The Officially Unofficial Release!

Iris. Of. The. Shadows. Today, the 21st of July, 2021, marks the actual, official, bona fide, genuine, you-beaut, true-dinks, honest-and-for-realsies-this-time release of Iris of the Shadows.

You know, because I stuffed up. Because Jez and dates are two things that shouldn’t be mixed together. But let’s not dwell on what was supposed to be and concentrate on what actually is, you know, base ourselves in reality. Which is kind of funny, because Iris is a fantasy. That’s the reality.

Enough of that! There are celebrations to be had, libations to be dribbled and carpets to be soiled. Eat, drink (in moderation), read and be merry, but be sure to get your hands on copy. Go eBook, it’s faster delivery and prolly better for the environment, what with the size of the book and all.

Slow down, Jez! Where do I find Iris?

Good question. Check out this awesome link from Book2Read:

She comes in eBook format and softcover, and there are bound to be more sites tomorrow once the release has taken effect, but Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Google Play are all up and running. And there’s Angus and Robertson, Book Depository, Scribd, take your pick. Please leave a review, however you feel, and enjoy that read!

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I Stuffed Up

Me and dates, we don’t get along. Not dates as in the fruit. They’re alright. And prunes, I’m a fan of prunes. Dried apricots, sultanas, raisins, currants, yeah, they’re all good. But that’s not what I’m on about.

I’m talking about dates, mate. Dates. As in, the day of the month of the year. Dates. It’s a bit of a running joke, see, that I get muddled when it comes to dates. If you say, “Hey, be there on the 14th”, my brain promptly forgets that whole sentence and starts wondering if the Macarina and macaroni have any relation.

To give you an example, on at least two occasions, I have requested leave from work, locked it in, put it in the calendar, only to turn up at work on that day clueless. One day runs into the next and, next thing I know, I’ve missed a birthday or an anniversary or an important event.

This works in the other direction, as well. Like, for example, setting the bloody date for a book to be published. You see, I had Tedrick’s Audiobook on the go at the same time as having Iris of the Shadows about to be launched. Prolly a silly idea, in hindsight, but that’s how it was. So:

  1. Tedrick was supposed to be published on July 1st.
  2. Iris was supposed to be published on June 21st

Sound simple enough? It was supposed to be. Iris goes out a week or so before Tedrick, too easy, lock it in. Only… only Jez, in his unique way, managed to set the release for Iris to be the 21st of July, not June.

So, picture this. There’s me, on the 21st of JUNE, all ready to rock and roll with the big announcement of “Iris of the Shadows is Released!” and… and… wait, what did I do. Face + Palm. Cue mad scramble to Draft2Digital, Smashwords, Google and Amazon to fix it all up. Well, try and fix it up.

Nope. Too little, too late. In terms of distribution, Kobo and iTunes and Barnes & Noble still have it set for July 21st. Google will allow it out on the 23rd, Amazon on the 25th, Smashwords on the 24th and… yeah.

I stuffed up.

Sad to say, but thems the facts and the facts can’t be changed because otherwise they wouldn’t be facts, now, would they? Alrighty, what does that all mean? Well, you can get Iris of the Shadows in hardcopy and ebook right now from Amazon, Google and Smashwords, but you’ll need to wait up to a month for Kobo and Barnes and Noble. I guess it’s a bit of a soft-launch, then, and I’ll look to doing a more formal announcement when I can confirm it’s properly up and out. I guess it has waited ten years, what’s another month, eh?

Sorry about that.

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Iris of the Shadows – Synopsis

To say that publishers and literary agents are pressed for time is to say that cats have a predilection for sleep. If there was some way, Matrix style, to compress and download the experience of reading a book into their heads, it would revolutionise the industry. Alas, no such plug-in-the-back-of-the-head technology exists just yet, so they are forced to do things the old-fashioned way: Reading the stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, they want books. That’s how they make a living:

No books = no business.

Pretty simple equation. So lots of books = lots of business, right? No, because of another another equation:

Bad books = bad business.

There lies the rub. If every scrap of paper passing their noses passed into the presses unvetted, they’d soon be run out of town. Their job is to not only get books out there, they must choose wisely.

On the flip side are the authors, those poor saps who have spent days, nights, weekends and holidays typing and mulling and poking and deleting and sweating it out, nervously coming to the end of the creation period, wondering if they’ve done enough, if they could poke it a bit more or if there was still some mulling to be done.

So you have your situation mapped out: authors producing books, and agents consuming them, only it’s not your classic producer – consumer scenario, not like, say, and ore mine and a smelter or a wheat farm and a mill. Ore is ore, of different grades, but it can be sampled and tested and graded objectively. Similar to wheat or wool or fish or whatever you like. Books are not the same.

