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’.

Stumpy Gets a Front Cover

Tedrick is on his way! I’ve uploaded the final draft at Smashwords, Kindle and Google Play now, and I’ve set the preorder date as the 13th of August, 2019. So that means that, as of now, Tedrick Gritswell Makes Waves is up Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google and iTunes. That gives me a bit of time to iron out all the kinks.

Kinks? What possible kinks? The physical copy, that’s always a drainer. Then there’s the final-final check of the formatting and like. Then there’s the front cover. It’s just a matter of getting an image, slapping a title and author in comic sans and that’s job done, right?

Yeah. Nah. You see, the requirements of each platform is different. There are minimum sizes, recommended sizes, form factors, resolutions, margins and bleed. All of that. Which is why the keener eyed among you (probably of octopus stock) can spot that the digital cover and the hardcopy cover are, in fact, different.

Smashwords requires a minimum width of 1400 pixels, with the height ‘greater’ than the width. A bit loose. Amazon wants an ‘ideal’ 1:1.6 ratio, with a minimum of 1000 pixels, with a preferred width of 2500 odd. Google doesn’t really care, so long as the file is under 20MB. The hard copy depends upon the physical dimensions of the book, plus a margin and bleed. All in all it’s a tricky dance.

As such, the image needs to be painted bigger than normal. I went for a 1600 x 1800 dimension. I kind of missed the memo on Amazon’s ‘ideal’ stuff. Never mind, the process is still the same and I’m happy with how it turned out.

Using Corel Painter and my trusty Wacom tablet, I began with a sketch. In this episode, Tedrick isn’t so sure of himself, and there’s a bit where he’s hiding out from a vicious predator. I toyed with having the darkness of the Abyss stretching out before him, before scrapping that and wedging him in a crevice on the Reef. Above is shining and colourful, with happy fish flitting about and brain coral in pink clumps. Below is dirty and dark, menacing. Stumpy’s clinging on, somewhere in the middle.

One thing I really like about Corel is that you can have a play, see what you like, see what works, then undo it if you’ve muffed it, or slap on another layer to see what happens. I haven’t played with the full range of brushes available. There’s a ‘Real Watercolour’ I’m keen to try out, but I’ll have to wait for the next one, I guess. I’ve got more work ahead of me to get this book in order.

I’m off to get my squids in a row, wish me luck.

Did Someone Let in a Draft?

It’s wintertime. It’s cold. It’s fireplaces and curled up cats and cups of tea on the couch.

I like winter. I like being able to rug up in jumpers and wear hats and gloves. Most of the time, even when it’s chilly, I’m pretty hot. Maybe it’s got something to do with genetics and my metabolism or whatever, but unless I’ve got the flu I’m usually trying my best to cool down.

I stick my feet out the side of the bed. I wear only pants because a pyjama top is too constrictive. I don’t like having a warm cup of cocoa before hitting the hay. Give me some water. Just the way God made me, I guess. On a side note, it’s the Smashwords Summer (Winter in the Southern Hemisphere) Sale – get e-tonnes of e-books for bargain prices, with many of them (including all of mine) as free.

One major benefit of being a walking radiator is that I’m quite at home sitting outside on a cold night, and that’s where I’ve been during the cool autumn nights and winter evenings. There’s a little table and chairs set up on the porch, you see, and it’s perfect for writing out my drafts for the next Tedrick Gritswell. Perched out there with a coffee or a cognac, take your pick, I managed to knock out the first draft fairly quick.

Now I’ve done the ol’ red pen trick, and I’m happy with my second. I’ve already made notes to myself for where I’ve dropped a few stitches, and I’m tidying those up as I’m going. Nearly time to print it out again and go for the third.

There’s something special about this time of the book. It’s ‘done’ but not done. You can see it, touch it, it’s there and real, but not so real as being published. That rumbling feeling that comes up as the anticipation builds. The myriad conflicting ideas about whether a section should even exist, whether Bill should have a greater role in the story, whether this bit is too verbose, too lax, too crude. It’s time to chill again, be patient and print it out.

