HBTV’s Simon Nixon (left) interviews Brown Girls author John Wesley Ireland during the taping of an episode of Chatroom. (Photo: Warren Buckland/Napier Courier)

The last time I wore makeup was when two small children decided to dress me up as a woman. I only held still because I was trying to impress their mother. Considering their mother and I have now been together for 20 years, it would appear enduring the assault on my manliness worked a charm.

My most recent brush with cosmetics came when the lovely Vania applied powder to my face in an effort to make it appear less full-moonish. Needless to say, the procedure used up an alarmingly large amount of her supply.

The reason Vania was doing her utmost to make me look presentable was my first TV appearance since I hosted a news magazine programme for Cook Islands TV. This time, however, I would be answering questions instead of asking them.

The occasion was the taping of an episode of Chatroom for Television Hawke’s Bay. Going into the studio, I still wasn’t sure why anyone would be remotely interested in anything I had to say. But, apparently, station director Judith Sawyer is a fan of this column and thought her viewing audience might be entertained by a veteran journalist with a novel to promote.

While I awaited my turn on the brown couch, I watched host Simon Nixon on the monitor as he interviewed a lady about her anti-fracking stance. She was well-spoken, well-informed and well-dressed. That’s when the nerves kicked in and, for a brief, terrifying moment, I was positive I’d start sweating through my makeup to the point where it would look as if my face was melting.

“Please buy my book before my forehead sloughs into my lap” is probably not the ideal marketing campaign.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Simon and I hit it off right away and were soon nattering away like two old friends meeting in a cafe. If cafes came equipped with really bright lights and three large cameras and a microphone cord shoved down your shirt.

I told him about my journalism career and how I came to write my novel, Brown Girls, and why I’ve decided to market and sell it as an ebook through my own website.

The interview was divided into three segments, each consisting of eight minutes (commercials will fill out the rest of the 30-minute time slot), and my original fear of not being able to fill even one segment was quickly replaced by a fear of not having time to say everything I wanted to.

In the end, we never did talk about the Cook Islands photography book I hope to publish in an effort to raise money for the Red Cross.

Neither did I have the opportunity to mention the “A-ha!” moment.

This, of course, is not to be confused with the “Eureka!” moment or the “Woo-hoo!” moment. “A-ha!” is the noise I make when, while reading about a wildly-successful person, I come across the exact moment when they caught their big break. The hungry fashion photographer who drops into a fast-food outlet, only to stumble across the beautiful girl working behind the counter. Chris Klein charging around a corner in his high school and bowling over a talent scout looking to fill out the cast of American Pie.

We’ve all experienced such moments, the times where, for no good reason we can explain, we turned left when we had every intention of going right, and so met a future partner or the person who hired us for our dream job or somehow changed our lives.

Serendipity? Dumb luck? Good timing? Karma gods smiling? Best not to attempt to label it. Best to just sit back, hold on tight and enjoy the rocket ride to fame/success/riches/wild women.

I didn’t get to talk to Simon Nixon about “A-ha!” moments. Maybe because I’m meant to talk to him about that during our next interview. The one where, after this column is published, Brown Girls goes on to sell a million copies.

Someone should warn Vania she’s going to need a fresh supply of powder.

* The Chatroom interview featuring John Ireland will air Friday, May 11, 7.30pm on TVHB, UHF 51, and be re-broadcast the next day at 7.30am and 12.30pm. It will also be available for viewing at http://www.tvhb.co.nz

* For more information on Brown Girls, visit http://www.johnireland.co.nz

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My Cook Islands photos displayed in gallery.

I look at the photos — the girl shrieking with laughter; the youngster clutching at her face as her brain cramps from ice cream eaten too quickly; the trio peering mischievously from a market stall — and the walls of the Photographers’ Gallery Hawke’s Bay melt away.

I’m transported back to Rarotonga. The air is suddenly redolent of frangipani; the sun is hot on my neck. There is sand between my toes.