Yes, objective measures can be placed on books to measure word count, grammatical errors, complexity of sentence, and all of that, and they give indicators, but, objectively, what defines a good book? Lots of words? Fewer words? Really long sentences? Adverb overloading? The answer is that it all depends on the audience, the genre, the tone and arc and premise and language and, well, too many things to consider. Sometimes the difference between a good book and a bad one is the mood of the reader.

In short, while the agents might be able to put a manuscript through a black-box and get a score for it, there are subtleties that apply here and not there, that make all the difference. And, of course, not everyone appreciates horror, or military fiction, or space operas, or vampire romances. So what is an agent to do? Read everything that comes under their noses? That’s an impossibility. The smartest thing is to weed out those books that you have a hunch won’t be any good, and take a closer look at those that seem alright.

Enter the synopsis. If you take your book and break it down into a one pager, what does it look like? One page? One page?? Are you serious?

Very. Agents and publishers may ask for a one pager, or even a limited word count. Like a blurb? No, not like a blurb. A blurb is there as a hook, a tease, a taste to get you chomping. The synopsis is, to be (grossly) blunt, the meal digested. Take an entire chapter and turn it into a sentence. Heck, if you can compress two chapters into a sentence, you’ve done alright. At the same time, you still need to keep some emotion in there, something to engage the reader. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

It feels awful doing it and, to be honest, I’ve shied away on a lot of occasions. With the first Tedrick Gritswell, I cringed all the way through writing it. The second, I only pulled a face a couple of times. This time around, with Iris of the Shadows, I deliberately stopped myself from biting my lip, rolling my eyes, squeezing my eyelid shut or pouting. I muscled through it.

The first iteration, I managed to make a two page synopsis. This was not enough for any decent submission, which is a little unfair, really, considering the book is sitting at +215k words. Still, in the interest of brevity, I went back over it again, slicing away anything even remotely trivial, removing adjectives and combing sentences. In the end, I got that puppy down to just under a page.

My advice? Be ruthless. Cut everything down to the bone. Leave nothing attached. Then, when it’s barely more than a bunch of words telling ‘what happened’, go back and sprinkle a little life onto the carcass, up to the point where you haven’t exceeded your quota. The end result is ugly, but it’s a necessary ugly.

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Emotions Running Hot

What a journey! There’s always a sense of sadness when I come to the end of writing a book. That’s not the only emotion, mind you. There’s fear, lots of that. Fear that it isn’t enough. Fear that there are spelling mistakes and grammatical farts all the way through. Fear that the characters aren’t defined enough, or too much, or that I’ve pushed too hard in the wrong direction and the audience just isn’t going to like it. Fear. Squid-loads.

There’s also a growing anticipation, something like excitement, only it’s a slow burn. Like a forest fire burning beneath the soil burn. The ground is hot, it’s hard to sleep, my heart palpitates and skips every now and then. Of course, that could easily be the coffee or the gin, or the coffee mixed with gin. Or good ol’ fear, because that never really goes away. But it is exciting and it is something to look forward to and it’s one of those times when I can push a button, upload the files to be published and sit back and allow myself a smile. Sure is a lot of excitement in there.

What else is there, what else? There’s exhaustion, yup. And trepidation or anxiousness or nervousness, however you want to describe it. Embarrassment? Oh, yeah, there’s that. You probably wouldn’t think it, but it’s there. Heck, someone merely reads out the title and my cheeks flare and my mind to starts swimming about and my mouth goes even more babbly than usual. Thick skin? Me? Hardly. Maybe calloused is a better word.

Iris of the Shadows is finished, ready to face the big, wide, scary world. There’s nothing left but to start the process of publishing – there’s the blurb, the synopsis, and the front cover to do, along with figuring out where it sits on a book-shelf. There’s also the page layout for Lulu, the shortcuts for Smashwords, the promoting and pre-launch and, oh, so much more to do!

But, over all of this, there’s a sense of sadness. The writing has come to an end. There’s no more, not unless I want to slaughter the story and cram more chapters into it and bloat the crud out of it. It has grown, been pruned, grown more, had accidents and chunks taken out of it. It’s time to see what it can do, time to test whether all the effort was worth it or not. Is there really anything more I can do? No, like a child turning of age, the book has to get its own home, find a job, get married and have its own kids. Or, at the very least, start helping with the laundry and maybe cook a meal once a week.

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Another Draft

How many drafts does it take to write a book? More than one, for sure. So two? Three? Five? How many sweeps must one do?

When doing the books in the Paranormology Series, I settled on three as the magic number. The first got the skeleton and the sinews in place, the overall arc, the characters and story. On the second draft, I fill in some of the meaty bits, move things around if they are in the wrong spot, and with the third, I clean up the grammar, spelling mistakes, punctuation and the like.

