Judging a Book by Its Back Cover

‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.'(Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)

So, twenty-six days before the manuscript is due. Let’s be frank: I’m sweating bullets. The good news is I’m close. The bad news is I don’t know how much work there is left to do. It’s an unknown quantity. Do I need to spend fifteen minutes each day until 3 December, or do I need to spend five hours a day? I really can’t tell. How exactly do you know when it’s ready or good enough or just plain good? This is the beauty of having a deadline. The deadline forces you to admit that enough is enough. Hand it over. Time’s up.

I’m not sure if the publisher requires one, but I thought I’d write the back cover blurb as a bit of a self-indulgent exercise. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but they don’t say anything about the back cover:

‘In a home that is 50 percent love, 50 percent abuse and 100 percent religious, a child is born*. Angelus Tama is the thirteenth child of seventeen. His father is a High Priest in The Church. He’s not really sure which of the women is his mother. In a way they all are.

Follow his journey as he hits the Real World. Or at least the most commonly accepted delusion known as the Real World. He’ll discover that there are laws that can be broken and Laws that you can only break yourself against. Oh, he’ll also try to kill himself.

Sex, psychiatric wards, writers’ groups and alcohol abuse. This book’s got it all.**

*The author is aware that this equals 200 percent and is therefore illogical, but the point stands. **Disclaimer: This book does not literally have it all.’

As for the cover, which you are not supposed to judge the book by, I’ve found someone to do that too. My high school friend has a sister, Angela Vink, who is an amazing graphic artist.

Things are falling into place, and hopefully, not apart. And I’ve saved the best news for last: I finally have a title. Get ready for it: Goldilocks & the Three Episodes. Available in all good bookstores.***

***Assuming the author meets his deadline.

A Day’s Writing with the Author and the Internal Editor

Wakes up on the two-seater love seat. Alone. Feet dangle over the tiled coffee table. Wrapped tightly about in a duvet. Through the window, Thursday clouds threaten rain.  Crosses fingers; that would be nice. Heads into the kitchen. Has to rinse himself a clean cup, dishes undone for a while now. Has to empty ashtray, but keeps the butts in an airtight jar – for rainier days. They are forecast. Returns to love seat and re-dresses in the duvet. Thinks of flipping open the laptop.

[ENTERS: Internal Editor]

No point, you’ve got nothing to say.

Reminds himself what Murray said: ‘Activity precedes motivation.’ Hopes that proceeding with typing words, any words, will activate motivation. Flips open laptop.

Isn’t Dr. Oz on TV about now? Today’s topic: foods that battle the aging process!

Reminds himself that he is only thirty. Opens a new document while the ancient laptop whirrs like an air-conditioning unit and heats his lap. Decides to begin with a title, seems to get the juices flowing and provide direction. ‘Finger Lickin’ Bad.’                                                                                                             

You can’t use that. The Publisher will have to clear it with KFC first.

Steels himself and continues: ‘I am not sure what stop to get off at. I’ve never caught this bus before. I pull the cord just before the hospital to be sure I don’t overshoot. There are two Chinese women behind me speaking to each other in their own language. My paranoia flares up.’

Two things here buddy. You don’t want to alienate the Asian community. I think they buy a lot of books for their kids. Secondly, you don’t want to come across as some kind of neurotic, paranoid case. People at your work are gonna read this. Slip something humane and compassionate in.

‘This better be worth it. I hope Hera appreciates this visit. He’s been such an ungrateful and demanding patient.’

Not even close.

Backspace, backspace, backspace.

Starts last section again: ‘I check my own thinking. Like Sally-Anne remarked, so much of it is automatic and reactive. Of course the Chinese women aren’t talking about me. They got on at the last stop with plastic bags stuffed with groceries. They’re probably talking about dinner. I feel myself relax. But then, as Porirua winds into view and the concrete towers of Kenepuru Hospital rise over the low hills, I begin to feel panic. Dread. Something I think Sally-Anne would understand. I haven’t seen Hera for so many months. Just how unwell is he this time?’

You don’t have the right to tell this story. It belongs to your family. To Hera. Don’t shame yourself. Don’t shame them. Shame on you.                                                                                                              

Becomes for a time despondent. The Thursday clouds that threatened rain now realise it. Mt. Victoria is ushered away in a gauze of rain. Fast drops drum against the windows. Flips closed the lid of the laptop. Makes a simple lunch. Does dishes. The idea of doing the washing exhausts him, but the idea of lying on the two-seater love seat wrapped in a duvet turns him on. Before giving up for the day, checks his email. His inbox contains a piece of spam from quotationspage.com. Opens it out of boredom and curiosity: ‘If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.’ (George Bernard Shaw) Takes a big breath. Flips open the laptop. Begins to type away, writing towards the fear: ‘Pulling the cord the bell rings and the bus slams to a stop. The two Chinese women squeal. Like it or not, I have to see Hera. I have to see my brother.’
[EXITS: Internal Editor]

*

  Spends the rest of the weekend dancing with an old family friend.