It’s all my imagination of course, but that’s the feeling I hope to evoke in all those who view my exhibit of Cook Islands photographs in the gallery. If someone smiles at the children’s antics or sighs in frustration at not being able to slide into the teal depths of Muri Lagoon, or recalls their own fond memories of the Cooks, then my job here is done and I can count the showing a success.

I landed on Raro the day after Cyclone Pat chewed up the sister island of Aitutaki. I left shortly after the general election. It was my sixth visit to the island in 10 years, and the third time I actually lived and worked there.

Between the two major events that bookended my year in paradise, I compiled a lifetime of adventures, experiences and memories.

As a reporter/ photographer for the Cook Islands Herald, I was the first member of the print media to land on Aitutaki, courtesy of a Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules, to record the devastation wrought by the cyclone. My job took me into the National Auditorium for cultural performances, to the retirement gala held for Catholic Bishop Stuart O’Connell.

I attended Christmas carnivals and was on the dock when the police boat returned rescued fishermen to the arms of their loved ones.

School children visiting cultural landmarks, the Vaka Eiva paddling competitions, a huge gathering of Zumba enthusiasts, a day spent on the island of Atiu in the company of sunburned travel agents — I attended all these events, camera in hand.

I worked on the 2011 Miss Cook Islands calendar and photographed models for the Herald covers. I wandered the weekly Saturday market, capturing the faces and expressions of these beautiful Polynesian people, committing split seconds of their lives to my camera’s memory.

It was a time of wonder. A time of magic and delight. It was a time of golden days and purple nights. A time of laughter and friendships. It was, in the end, a time gone too soon.

I returned to New Zealand with some 15,000 photographs — and a new tattoo — as a reminder the Garden of Eden really does exist. The plan was always to share my images and, thanks to Shayne Jeffares and the Photographers’ Gallery Hawke’s Bay, that goal has been achieved.

The exhibit is my love letter to the Cook Islands and its people. It’s also a promise to myself to return once more to their warm embraces.

* The Photographers’ Gallery Hawke’s Bay is located at 138 Tennyson Street in Napier. For information: 06 835 8142 or http://www.pghb.co.nz

4 a.m. September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

The Rarotonga night was hot and sticky. Viking Woman and I had long since kicked the thin sheet aside when the phone rang.

I stumbled out of bed, glancing at my watch as I made my way to the kitchen. 4 a.m. September 11.

Jeane Matenga was on the line. She was my boss at the Pitt Media Group, which runs the lone TV station in the Cook Islands. CITV does not broadcast 24 hours a day but someone from overseas had contacted Jeane and, after receiving that call, she’d driven into the office to fire up the station’s computers. Then she phoned us.

“Turn on your TV,” she said.

The television in our lounge was small and analogue. The reception was iffy at best and all the images had an orange tint because I was never able to figure out how to adjust the colour control.

But none of that mattered to Viking Woman and I that morning. As roosters crowed and stray dogs howled in the humid darkness, we watched in stunned silence as the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

This isn’t real, we said to each other later. This can’t be happening. This is Hollywood special effects. This is science fiction. This happens in other countries, in those barbaric places where strife and human misery and deadly attacks are a tragic way of life.

But this was not a movie. This was real life. This was real people dying in front of us as we stared, transfixed, at an orange screen while the tropical island stirred awake around us to greet a world that had just been changed forever.

We are West Coast Canadians and this was happening on the East Coast of America and yet I still felt rage at those who would let loose a bloodbath of this proportion in what I considered to be my backyard.

This was my way of life and my corner of civilization under attack and I was furious. President Bush, whom I’d always considered a buffoon, made a lot of loud noises about hunting down and punishing the perpetrators and I admit to pumping my first in the air and shouting the equivalent of “F**k, yeah!”

The ripple effect of those attacks reverberated across the world, even to our tiny hidey-hole in the South Pacific. With everyone suddenly very nervous to fly, and the Cook Islands economy based nearly 100 per cent on tourism, the government panicked at the prospect of lost revenue and ordered all departments to slash their budgets by 20 per cent.

