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Sunday, 23 June 2013

What happens when you get cocky

You would think after my disastrous Japanese interview in April I should have no doubts about my terrible Japanese skills. But recently I still made the mistake of thinking I could communicate like a normal person.

I wanted a new contact lens prescription but instead of trying to find an English speaking optometrist, I decided to go to a local and wing it. On the surface, that doesn’t sound difficult. But don’t forget I have the reading skills of a five year old, and the speaking skills of a baby. I had to decipher websites and maps, make an appointment, and then once I’d finally arrived, fill out the pre-appointment health sheet – all in Japanese.

Somehow I managed it. (I won’t mention how long it took and how many mistakes I made.) As I sat in the waiting room for my appointment I felt so pleased with myself. I fantasised about how I was going to email everyone I knew and boast about my cleverness.

Then the eye exam began... The optometrist made me put my head in a contraption and stare at a computer screen. She said, “Blah blah blah blah?”

At least that’s what it sounded like. I could see a white C shape but it wasn’t perfectly clear around the edges so I replied, “Can’t see.” The optometrist nodded and made the C shape bigger, then said, “Blah blah blah blah?”

I repeated “Can’t see.”

The C got bigger and bigger and bigger. She repeated her question again and again and again. I answered “Can’t see,” “Can’t see,” “Can’t see.”

Finally the C was so big that it didn’t fit on the computer screen anymore. There was no way anyone could miss it. The optometrist seemed frustrated by now. She opened a cupboard and pulled out a giant poster of a C. She held the poster close to my face and said “Blah blah blah blah?” I replied, “Can’t see.” The optometrist’s nostrils flared. I started to suspect that I’d misunderstood the question.

We moved on to other tests. I tried on glasses, put my head in different machines, and looked at charts on the wall. This time she changed her question. She kept saying “Blah blah blah… Is that okay?” I didn’t want to cause any more trouble so I answered “Is okay, is okay, is okay,” and she kept looking more and more angry.

By the end of the appointment, my spirits had plummeted. I’d wasted everyone’s time and my money. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten so cocky as to think I could take an eye exam in Japanese. Then I got my prescription… it was exactly the same as my old one!

My new contact lenses - not even the optometrist knows if they're right for me.

I don’t know if my eyesight really hasn’t changed, or if the optometrist just gave up on me and copied out my old prescription. But I have new contact lenses now and they seem to be okay. So I’m choosing to believe that I got what I wanted. I’m back to being cocky.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Making an ebook cover is like a reality TV show

My first novel, The Ghostly Grammar Boy, will be published in September so recently I've been working on getting an ebook cover made. I used the graphic design website 99 Designs and the process felt like a reality TV show. This is how I did it.

 

1. Make the design brief a competition


The Ghostly Grammar Boy is a teen thriller about Fiona, a fifteen year old Canberra school girl who can see and talk to ghosts, including her dead twin sister. Fiona just wants to survive year ten without revealing herself to be a ghost-whispering, boyfriend-less weirdo. Her plans are ruined when she meets the ghost of a handsome boy from the Grammar School who claims he was murdered.

My design brief was to create a cover that had a teenage girl with dark brown hair in the forefront, the title in large font, and my name in capital letters. In the background I wanted a ghost version of the girl (the twin), and the ghost of a handsome teenage boy. I asked for some sparkles or swirls to indicate supernatural themes, for the main colour scheme to be dark purple and black, and for the design to be attractive to teenage girls.

I advertised the brief on 99 Designs and turned it into a competition. Graphic designers were able to compete to win a cash prize.

 

2. The contestants fight amongst themselves


Within hours of my design brief going up on the website, I already had several great entries... and the fighting had begun. One contestant put up a cover with a picture of a teenage girl taken from a stock photo website. Another contestant entered a similar design using exactly the same picture. The original contestant then complained "There are plenty of pictures on stock sites and you choose to use the same I did!"

 

3. The contestants fight with the judge


Within a few days I had more than 60 great covers from different designers. I'd originally envisioned a cartoonish cover but most of the designers chose to go with photographs. It was great to be able to see all the different possibilities and interpretations of my brief.

Using the website I could rate each of the covers and give feedback. The designers were responsive to my comments and within a short time submitted new designs including my suggestions. I gave the designers a link to the first three chapters of the book so they could get a sense of the tone of the novel.

One of the designers didn't take my feedback very well and wrote critical comments about how I was confused about the concept of manga, and how I shouldn't have released information late in the competition (for example, during the finals I told the designers "the book is humorous and the girl is spunky - think Buffy not Twilight"). I felt like the mean judge in a reality TV show. The competition was getting fierce.

