Monthly Archives: May 2014

Editnig in Progress

EditingNobody can cheer you up quite the way a mate can. Especially when you’re unemployed and living hand to mouth on the crusty edge of the breadline. Take yesterday, for instance. After my last post I got a lovely comment back from one of the guys. Something along the lines of: ‘Great essay, Ian! I may have a small job for you.’ Wow! Fantastic! Tears of joy and adrenalin coursed down my cheeks. A job! For me! Clearly my mate is in need of my highly under-rated literary genius. Maybe he needs me to draft a business proposal! Or come up with a press release. Jeez, maybe he needs someone to write his Memoirs! Okay, easy tiger, maybe he’s just after a wedding speech, or it could be, he simply needs his CV proof-read. No matter, I’ll take it! It’s all vindication of my change in career! Eagerly I approached him, ‘Sven, old boy. What’ve you got for me? How may I put my sublime skills to use in your service? You merely have to ask, Sir, and it shall be done!’
To which he replied, and I quote: ‘Our grass is getting healthy as the weeks pass – cause no one’s picking up the dog shit!’
‘Sven, you are a rare gem. A scholar and a gentleman. Words fail me….’

Moving swiftly on then to my literary progress. I received my manuscript back from the editor on Monday. Red ink was all but dripping off my computer screen once I opened the file but a lot of her comments were positive. I’ve included the relevant parts below:

‘I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to read this book and to comment on it and I think you are an extremely proficient writer with a really beautiful turn of phrase at times … delete, delete, delete….but you have a real flair for descriptive text … delete, delete, delete.’

‘You have a talent for wonderfully lyrical prose, however…. delete, delete, delete.’

‘I think this is a wonderful story with many great elements. There are magical ‘moments’ in the novel. Some moments are not as … delete, delete, delete.’

Most of her comments centered around my characters, with questions such as: What was X doing up the water tower with a bottle of vodka, a hermit-crab and a tub of Aloe Vera? Why does Y not seem to have a purpose when he drives the tank through the sewage farm? And what made Z act like a complete dork over the missing party balloons, etc, etc? Completely dismissing my explanation that he was a dork and that’s what dorks do when they’re awake.
She also seemed to get quite confused in places but I don’t think she’s been editing for that long so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and stick with her for now.

As to next steps: I’m going through her suggestions and corrections this week. Next week I’m going to sit with her and triangulate some of her comments with the comments made by a friend who kindly ‘beta’ read the manuscript before I sent it to the editor. A ‘beta’ reader is basically someone you trust who reads the manuscript through with a view to critiquing the plot rather than the language. You’re aiming for an objective and independent viewpoint with this! From there it may take me a few weeks to implement and get approval from The Grinch for all the changes. Once that’s done I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of formatting for kindle etc.

In-between all this I’m still wrestling with a cover. When you don’t have many resources this is a pretty tough nut to crack: I recently found what could well be the perfect pic to use on the cover – at the bargain basement price of R5000. Yup R5k for a photie that I would have to tweak! Needless to say the search continues….

Have a good weekend. The Sharks are due for a big one! I fear the real sardine run may begin on Saturday…!

Echoes from my past

Pooper scooper2My current manuscript is still with my Editor. I’m choosing to interpret this as she’s lost herself in its sheer craftsmanship and the extra time she’s requested to review it is no indication of the chronic surgery it’s undergoing.

While she slogs away I thought I’d post my very first published story here: my matric essay; twenty three years ago! Not because the writing is spectacular. It isn’t. But more as proof to myself that I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! And also because it was my first (and only) publishing and deserves its place in the sun for that reason alone.
I was in the army when I got the news. I was technically AWOL as I recall, nursing a plastic two litre bottle of lukewarm Mitchell’s draught while sunning myself on a grassy bank a mere grenade’s throw from Oudtshoorn’s Infantry School army base and congratulating myself on my cunning disguise from military eyes. For surely that shirtless bloke with crew-cut hairdo and military tan lines, curled around a scud missile of beer at eleven in the morning, in full view of the town citizenry, surely he could not possibly be one of the SADF’s elite training unit’s Candidate Officers! No Sergeant Major. Impossible Sergeant Major! No CO of ours would be that dumb! Why, he would have failed our rigorous application process for starters!
I saw a payphone nearby. I sauntered across and dialed the number of a cute and curvy redhead I’d been thinking about. Her damn brother answered the phone. I hastily got the twat to phone me back and we chatted for a bit. In between dodging any references to the redhead, Jason told me my English essay from my final exam of the year before had been selected as one of the top ten or twenty of something somewhere. My memory clings to the belief it was in the top ten in Natal. Realistically it probably made the top twenty of the lesser Umhlatuzi district. There may, in fact, have been only one high-school in the catchment area.
No matter. It mattered even less that the publication took the form of twenty or so A4 pages bound together with a staple. I didn’t care. What mattered was that I’d made it from ball point pen to honest-to-God bold black print.
No doubt the Mitchell’s fizzing in my veins had something to do with it but I walked on air from that payphone all the way back to Riempie’s bottle store where I bought another, warmer two litre bottle.
I give it to you here in all its teenage glory, wart-like pimples and all:

The topic of question 1(d) was: ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ _____________

The Kreepy Krawly was drowning. It was an Aquanaut. It had climbed up the side of the pool and it was now sucking air near the rim. I let it drown. With a final sputter it dropped away from the side and sank to the bottom. The phone rang. I left my towel where I’d been tanning and answered the phone.
‘Hey, Ian?’
‘Wanna come to the beach this afternoon?’
‘Nah, I can’t. I got to do some chores. Mow the lawn and stuff, sorry.’
‘Ja, maybe tomorrow.’