That’s how Viking Woman lost her housing allowance. That’s how we were forced to return home.

But home no longer looked the same. We flew into LAX in late October to be met by squads of stone-cold soldiers carrying large weapons and eyeballing all of us as if we were potential enemies. We brought a small dog back from Rarotonga but, judging by the hassle that entailed, you would have thought we’d secreted Osama bin Laden himself up the poor thing’s arse.

I am not terribly worldly. I’m a simple man, content to maintain a tight focus. I have my family and my hockey and my movies and my photography and that’s all I need. I treat others with respect and expect the same in return.

I do not know, nor do I understand, what inflames people to kill each other. For what? To prove your god is better than my god? Does a god who would condone such mindless savagery deserve to be worshipped? We could debate this point for hours but I have better things to do with my time.

I, like all of you, will not be here long. Eighty years, give or take, if I’m lucky. I just want to live in peace, have some fun, be a good person, and then leave behind a better world for my children and my children’s children.

That seemed like an achievable goal until September 11, 2001. Now, I’m not so sure.

Reality checks come in many guises. This week, for instance, it was the kid manning the cash register at the nearby Caltex petrol station.

I’d stopped in to buy a newspaper and, noticing a photo of reigning Miss South Pacific Joyana Meyer on the front page – clad in a coconut bra and grass skirt as she attended the Pasifika Festival in Auckland – I blurted out that I knew her.

(Full disclosure: I actually consider Joyana a friend. I took her photo on several occasions when I worked for the Cook Islands Herald. I also shot her for the 2011 Miss Cook Islands calendar, only to have her father insist he had the better shot. Yes, his sunset was more colourful than mine. But I couldn’t help but notice that Joyana is wearing more clothes in Daddy’s photo.)

The kid was impressed. He asked me how I knew her.

I told him I’m a journalist, that I’d just spent a year working on Rarotonga.

“A journalist,” he said, his eyes lighting up at the sheer glamour of it all. “How do you become a journalist?”

I very nearly told him the truth: being in the right place at the right time, lucky breaks, knowing people. Instead, I put on my Mature Adult Hat and said, “I went to school.”

That was not a lie. I did attend Kwantlen University College for a year. Even scored a Certificate in Communications. Says so right there, on my CV. Not sure I remember anything I learned in class. Not sure anything I learned in class ever helped me get a newspaper job. But, hey, like I said, it does look impressive on a CV.

“I’d like to do something like that,” said the kid. “I’m 23 years old, working in a petrol station, and I don’t know what to do with my life.”

Oh. Really?

I very nearly told him another truth: That faint light I see at the end of the tunnel? It’s a birthday cake with 60 candles on it. I very nearly told him that, even with 23 well and truly in the rearview mirror, I, too, have no idea what the hell to do with my life.

The kid was impressed that I was a journalist. I didn’t spoil the moment by saying I was an unemployed journalist. That I’d just spent the previous week sending off job applications to newspaper editors I am reasonably confidant will never bother contacting me. That I have e-mailed all my media mates in town and none of them has even bothered to expend the energy it takes to hit Reply and type “Go away.”

That, right after I bought the paper, I was heading to a seniors’ residence where I would spend the day in the laundry room, praying to the Baby Jesus that I would not have a close encounter of the fecal kind.

Twenty-three and no direction? Ah, my friends, those were the days.

My initial encounter with an iPad came poolside at The Bellagio in Las Vegas. My son, who works for Apple and is, I’m fairly certain, contractually bound to play with every new gadget, brought his model along to show off like a new father emerging from the delivery room.

And so we perched on the edge of our chaises longues, two grown men ignoring several metres of delightful female flesh clad in mere millimetres of clingy material, while we peered, mesmerized, at a glowing tablet of plastic and glass.

I’m a man. We’re hardwired to fulfil certain functions. Perpetuating the human race, for instance. Collecting Toys for Boys, for another. Which is why I had no choice but to purchase an iPad for myself.