It’s a laborious process, believe me, and there’s every temptation to put it down and play Metro Redux, but that’s not going to get the cows milked, is it? It’s the final slog to the end, to keep pushing until it’s at that point I nod my head and say, “That’ll do it.”

Until then, to keep my mind in the zone, I’ve been working on the cover and the title page. Here’s the latest:

There’ll be a bit of poking an prodding with this bit – I don’t want to rush out the front cover just yet. Once I’m happy, I’ll make a post about the design process behind it and let you know.

Thanks!

Portsmouth Avenue – Third Draft complete

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!’

That’s me.

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.

That’s enough.

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.

Yellow?

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.

Fire Bird

In art class, all the way back in high school, I learnt about the word ‘juxtaposition’, placing two contrasting elements next to each other. The clean-cut girl and the rough-as-guts loaner. The pristine rainforest holding a smoke-belching factory.

An innocent bird inside an unforgiving fireplace.

fireplace bird

Yup, that was the scene with which I was presented when I came home last night. From what we could figure out, it had been in there for a few days, since we had heard noises on Monday and Tuesday, but thought nothing of it.

So what happened?

I figured the best course of action was to don a pair of gloves, open the side door, catch the critter and put her outside.

Very, very slowly, so as not to spook the bird, I opened the fireplace, just enough to get my hand in. Very, very slowly, I pushed past the scraps of wood and such left over from Winter, and reached toward the bird.

Vvvvoom! Very, very quickly the bird whizzed past my arm, up and out into the kitchen, missing the wide open door to freedom altogether.

I found her perched on the top of a pelmet, looking at me with those suspicious black eyes, ready to fly should I get too close.

I got too close.

Cue ‘Yakety Sax’, fast forward and watch a goof running around after a bird, trying all manner of Dick Dastardly devices, like tea towels, fish nets, the hat rack, to coax the poor thing outside.

On the ceiling fan, on the liquor cabinet, the herb rack, pretty much every light fitting, behind the dvd case, on a few picture frames, up on the door to that led outside (Yes! Yes! NOOOO!), on the hat rack, up behind the oven, I’m chasing her and she’s deftly avoiding me.

At one stage we were nose to beak. “Come on, birdy, do yourself a favour and go out the door,” I said, pointing to the big rectangle of light.

The bird just did that little head cocking thing they do and scurried behind the fridge.

“Hey, cat! Cat! Help me out here!” I said to my feline who had come in from the open door.

I figured that, hey, the bird will be more scared of the cat, so would naturally want to fly in the opposite direction.

On seeing the bird, however, the cat hunched down, quivering like a ninny, and bolted outside the door. Thanks, cat.

How did it end?

After about half an hour of furious up-down-in-and-around, she settled on a shelf up near the stove-top. I used the fish net to distract her from the front while I moved my gloved hand up the back.

I’m guessing she was very tired – hey, that makes two of us! – and she merely cowered. Now I was in a position to pick her up, but I was over-extending. Using the fish-net, I managed to pull a stool over to me, slowly got on top and very, very carefully picked up the beast.

She was as light as a feather. She did not struggle as I took her outside, only looked at me with the tilty-head and black eyes.

“There you go, little thing, now fly over that-a-way – ow!”

She pecked my finger and flew away in a flurry, without so much as a ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.

Aftermath

Wifey came home about two minutes after that, while I was up inspecting the flue (which was intact, mind you, so the bird must have squeezed her way in), wondering why the house was in a state, why there was a fish net in the kitchen, the stools scattered about, dust that was on the floor.

She looked the picture of perfection, having just had a hair cut, nicely shaped, smooth, polished (and so was her hair), and there’s me: sweaty, hot, fuzzed up with a feather or two sticking to me. How’s that for a juxtaposition?Mini Jeztyr Logo

From the Top… Down

Sweeping through my draft on the first run, I want to make sure that my story says and does what I want it to say and do. If it’s a comedy, it has to be funny. If it’s adventure, the scenery, characters and places must be vivid. If it’s philosophical, the message should be presented in a manner that allows thought and reflection.

