Finally, on 26th of April, 2020, it gets released into the big, wide (scary) world!
Head on over to the Smashwords page and have a look. The process of submitting to the other retailers takes a bit of time, so be patient. I’ll update the links as I go. And I’ve knocked up a landing page here. In the meantime, I’m going to settle down with a gin & tonic.
After the events of Jolimont Street, the Narrator and the Professor are pariahs in their own town. It was already a struggle to get cases to investigate, so it is only natural that they would venture somewhere more populated. With a big town comes many people, not all of them natives, and with that comes, you guessed it, more voices.
You’ve got Madam. Middle-aged and well-to-do, she was also the head of her family and at war with her other half. She needed a manicured voice, one that held power and poise, not at all flighty or weak, even though she is confused. She must keep a brave face, in spite of everything.
My biggest issue was not so much the femininity of the voice, rather my tendency to start speaking like Her Majesty the Queen. In fact, I’ve found that with a lot of the voices, I come close to sounding like parodies and I need to actively check myself, pause, and start again.
Mister Belfiore is Italian. I don’t think that comes across so strongly in the book, but that’s who he is in my mind. He plays a more prominent role in Cooper Alley, so I had to make sure that whatever voice I used, I could maintain between books.
I started with my go-to voice for Pantaloni, breathy, old and heavily accented. Nope, no good. Too old, too breathy. Still, it’s a starting point. What I needed was a somewhat younger version, someone in their 50s or 60s.
I backed off on the accent some, sang the ‘Franco Cozzo’ song to get in the mood and left him a little wheezy.
Now for the main event: Zindello. I haven’t any Romanian friends, and if I did, I’m sure I wouldn’t any more for the terrible disservice I have done to the vocals.
I have watched Eurovision. I have seen the various countries and heard their accents and tried to mimic a few. Pah, who am I kidding? After a few words, my mouth degenerates into a generic Eastern European drawl, located nowhere in particular between Russia and Lithuania.
Still, it’s Zindello. It’s the self-assured strutting man who knows what he wants and how to get it. He’s this guy:
His voice is forceful, he comes across as brash and bold and dangerous. He knows about everything he needs to know about. He likes to be in control. No, he must be in control.
Throw in the usual ruffians, the hotelier and what have you, and Portsmouth Avenue comes out a very hard book to do voices for. It certainly took the longest to date, if only because I needed to frequently stop and re-adjust my voice to get back into character.
You can find Portsmouth Avenue Ghost in Audiobook at most outlets but, as at the time of writing this, Audible hasn’t gotten around to it. There’s some kind of hold up with the publishing gods. Maybe I haven’t sacrificed enough virgin sardines or something.
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 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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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’.
You know, I think I’m going to make a new rule. When it comes to releasing titles, I’m going to deliberately hold off past Christmas. With the development-o-meter hitting a full scale deflection, the obligatory seasonal parties, obligations and preparations, and the viruses that hover about until you’re just on the edge of desperation before striking you down, there’s not a lot of time left for everything else that falls under the category of ‘not immediate’.
So it got to yesterday – at least I think it was yesterday – and I was asked, “Hey Jez, don’t you have a book coming out?”
Oh, crud. Right. That. When was that again? Between all the competing voices nagging and braying and screaming and screeching, there was a meek little squeak calling, “Jez, Jez. Don’t forget about me.”
Well I didn’t really forget as much as neglect. Sorry, little guy. It’s a bit pathetic, but here’s your launch. Ahem:
Hey, y’all. Portsmouth Avenue Ghost, Paranormology Part 5 is out on Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Google Play. And a bunch of other, independent distributors. I hope you enjoy it.
You know when your eyes are burning and your fingers and cramped and up come up for a gulp of air and realise, ‘Heck, almost there!’
The fifth episode of Paranormology is only a hop, skip and a jump away from getting published. Allow me a couple of seconds to enjoy the moment.