I took it back to Rarotonga where, I’m willing to bet, it was the only one of its kind on the island. Unfortunately, for all its lovely beaches and lively nightspots and exotic dancers, Rarotonga does not have free WiFi. Nowhere. Not one place.

And so what I ended up with was a rather expensive ebook reader. But, considering the actual hard-copy weight of the 24 books I had stored on the machine, the iPad was already proving itself to be a wise investment.

Now that I’ve returned to New Zealand, where WiFi is as common as running water, I am starting to take advantage of another great feature of the iPad: I can surf the Internet while in the bathroom. What was once dubbed “the library” is now called “the office.” And they say men can’t multi-task.

As an iPad owner in New Zealand, however, I’m still in the minority. They are expensive ($800 NZ) and largely unavailable in electronics stores, which seldom carry anything Mac anyway. Even the Apple dealer in town had to order his machine from the company’s website because he wasn’t going to be stocking any in his store.

Viking Woman wasn’t exactly thrilled at not being consulted on the purchase but that was before I found her reading one of the ebooks. And, just like that, “my” iPad suddenly became “our” iPad.

On those now-rare occasions when I can spirit my baby away for some “us” time, I have accessed the iBooks Store section to see which novels from my favourite authors are now available in the ebook format, as technology changes the publishing world forever.

Stephen King. Check. James Lee Burke. Check. Stuart MacBride. Check. Joe Hill, Elmore Leonard. Check and check.

Just on a whim, I did a search for my own book, Brown Girls. And there it was, available for $5.99 from Smashwords. Staring back at me from the screen of my iPad, as bright and bold and beautiful as the offerings of King or Burke or the others. As readily available to the whole wide world as those uber-talented best-selling bazillonaires. You can even download a free sample. How cool is that?

At one time, you had to go directly to the Smashwords website itself to buy Brown Girls as an ebook. The last time I checked, I’d sold two whole copies, including one to a faithful reader of this blog.

But now that the purchase of my book is a mere tap away from those 15 million people who bought the first version of the iPad, surely my words would be selling like the proverbial hotcakes. Right?

And . . . no. Available for some three years now as an ebook and, after much jumping through hoops, finally given Premium Status in April last year, Brown Girls has yet to make me rich.

This is all a bit disheartening but all I can do, really, is get on with writing another . . . wait. What?

Apple is releasing iPad 2?

Dear Son: Meet me in Vegas. It’s urgent. Oh, and don’t tell Viking Woman.

They say that time moves at a different pace in the tropics. That the temperature is too hot, the air itself too languid for anyone to entertain thoughts of travelling any faster than a moderate shuffle.

Despite that dearth of forward momentum, my one-year contract in the Cook Islands somehow managed to come to an end, resulting in my return to New Zealand in mid-February.

Where did that time go? How could 365 days possibly zoom by so fast? If it wasn’t for the 25,000 photos bunging up my computer’s memory, I might be tempted to think my time on Rarotonga was merely a dream.

The white sand, the cobalt sea, the brown girls: surely I did not just spend an entire year in their enchanting company.

Apparently so.

Back in New Zealand, I’m forced to walk faster, think faster, react faster, hell even talk faster.

The adjustment period has now stretched into its third week and I still feel like Adam, standing outside the garden gates, talking around a mouthful of apple, saying, “Uh . . . Eve? I gotta bad feeling about this.”

For starters, there are a lot of white people in this country. I’m used to being in the minority – the token white boy in the office. I liked that feeling. It made me feel special. Here, I’m just another old guy with a funny accent who could stand to lose 30 pounds and probably should shave every day just to be on the safe side.

Other adjustments:

* I haven’t driven a car for a year.

* I haven’t eaten much in the way of vegetables for a year. I’ve barely eaten meat in that time. There are brightly-coloured packages in the pantry and none of them say ‘Instant Noodles.’

* There is hot water in the shower. There is water in the shower.

* There are no lizards scuttling across the walls. There are no ants in the kitchen scouting for crumbs.