I was in standard 8 then and I can still remember that first day of embarrassment with perfect clarity. There I stood, unable to go to the beach because I had to mow the lawn. Now, before one mows the lawn there is a really disgusting ritual one has to perform: ‘Super duper pooper-scooping.’
And we have two dogs.

My mom prefers the direct method: a plastic packet over one hand and an open packet in the other hand. Step one. Approach land-mine/booby trap/ doggie-doo. Step two. Remove unsightly object using hand wrapped in plastic packet and place object in open packet. Repeat procedure until garden looks green again.
Thumbs down for my mom’s method. No way, uh uh. When I do it, I do it in style. Take one bucket and line it with a black plastic bag. Take the longest spade in the garage and only now are you ready to scoop.

For all my efficiency there was one factor over which I had no control. Our house is situated next to one of the busiest roads in Empangeni and we have a very low garden wall with the road overlooking the majority of the garden. Now I loathe ‘Super duper pooper-scooping’ beyond belief, partly because it’s disgusting, but mostly because of the intense embarrassment one suffers. I believe I was the only one in my circle of friends that had this abhorrent task forced upon them by their mothers. Anyway, I used to keep pretty quiet about it until that day in Standard 8….

I was operating in the front of the garden now and every time a car drove past I would casually stop what I was about to do and lean thoughtfully on my spade. When the car passed I would scoop in earnest to get the job done as quickly as possible. I looked around me. Hell. These dogs were getting too much to eat. I walked towards a really fresh pile and hefted my spade. Got it. In mid-scoop I saw them. They saw me: three of my friends who were going to the beach and they had chicks with them as well. My face flamed red.

‘Hey, Ian. Are you still mowing the lawn?’
‘No, I haven’t started yet?’
‘So, what are you doing?’ They were all standing at the gate now.
‘Ag, I just cleaning up after the dogs.’ Trying to make it sound like an everyday experience that everyone took part in.
‘Crap?’ asked Edmund in total disbelief.
‘Ja, literally,’ I said.

And then they cracked. The whole bunch of them were nearly collapsing with laughter. I could still here them a kilometre away. I cursed my mother then and I couldn’t have cared less whether she head me or not.

That was Standard 8. I’m in Matric now and I have learnt a few things. Number one: ‘The only answer to total defeat is total defiance.’ And number two: ‘Where-ever you are and what-ever you’re doing, always keep your sense of humour.’

The Kreepy Krawly was drowning. It was a new improved Aquanaut, ‘capable of getting out of the tightest of corners.’ It was stuck. I let it drown. The phone rang.
‘Hey, Ian! Are you coming to the beach today?’
‘Can’t, it’s Saturday.’
‘Oh, okay….’
I’m in Matric now and I’m still doing this. What a joke! I get my spade (I still haven’t sunk that low that I’m going to use a packet) and a bucket. I get some beers out the fridge and turn the music on loud. ‘Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ – whoa, what a party. All right! I’m ready. Let’s go scoop. I tramp around the garden, shoveling everything from last week’s carrots to today’s rice and gravy. In Biology we refer to these undesirables as faeces. What a crappo word. Cars drive past. Some hoot (friends). I wave my spade in the air triumphantly.
Edmund is at the gate.
‘Hey Ed! Come help me. I’ll even give you some beers.’
‘Nah, it’s okay.’
‘C’mon, Ed it’s a shit job but someone’s gotta do it.’
‘So, when are you going to stop?’
‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’
‘How many beers do I get?’
‘How many cruds are you going to shovel?’
‘Give me a spade.’
I hand him a beer.
‘Welcome aboard.


Bit of a dodgy ending that! I suspect the exam clock was rapidly winding down and by that time I had skied so far off-piste I had no choice but to chuck the words of question 1 (d) into the fray somewhere. Anywhere!

Hold thumbs that when I get my manuscript back on Monday, it has fewer holes in it than my current crop of underwear. Have a good weekend everyone!

Will I get into kak for this?

pony1. Will I get into kak for this?
2. How deep will the kak be??
3. Will my Pulitzer prize for fiction be stripped from my sweaty fingers before I’ve had a chance to nail it to the wall above my pub???

These are the thoughts I grapple with as my mouse pointer hovers over the image on my screen. I am one week into my DIY ‘Book Cover Boot-camp’ and I do not know the answers. This alphabet soup world of Images and Fonts and Backgrounds is less hospitable than I thought. I should have minions doing this for me. My minions should have minions….

