Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 7

I took a detour in Part 6 of this journey, talking about an alternate reality game which we are trying to make to emulate the world of Mr Middleton. But I still haven’t told you about how I finally found the illustrator of my dreams…

In Part 5, I at last realised that the answer to my prayers had been right in front of me the whole time – I had to find the artist who had drawn the print I had bought at the Paddington markets.

My mission was this: go to the Paddington markets, and try to find the same stall. This was not as easy as it sounds. Market stall holders change all the time, and the markets themselves are a riot of colour and confusion, each laneway lined with noise and objects and distractions, to the point where you could easily spend half a day, walking up and down, never finding the place you had last been just ten minutes ago, every again.

I geared up. Saturday arrived. I donned comfortable walking shoes. I limited the amount of discretionary spending money in my wallet to $20. I checked and re-checked that I had my ten-trip bus pass. On my way out the door, I slathered a dollop of sunscreen on my permanently sun-damaged nose (a product of a childhood spent in Queensland, back in the days when the local radio station would broadcast at twenty minutes intervals a little dinging sound to remind sunbathing girls to turn over for an even tan). Then, halfway down the stairs, I ran back up again, grabbed the copy of the story from my desk, and ran back down, the door slamming shut behind me and echoing down the stairwell.

My friend D met me at the North Bondi bus stop. She was dressed in summery singlet and jeans and on her feet, carefree flipflops in place of sensible shoes. I wondered if she understood the situation. But then I remembered that it was of utmost importance to the gods of destiny that I had to act carefree and open to grace. I wished I had worn flipflops too.

We chatted on the bus, D skilfully keeping me relaxed, as if this was just a regular, girly excursion to the markets. “They have that delicious thai food, yum,” D chatted. “Maybe we can buy a stick of fishballs.” I nodded. Fishballs as a reward. That was good motivation.

Finally, the bus pulled up. I made a bee-line through the sauntering, loitering crowds, past the faces of relaxed and happy Sydney-siders doing what they love best – shopping outdoors. D’s flipflops flipflopped behind me, trying to keep up.

Down one alley, past the red handbags, the smell of incompletely treated leather…past the jewelry shop where we had considered and dismissed gifts for jLo only six weeks ago…past the shop full of mirrors, past the shiatsu, past the plants, past the hand-made lamp shades….

And there they were! Neat and clean frames of professional quality, and in them, those lovely, wistful faces…elephants, and lovers, and my solemn little man, my apple-offering pixie…

OK, now Jackie, I told myself Be cool.

“Hello, I bought a print here about six weeks ago…”

“I remember. Cherry blossom, wasn’t it?”

The young Australian-Vietnamese fellow remembered me! And the girl with the beautiful long dark hair who worked with him smiled encouragingly! These people were nice! They didn’t think I was crazy!

Yet, I cautioned myself. Take-it-easy…

“Yes, that’s right,” I smiled. “I was just wondering. I have written a story, it’s a fairy-tale really, and major publisher X is interested. I would like to present it as an illustrated book. Do you think you might be interested in taking a look at the story?”

The young fellow did not shake his head dismissively, or pull away. He…nodded! “Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “My brother does the illustrations, but it’s funny, we were just thinking of branching into books. People are always asking us for them. He’s over at the Surry Hills Festival today, but I can call him and let him know you dropeed by?”

I turned to D. “Or maybe, we can go to the Fesitval? I asked her.

D agreed immediately. Turned out she wanted to go the Festival all along, couldn’t think of anything better to do than trek another forty minutes across Sydney to catch the tail end of the Festival festivities. Bless her.

“I’ll tell him you’re coming,” he said, pulling out his phone.

“Thanks!” I called, trotting back down the laneway. It was already 3.30 pm, getting close to closing time, and we had a bus to catch.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 6

A jump forward in time to the present.  Today I spent a rainy Sunday in, helping to write an application for a funding grant to develop an alternate reality game (ARG) based on Mr Middleton, which takes the teleporter metaphor and makes it into real life.  Without the atomic disintegration, but with the mental leap intact.  This is all very cryptic, isn’t it?  It’s because I am trying not to do my own spoiler!   

I really hope that the team gets the money to do the ARG.  It would be a lot of fun, as well as helping to promote the story, as well as giving people a chance to experience what it would be like to be inside the story-world of Mr M, and effectively teleported (but like I said, without the atomic disintegration)…  basically the game idea is…

hang on.  To explain the game, I’ll need to explain a bit about the story.  I don’t think I have done that yet!