* Complete strangers not only do not greet me on the sidewalk, they make a determined effort to avoid eye contact.

* I no longer have the bed to myself. I no longer have sole rights to all the covers and pillows. I can no longer snore or fart without comment.

* I have to share. Bathroom time. Computer time. The toothpaste.

* There is a TV in the house. And a DVD player. I have forgotten how to operate the remotes and I don’t really care.

* I am no longer a working journalist. I am no longer working as anything.

* I am a former Island Boy. An ex-Island Boy. And I don’t like the feeling. Not at all.

***

I spent a large portion of that time on Rarotonga with a camera jammed into my face. Between the beautiful scenery and the even more beautiful people, it’s a wonder I didn’t burn out my Nikon’s motor drive.

Since returning to New Zealand, the camera has hardly been out of its bag. My inspiration well has run dry. Where’s a fair maiden in a coconut bra when you need one?

The camera might have gathered dust for several more months had Geon Art Deco Week not been held in Napier shortly after my return.

I’d missed this event in 2010 and so was pleased to have the hoopla to distract me from my post-tropical trauma. I’ve included a small collection of my photos with this blog posting.

Art Deco Week celebrates the 1930s and highlights the fashion and architecture and modes of transportation that were in vogue when Napier was being rebuilt after being levelled by the 1931 earthquake.

And then, mere days after Napier residents parked their Model Ts for another year, Christchurch is devastated by the second earthquake to strike the Canterbury area in five months. Lives are lost, historic buildings crumble to dust and an entire country mourns.

I wonder which architectural style will rise, phoenix-like, from this shattered cityscape? And will anyone be celebrating it 80 years from now?

This may be difficult for you to comprehend, but journalism is so much more than free lunches and signing autographs for adoring font bunnies.

We journalists don’t like to make a big deal out of it, but the truth is that hours of research go into every story. Or sometimes just minutes, depending on the speed of your Internet connection.

My own research has seen me spend an entire weekend stuffed into a car with cheerleaders. OK, I was driving them to a tournament, but the car was full. And they were cheerleaders. And I did write about them. And then had to go through the entire process again the next season when a whole new crop joined the squad. We’re talking long hours of intense scrutiny here, folks.

Then there was the time I spent 14 hours at the side of a hotdog vendor outside a supermarket. So I could write a story about the day in the life of a, well, hotdog vendor. This is what I learned: Yes, you can eat too many hotdogs. And, no, you do not want to know what goes into them.

It was this dedication to ferreting out the facts — and the obvious success of my Daily Photo Project — that had me contemplating doing a Daily New Zealand Ice Cream Taste Test. This would see me personally sample every flavour of ice cream produced in this nifty little country, and report back on their degree of yumminess.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending whether or not you are the part of my body in charge of producing insulin — a job offer to return to the Cook Islands meant this projet melted into a puddle of not-gonna-happen before I could even make a decent start. As it turned out, all I managed to sample are the flavours pictured on this page. They are a mere flick of the tongue compared to the mouthful of Scrumptious Delight I had planned to serve up each day.

I like ice cream. Unfortunately, like its sister — the dark, sultry siren known as Chocolate — ice cream makes my clothes shrink. But that is the price a true journalist like myself is willing to pay.

I also like things in my ice cream. Which is why Fudge Chunks and Chips is my first choice at Baskin Robbins. Which is why Cookies’n’Cream and Goody Goody Gumdrops send shivers down my back even as they freeze my brain.

Now this project will have to wait until I return from Rarotonga. Actually, it was while living in Raro that Viking Woman and I had our first taste of New Zealand ice cream. The little shop next to our house stocked Magnum bars and they quickly grew adept at whispering our names every time we passed the freezer.

We became hooked; we needed a daily fix. You know that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one where Indiana Jones reaches back for his fedora just as the stone wall is about to drop into place? That was us one night, pretty much sliding in under the roller door on our bellies as the shopgirl was trying to close the place. Junkies do those sorts of things . . . and then later refer to it as research.

