Pied Pipers and Gingerbread Houses

Art for art’s sake

Was having a discussion earlier about marketing, with a couple of great authors who advocate social networking in marketing, creating fan pages for stuff relevant to or similar to what you sell, yada yada yada. It all sounds cool and funky and modern at first. And, er, blatantly sneaky…

Personally, I think you need social skills to use social networking, and a lot of time on your hands for the admin. I’d rather sell books in my sleep with no effort on my part whatsoever, but then I guess I just like my sleep better than social networking sites.

Something was bugging me though. Something saying at the back of my mind that I’ve seen it all before, heard it all before, and it’s not modern or funky at all.

Then I remembered ‘Timeshare’. Where you’d get a free holiday, but basically had to sit through their hard-sell sessions. And those ‘youth clubs’ you’d get invited to as a youngster, which were all good fun until they mentioned Jesus. After which you didn’t get out of the door without knowing you were going to Hell, but who gave a toss anyway, at least Hell would have a bouncy castle on which you didn’t have to feel guilty about keeping your shoes on, while cussing and swearing if you felt like it.

And half of the kids’ fairytales warn of the same thing. Don’t go into the Gingerbread House, it’s a trap. Don’t follow the Pied Piper. You’re being led up the garden path to meet a sticky end. And not the good sort.

Basically, it’s a way of avoiding paying for formal advertising. Call it dishonesty if you want, or ‘grooming’ *BLECK* nasty word, unless you work in a stables. Come hither, Facebook folks, and ‘like’ my fan page about Harry Potter. The next thing you know, I’ll be recommending books you’ve never heard of, muahahahaha… no Harry Potter freebies or competitions here, just badly-edited thinly-disguised fan-fiction promotions…

I read another blog post recently, with any luck I’ll dig out the link so that I can credit Red Bonsai or whoever it was, about ‘old media’ being what works. Posters on the rail platforms and the Underground. TV and radio appearances. Sunday broadsheet literary supplements. It’s true. Last stand-up comedy gig I went to, was after seeing it advertised on the London Underground. But that costs money, and apparently the time and money is better spent on paying an office full of typing monkeys to play on Facebook and Twitter all day. For a month’s worth of that, they could pay for a poster on the Underground, and catch all the folks who are actually buying stuff, instead of just rounding up all the others who are also playing the social networking game.

It’s so overcrowded now, most of the mutual follows are from people in the same business. Indie authors get followed by indie authors. SEO experts follow other SEO experts, hoping to scam their ideas off them.

I’m not against having your own fan pages, of stuff you really like or recommend to others. But there’s a difference between indulging in a love of your own, and setting up a coconut shy covered in big fluffy teddy bears which only gives away penny sweets if you have a go.

Who do you think JK Rowling promoted herself as while looking for a book deal? “Hi, my books are like Enid Blyton meets Terry Pratchett. I run the Blyton Meets Pratchett Fan Club, which people join and they get a weekly newsletter all about me and my own writing.” No? Good. I don’t think she would have done that either. Do you think it would have been as successful if she had started out that way?

Or those youth clubs… Come and talk about Jesus! You might also get a beaker of weak orange squash and five minutes on the bouncy castle in your socks! But the Jesus part is compulsory!!

If you think you’re talented, or have something worth selling, f***ing tell people you are up front. Don’t hide your personal trainer diet leaflets in Happy Meals packaging.

So you have stuff to sell, good for you (and for me). If you don’t think it’s worth advertising properly, or being honest about, just think about what other associations you’re going to attach to your product if you go the sneaky route.

Instead of becoming the next Rowling off the back of your own talent, you too could be the next Timeshare in¬†heaven…

ūüôā

Here’s where I flog you…

Where¬†it all started… ¬£4.99 on Lulu (or less, with voucher codes on Lulu homepage)

It’s called entrapment –¬†where I use a misleading post title to lead you to a blog episode about one of my own books. Although if you’ve been trapped by this particular title, with empty promises suggesting I will now back you into a corner and dish out some consensual punishment, you should be so lucky! After reading How To Write Hot Sex, edited by the lovely Shoshanna Evers, you can believe I know exactly what you were just thinking. And I’m allergic to latex, so it’s got to be leather all the way, if you’re entertaining any fantasies. Just to add some authenticity to the mental image.