I began developing this ‘sweeping’ process after my first book, where I was editing sitting in front of the computer, trying to get it all done in one go. Save time and effort and all of that. Now, knowing what I know now, I wish I had done it all in sweeps instead. I tried to fell a forest with a pocketknife, then wondered why it was so hard and took so bloody long.

Now I see it as a progression: From the lumberjack and sawmill, through the planer and woodstore, then to the whittler and his knife. Apply the appropriate methodology at each stage, and all of a sudden it ain’t so bad.

My current set of sweeps is broken into three parts: Story, Language and Correctness.

Story

What do I mean by Story? I mean sensibility, continuity, characters, premise and enjoyability – the overall book from start to finish ignoring the finer details. Does it have a beginning? Does it have an end? Does it do what it’s supposed to do?

Does the story make sense? Your audience makes a commitment to reading your book: They promise to read it and enjoy it if, and only if, you meet them half way. Underwriting fiction is the whole concept of suspension of disbelief. The audience will let things slide, and for the most part forgive bad grammar and structure and just about everything else, if you don’t take the piss:

“Shmuck Dodgers, on the verge of defeat with no possibility escape, took from his boot the Atomic Disencrackenator that he had forgotten about until just now and with a push of the button zapped the bad guy into oblivion.”

“Jason, I know you cheated on me with my best friend, burnt my house down, tried to kill me, but I love you anyway!”

“Faced between saving her family or losing her million dollar career, Gillian called upon the spirits of her ancestors to create a doppelganger robot for her that would stand in her place at work while she sorted things out at home.”

Of course, fiction is fiction, it’s not supposed to be ‘real’ in the perfect sense. Cool. But there’s a limit. You can tell when an author is squeezing for an out. Case in point: A Princess of Mars. Toward the end, with a couple of pages to go, you get to thinking “How is he going to wrap this up? There’s nowhere else for this to go, unless…”

Boom, there’s a throwback to a random bit in the middle that smells suspiciously like Edgar had to work it back in to give himself an out at the end. The rest of the story was alright, but the sense of ‘oh, crud, I’ve got to end this…’ comes right through and ruins the romp.

If the story doesn’t make sense, the audience will be annoyed and they won’t come back. Even if your book is supposed to be quirky, there is a limit to what is quirky, and what is just nonsense.

Be your Audience

In the first sweep, make sure you look at the manuscript with fresh, critical eyes. To help with that, leave the book alone for a fortnight. Forget about it. Calm your nerves, be disciplined and go onto something else (hey, isn’t it time you designed your front cover, anyway?).

You’ll be surprised how strange your book looks when you’re disengaged. More than once I’ve caught myself thinking, “Heck, I wrote this?” as I flick through.

This was almost the case with Hampton Court Ghost, only I realised how putrid it was before I called it a draft. After I (heavily) altered the story, I did my sweeps just as I normally would – no shortcuts.

Because you’re looking down from such a high level (remember, you’re not doing grammar or punctuation or language just yet) you can also spot that if “Justin crawled out of bed and faced the morning traffic”, to have “Justin watched the shadows lengthen” doesn’t follow. The audience’s mental scene had a dawn going on, and then we’re asking them to make it evening all of a sudden.

Another example might be “Jo has curly blonde hair”. Later on we find her “Pushing her dark hair behind her ears…” and unless she coloured her hair somewhere through, the mental model of a character inside the audience’s head will flag up because it just doesn’t match.

And you’ve broken the flow, broken the illusion, broken the contract.

topview1
First sweep: hack away

All of this means that you are watching out to make sure things happen in the right order, that there isn’t too much labouring on scenery or dialog, that characters are built, secrets are revealed, etc.

By the end of your first sweep, you should have big slabs of material move around, points to elaborate on, whole sentences and paragraphs to rip out. And don’t be afraid to rip stuff out. If something doesn’t work, or it smells funny, or it looks disjointed, it probably doesn’t belong.

How? Draw a big red line through it and look it over once you’ve finished. You’re more inclined to get rid of a stupid sentence if there’s a ruddy line running through the middle of it – yet another reason to use pen and paper.

Next I’ll be getting onto Language.