What makes New Zealand ice cream so much better than anything else in the world? I don’t really know. Maybe there’s less pollution here. Maybe it’s the whole GE-free attitude. Maybe there is such a thing as a contented cow.

All I know is that I’m grateful for the texture and the taste and the extra layer of fat that will keep me warm come winter. In fact, since I’m pretty much finished packing, I’m going to head to the nearest paddock and bestow a great big thank-you hug on a cow. I’m going to choose a chunky one.

The calendar tells me tomorrow is my birthday.

To which I have two replies: “What, again?” and “Meh.”

As the years have flitted by in rapid succession, my birthday has become less and less significant to me. Maybe it’s living so far away from family and thus not being able to share the occasion with those who have been with me on this long journey. Or maybe it’s the lack of funds curtailing the purchase of something so perfunctory as a card (those things are bloody expensive in New Zealand! Actually, so is everything else in this country, come to think about it).

If someone asks how old I am, I routinely reply, “110.” That usually accomplishes two things: It tells the person I’m not going to give a serious (read: actual) answer, and also tends to elicit the response, “You’re looking good for your age.” All us oldies like to hear that.

If birthdays are a poke-in-the-eye reminder of the passing years, December birthdays are a sure indication that God hates you. Ot at least hates the concept of you receiving any decent presents that close to Christmas.

The fact my father and two younger brothers are also December babies gives you an indication of how stretched the family’s gift budget was once the year was into its final hurrah.

One brother, in fact, celebrates his birthday two days before me. It took years to figure out how I could be the oldest when his birthday comes before mine. Once I had that math worked out, I then spent several more years admonishing my parents about the fact they couldn’t stay off the rides at the Carnal Carnival long enough to ensure there was a decent gap between our conceptions.

Brother Number 1 and I eventually settled on celebrating our birthdays together, on the neutral day that conveniently separates us. That way, Mom only had to bake one angel food cake and the surprise of both us receiving socks and underwear (again!) wasn’t ruined for either of us.

The birthdays marking the decades stand out, of course. I was going to be on a six-month trek through Europe when I turned 20 and bid a fond farewell to my beloved teen years. Certainly a birthday marked on another continent doesn’t count at home, right?

But the six-month tour only lasted three weeks. Because I was in love. And a scared little puppy. But mostly because I was in love.

I was part of the generation that liked to bellow, “Never trust anyone over 30.” So you can imagine my dilemma when that birthday struck. Now I can’t even trust myself? Bummer.

Forty? Ah, 40. Viking Woman recruited the Brookswood Secondary cheerleaders to put on a special performance just for me at a surprise party. Part of me was saying, “I hate surprise parties!” The other half was saying, “I love cheerleaders!” So, yeah, mixed emotions on that one.

Fifty was OK, if only because the majority of my siblings decided that, as each of us hit the big five-oh, the others would kick in $50 apiece to mark the event. Which was excellent when it was my turn but not so cool when I was the one digging deep for the cash. Six kids? Seriously? You do know how to say “no,” right, Mom?

I like to think age is just a number on my birth certificate. It does not pay the bills nor does it require cuddling so, for the most part, I ignore it. I ignored disco and it went away, so my strategy obviously works.

They say age is relative and I proved that point when I hosted Teen Scene on Cook Islands Radio. Because of the show’s target audience, I perpetuated the myth of being only 19 years old . And why not? Rarotonga is, after all, one of those tropical islands where time really does stand still.

If all goes as planned, I will return to Raro early next year. I can’t wait. I’ll be a teenager again and be able to shake my thang all night long. Or until I trip over my walker and break a hip.

Publish or Die! Part 6

March 27, 2009

At what point, during the process of sharpening your pencil, do you end up with nothing more than a pile of well-intentioned shavings?

I’m asking myself that question these days as I reach the quarter pole in my final polish/edit of Brown Girls before I publish the new and improved version.

The novel, set in the Cook Islands and starring Jack Nolan, was first published in 2004 by PublishAmerica, back in the bad old days of POD publishing, before Lulu somehow made such endeavors glorious and worthwhile.