I mean of course ‘flog’ as in the UK slang for ‘to sell’ – usually with some spiel in a cold-caller style. I imagine that the consensual punishment-types would be particularly cold in this weather, going from door to door flogging their, umm, wares –¬†dressed only in leather chaps and some fetching little clamps.

Anyway, stop looking me up and down in your mind’s eye and allow me to distract you, Scheherezade-fashion.

When I was 18 years old, school was already a thing of the past, I was working part-time doing barely anything else to speak of other than some drawing and making notes for story ideas. My best pal and I would hang around the cemetery with her dog at 6am and watch the gravediggers, for want of anything interesting to do.

My brother, a year younger than me, went on a work placement to an IT company, and came home with what looked like a sewing machine in a suitcase.

“It’s a portable computer,” he announced. “You can write that novel now.”

Dear reader, I did exactly that. No further encouragement required, no writer’s block –¬†just a 1-ton laptop with a 5-inch floppy disk drive, a¬†QWERTY keyboard clipped to the bottom, and a 6-inch green screen, running Wordstar. Six months, and 101,000 words later, I had finished ‘Living Hell’ – my first book.

But it wasn’t all Jane Austen.

As a teenage reader, with nothing but Enid Blyton, Willard Price and Patricia Leitch on the Young Readers’ shelves, I’d moved on early. I’d discovered Jackie Collins, Harry Harrison, Terry Pratchett, and most notably, Tom Sharpe. Writers who made a big impression on me – and advised the notions I had of what sort of ‘new’ teenage novel I wanted to write.

I was watching films like The Lost Boys, Heathers, Beetlejuice, and getting inspired by the beginning of the musical grunge movement. What I wanted to read wasn’t being optioned by Disney.

What I came up with was a story about Jericho, a made-up town populated by Satanists and blackmailers. And what the outcome of a¬†youth club Halloween party adds to the latest rumours that a recent suicide isn’t all as it seems. And why the local factions of self-segregated youngsters have a small issue when it comes to blood – but it’s not the popular, toothy, undead-type issue you’d imagine…

So, to find out what sort of things were going on in my head back then, read on. You might find that the title of my post wasn’t as misleading as as I let you think.

Shame on you. And on me…

ūüėČ

Excerpt – Living Hell by Lisa Scullard, written in 1990:

Kim swung her legs over the balcony outside the Broadbents’ bedroom in silence, and crept up to the sliding glass doors. She could hear the Sergeant humming to himself in the next room, his ‘study.’ The doors were not locked and slid back smoothly at the slightest touch.

She removed the package, still giving it the obligatory shake and squeeze to try and identify the contents without actually opening it. The last place she had hidden anything had been under seven feet of concrete, so drawing on her own recent experience was no help here. At last she pulled one of the pillows off the bed and tucked the parcel underneath. As an afterthought she took a quick snapshot of it before replacing the pillow and straightening the sheets, and put the Polaroid in the pouch with the films to develop. She could always do with extra material on old Phil.

The music was reaching a crescendo, and the Sergeant’s respective humming had transformed into a full-blown la-la-la-pom-ti-pom type of noise. Kim stood in the middle of the bedroom looking around her, frowning.

“If I was a dirty movie,” she mused under her breath, “where would I be?”

Her dad had a whole air-raid shelter at the bottom of the garden for his. But she had the feeling that Sergeant Broadbent would keep his a little bit closer to his person – somewhere accessible and yet out of the way of Mrs. B…

She opened a drawer idly. It was evidently one of Mrs. B’s, for it contained a corset, several pairs of support tights and a pair of bulletproof socks. And a pair of handcuffs. Kim raised an interested eyebrow, took a picture and shut the drawer.

The king-size walk-in wardrobe was just as rewarding. Among the starched regulation shirts and black nylon trousers she discovered a French maid’s uniform and a panda suit. And a nurse’s uniform. And something that looked like a harness for a masochistic carthorse. Kim giggled as she took the photos. Who needed videos? The Sergeant and his wife were obviously just a normal East Jericho couple, at least as far as habits were concerned. There were a couple of those as well.