Back to it. I’ve highlighted the issues and suggested corrections, now I’ve got to pick up the pieces of paper – literally – and update the electronic copy.
Why ‘literally’? Well, funny story:
As you can see from the pic, there’s a whopping bulldog clip what holds all my sheets together. This system works really well because it keeps the pages in order when I take it from my bag, or put it on the table, or drop it on the ground. Where the system fails is when I unclip it, then let the pages slide off the desk and across the floor.
Let this be a lesson – when you print out your manuscript, add page numbering. It’s fast and it means that, if the pages get screwed up because of one’s clumsiness, it’s trivial to put them back into order.
As it was, I spent a good ten minutes flicking through, sorting and shuffling and rearranging.
You’ll also notice that I used a yellow highlighter rather than my favourite red pen. Reason is that I couldn’t find Old Red anywhere. The highlighter + black pen combination isn’t that great, in that I need to do two marks rather than one, and the black pen had a tendency to get smeared on the marker.
The end result is good. I can scan a page quickly and spot what needs to be updated, so that’s not a problem, and if I can’t have a red pen, I’ll settle for this, albeit grudgingly.
What comes next?
Updating the electronic copy with the corrections. It’s laborious, it’s boring, but it has to be done. A few cups of coffee should help.
After this, or during – if I need a break from words – comes the cover. I’ve got the sky how I want it, and I’ve removed a few ‘modern’ artefacts from the house and surrounds. Now I need to get the colours right, perhaps add a some environmental cues, and decide upon a font for the title.
And then, somewhere along the way, I have to start a blurb – *shudder*. For such a small patch of writing it is the most agonising to write: Summarise without being vague. Give clues without giving anything away. Create interest without using cliches. And do it all in a neat and tidy space of five sentences. Blegh.
So I might be near the end, but, really, there is much still to be done.
It’s official: the next in Paranormology sees our protagonist accompany the Professor to Exeter, following up on a potential lead involving a wealthy widow and a mysterious medium. I finished the second draft just now – coffee down, have a stretch, crack of the knuckles and back to it, Jez.
Naturally there’s the drama between the Professor and the Gypsy – neither appreciates the other’s presence. The protagonist is caught in the middle, being young and idealistic.
There’s the theme of the optimism of youth, and it helps in a few spots, yet the premise is related to controlling one’s emotions. Sound vague? Of course. I’m not going to spell out the premise, that’s the book’s job.
I don’t think I’ll be doing the whole KDP thing again on this one. Firstly, it wouldn’t be fair to those who have the rest of the Paranormology series on Kobo, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, etc. Secondly, I really like Smashwords as a publisher! They’ve got the author as their focus, not profits, and they make it easy to do just about anything. I’m cool with that.
As for the cover, I’ve got a particular house in mind that I pass by every day on the way home from work. It’s over in Essendon and I’m thinking I might want to ask for permission from the home owner first before I stand outside like a creepy guy and take happy-snaps of the house… Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.
Don’t know how I’m going to approach it, but. “Hey, hi. You don’t know me and, well, I don’t know you, but I was wondering if I could take pictures of your house…”
Making scenes to represent the various parts of Grosvenor Lane Ghost proved harder than I expected. I had, in my mind, a grand set of a horse and carriage, of a row of dilapidated houses, of looking up to see the young boy in the window. Yeah, right.
The problem is that I was reverting to the ‘tell’ rather than the ‘show’, that is, I was telling the story as a movie, scene by scene, rather than showing what the book was about. What I really needed to do was scrap the chapter by chapter approach, getting more into what the message of the book is about.
And what is it about? Science. The introduction of the Protagonist to the world of Paranormology. His first steps into a strange world. The Professor learning to take his own advice and judge a case only after gathering evidence.
With that in mind, I got cracking on making up a few key elements: The equipment, the larder and the laboratory.