“Mr Middleton’s Teleporter” is the tale of Mr Middleton, an ageing alcoholic who, having spent his life wishing he were a real scientist, finally cracks the secret to building a teleporter.  He creates a network of teleporters all around the World which can transport a person in an instant to the other side of the globe. 

How the teleporter works: Say you need to get to Baghdad for a meeting.  A colleague you have met once before is waiting for you there.  She is expecting you.  You step into the teleporter and, hey presto!  You are in Baghdad, in the meeting room.  How does it work?  The teleporter uses the “expectation energy” of the person waiting for you.  The only problem is, that you become the person they expected – you become their idea of you.

The ARG team (a group of enthusiastic youngsters, along with me and the illustrator and some help from my betrothed) want to develop an ARG which focuses on the idea of “who you really are” and what your friends really think of you.

So the game would go something like this:

  1. I write questions for my friend, “Tim.”
  2. My questions for Tim are about him.  Eg “Where did you first see X-Men?”  “Do you prefer jocks or boxers?” “What is your dream job?”
  3. Tim has to answer the questions.  But to get them right, he has to guess what I think the answers are.  Tim has to essentially guess what I think of him.
  4. The game will thus reveal a) how well I know Tim, and b) how well Tim knows what my perception of him is.
  5. The game can then be passed on from friend to friend, or from friend to a group of friends and so on.

The ARG team want to make this game for the online world of Facebook and email and so on, as well as holding it in real life.  

In real life, it would run something like this:

All available participants would come together at a central location in Sydney. At the central location, each participant receives the first of five questions, written for them by their friend (as per the online ARG).  Once they give the “correct” answer, they will receive a riddle leading them to the next location.  Again, at the next location, they will receive their next question, and so on until the final location, they meet the friend who designed the game for them.  There will be prizes for the first three to complete the game unaided, and booby prizes for those who had to seek assistance (eg by breaking into an emergency “answers” envelope) to get to the final destination. 

The idea is that you will feel like you are sort of being “teleported;” as in, you “change” each time you answer a clue correctly, according to what you friend thinks of you rather than perhaps what you think the truth is.  You are being, effectively “teleported” from location to location, by being transformed, at every step of the way, by your friend’s perceptions of you. 

To make things fun, at each location clues will be handed out by actors dressed up as characters from the story of Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, and the riddles which lead to the next location will refer to Mr Middleton themes.  I reckon it would also be fun to throw in a few curve balls from Mr Middleton too – disrupt the game occasionally, bending the rules.

Anyhow.  I am very curious to hear what people think about this idea.  Whaddya reckon?  Is it rubbish?  Or maybe you have heard of other good ARGs or other cool ways to bring stories to life or ways to reach the masses with a humble little self-published fairy-tale…Or maybe you have a cool idea?

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 5

In Part 4, I recounted my phone call with Shaun Tan, asking if he might be interested in illustrating my book, Mr Middleton’s Teleporter.  He politely told me that he couldn’t do it, which led my fiance to suggest that we advertise in order to find an illustrator in time for my deadline with the interested publisher.    

Where do you advertise for an illustrator to do something for nothing but the possibility of hard work and glory?

Where else but ArtsHub.

Accordingly, we purchased an ad on ArtsHub, calling for “illustrators with a sense of whimsy, similar to the styles of E.H Shepard, Shaun Tan and Michael Blake” to send examples of their work to “mmillustrations.”

I hoped for maybe a dozen responses, enough to choose from and hopefully one that would fit the bill.

I received thirty-five responses.

That’s a lot of responses for an unpaid job with only the whiff of potential work.  There were a lot of artists out there, looking for a foot in the door, and here was I, in a position to crack it open for long enough to give them a chance to lunge through.

There was a real range of stuff out there.  There was frou-frou, and a little bit of country (stuffed bear still lifes were remarkably popular).  There was Goth, and there was fairy.  There was manga and there was watercolour.  

There was nothing I liked.

I am a bad, fussy and ungrateful person, I told myself, scanning the submissions, looking for something that had a clue to the kind of feeling I was hoping for.  Stomp on that silly feeling, I scolded.  Choose from this banquet! Look at the colour, the audacity, the sheer volume!  Be amazed!

It was nearly midnight, three weeks almost to the day since I told the publisher I would go away and think about whether I would submit a collection of stories or an illustrated stand-alone work for consideration.  I sat at the computer and half-heartedly opened two of my other short story files.  Not bad, I thought, scanning the lines of natural realism and semi-autobiography.  I re-opened the Mr Middleton file and glumly closed the others.  They were too different in style.  A collection would never work.