Kim had been in this business long enough to know that geography had a major influence on all types of things, including sexual pursuits. East Jerichoans went in for dressing up a lot and amusing role-playing games, Southerners, particularly Parklands natives, were into bondage and Continental battery-powered stimulating devices, West Jericho residents seemed to restrict all sexual activity to Sabbath afternoons and half-day closing, as they were all too busy during the night and working hours, and from what she knew of the North and Central Jericho lot they just went in for sex, any time, anywhere, anyhow. East and South were best as far as business was concerned. It was also not surprising to Kim that the majority of the population was under twenty-one. This was the dominant section; no matter how hard the older generations fought, Jericho youth always had the upper hand. And it got stronger by the decade as adults got tougher. Kim had justified her blackmailing as a means of survival – children are blackmailing their parents everywhere all the time, from the moment they can say ‘If you don’t get me a lolly I’ll SCREAM!’

Regretfully, Kim closed the wardrobe and continued her search. Sergeant Broadbent was accompanying the violins in a slightly wavering tenor.

After only a few fruitless minutes Kim was once again standing in the middle of the room.

There HAD to be somewhere else…

 

 

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Ye Olde Money Shotte…

What purpose does the bedroom door serve nowadays?

Since ditching the safety mitts and tackling D.H. Lawrence’s self-published legend Lady Chatterley’s Lover recently –¬†not to mention dipping my writerly prudish toe into Mills & Boon waters – I’m sensing the issue of bedroom door shenanigans looming in my writing at some point. Yes, I can mash up another historical author’s work and make¬†a parody of it. I can even make a mutant man-alien suspect squirm in the interrogation room of a sci-fi police procedural comedy feature script.

But leaving that fictional bedroom door open while keeping a straight face somehow escapes me. Or maybe, the point of it somehow escapes me. Unless it has something specific to do with furthering the plot or character development, to my brain, it’s somehow gotten filed in the same place as ambulance-chasing to sell a story.

Like D.H. Lawrence’s characters wonder, would you describe the joys of going into detail about toilet scenes? Do they have a place in the great literary novel/pulp romance? I’m sure that some have gone there. And gone again, with extra lavatory paper (to make notes about the experience).

Firstly, the subject of story. I recently got into a lovely writer’s¬†discussion about such a scene being used to illustrate a traumatic event in a book for young adults, which concerned her as to its suitability for the readership, and was evidently giving her issues about comfort-zone in her own writing. In terms of the story itself, she realised of her own conclusion –¬†after a number of us gave feedback –¬†that the traumatic event could also be a fight or beating, not a sexual assault¬†scene. In terms of her story progress, an alternative situation served the same purpose, for the long-term effect on the character that she wanted to share.

Secondly, sex scenes don’t necessarily illustrate automatic progress of a relationship between two characters. In the original Lady Chatterley, her initial affair with the playwright Michaelis shows that the sex a character experiences can be a downright let-down, not even lasting long enough to satisfy her need to be held for any length of time. She wants to feel that the connection between them is romantic – and he does indeed want her to leave Clifford and marry him – but he’s so one-sided in the bedroom, she seems to know it would be equally doomed. The sex in this case is driving them apart from the beginning, not together – something which really hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream dissection of the work. Mostly because Michaelis isn’t the primary ‘hero’ of the piece.

So if you wonder whether on your route to publication (or increasing fame) as an author, when the question comes up about¬†whether your frequency of squeaky bedsprings (or Ford Focus suspension) is gratuitous or not, perhaps “relationship development” between two characters isn’t a substantial enough answer. Now authors are expected to face dissection on all angles and metaphors in their work, an ulterior motive is going to stick out a mile (what’s that in inches again?) so sex scenes for the sake of bigger sales are going to be leaking financial euphemisms all over the proof-reading sheets.

“He was sweating like a bank-robber with¬†that stocking over his head.” Yum.

Anyway, before I make a new book out of that one (ahem) I’m a bedroom-door-closed writer when it comes to writing straight romance. Stop laughing, I really am. Want to know why? I just don’t feel qualified. Lots of readers in the world have experienced relationships, and I haven’t yet. So besides having the sophistication of a South Park eighth-grader which only works in comedy and parody, I’m not going to convince anyone of the quality and authenticity of such scenes in my writing if I don’t convince myself first.

There’s a lot you can use to show character and relationship development, between your characters. I don’t mean that they just go for coffee and look at puppies together to show romantic progress, in between visits to bedsprings and Ford Focus. In Harlequin/Mills & Boon, it’s about conflict and resolution acting as a binder, which works if your characters are attracted to each other physically. Overcoming a lack of physical attraction, or repulsion initially, is a bit more difficult to justify as a character arc, and hints at a metaphor for prejudice. Besides, it’s been done already – in Beauty And The Beast. Self-repulsion within a character is an interesting one – since The Elephant Man (a true story), overcoming any issues, romantic or otherwise,¬†about one’s own manifestation in the world are a much more interesting angle, particularly if both partners in the story suffer. Otherwise it becomes one character’s ‘poor me’ tale of woe, with the other providing all the support and enablement.

