Working from home has presented its own benefits and problems.
Benefit – my commute is from my bedroom to the study.
Problem – My study is now my work area.
Back in the day, before the wu-flu, Work was Work and Home was Home. Sure, I’d be on call some weeks, but there was still a geographical distinction between the two. On the bike, ride on the road for an hour, get to the big, grey building, do the thing, talk to the people, eat the lunch, do more of the thing, ride on the road again. Home, sweet home, was waiting for me.
Now, not so much. Something has changed.
When I was first working as a freelancer, I found out that sectioning off a room by closing a door was beneficial, though inadequate. A door makes a difference, to be sure, but that was before children, and children, like pets, have a knack for opening the damn things and busting the whole illusion wide open. Next thing you know, the one bleeds into the other and your Work is your Home and your Home is your Work.
Hork. Wome. <Shudder>
What to do? What to do? I’ve got a massive novel coming up, and I need to concentrate. I need to rid myself of the distractions, the ringing phone, the annoying refrigerator noises, the cat, the ‘oh, can you just-‘…
What to do, indeed. So there’s a table out the front, on the patio, tucked around the side:
It catches the afternoon sun. The plants attract all manner of insects. The birds come and have a drink from the water barrel a little over the way. Cars race past, kids ride on bikes, nannas walk the streets. And you know what? It’s awesome!
Sure, I have to vacuum up the cat hair before I sit down. Sure, I have to clean the dust off the surface, otherwise the laptop is crunchy underneath. Sure, I have to slap on Aeroguard and light citronella candles to prevent the mozzies from chewing my legs to a pulp, but damn, it’s a really good place to write.
Dead set, I reckon since I’ve started out there, I’m getting 2000 words in a session, easy. The other, other day it was 5k. Totally chuffed. I reckon I’ll get this Darkness from Below finished in no time.
Let that be a lesson to you. If you can’t close a door, open one, and go outside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was a kid, when the world extended as far as my house and school, when the only people who exist were my family and friends, it was easy to make decisions. As I got older and my world expanded and time weighed down upon me, as conditions altered and people came in and out of my life, priorities necessarily changed.
Things that were hard become easy and vice versa. When problem A was no longer baying for my attention, I had more time to focus my energies on problem B. Or C. Or D…
Constant reassessment of what’s more important, and urgent, is a factor of life. Keeps us on our toes, makes us more adaptable to the winds of change. Sometimes I keep prioritising things lower down than they deserve because I want to artificially increase the priority of other things in order to reach a goal.
For example, health. As a young fella, I took an able body and the ability to walk up stairs for granted. I could eat hamburgers, drink up-sized milkshakes, and sample super-hot peppers and not worry about the consequences. I could take the stairs, or not. I could walk, or not. I had the choices before me and, therefore, had no need to prioritise keeping in shape.
Then bones start clicking. Muscles start hurting. Tight skin becomes flabby. The time invested away from health, and into other activities, started to tell. Things become harder than they should be. I struggled to get up, to keep up. Add a little boy into the mix and it only got worse.
So what’s more important? Family? Work? Leisure? Community? Hobbies? Sanity? Or is it ‘Health’? Ask me about ten years ago and I would have put Health somewhere near the end. Ask me today, and I can safely say I’ll put it up near the top of the pile. Why the shift?
Last year I had a problem in my neck and shoulder. I had a tingling sensation in my fingers. My arm just wasn’t working. I couldn’t lift myself off the ground. That’s bad. I went to an osteopath and she helped lay it all out for me.
It’s actually quite simple – I can’t help with anything if I’m not alive and, to almost the same extent, I can’t help effectively if I’m not well.
How about that? I used to consider focusing on myself a selfish act, something that could only be realised once everyone else was satisfied which, let’s face it, is not going to happen. Now I see, and it has taken a long time, let me tell you, and a lot of introspection, that by neglecting my health I’m also neglecting my family, my career and my community, not to mention my own interests.