The book was originally comprised of some 212,000 words. Before submitting it to PA, I’d given it several reads in an effort to weed out typos and replace missing words and ensure that suspense and thrills were actually present in what I’d classified as a suspense thriller.

Viking Woman did the same, as did former Langley Times workmate Brenda Anderson. PublishAmerica had an editor do a cursory scan, but that resulted in little more than “jandal”s being changed to “sandals,” a misguided correction I then had to go back in and fix.

And out into the cold, cruel world went my first child. That it drew much acclaim and kind reviews was a bonus, a very much appreciated bonus.

After I negotiated the return of the publishing rights from PA, I turned for help to my new friend, Jeff Buick, a Calgary-based writer working in the same genre. Jeff initially made several suggestions, before he sat on my manuscript for some 10 months and then left me dangling, e-mails unanswered. (Yes, that was somewhat rude and thoughtless and unkind of him, but I will let that go now and assume the God of Karma will deal with Mr. Buick at some future date.)

At Jeff’s urging, I changed Jack Nolan from a Canadian to an American, the thought process being that citizens of the great and wonderful US of A won’t read a book about people who aren’t exactly like themselves. Jeff also advised me to limit the Cook Islands Maori words that I’d used because, he explained, Americans tend not to tolerate any language but their own, The Kite Runner be damned.

Another suggestion I can attribute to Mr. Buick (who has, at last glance, NOT won the Pulitzer Prize for literature) was to make the novel shorter. Because, you guessed it, American readers = no patience for lengthy tomes.

In the end, I compromised: Jack is now an American and I snipped some 20,000 words, but I did keep the native language. The one constant from my 2004 foray into publishing was that readers felt transported to Rarotonga when they read Brown Girls and I was deathly afraid to lose that magic via the Delete tab.

Viking Woman feels the same way. She has not read the new version (the penultimate editing was kindly done by California-based writer/Facebook friend Alice Grey: fishbonesandmilk.typepad.com) but her chief concern is that I have somehow sliced the soul out of my book all in the name of streamlining.

I value Viking Woman’s opinion. Partially because I have no choice, since our contract contains that whole “love, honor, obey” clause, but mainly because she was right there with me in Rarotonga when I experienced the events and met the people that inspired the book in the first place. One of the major female characters is based on my wife and whole slabs of this character’s dialogue are reproduced verbatim, and so you can understand her concern.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, some of the early editing of Brown Girls version 2.0 was also based on advice from Lisa Rector, who once upon a time wrote a column for my Sports section in the Langley Times, before marrying New York-based literary agent Donald Maass, moving to the Big Apple and starting her own manuscript editing business, which you can find at thirddraftnyc.com. And, yes, that was a free plug. And, yes, Lisa, you do owe me. And tell your parents I say hey.)

All of which brings me back to my opening metaphor. At what point in the editing process do you stop following other people’s advice and suggestions and personal opinions? I could quite possibly ask 100 people to give me editing advice and quite possibly receive 100 more comments.

All fine and good, and some of them might even be helpful, but none of them would be based on the heart and soul and inspiration that stirred me initially to sit down and spend nine months (the first time around) of my life banging out this book.

The truth of the matter is that, at this point, I have stopped listening to other people (except, of course, for those faithful readers who have spent five years demanding a sequel — soon, I promise). I will finish this final polish and then send it out for the world to judge its merits (stand by for more information on that process.)

Sometime in the future, I hope Jeff Buick actually reads the new version of Brown Girls. This time, however, he’s going to have to pay for it.

Warning: This posting contains course language that may offend some readers. Parental discretion is advised.

It’s become painfully obvious that newspapers are quickly becoming extinct. They are sinking into a quagmire of debt and advertiser/reader apathy while destroying the careers of talented journalists in the process.I know — I’m one of those journalists.

Welcome to Job Oblivion, my fellow scribblers. We’re forming a line over there, right beside the Betamax repairmen.