The big question: exactly which internet images am I allowed to use on my book’s cover and which am I not? I’m talking regular mainstream images here, not porn! I know nothing about that despicable industry.
I’m talking about the images (photographic or otherwise) that would look pretty slick on a book cover in your local Exclusive Books. Now some pics on the web are clearly marked as Not For Free. And some pics won’t even let you copy and paste them to your own private, not for commercial use, Art Appreciation folder (there’re just wayyy too many cynics in this world).
But most pics seem to be accompanied by the following tagline: ‘images may be subject to copyright.’ And it’s the ‘may’ in that sentence that disturbs me.

I consider the flawless image of the massive hairy Baboon spider on my screen: Ceratogyrus brachycephalus according to the caption on the web page dedicated to twelve year old Stoffel Van der Horst’s biology project. He’s captured the spider’s aggressive pose perfectly. It has a certain ominous elegance. I drum my fingers on my desk. Exactly how deep do young Stoffel’s pockets go? And what exactly is his appetite for copyright infringement litigation? What would happen if I took his photo, converted it into a mirror image and removed one of the beast’s hind legs? Would this be a ‘new’ image? My image?………………….What about…two legs?

But just how hard can this cover design stuff actually be, I muse?
A voice in my head sings out an answer, ‘when you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’
‘What do you get for half a sesame seed?’ I reply….
No answer.

I move my pointer off the image of the spider and onto an image of a rearing horse.
Could a horse work? Could a horse work? I wonder.
And, just like that, genius finds me and wallops me up-side the head.
Almost crackling with inspiration, I leap from my office chair, dash to my daughter’s room and plunge headlong into the realm of backyard special effects. I rifle through her chaotic toy basket and fish out a random unicorn. The horn snaps off easily.
From there it’s mere child’s-play to balance it on a window sill next to a bonsai tree for effect. It now rears like a fearless Arabian stallion. I switch off the light, darkening the room and crouch down, appreciating the silhouette the morning sunlight gives the drama of horse and ancient tree, squaring off on a barren skyline that’s flatter than a salt pan. Maybe they’re standing on a frozen pond, I muse. Could be. The water obviously rose up around the tree and froze. Anyone can see that. No matter, I mutter. I can crop the skyline out later if need be. I whip out my ipod and shoot the scene, adding the faintest quiver to my hand to ward off critical scrutiny with an artistic blur. I rush off to my computer and download the image. Against the surgical glow of my laptop screen, the shadowy image looks less like an Arabian Stallion rearing beneath a malevolent tree and more like a pony farting flames, en route to the Magical Kingdom of Ealeantria.
I drift back to the window sill tableau. Who’udda thunk writing the book was the easy part.
I inspect the unicorn eunuch. I could get into kak for this. I squish the horn back on the head with the tiniest snollie of Prestik and balance the unicorn on the top ledge of my daughter’s bookshelf. She’s sure to skittle it onto the tiled floor when she hurtles into her room after school. Clumsy girl.

But there’s no time to ponder my daughter’s failings. The clock is ticking. The kitchen is getting warmer. The cheering crowds are gathering on the balconies….

The story thus far…

Old BookIn 1986, at the age of 13, I decided I wanted to run away from home and be a writer. I gave it some thought.

My mind made up,  in November of 2011, I wrote a novel , in a month: 50 000 words in 30 days (see NaNoWriMo for more).

It was hell. But it got me off my arse.

Now I know what you’re thinking. 50 000 words is hardly a novel, but believe me it adds up. That’s 1667 words per day and If you think interest compounds, you should try word count. Miss a day and suddenly you’re up over 3300. Chug a couple of beers on the weekend and you’re staring down the barrel of  5000 words while Sunday night’s KFC bucket churns your Monday morning guts to fish oil, easy.

It taught me a lot about discipline and zero about craft. In this game you need both. But first you need discipline. It was a valuable lesson for someone who put the Pro in Procrastination.

I spent over a year scrubbing that story before submitting it to an editor for review. He liked some of it but not all.

He was right.

I hacked out the broken bits and re-forged them anew, polishing the whole shebang until it glistened like the tears in my navy blue eyes.

And so, my life-long crusade complete, I submitted my manuscript to a couple of mainstream publishing houses and provisioned myself for the long wait. The time-frame they gave me for a response was anywhere between 3 and 6 months.

In fairness they rejected my manuscript well before that.

But, the rejections, while harder to swallow than a suppository, were very encouraging and I took a lot of heart from one in particular which read as follows (***titles and names cunningly removed***):

‘Dear Ian

At our recent editorial meeting we spent time reviewing (***). Unfortunately we will not be offering to publish your novel – but only because we don’t publish (***) fiction. We thoroughly enjoyed your manuscript – the plot is compelling, your writing is original and highly readable, the characterisation and dialogue are convincing … I could go on. (***) is in the process of setting up an imprint that publishes (***) and (***) fiction, and we have sent your manuscript to the publisher there. I hope that she enjoys (***) as much as we did.’

I’ve retrieved my sword, dusted off my shield and straightened my visor. By the time you read this I will be charging headlong toward the E-publishing dragon…. ‘Yipppee ki yayyy!!’

Hang around, there’s sure to be more gore.

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