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.

Jeztyr Image Small

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!

By the Numbers

Think you’re done writing your novel? Got to the end, chuffed with the result, and you’re thinking about the front cover and proofing and publishing? Think again.

Second drafts. The slog begins anew. It’s true, the first draft can be tough, especially if you keep revisiting the plot and going back over things and changing your mind. And that’s a good thing, really. It means you don’t have the regret of ‘damn, what I should have done is…’. Happens all the time. By the end of it, you are exhausted and the story is a mangle in your mind.

Well, it is in mine, at least. The closer you get to something, the harder it is to pull back and see the big picture. That’s why I like to at least get the overall arc in there before attaching the fleshy bits.

So where do numbers come into it? That’s the title of this post, after all. Numbers are the means by which I keep myself motivated, track my progress. For a first draft, how do you know how far along you are?

That’s a good question. You can roughly gauge the overall plot in your mind, where the characters are at, how many words overall you’ll want to use… wishy-washy stuff. And there’s always the possibility you get a brain-wave in the middle of the night and shove an extra chapter in there, or rip a couple out. Eek.

So for me, when it comes to the first draft, I don’t really have anything more than a gut-inspired approximation that equates to the Nasdaq divided by the FTSE, multiplied by the price of flake at the local fish and chips.

Second draft is where it gets predictable. For example, with Iris of the Shadows, I finished the first draft after re-re-writing the original Darkness from Below. That was an exercise in itself. I then took a break of a month before coming back at it to start the second draft.

Then come the metrics. I started with something in the order of 160k words. With double spacing between the paragraphs, that equated to 490 pages in A4 at 11pt. Therefore, the processing of a single page was around about 0.2% (this number changes, bear with).

There were XXX notes littered about and jots on the side to remind myself that so-and-so no longer had a jaw, so these needed fixing, but overall it’s a matter of read, write, read, delete, read, (cringe) correct, rinse, repeat. So on the first day I managed to grind through ten pages. That means I did a whopping 2% in a day. If I continued at that pace, every day, I’d be looking at completing the second draft in 100% per day / 2% = 50 days. Throw in a couple of weekends, and that’s about two months.

Not a bad estimate, so long as I can keep the pace up. The next question is, how long does a page take to review? That’s a trickier question. One page might take all of five minutes, another might be a full hour. This is where averages come into it. I found that, on any given uninterrupted night, I could do ten pages in two hours, which is 120 / 10 = 12 minutes per page. Given 490 pages, that’s 490 x 12 = 5,880 minutes to completion, or 5880 / 60 = 98 hours to completion, or just on 4 straight days without sleep. That last one is useless, so let’s go back to the 98 hours and say ‘I can do 2 hours per day’. That means 98 / 2 = 49 days, which is pretty close to the other estimate of 50 days based on pages.

That’s two different ways to estimate that both arrive close to a common figure. Anecdotally, I can say that’s about par for me for my other books, too.

The page count was interesting. As I went along, I was deleting words and re-arranging things, and adding to the narrative. Overall, I found I was adding to the word count. At the same time, I was removing the double-spacing after each paragraph, so the page count was reducing. This meant that by the end (I’m at about 87% right now) the pages are getting closer to 400, not 490, so each page is now worth 1/400 = 0.25%. At the same time, the word count is approaching 200k. It feels like I’m accelerating (ever so slightly).

I use these numbers to help. At the end of the night, I take the current page and divide it by the current page count to give a relative progression. Some nights, I can only squeeze in 0.5%. Other nights, I gun through 2.5%. Other nights, it’s doughnuts because of other commitments. Still, as I write this, I can look back and see just how far I’ve come, just how far I’ve got to go, and this motivates me to arrange things more to squeeze out another fifteen minutes for that next page.

Catpanion

She’s an ideal companion-cat, catpanion if you will, for writing. Once she has settled in, on the chair next to me, she is more than content to ignore every rhetorical question I can throw at her. She snores with content as I bounce ideas off her, and gives silent reassurance that, yes, the character does deserve to contribute to the narrative.

So I’ve got a place to write, a neat little out-of-the-way spot that has enough distraction from the innards of the house, enough peace from the road, and plenty of fresh air. It’s a place where I can see and not be seen, where I can pause and think and random goings on without the incessant tic-toc of the clock on the wall.

In short, it’s nearly ideal. Nearly, because at about five o’clock on a summer’s afternoon, the sun hits that perfect angle to get square in my eyes, roast my face and set the machine on fire. OK, maybe not that bad, but it’s killer for about half an hour before it hits the neighbour’s roofline and shadow gives some blessed relief.

Cosy, secure, quiet. It’s such a nice place to be, I shouldn’t be surprised that the feline member of the household also finds its an ideal spot to rest. I will be writing and she will come over and set up on the chair next to me.

Madame Spr√ľngli von Fuzzibum at her finest

She’s an ideal companion-cat, catpanion if you will, for writing. Once she has settled in, on the chair next to me, she is more than content to ignore every rhetorical question I can throw at her. She snores with content as I bounce ideas off her, and gives silent reassurance that, yes, the character does deserve to contribute to the narrative.

She’s pretty good like that.

What does my head in, though, is when she beats me to the outside space. For some reason, could be that the chair has my scent on it, could be that she’s spiteful because I didn’t give her tuna from my lunch, who can say, she prefers to sit on my seat.

As a pre-writing ritual, I get the vacuum cleaner, put on the upholstery head with the turbo cleaning doover and make several passes over the chair to get all the cat hair off there. That is unless she’s sitting there. In that case, I have to sigh, turn around, and head back inside under her smug gaze. I can’t bring myself to push her off and

Where to Write?