But when there are no more newspapers, what happens to the little old lady?

Before you start thinking I’ve been sniffing my sweaty watchband again, let me explain.

I’ve worked at several newspapers in several countries, starting with the Langley Times. And, especially with the smaller, community-focused papers, there was always this great unspoken fear in the newsroom that something we produced would offend someone, somewhere.

A good production day would see the paper put to bed before the print deadline, filled with snappy headlines, eye-catching photographs and a minimum of typos. Oh, and nothing controversial that could provoke some shriveled bitty to put aside her darning, turn down the volume on Days of Our Lives, and ring the publisher to complain about the offending content.

This led to a morale-sucking creative paralysis among my fellow reporters. It didn’t matter how ground-breaking our stories, or how the committee should just hand over the Pulitzer now and be done with it, the perfect edition was one that managed to not upset someone’s grandmother.

It made for boring copy. It made for lacklustre, colourless copy. Just as long as it was harmless copy. That made the publisher happy which, in turn made the editor happy. And we all got to keep our jobs, at least until the next edition.

Being the sports editor, I seldom had to worry about complaints, unless it was the moms of figure skaters, who spent 11 years nagging me for more coverage. Otherwise, as long as I remembered to write that the home team “lost” and wasn’t “thumped,” “massacred” or “destroyed,” I was safe.

The one exception came after I quoted a high school athlete as saying something like, “Jesus Christ, that win was the best feeling in the world!” Sure, I could have omitted the Lord’s name and the quote would still have worked, but the kid said it with such conviction that it just felt right to include all his words.

Sure enough, the next day I was summoned to the front desk where a woman stood, ramrod straight. She had a look on her face that told me she had just sucked a lemon. And had another one tucked up her arse.

She wanted to know why I’d used the Lord’s name in the context of a sporting quote. Before I could explain, the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building. I assumed, after giving me a blast, the woman would leave. Instead, she continued to berate me on the sidewalk. Fortunately, I’d positioned myself under the alarm’s external speaker and when my visitor finally realized I could not possibly hear her over the siren’s wail, she turned on her heel and marched away.

She wasn’t exactly as I’d pictured the little old lady, but that was the exact response all my cringing editors feared.

Apparently, the little old lady does not live in New Zealand. This is evident by the foul language that sees the light of day in the pages of our two national newspapers, the New Zealand Herald and the Dominion Post. It is common, especially when a reporter is providing a direct quote, to see “pissed,” “bugger,” “shit” and “bullshit” staring out at me from the printed page.

I’m no prude. I can drop the f-bomb with the best of them. I’ve watched HBO. I’ve endured Quentin Tarantino movies. But to see such language displayed in what is still quaintly known as a “family” newspaper still makes me cringe a bit.

As a further underlining of this strange Down Under interpretation of freedom of the press, I read a feature in the the Herald’s weekend magazine which included a quote from Wikipedia in which someone is described as “nothing but a fat cunt.”

Descriptive? Oh, yeah. Pushing the boundaries of good taste? Ya think!?!

On another occasion, a movie reviewer openly referred to a film she disliked as being “shit.” I was a syndicated movie reviewer for 15 years. If I had a dollar for every time I was tempted to write the same thing, I would not be sitting in this tiny, under-insulated house. I would be writing this blog at Muri Beach in Rarotonga while shielding my keyboard from the juice of the grapes my Nubian wench-babes had just peeled for me.

Fifteen years of the good, the bad and the Good Burger. Fifteen years of door prizes and smarmy radio hosts and popcorn mixed with Nibs and stories like this one:

I once took a comely co-worker to dinner and a movie in Vancouver. The small talk over the meal went well and we seemed to be getting along just fine.

Halfway through the movie, the young lady excused herself and left the theatre. To buy more treats? To use the toilet? No — she went home.

I asked for an explanation the next time we met and she told me she hadn’t like the movie and so walked out. On the movie. On me. On the date. On our budding relationship.

The movie was The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

It was shit.