 

4. The general public votes


Four days after advertising my design brief I had to narrow down the 23 contestants to six finalists. Using the website I made a poll of my favourite covers and advertised the poll on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. I received many votes from friends, family, and the general public. Thank you to everyone who voted! The comments were very interesting, from "stalkerish," "the girl is too cool," to "looks like a movie starring Sandra Thompson, [2 stars]."

From the polls, a clear favourite emerged, confirming my own feelings about the designs.

 

5. Pick a winner


Seven days later my competition closed and I had to pick a winner who would claim the prize money. I chose the cover below by Kassandra_P because not only was it the most popular in the polls, but it reflected the tone of the book so well.

The winning designer and I signed a copyright agreement, giving me rights to use the design. The designer was also kind enough to provide me with several different file sizes suitable for thumbnails, printed, and ebook versions.

The winning design


I'm so excited to see my cover come to life and really enjoyed the process. Thank you very much to all the designers who entered my competition, and to the people who kindly voted and gave me feedback on the covers.


Monday, 10 June 2013

The Ghostly Grammar Boy has a cover!

I'm excited to annonuce that The Ghostly Grammar Boy now has a cover! Thank you everyone who voted on their favourite cover and gave me suggestions. The book is now one step closer to publication in September 2013. Keep checking back here for more details!

The Ghostly Grammar Boy - to be published September 2013

Monday, 20 May 2013

Politeness manuals

When I was in high school, I worked as a checkout assistant at the local supermarket. During the induction program, the trainers spent most of the time trying to convince us we shouldn’t steal. When I finally started working at the checkout, I didn’t have a clue what to say to customers. My greetings would vary wildly between a sullen glare and a bright “Thank you, have a nice day”, depending on how I was feeling. All I knew was I shouldn’t steal anything.

Supermarkets in Japan take a more thorough approach to customer service. The checkout assistants receive a politeness manual telling them exactly what they should say to customers. And it’s not just the checkout chicks who follow them. The professional pushers at train stations follow politeness manuals too. I didn’t know there could be a polite way to push someone’s body parts into a crowded train, but it seems that there is.

Last week I think I discovered a sort of politeness manual for the general public. I was at the movies and before the movie started they played an ad telling us a list of rules. It was the usual things like “Turn off your mobile phone” and “Don’t talk during the movie”, but then they added “No kicking.” I started laughing but stopped when I realised no one else thought it was funny. It seems that the people in the movie theatre that day took obvious etiquette advice better than Aussies generally do. An example of this was last year when Queensland Rail tried to run an etiquette campaign - their posters became internet memes and were mocked all over the world.

The original Queensland Rail ettiquette poster

One of the many subsequent memes.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that my supermarket didn’t have a politeness manual.

My short story The Busybody of Lindfield was inspired by my time working at the supermarket.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Help me choose a cover for The Ghostly Grammar Boy

The Ghostly Grammar Boy is in the final stages of preparation for it's release in August! Help me choose a cover design from the finalists by voting here.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Top three places you don't expect to see Japanese

Even though I’m in Japan, there are some places I never expected to hear or see Japanese. These are my top three most surprising places.

(1) Graffiti
Trying to memorise the 2000 kanji characters required to read basic Japanese is a major headache for me. So when I see kanji casually scrawled as graffiti I am always surprised. I'm also a little jealous.


Beautiful kanji strokes - get this graffiti artist to a calligraphy competition!

(2) Dogs

So apparently, unlike me, dogs in Japan can understand Japanese. I even met a dog last week who was trilingual. He could understand Japanese, English, and Afrikaans… although the word for “sit” in Afrikaans is “sit”.

Tank the dog should sit my Japanese exams for me.

(3) Winnie the Pooh (aka Poo-san)

I expected at least the names of cartoon characters would remain the same. But in Japan even cartoon characters need to be shown an appropriate amount of respect when using their names. For example, Winnie the Pooh is known by his honourable title “Poo-san” i.e. Mr. Poo.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Reader Reviews: The Ghostly Grammar Boy

"This book has it all. There were times where I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, and then there were some touching moments that just made my heart flutter a little. Throughout the entire book, I was on the edge of my seat. It was so unpredictable with just the right amount of twists and unexpected turns." Cheryl Schopen, Reviewer, Readers' Favorite

"The Ghostly Grammar Boy is a great story with a lot of suspense. I was kept guessing throughout the story. Four out of five stars." Tabetha Collier, Reviewer, Readers' Favorite

"An exciting, intriguing book that kept me on the edge of my seat. I carried my kindle around with me, desperate for any free moment to escape into Fiona's world of ghosts, high school & adventure. Loved this book!"
Rachel Ward

"Fast paced, interesting, supernatural. Ghosts at school, ghosts in love and ghosts attempting murder!"
Jennifer Tarr

"I just started reading the book and can't put it down! A hilarious and exciting read."
Nanako Terayama

For more reviews, check out the Goodreads book page.