I was thisclose to packing it in. To placing my MacBook in a sack of rocks and dropping it off the wharf at the Ahuriri Marina.

I had once taken joy in writing. Hell, I’d once made my living by writing, in the glory days before newspapers started hemorrhaging money and journalists.

These days, I sit my unemployed ass down in front of my computer and question the wisdom of wasting good electricity on bad ideas.

As a novelist, I’d hit a wall. A huge, hard, intimidating expanse that impeded any forward momentum.

Having grown weary of banging my head against the closed doors behind which black-hearted literary agents sit snickering, I’d edited my book, Brown Girls, for the umpteenth time and posted it on Smashwords, where it is available for sale in several different ebook formats (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1937).

There it sat, glory shining from every polished word, on the Smashwords home page. For about three seconds. Until the next 7,000 wannabe authors did the exact same thing as me — posting their deathless prose, submitting their mailing address and then sinking into the nearest chair with a view of the mailbox to await the arrival of the postman bearing a huge sack of royalty cheques.

In the meantime, to garner more attention (because writers are expected to not only supply their own PR drums but to bang them as well), I joined the Authonomy website (authonomy.com), which, to date, has turned out to be nothing more than the slush pile for HarperCollins (and, yes, I am now naming names after being discreet in Publish or Die! Part 8). The site is basically a popularity contest where the best way to move up the rankings is to play nice with others and hope they reciprocate. And where every Forum features one more writer admitting they have two chances of actually being published by HR: zero and none.

At one writer’s suggestion, I also joined youwriteon.com, which is more of a blind taste test — the samples you are asked to review are generated randomly and you have no idea who is going to be looking at your work, so you can’t cajole them into saying something nice. That all sounds a bit fairer except . . . except to date I have handed in six reviews and have only received one in return.

That’s the bad thing about being between jobs — everyone assumes you have plenty of time to waste.

What I should be doing with that time — rather than trying to say something (anything!) positive about the drivel I’ve encountered at both review sites — is writing. I’m about a third of the way finished with the sequel to Brown Girls. I’ve got at least four other books percolating in my brain. I have a completed novel from 12 years ago that is begging to be dusted off and loved again.

And then I hit that wall. That great, soul-sucking vortex of frustration where you could search in vain forever for a single crumb of encouragement.

Smashwords certainly wasn’t supplying it — I posted Brown Girls on May 17. To date, I have sold one (1) copy. I have earned $4.69. Yes, that is in US funds. Yes, that is $7.24 NZ. No, I do not feel any better.

The darkness was nearly complete. I was closing my MacBook and eying the stones in our yard.

And then . . .

And then a young lady calling herself newtowritinggirl happened.

We’re not exactly strangers, her and I. She is, in fact, the owner of the only ebook copy of Brown Girls ever sold. But buying something and liking it can be two different things.

Fortunately for my ego — and my MacBook and any sea critters in Ahuriri Harbour — newtowritinggirl appears to have enjoyed her adventures with Jack Nolan and Nurse Heather and Maina.

She sent this comment to my blog page: “I read it. I loved it. I will rave about it to anyone that listens!”

She posted this entry on her own blog (newtowritinggirl.wordpress.com):

The book was Brown Girls by John Wesley Ireland.  I read a review of it at Workinggirlreviews and had to read it from this.  I don’t know if it was the setting of the novel, the plot or the review, but I knew I had to read it.  Smashwords give you the first 20% free, a very good idea – especially in this case.  Ireland couldn’t have timed it better if he tried.  The last page of the 20% left you on  a cliff hanger.  I had to buy it to find out more.  HAD TO.  I’m very glad I did, it was great. I’ll do a full review of it when I have a little more time.

Today I am feeling better about life. Today, I am friends again with my computer. Today, I want to return to the Cook Islands, or Gisborne or New York state or Greece or B.C. — to wherever my next book is  set.

Today, I am a writer again.

Thanks, newtowritinggirl. Thanks for the puff of oxygen you breathed onto the dying embers of my creativity.