But neither would the pictures!  I argued it back and forth.  Finally, exhausted, I collapsed into bed.  The room in my then-apartment in North Bondi didn’t have curtains, so I used to always sleep on my side, one arm flung up to cover my eyes from the moonlight.  I turned over and took one last, heavy-lidded glance at a framed print I had bought about six weeks ago at the Paddington markets.  I had bought it for my friend, jLo, for her 3oth birthday.  It was a milestone gift, along with a non-trashy piece of jewelry, which I and a couple of other girlfriends had pooled our money to buy for her: nice jewelry and art, meaning, you have arrived.  I had liked the picture so much that I had bought myself another in the series.  It had a black background, with a swirl of white butterflies clustering on the branches of a dark grey oaktree.  A little, solemn looking fellow stood in the sky, to the left of the tree, holding the one thing of colour against the darkness: a tiny red apple.  He held the red globe out to the tree and its swathe of butterflies as if it were an offering to the night, or the light, or both.  

Since buying the picture, I had taken to looking at it when I wrote, just for a moment now and then.  My breathing would deepen, and I would remember in my gut and the smoothing of my forehead that this was all about saying thank you.

In bed, past midnight, I closed my eyes.  I knew exactly what I needed to do.  This picture, which had been right in front of me, was the answer.  I would find the artist, and I would ask him to illustrate Mr Middleton.  I would ask him to bring Mr Middleton’s world to life, and all I had to offer in exchange would be my gratitude.  Maybe, together with his, that would be enough.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 4

I left my last blog post about Mr Middleton, staring incredulously at my fiance who had just suggested that I call the esteemed Shaun Tan about illustrating my book.  Like, as if he was a regular person, and not some kind of illustrating savant.  

My betrothed convinced me to at least try and get his phone number.  He promised to coach me through a phone call if it came to that.  Fairly convinced I would not get his number, and would be able to simply mumble my way through an apologetic message to a remote assistant to a literary manager, I agreed.

Damn my husband-elect and his wiley ways!  It turned out that he remembered I might have a friend whom I work with who might have Mr Tan’s number, or email address, because of her work in the arts.  Not my publisher-illustrator friend, but another one whom I can’t find a link for on the Internet, otherwise there would be a link here.  She is a bit anti-web anyway, so is probably glad I haven’t dobbed her in online. 

She had his number.  She had his email.  She had his goddamn mobile.  Stop being so helpful, I wanted to say.  “Thanks,” I said.

I now had a scrap of paper containing unavoidable details.  My fiance looked at me.  ‘That’s great!” he enthused.  “Now, don’t panic.  I do this all the time.  Let’s rehearse the phone call.”

“OK.” I said in a small voice.

“OK.”  He was determined to pretend that getting Shaun Tan’s number was a good thing.  And it was!  But the thing was, I was now completely petrified.  Petrified that what I wanted was sort of, maybe, within reach, but that he might say no.

My fiance, bless him, got me to go through with him what it was that I thought I might want to ask.  We started here:

“Hi, I have a story, well, nothing flash, but anyway, and a publisher is sort of interested, though no guarantees, well they probably won’t even publish it, it’s a long shot at best, but anyway, so I am looking for an illustrator and you probably won’t want to do it, but anyway, I just thought I’d ask, sorry for presuming you probably have a million really cool projects on and anyway, is this a good time to call, it probably isn’t, well, good-bye, thanks for your time.”

and, after some gentle coaching from my one and only, we got here:

“Hi Shaun, I have a fairy-tale for grown-ups that I am looking for an illustrator for.  A major publisher is interested.  I love your work, and so I was wondering if you would be interested in seeing the story and considering working on it with me?”

A deep breath.  A last minute trip to the loo.  A fiance who left the room so I could embarrass myself in front of no one in real life (the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t really exist).

One ring.  Two.  He won’t answer, he won’t answer…a heart in a throat…


“Hello, Shaun Tan?” (of course it was Shaun Tan.  I was just stalling.  Get to the point!)

“Speaking.”  He didn’t sound annoyed yet…I took courage.

“Shaun, my name is Jackie and I am looking for an illustrator for a story.  Publisher _____ is interested but wants some sample drawings to go with it.  I was wondering, as I love your work and think your style would suit the story [on, the presumption!], if you might be interested in seeing the story?”

“Oh, sure, look, I am not really illustrating any work other than my own any more.  But if you send me the story, I can send it to other illustrators I know.  I’m working on an animation at the moment.  God it takes so much time and work!”

“Oh sure, of course.  That would be great, thanks!  What’s your email address?”  (I already had it, but not to seem like a stalker…)

“It’s ______.  OK, good luck.”