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:

My sanctuary

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.

Irons in the Fire

What’s next, Jez, what’s next?

That’s the question I keep asking. It’s a very good question that must be asked. There’s the old joke about the guy who starts to clean his room, only to stop and start making lunch, only to stop and start taking a phone call, only to stop and wash himself, only to stop and fix a leaking tap, etc, etc and by the end of the day he has worked himself out and accomplished nothing.

That’s a very real trap.

I have many, many things I want to be doing. If I have a couple of lifetimes, I might be able to get through some of them, but I don’t and I can’t so that is a pickle. What can I do? There’s only one me and I’ve got limited resources and time and all of that.

I can prioritise, that’s what. I can put those projects forward that are doable and urgent and worthwhile. Aren’t they all? Yeah, but some more than others. I can’t go into exactly what my criteria is. What I can say is that there are pressing issues outside of writing and art that need to be done, so they rank right up the top (mostly because I’m responsible for making them happen). Next to those, I have my own personal endeavours and investigations that I want to do just because. OK, so they aren’t so critical, but all work and no play makes Jez a dull boy.

Lastly, I have books that want to come out. Tedrick Gritswell needs his third book. Paranormology just got Milena. Darkness from Below wants a re-write. In fact, it wants a complete overhaul.

That’s where I’ve landed:

  • I’ve finished the audio book of Atlas, Broken.
  • I’ve written three quarters of the next Tedrick Gritswell but put it down to let it simmer.
  • I’ve written the next book in Paranormology but put that down, too, because I’m not happy with it.
  • I’m overhauling Darkness from Below. It’s now going to be very different indeed from its original form.
  • I’m making plans to construct some cool experiments in the garage.

Hang on, hang on. Didn’t I just say that starting too many things and not finishing them was a bad thing? Yes, I did. That’s exactly what I said. So why did I stop with Tedrick and Paranormology? Because I’ve gone as far with them as I’m comfortable with. For now. There is such a thing as over-working, and for each book I’m at the stage where I need to step back and let it sit.

Muscling through to get something finished when there’s a clear-cut path to success is fine and recommended. When the end is obscure, though, or if there’s too much going on, backing off is a perfectly viable strategy. Tedrick, you see, is done. Done to the point where I can come back with a fresh, critical eye and start it up again when I’ve decided how to proceed. Paranormology is done. Done to the point where I could publish it right now, but it wouldn’t be what I’d want. I’m too close to it, too invested.

So those two are parked and Darkness from Below is my current project. This is going to take some brain-work. It’s going to be furious typing and several thousands of words every day. It’s going to be planning and deleting slabs of text and revisiting stale paragraphs that haven’t been seen since 2012. And that’s going to take time, which is fine. In the meantime, when I get bored, I’m going to do my experiments to keep my brain fresh.

In short, I’ve had a lot of irons in the fire, only not all at the same time.

Atlas, Published

Quick one – It’s UP! The Audiobook version of Atlas, Broken is up and out and on Google Play and Chirp and all of those places! Well, it is not up on Audible yet, but that seems to take a year and a day, so I’m not surprised, and it’s not about to put a dampener on my celebrations.

I’ve put the links here for your convenience:

Audiobooks

Kobo

iTunes

Google

Chirp

And it’s available at 50% off for a limited time from Chirp!

Giving Atlas a Voice

It was a tough book to write. Henry Ludlow, that sorry excuse for a protagonist, never stood a chance. It was unfair. He didn’t get much of a character arc. George Abbot said something like, in the first act, your hero gets stuck up a tree. Then, in the second, you throw rocks at him. Finally, in the third act, you get him down from there. He has changed, he has progressed.

Henry doesn’t, though. He gets plenty of rocks thrown at him and his tree is more like a thorn-bush. And in the end, he’s not allowed to come down. It isn’t a Disney ending and it certainly isn’t what people seem to want the story to be. There’s nothing really uplifting or inspirational.

Sure, you want Henry to succeed. You want him to find some strength within, some untapped resource that he needs to discover. You want him to figure out life. You want him to get it.

But he doesn’t get it. He can’t, and that’s the problem. That’s the goal of the story. Henry is doomed. He is doomed and the people who can save him won’t, or can’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. He’s not a super hero, he’s barely an average guy.

I doubted that I was actually doing something wrong, there. Was I being needlessly cruel? He’s just a character, after all. But he’s not just a character. He’s more than that.

Then I read a couple of Franz Kafka books and I realised, yes, not all books needed to have fairy-tale endings. Not all books needed to even have likeable characters. Maybe Atlas, Broken, isn’t a nice book, or a happy book, or a readable book, but it’s a book that I had to write and now, I’ve figured, I might as well do the audiobook as well.

The setting is in suburban Melbourne. The folk are typical suburbanites. There are Tim Tams and seagulls and beer. Really, this should be right up my alley. Let’s see.

Cooper Alley Ghost Released!

The wait is over! What’s the next ghost going to be? Now you can find out! The sixth book of the Paranormology Series is released today at all your favourite e-book outlets:

Smashwords
Google Play
Apple Books
Amazon Kindle
Kobo / Rakuten
Barnes & Noble

or simply click the link to

books2read.com/cooper-alley

To get it from just about anywhere (links updated daily).

And all for less than a cup of coffee. What? That’s right, it’s only 99c!

There is a delay with distribution of the audiobook version, so currently it’s only at Kobo, but as things unfold, I’ll update the links for you.

Don’t forget to leave a review!

Happy Sunday, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Tyrrell