When I wrote Death & The City I gave both protagonists issues, and strong views about relationships, and their relationship development wrote itself, having made both of them so complicated. Do they sleep together by the end? I’m not telling. You’ll have to read it to find out.

But there is help out there, for those of you who want that bedroom door unbolted, to start it¬†flapping like Jack Sparrow’s Jolly Roger. Bestseller Shoshanna Evers has edited How To Write Hot Sex, an ebook guide for authors, written by authors, including references and slang dictionaries within relevant chapters, so you don’t spend red-faced hours on Google looking for trustworthy definitions of the terminology in use. There is a lot of emphasis by these authors on story, and on character arcs, and on whether stereotypes are a good idea or not –¬†particularly when writing for target markets. I do recommend it for anyone considering taking their bedroom door off its hinges when writing. Or parking that Ford Focus¬†anywhere with good CCTV coverage.

Most of all, enjoy your story and characters for who they are, and keep that safety lid on your fountain pen. Sticky keyboards aren’t the best writing tools. Or you might have your own eye out.

ūüėČ

Lady Chatterley’s Zombie: Chapter Six

Feverish writings…

Wragby Hall, March, 1921

Dear Hilda,

Clifford speaks as if I could pick up a man to service me in the provision of an heir to Wragby as easily as I could pick up a pound of mutton from the butcher. But not just any mutton! Oh no. Best mutton, it would have to be. Not stringy, wastrel, unkempt mutton. It worries me that he may have solicited certain members of his writing coven on the matter already. One or two are most definitely friendly and accommodating towards me when they visit. I am afraid, my dearest, that I suspect their motives.

Michaelis, the playwright, suggested that we run away and marry, that I divorce Clifford in his inability to consummate our marriage. It would sound so much more romantic if I had not already consummate experience of Mick and his nether quill. Oh, he writes a clever scene, indeed. But he cannot even put on an act in the bedroom. Maybe it is a failing of authors and writers in general; that they feel their work is done the moment they pen The End. The rest is all the responsibility of the audience to worship, and to pay homage. The writer then just has to exist; to be idolised. Not to perform spontaneously. Hah! Actors do all the performing for them!

I am a little distracted by the queer creature that fills the post of gamekeeper here. At first I thought he seemed oddly elegant, and distant, for this day and age. Now I know it to be the case that he is not of this day and age at all. Not a ghost, to be precise. Some sort of living-ghost, in a partial human shell. Not nearly so partial as my husband’s, for the gamekeeper has legs, feet, is mobile, and articulate.

But I happened upon him taking a bath in his garden yesterday, only clad in his strange velvet breeches. His back was to me, and I could clearly see the bones of his ribcage, the skin parted like a rip in old white silk. The lesions did not bleed, and did not seem to bother him in the slightest. He just washed his hair like any normal man. But a man full of holes. Perhaps he sustained them in a foreign battlefield, and was kept alive by witch-doctors.

But Hilda, the sight gave me such a jolt as I have not experienced in a long time. The bare back of a man, standing unsupported and unaware of a casual observer; the vulnerability of being outdoors, in such a state of undress and in a private moment of function. That his body was incomplete did not deter my thoughts away from that white skin, the shape of the man’s hips visible above the loosened belt, the water as it trickled down his spine… Only a blink of a scene did I witness before retreating, Hilda, but it is burned into my memory forever.

I cannot sleep or eat for thinking about it.

Then obliged to speak to him, there was no sign he was wise of my intrusion. And yet his eyes are so knowing! So distant, but somehow speaking volumes that cannot be filled with words. I found myself almost wordless in turn in his presence, barely able to pass on my message and make a cordial small discourse.

I wonder perhaps now, looking in the mirror, without eating, how long it will take the holes to appear in my own body. I can barely support one side of my husband as he transfers from bed to chair to seat at the washstand. But he will never yet take a nurse. He rejects all that holds indication of hospital surroundings.

‘No longer an invalid!’ he shouts. ‘Just a man with a strong wife at his side.’

I wonder how long his strong wife can last, with no support of her own.

Much love,

Connie

Inspired by D.H. Lawrence