“Yeah – you too.  Thanks.”

Click.  The end.  he had been, nice!  He had been, chatty!  He had not been pissed off, or imposed upon and he didn’t treat me like a crazy person for even presuming!  

“You can come back out!”  I called to my fiance.  

“Well, how was it?”

“It was…good.”  I pondered.  “He can’t do it, but he was really…nice.”

Maybe, I was thinking.  Just maybe, I had a chance of becoming, an actual, writer….maybe a writer was just someone like me, who had crazy ideas which turned out not so crazy once they were in print and a few other people had said, hey, I like this!  

“So what do I do now?”

“Now?”  He looked at the computer and then back at me, like the answer was obvious, which to him, I guess it was.

“Now, you advertise.”

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 3

So, as I left my last post, I was looking for an illustrator.  I didn’t have much of a clue where to begin.  My clever buddy illustrator whom I mentioned suggested a few people, but their styles weren’t quite what I was looking for.  Which begged the question: what was I looking for?  I seemed to know what I didn’t want anyway.

My fiance led me through a series of questions, designed to get to the bottom of what I actually did want.  We sat on his rickety dining table chairs in his then-apartment in Pyrmont, me scraping the skin from around my nails and wondering how on earth I was going to find someone, and soon, to do exactly what I wanted, when I didn’t know what I wanted.  My fiance, meanwhile, took a break from his frantic film production work as it was clear that I was otherwise going to keep roaming around the kitchen and living room/study, silently pervading the entire apartment with angst.  He, the picture of calmness, asked me to take a seat.  

“I’m going to ask you a few questions,” he said.  “Hopefully we should find out what it is that you are looking for.”

“OK.”  I was ready for the magic.  

“OK.  What is it that you want?”

“That’s the whole…issue, the whole point!  I don’t know what I want!”  I started up off the chair, which proceeded to fall to the ground and risk permanent dismemberment.  

“I mean, what other illustrators’ work do you like?”  He asked, picking up the chair, still Mr Serenity, gesturing for me to sit back down.

“I guess I like…” I was embarrassed, but there was no other way to do it.  “Well,  I like the illustrations for Winnie the Pooh.  E.H. Shepard.”  I honestly wasn’t that familiar with much other work, not really.  But I tried to make it sound like I had at least some idea of the illustration world and wasn’t setting off into the land of illustrated books without a clue as to what was happening out there. “And Shaun Tan.  And maybe that guy who wrote the Sad Book.  Blake?”  

My fiance nodded, a model of non-judgment any Buddhist could be proud of.  Feeling a little encouraged, I went on.  “I want it to be olde worlde style, like, Victorian, but wistful, and pencil drawings.  And a sombre palette.”  I liked that.  ‘Sombre palette.’  I started to give my nails a second chance at survival.

He nodded more and typed in “E.H Shepard” into google.  There they were – simple  drawings giving a sense of movement, magic and a world of their own that was still familiar to me, so familiar I could practically taste the hot Milo before bedtime.

“Yes!” I exclaimed.  “That sort of thing.  Wait, here.”  I typed in “Shaun Tan.”  Up popped his gorgeous, magical world, all steam punk and whimsy.  “Isn’t it fantastic,” I breathed.  My betrothed nodded.

“All right then.  So why don’t you call Shaun Tan?” he asked.  

“What?  No way.”  My nails were not going to survive the day.  He was now talking loco.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 2

In my last post on Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, I left off at me waiting to hear back from the editor at one of Australia’s big publishing houses.  

Normally, you have to wait about three to six months to hear back.  I heard from the editor about two weeks later.  Prompted by my buddy’s enthusiastic response to the story, the editor had taken it home to read over the weekend.  

She…loved it!  She made several suggestions for ways I could consider improving parts of the story, but nothing too major.  It was a truly lovely experience: being taken seriously by someone in a position of power, and getting her feedback as an equal, rather than the somewhat bossy criticisms from university lecturers or work managers, which had been my only past experience of the feedback process for my writing or other work.  The editor, however, clearly enjoyed reading new ideas, and taking part.  It was not a stand-offish type of feedback, but more like the suggestions of someone who wanted to play, too.  

The editor suggested that I submit the to the head editor, to make a decision about publishing, and asked if I might consider submitting other stories at the same time for a collection.  Another, less likely option, might be to publish as an illustrated, stand-alone book.