Eru Shares Snippets of Past and Present

I’ve recently had broadband connected at my house. The digital revolution finally revolved its way to my place, flashing its light-speed optics in my direction. It was a bit of a mission. First of all, Telecom refused to set up an account in my name. I have a credit history as peppery as the spice trade, so I had to call Mum. From my cellphone.

From her bed – where she receives all phone calls – she considered my request. I lowered my bait in slowly. She agreed that it was nice to hear from me. It had been a while. She agreed that it’s great news I’m being paid to write a manuscript. She agreed that there would be a lot of emailing back and forth between me and my mentor. She slowly agreed that it was a bit of a hassle to have to email from work. She supposed that it would be much easier to have a phone line and internet connection at home.

Then we shared a pause.

‘So would you mind if I got my landline connected? ‘Cause of my … past, it would have to be under your name,  Mum?’

I’d asked her before, but she had been very reluctant. This time, however, I felt like I had some leverage.

‘This is my best shot to finally get a novel published.’

I heard the bed springs creak. The air grew rich with anticipation.

‘Okay then.’

It seems Archimedes may have been right: ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.’

*

Mum’s gesture of support meant a lot to me. I do not come from a family of readers. Sure, we had lots of books in our home, but they fell into two categories: scriptures and commentaries on the scriptures. Reading wasn’t really a hobby or a pleasure; it was a duty – one to be carried out on the Sabbath and during weekly gospel study sessions.  We escaped the ordinariness of everyday life through television or sport or food. Reading for pleasure was seen as a bit suspicious, a bit indulgent. I got the impression that the proper function of reading was to prepare oneself for The Great and Final Day of Judgement.

The only reading exception seemed to be Dad’s Herald Tribune – Hawke’s Bay’s daily paper. And it was definitely Dad’s paper. No one was allowed to even unfold the paper before Dad had carefully thumbed through it. He had a pair of scissors as long as his forearm and as sharp as his temper. He used those glimmering scissors to carefully snip out the articles of interest to him, mostly stock market reports on how well his tiny portfolio of Brierley stocks were doing and anything to do with the Meat Workers Union, of which he was a representative. When Dad was done, anyone was welcome to read the paper so long as they could hold it together with its dozen or so rectangular-shaped gaps. No one else read the paper. It was too much hard work.

I’m not sure, then, how I ended up as the family’s reader, the one child of seventeen who preferred to be indoors flicking through non-church-approved books. The one child of seventeen who seemed allergic to the outdoors but drawn to the inches-thick illusions between covers.

Fiction and secular non-fiction became the lever and fulcrum on which I shifted my world view.

*

So now that I have all the necessary shiny cables and light-speed currents pointed at my house, I wish I could tell you that I’ve been very noble with my broadband. I wish I could tell you that I’ve spent the last two months downloading pirated e-books on the art of writing. I wish I could tell you that I’ve set up RSS feeds to past Nobel literature winners. I wish I could brag at how many Booker prize winners I’ve friended on Facebook.

In truth, I’ve watched hours, probably days’ worth, of reality TV: Celebrity Rehab, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Flava of Love, Sober House with Dr. Drew and even Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I’ve devoured hours and hours of celebrities and ordinary folks lose weight and sober up. I’ve watched the famous and the forgettable falling in and out of love – with themselves and with each other. I’ve watched people climb on the dry wagon and fall off again only to be run over and crushed under wheels of hubris. And most of all, I’ve watched them fight: Jill vs. Bethenney, Danielle vs. Teresa or Sergeant Harvey vs. Fat Celebrity has-beens. I’ve streamed hours of quiet tension explode in moments of the loudest vile. I am ashamed to admit it, but I’ve loved seeing ex-lovers collapse into one-on-one war.

*

During the writing of this manuscript, I have often killed my own momentum with the question, What right do you have to tell this story? It has stopped me dead on several occasions.

I’m not the kind of author that could write the story of a seventeenth-century Dutch lesbian widow. As fun as it is to imagine myself outside myself, I doubt I could convince a reader. God bless the authors who don’t write from experience. I can’t. I am a doubting and easily wounded thirty-year-old single Māori. Experience has worn away my capacity to trust. I act with kindness not out of any higher moral calling but because it seems to disarm and pacify most other adults. I’d prefer to be arrogant and straightforward, but I’ve found I’m not pretty enough to pull that off.

I am pulling this manuscript out like a series of splinters. It is not easy, but some internal pressure is telling me that it is significant and necessary. Sometimes I even chance across an unexpected and lovely paragraph. What I am making is part autobiography, part fiction and part fantasy. It is a crossover of scripture, Dad’s paper and what was left of the newspaper. You, the reader, will be expected to hold it all together, to keep the pages upright enough to make sense of it. The rectangular-shaped gaps will be both your challenge and your chance to hide away with me. The value of the Brierley stocks will be up to you.

December the 3rd, the Great and Terrible Day of Judgement, approaches.