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Essay

A book of surprises

A quest towards self-publication: entry 7

Frank Ryan 18 February 2007

www.lablit.com/article/215

Frank Ryan

I am no longer a piece of flotsam and jetsam at the whim of the editorial weather and tide

Editor's note: LabLit.com is pleased to continue our weekly blog from Frank Ryan, a scientist, doctor and best-selling author who is currently attempting to publish and promote his latest novel (written in the lab lit genre) via an untraditional route.

I’m swapping war stories under the African night sky with Jamie the Musician in this tavern of gladiators known as The Last Resort. The ogre, Muldoon, has once again eluded my searches but I know that sooner or later our paths will cross. Meanwhile I’m in need of spiritual refreshment. Jamie’s a Scot and his libation of choice is Macallan, but he keeps a bottle of Jameson stocked on his shelf. So it is that amid the ritual insulting of each other’s whiskeys we discuss the tribulations of a self-publishing writer in this moronic age of celebrity adoration.

Muldoon aside, two missions loom large in my mind – indeed they are vital to my requirements. I need to enlist an editor to knock my rude prose into shape and an artist to clothe my dark tale in dazzling visual metaphor.

In deciding the editor of The Doomsday Genie, I have several caveats. The book is not merely a work of fiction but also a work of science in fiction. Moreover the story is based in America and written in American English and it embodies several feisty female characters. Thus, I need a (preferably feisty) female editor, ideally American, who happens to be both skilled in fiction construction and knowledgeable about science. A tall order, as you might imagine. Where might I find such a rare individual?

e-mail to Jenny, Editor of Lablit.com:

I’m setting up an exercise to self-publish my science in fiction thriller, The Doomsday Genie. You might be in a position to help with the editing?

e-mail from Jenny:

What an excellent idea! Editing is not a problem. In short, yes! Let’s do it.

Peaty elixir clinks glasses with fine oak single malt.

On to the cover! Only the best will do. And there is no doubt whatsoever as to who constitutes the best. I must have Mark Salwowski, the source of those classic Iain M. Banks covers. I have worked with Mark in the past, when he painted the cover of my book, The Sundered World. But Mark has moved continents. How on earth am I going to get in touch with him after a gap of five or six years?

I try his former e-mail address. Cast the siren call into the ether. It bounces back. Extinct as a 78 vinyl of Bill Haley. I head off to root in my files. Fortunately I retain amazingly logical records of all past dealings (Yeah – dream on!). Furious trawling and scatter-gun searches follow – until, on a single sheet, I discover an Ozzie number written in my own familiar scrawl. Suck it and see…

‘Hi – am I speaking to Mark Salwowski?’

‘Yeah – this is Mark.’

‘Oh (blessed relief) hi, Mark! Remember me – Frank Ryan?’

‘Frank – how could I forget!’

‘Aha! Well I’m publishing a science-based thriller, initially at least in e-book form. Are you interested in doing the cover?’

It’s kind of pleasant linking up again and we talk at length. At some stage in the conversation, he says, ‘Yeah – you can count me in!’

‘Great!’

He gives his new e-mail address. I send him the unedited typescript as an electronic attachment. I await for his response.

Hi, Frank. Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable weekend’s read! In a word, brilliant! It was right up my street, intelligent, knowledgeable science with a strong fast-paced storyline.

Clinking of several more rounds of whiskies.

Then Jamie drops a bombshell. ‘Now you’ve got me interested. What if I were to write you some music to go with the release of your dragon?’

‘Are you serious?’

He exposes his left shoulder, over which is draped a fantastic tattoo of a dragon rising. ‘On condition,’ he adds, ‘you write me a poetic verse about a dragon rising, and convert it into Gaelic.’

Forget the glasses. We clink bottles! Hoist the tricolor my friends!

At some stage in the subsequent haze of proceedings I realize that my dragon is beginning to take shape within its egg. If I could put a sensitive enough instrument on its blacker-than-night shell, I might hear its embryonic shuffling. From hereon in it’s in nobody’s hands but my own. Suddenly I sense it – hey, man – the freedom! It’s a mind-expanding sensation. I am no longer a piece of flotsam and jetsam at the whim of the editorial weather and tide.

**********

It is approaching dawn and I have little memory of how I come to find myself sitting in the fine white sand of a starlit beach, between tamarisk trees. But I am still sufficiently exalted to loft the half-empty bottle to Orion, who is slinking westwards into his cave of charcoal green.

Psst!

I peer over my shoulder, to find there is nobody there. ‘Hey – if you’re the muse old Faust called up, you can also shift your metaphysical backside out of my affairs.’

‘I’m hardly Mephistopheles!’

There’s no mistaking that waspish voice. I peer into the shadows beneath the nearest tree and glimpse that small dark oblong, complete with nightcap. ‘My God – it’s the Book!’

‘Who else?’

‘But how did you get here?’

‘You lugged me here, Sire – and don’t I have the bruises to prove it.’

‘What do you want?’

‘If I might be so bold, I have been observing, indeed not without admiration, your courageous stand.’

‘What courageous stand?’

‘You have not surrendered the quest though that fickle quadramillenarian abandoned you to your fate.’

I’m lost for a moment in the swish of the tide.

The damn thing is positively glowing. ‘Forgive my boldness in intruding into your despair.’

I’m not aware of any despair the Book might be intruding into.

‘Yet you are more fortunate than you might imagine!’

‘I am?’

‘Oh yea!’

‘Oh yea?’

‘Oh yea… Prick me… do I not bleed?’

‘No, you bloodywell don’t.’

‘Metaphorically speaking! Yea – and without even the hope of the succour of the amber nectar!’

‘Books don’t drink. You don’t even have a tongue.’

A pink sliver of tongue darts between the teeth of silver.

I groan aloud. ‘What is it you want?’

‘To strike a bargain, Sire. One greatly to your advantage.’

‘What sort of bargain?’

‘Would you but forget the Celtic harlot and turn to the muse of literature. Where better to discover the sacred light of inspiration!’

I can’t believe the fact it is standing up – I nearly said taking to its feet – but it has no feet. ‘How did you do that?’

‘Willpower is sufficient when the cause is mighty.’

‘What is it you really want?’

‘A taste – the merest soupæon of the Bacchanalia of legend.’

‘All this because you want to taste the peaty elixir?’

‘A mere thimble-full, Sire, if you please. Solely – if I might venture to add – as preservative against the ravages of the bookworm.’

‘Bullshit!’

‘Most inappropriate, Sire, in addressing me.’

‘And what do I get in return?’

‘The chance to meet a certain fellow writer, one you have long admired – indeed one to whom your sub-title offers allegiance.’

‘You’re offering to introduce me to Mary Shelley? Oh, c’mon!’

‘Perhaps you are unaware of the communion of inspiration that is steadfast even beyond the grave.’

‘You’re pulling my leg.’

‘Why not put it to the test!’ The tiny tongue gambols friskily over the rows of silver.

‘I don’t have a thimble.’

‘You have the cap – in regal purple, if my eyes do not deceive me.’

‘What eyes?’

Two slits pop open on its face and a pair of eyes, like shiny blackcurrants, peer at me from orbits that glow with a rubicund glitter.

Ever a fellow to indulge a challenge, I pour out a capful and manoeuvre it close to the silver-toothed gap and watch, in utter amazement, as the lips draw close and the pink tongue laps, with tiny whimpers of delight.

(To be continued...in the next installment, we'll undergo our first quest)