This latter idea consumed my imagination, as the saying goes.  I reviewed my other short stories and came to the realisation that they weren’t anything like Mr Middleton and would not suit a collection.  I had a few ideas for other stories, and I toyed with the idea of writing them up.  More than toyed: I really tried to convince myself that this is what I should do.  But a vision of Mr Middleton, illustrated, the teleporter not just a set of words on a page, filled my head.  It was a riskier path, far less likely to gain traction with a publisher.  But it was a beautiful, tantalising possibility.  Ah, I love the word possibility.  Full of so much….possibility.

Where to find an illustrator to complete my vision, and fast, before I lost their interest?  

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter

Before I start reporting to you on the process of self-publishing my book, Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, I thought I better give some background as to why I have decided to self-publish at all.

I wrote Mr Middleton’s Teleporter about eighteen months ago, not long after I moved to Sydney.  I used to get the bus route from where I lived at the time, in North Bondi, to Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, where I used to get off and walk to Surry Hills, where I still work part-time as a researcher for a government arts body.  Along the way, I would stare out the window and look at Oxford Street’s representative sample of the amazing array of what the capitalist world has to offer.  I liked, in particular, looking at the window display for a shop called Satch at one of the places where the bus would stop for a group of children to get off and go to school.  Satch always had very chic women’s clothes made from expensive fabrics which I could look at appreciatively from the bus window without having to feel squirmily inadequate at seeing the price tags up close.  Next door was a chocolate cafe, which also looked quite appealing.

Anyway, I digress.  Further along the Street, there is a really daggy, old 1970s brick building, which probably houses the last accountancy offices or other non-design type offerings on entire Street.  In one of the lower windows of the brick building was a poster with a picture of a giant satellite dish.  The text on the sign read “The largest teleport network in all Asia.”

“Teleport network?”  The first time I saw that sign, I did a double-take.  The bus kept roaring past, so I tried to crane my neck to check I had read that correctly, but it was too late, we had whizzed on past.  

The next morning I was more prepared, less dreamy.  The sign definitely said “teleport network.”  What’s more, it was an old sign, had been hanging in the window long enough to grow dusty and sun-faded so that the colour of the blue sky in the poster looked like somewhat like the tired holiday ads in the old Israeli travel agency on Balaclava Street, where I used to live in Melbourne.  

My brain instantly went on a happy little joy-ride into the possibility.  Teleporting.  How fantastic would that be?

A scribbled down my idea for the story on a few A4 Spiral Notebook pages, and a few weeks later, figured, what the heck?  I might as well try and write it up as a story.

Which I did.  After a few days, I had something I sort of liked.  I put it aside for several months, then tried to write its ending. I was happy with it, but didn’t think it was really finished.  I had other things to go on with, though, so I saved it and carried on.

A few months later, I was in Melbourne and caught up with a friend I liked a lot, but hadn’t seen in about five years.  She is a very cool girl, and the coollest thing about her is that she doesn’t know how cool she is.  In fact, in trying to find a link for her on the Internet just now, I discovered she just won an Australian Publishers Association Award for best children’s book cover design.  And she never said anything!  That’s how cool she is.   Also, she is one of the few people I know with whom I can effortlessly exchange Cartman jokes and not feel misunderstood. 

Anyway, when I got back to Sydney, I was thinking, my friend would enjoy this story.  It wasn’t finished yet, in my books, but she might have a laugh, anyway.  So I emailed it to her.

She got back to me, saying that she had stayed up all night reading it and that she loved it so much she wanted to know if I was ok with her passing it on to a friend of hers, who was one of the commissioning editors for one of the big publishing houses.  

I was like, aaah! Hang on, let me polish it up!  But by the time I got back to my friend, she had already passed it on to the editor.  

All I could do, then, was wait….calmly, meditatively, getting on with my life….

aaah! x 100!

To be continued.

Back in the middle with you


I have been as silent as the gallows for some time now.  That is not only because I have been, as The Editor put it, “writing for reals.”  It’s because I have been in a pooh-fight with my previous hosting company, moving house, working too much and also because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with this blog.  

The upshot of the pooh-fight and my tech-ignorance is that I have lost all the content from my blog.  Oh no!   

The good thing about that is that I can start all over again.  Create the world anew…make the blog as shiny, pearlescent, crystal-dinging as it can be….

Well, start again, anyhow.

I am going to do the following on this blog:

1.  Write stuff

2.  Follow the path of Mr Middleton as he takes flight (Who is Mr Middleton, I hear you ask?  I hope you and he will become buddies, and then we can all be buddies together, as long as you’re not all weird and defensive about having a fictional character as a buddy.)

3. Write more stuff

If I fail in my mission, please give my good jokes to J-Lo and any outstanding legal actions against me to The Editor.