Should we ever meet, dinner’s on me. Anything you want.

Just as long as it doesn’t cost any more than $4.69 US.

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Other than the obvious (dangly bits + vise grips + blowtorch = pain), there are not too many ways to hurt those of us who inhabit Planet Man.

For the most part, we’re quite adept at shrugging off the roadblocks life throws at us. For example:

Wife: “Honey, I ran over the family dog.” Planet Man resident: “No problem. I saw a cute St. Bernard puppy at the pet store.”

Wife: “Honey, I put the vacuum cleaner nozzle through the 42-inch TV.” Planet Man resident: “No problem. Super-Duper Electronics Emporium has a sale on 100-inch models.”

Wife: “Honey, I forgot to buy coffee at the store.” Planet Man resident: “No problem. We’ll sell your grandmother’s jewelry that survived the Titanic sinking and buy a coffee plantation so we’ll always have a steady supply.”

However . . .

As even-tempered and understanding and patient and caring and loving as all men tend to be, there is a short list of things we will not tolerate. And by short, I mean one thing: Do. Not. Touch. Our. Stuff.

This is one of those unwritten rules that should be included in all marriage vows. Right there with all the crap stuff about love, honour, obey, blah-blah-blah.

“Back away from the Man Stuff” should be in the Constitution. And the Bill of Rights. I believe it’s already in the Magna Carta and will soon be added to the Geneva Convention. It’s even in the Bible, right there with all those covet commandments.

Dear Wife: You can boss me around, force me to watch Grey’s Anatomy, coerce me into giving you a back massage, elbow me into conversing with your mother and admiring your manicure without surrendering to the gag reflex, but my Stuff is out of bounds. Verboten. Yes, that does mean you. I have my lawyer on speed dial. Or I will as soon as I figure out how to work this damn cellphone. You haven’t seen the instructions around here anywhere, have you? No? Now, where was I? Oh yeah . . .

Each inhabitant of Planet Man has his own particular Stuff (also referred to as Invaluable Treasures). I, for example, possess books and magazines, Orange Monkey (don’t ask), my MacBook (love you!), the coffee machine and several items tucked under my side of the mattress. These are not to be touched by Viking Woman under any circumstances (unless, of course, she is standing inside our burning house and passing them out to me through an open window).

However, lest you think I’m being childish unreasonable, please note that she is allowed to touch my clothes, but only to remind herself there is actually carpet in the bedroom.

Due to a recent interest in food preparation, my Eternal List of Wonders (as it’s also sometimes known) has expanded to include certain items in the kitchen and pretty much everything in the pantry. The latter is also a perfect example of my organizational skills. Everything I need at that very moment is right at the front. Everything I don’t need right now is jammed into a dark corner somewhere.

It’s chaos but it’s MY chaos and I relish its wild, untamed nature. Or I did. Because, over a recent rainy weekend, Viking Woman and a visiting friend decided the pantry could use a bit of a tidy.

While I sulked read in the bedroom, they proceeded to pull everything out, rubbish those items whose best-by dates were achieved in the 20th century, and then place the purge survivors back on the shelves. They used a method they like to call “alphabetical.” Yeah, right. As if that’s real. Nice try. You can’t fool Planet Man with fancy words.

I look in the pantry now and feel violated. All the bottles and containers are upright or stacked. The cereal boxes stand at attention side-by-each. The baking supplies nestle together on one shelf, eagerly awaiting the spatula and a pre-heated oven. There are storage boxes filled with satchels of tea and hot chocolate, with tubes of sugar and envelopes of salt and pepper. The food wraps are all here. The sandwich spreads are all there.

It’s all so . . . so . . . neat.

And by neat I mean prissy. And by prissy I mean, oh, there’s the Smoked Paprika I haven’t seen since 2004. Hello, old friend. Meet potato salad.

Thanks honey! Um, I mean, don’t ever touch my Stuff again!

At least not until the next time I can’t find the Cajun Seasoning. I’m serious!