It’s a neat pattern to get into, and it worked well for most in the series – except Hampton Court Ghost, where I scrapped three quarters of the second draft because it was horrible. Sometimes, I guess, things just don’t work out.

With Iris of the Shadows, it is a similar situation. The original work, ‘Darkness from Below‘, was done way back in 2010 or so, maybe earlier, tapped out by stylus on a PDA. There were spelling mistakes galore, grammatical flubs and lots of holes in the plot. It was before I had ever published a book. I was not sure where to start, where to end, what it was supposed to look like, yet I knew I wanted it out and published.

More than this, the characters were derived from a pre-existing mythos, and so it was written more like a fan-work than a standalone book, and so I could never publish it. I was in a conundrum. Here was a labour of love that could never be realised. In frustration, I threw it in the too-hard basket and sulked for half a year before starting on Adaptation.

Over the course of the years, I picked at it, prodded it, half-heartedly changed some points then tossed it back into the basket again to be forgotten for another six months. It was nagging at me – there’s a story that wants to be told, but I hadn’t given it enough attention to tell it properly. Besides, I had the Paranormology Series to go through, and re-working Adaptation into a novel, not to mention Tedrick and his adventures. Like a meowing cat it harassed me until I gave in, and dragged the script out again, and committed to finishing it.

Finishing it? More like starting it all over again! I imported the manuscript into Nimble Writer and took stock. No, no and three times, no. There was a problem with the whole book, and the more I looked, the more evident it became. It needed more history, more character development, more meat. I remember the groan I gave out when I accepted my fate – it startled the cat and Wifey even asked if I’d hurt myself. Not hurt, no. Not yet.

And so the first draft began. In truth it was more like the eighth or ninth. Maybe ten, I have truly lost count. As I wrote, night after night, I watched the book swell into shape, inflate like a bouncy-castle. I ripped chunks out, bits that made no sense, bits that made me cringe. I stayed up in the wee hours to muscle through it, and muscle through it I did.

Then, back on track with the three-draft plan, I went back to the start again and swept through it, bit by bit, looking closer, picking on the fine details. Then I went and printed it out, got my red pen, and went over it once more. All up, that’s something like thirteen iterations over the course of ten years.

How many drafts does it take to write a book? As many as it needs, no less.

Iris of the Shadows – Front Cover

Second draft of Iris of the Shadows is complete. I’ve printed it out and sent it off to my paternal editor to have a good going over with a red pen with lashings of criticism. I need to have a break from all the writing. Where did it end up? At about 202k words. It’s a hefty one.

At the same time, I’m looking at going a traditional publishing route as opposed to self-publishing. I’ve had a look before, but gave up after scouring publishers and literary agents who were just too full to accept manuscripts, or were open to residents of X country, or weren’t accepting anything from speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy or horror. I’ll let you know how I get on there.

In the meantime, I’m moving to the next phase of the book (Some might consider it the most important, despite what the proverb says): the cover.

Initially, I though I might paint in watercolours, or gouache or even sketch it out in charcoal, but my efforts just didn’t match up to what I wanted. I then considered acrylics, but had no time to get that set up, so I went back to my trusty Wacom and Corel Painter:

Sketching characters is made easy, and I was making some progress here, only I had a little guy on my shoulder who said, “It looks a bit like a cartoon, Dad.” Yes, it was Joey. And, yes, he was right, it did look like a cartoon, or at least something like a graphic novel, which wasn’t really the aim of the book. If anything, the more I went along with the design, the more I just didn’t like where it was going.

I changed direction. Rather than drawing or painting or sketching a front cover, I decided to create one out of images, like I did with the Paranormal series. Thing is, old houses and cruddy buildings are easy to come by. You can walk along the street and find them lying about all over the place. People are a bit different. I can’t just go taking photographs of random people without risking having my nose whacked, and I like my nose the way it is.

For this, then, I turned to searching for stock images. There’s a wonderful site called Pexels, and another Unsplash, where you can find a plethora of images, along with links to the artists full range:

Iris was taken from a photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels. Tyrone was from photo by Albert Dera on Unsplash. And the sky and sea are from Johannes Plenio from Pexels. Many thanks to these guys – go and check out their set.

A bit of Gimp manipulation, some coffee and a Monster, and here’s the result:

The images needed some work to get them to fit the mood. The girl had a few blemishes to conceal, and the lighting was a tad washed, so I enhanced the chroma some. Tyrone’s left side was too bright, so I swapped it around to to get it in shadow. The story has a strong element of juxtaposing Tyrone’s stoic nature with Iris’s chaotic tendencies, so the blue island and the orange lightning suits, and the two are positioned so as to be on the same level, but at odds with each other.

I’m not going to work it over too much, not yet anyway, but I think it really helps solidify a book by having a cover to represent it. Anyways, I think it’s time for some lunch and a celebratory beer. Ciao!