Finding an image of an ‘old-school’ thermometer was tricky, since many were large, ungainly contraptions, nothing portable as the Professor would use. I had to be a bit creative, change the gradient to a positive / negative rather than absolute, and add in brass screws for calibration.
I found many image for an electroscope. Diagrams. Blueprints. None were suitable. So, I had to construct one from a bell jar, a copper rod, a disc and copper sheeting. The vibrometer? Well, that’s actually a high temperature thermometer, but let’s just keep that between you and me, shall we?
I really wanted to get the equipment into the animation since, as the books go on about, any real paranormal investigation require documented, calibrated evidence, not just ‘feelings’ and the like. Plus, a big part of the Professor’s obsession is repeatability, such that his investigations might stand up to peer-review, so his equipment is all important.
The Protagonist spends a fair bit of time in the larder, listening to the house, observing his equipment, getting thoroughly bored.
I don’t have a larder in my house. And I don’t have floorboard. And the garage is concrete. So getting a picture of a larder was kind of hard. No problem. Gimp to the rescue! Taking shots of various textures around the house, including an inverted one from underneath the house, cropping, trimming and poking, I was able to assemble a larder.
On the left is the larder in the Gimp stage, where I was having issues getting the shadows to play nice. You can see some of the icky-thicky lines around the centre. Meh. On the right is after I got to it using the Wacom Intuit drawing tablet. Applying heavy shadows was made a bazillion times easier. The results is a lot more like what I had in mind.
Aw, geez. You wouldn’t think it would be too hard to find an old school lantern, light box, prism and holder, easel, and a sheet of paper and tuck them into a laboratory, would you? Well, it was a pain, let me say.
I blurred the background for a sense of depth, constructed the bench out of pieces of wood and scaffolding, found a decent signal lantern (and roughed it up a bit) and put it on top of a box. The result was uninspired. Why? Because everything was ‘different’, that’s why. The box was too clean, the lantern was too old, the paper was too shiny… you get the idea.What I needed to do was make everything a little bit ‘banged up’. Except the prism, since that needed to be an obvious ‘glassy’ element. Not only that, the whole thing was too damned bright. More shadows, more shine. Wacom to the rescue, once more.
Seriously, I’m loving this thing. Still getting the hang of it, of course, early days and all of that. But enough blabbering. I haven’t got the ‘old’ laboratory for comparison for you, my apologies. Let that be a lesson: Hard-drive space is cheap. Don’t delete stuff, move them into separate folders so you can see progressions.
I’m going to get going on some of the other images. Come back soon!
For the next in Paranormology, I’ve gone back to the beginning in terms of my front cover, except that, unlike Grosvenor Lane Ghost, Jolimont is a fair bit darker and nastier.
Now, for the past three covers I’ve been the creepy guy curb-crawling around Essendon and Moonee Ponds looking for the appropriate house but, for this one, I needed a particular kind of townhouse: Two story, short front yard (if you can call it that) sharing its walls with its neighbours.
Yes sir, that meant a trip to Carlton.
Annoyingly, a lot of the best fits had trees in the way, or bicycles hanging out the front, or garbage bins overflowing with junk. I managed to get two decent houses, one a blanch (boring) white and the other a yellow and brown brick.
Guess which one I chose?
Anyway, here’s a sneak peek of the cover in progress.
I reckon the contrasting bricks makes for a most interesting title, don’t you?
Fun Fact: For the eagle-eyed of you wondering why the text is offset from the right some, that’s to do with the hard-copy version of the front cover.
Because of the way the printing presses work, you have a margin on the top, right and bottom of the image that is going to get snipped off and, what’s more, there’s also a ‘safety-margin’ that, again due to the manufacturing process ‘may’ get snipped off, and then you’ve got the ‘guaranteed-to-be-in-there’ bit.
There’s no margin of snipping or safety on the left edge, hence the left bias.
I’m making a habit, now, to start with the hard-copy version first, and tweak the wording over to centre for the electronic version. Stay tuned for more updates for Jolimont Street Ghost!