Cooper Alley Ghost – Preorder

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?

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.

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.

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 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.

Grosvenor Lane Graphics

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.

The Equipment

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.

Equipment.jpg

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 Larder

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.

LarderComp

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.

The Laboratory

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.Laboratory2.jpgWhat 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!Mini Jeztyr Logo