In short, over the past year, I’ve been spending a lot more of my time exercising and eating better and that means time for writing, craft, videos and blog posts. Cardio, weights, boxing, running, that kind of thing and I’m feeling a lot better. Like, a LOT. That said, I’ve regained strength in my shoulder and arm, so I’m looking to ease back on exercising and resume some of my other tasks.
The deadline to get Portsmouth Avenue Ghost up on pre-release was the 21st of November. I hit that deadline. Great. Yay me. Well, I didn’t hit it as much as I flopped messily against it, exhausted, frustrated and strung-out. With everything else that’s going on, the point of hitting the ‘upload’ button on Smashwords felt like an afterthought.
Who made that deadline, anyway? What’s the point of it? Why bother putting myself through the wringer just to hit some arbitrary date scrawled on a whiteboard? Doesn’t that turn writing into a chore?
Let me answer those one by one: I made the deadline. I made a date for the first draft. Then, when I reached that, I made a date for the second, then the third and also for the cover. Finally I made the deadline for the pre-release.
The point is that by making dates and tracking my progress, I force my focus onto getting that task done. I then prioritise writing over, say, playing video games or watching television. The priority game also comes into play when I’ve got other creative tasks on the menu, like making You Tube videos or drawing or painting or crafting.
Sounds good, right? Keeping myself on track, avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination and distraction. It’s more than that, though. There’s this thing called Reality.
Most decisions are beyond me. It’s often not a matter of ‘I can do this, or I can do that’, rather it’s ‘I must do this and I must do that’. See the difference?
The real question is why do I threaten my health and sanity just to reach some uninteresting date imposed by no one other than myself? It’s quite simple, really. I have commitments. I have to work, no questions. I have to take care of my family, no questions. I have to deal with emergencies and chores and errands and last-minute things. There’s no choice about that.
If I want anything of my own to be accomplished, then I have to afford it a status of ‘has to be done’, otherwise it can’t compete against the rest.
And, yes, it does turn writing into a chore. If I was writing for myself or for a friend, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m writing for a bunch of people I’ve never even met. I’m putting my name to a book that can be read by some guy on the other side of the world and he expects that what he gets passes a basic standard, and, more than that, expects it to be entertaining or informative. He won’t be as forgiving as a friend or relative. My credibility is directly linked to his enjoyment of it.
You’re damn right it’s a chore. It’s bloody hard work!
Imagine you’re making a batch of home-brew beer. There’s the cleaning and the sterilising, and the washing and the cooking, checking up on it, then the bottling and capping and storing it all under the house and checking again at intervals. It’s hard work, for sure, and one could easily pop down to the store and buy a slab, but that’s not the point, is it?
Deep down we want to create something. We want to put ourselves into what we do, express ourselves creatively, make something from nothing. That’s being human. Not all creative endeavours benefit others, of course, but those that do must be taken seriously.
A sketch on a napkin or a ditty in one’s head remain just as they are until they get turned into something ‘real’, in that they get taken seriously. The ditty gets engineered into a song. The sketch gets worked into a painting. Time and effort, lots of both, must be spent making something from nothing, creating things that never existed before we applied what God gifted us. Otherwise those little bursts of creativity stay on that scrunched up napkin and eventually get forgotten about.
Believe me, it’s all too easy to pretend that it doesn’t matter. You can think, “Ah, I’ll miss it by a day. Big deal.” It is a big deal. I’ve missed many deadlines and, each time, I kidded myself that there was nothing more that could have been done.
Each time there was something I could have done. Without exception, every time I looked back, with honest eyes, and understood that I had left things too late, wasted time at the beginning of my project, spent too much effort doing trivial tasks. I could have done more and I could have done it better. Criticising myself retrospectively (another useful tool) means that, now, I reach my deadlines.
Deadlines are a front-line weapon against Entropy. They are an essential tool to make stuff real. Use them honestly and they’ll keep you honest.
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…”