How to make the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists: Jasmine Walt (one to watch)

Interview with Jasmine Walt by the Self-Publishing Roundtable

If you can spare just one hour out of your life to watch one video that could influence whether or not you ‘make it’ as an author (in the really, really BIG sense), watch this one.

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Jasmine Walt has made both the NYT and USA Today top 20 (including top 10) bestseller lists twice in the last month – firstly with her curated/co-authored box-set ebook Magic & Mayhem, and this week with the first in her new paranormal series, Shadow Born, co-authored with fellow HarperCollins ‘Authonomy’ site alumni Rebecca Hamilton.

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As Jasmine explains here, it’s not simply a case of luck. It’s a lot of marketing via social media and mailing lists, a huge advertising budget (hers doubled in the three month pre-order phase for the box-set ebook release of Magic & Mayhem, in order to have the desired impact) and endless navigating of the restrictions and regulations by the ebook publishing platforms, and criteria of the bestseller lists themselves, when pushing for this kind of exposure.

Because you need to watch the interview to get to the real nuts and bolts of how it was done, I’m not going to discuss the interview content further or give you my opinions, other than tell you, this is tried and tested, it happened, and it worked. If you have the time and financial resources to try it for yourself, and achieve the same initial sales figures in the process, there’s no reason why this business model shouldn’t work for you too.

One prerequisite: You do need to have written the book! And as Jasmine says “It does seem to work best with new releases” – so think carefully before republishing something that’s been lurking on Amazon already for the last five years. Look at the current market interests, and get those brain cells in gear – you’ll need every last one of them.

You can find Jasmine Walt on Twitter as @jasmine_writes

🙂 xx

She said it was only a quickie. The next day, some more dialogue took place…

One of my most successful author clients is currently making the switch from memoir-writing to fiction, and having had a look at it while formatting a proofreading copy for her, I noted that her style hadn’t significantly changed from ‘true-life journaling’ to ‘fiction/action comedy.’


In short, she hadn’t introduced enough dialogue. The only place that the characters were interacting, developing relationships, and building up their parts was still in her own head – which she was then ‘passing on’ to the reader in her own voice, almost as an afterthought.


It was written in what you’d call an ‘anecdotal’ style – lots of third-party reference to conversations, and descriptions of reports on third-party activity occurring away from the POV characters, but no actual conversations in receipt of these reports, or character-building reactions to any of these topics as they became known to the MC (main character) for the first time.


Here’s a couple of straightforward hints on writing dialogue for fiction, whether you are writing in first or third person.


Even in 1st person POV, you must write all of the dialogue. If someone in the novel is recounting a story or news to the protagonist, you must hear it with the character’s ears and let the reader know the character’s reaction to the news – otherwise it just sounds like you (the author) telling the audience what happened, with no actual action or reaction occurring for any of the characters. Whether they were present in the action – or not, and are just hearing about it from a third party. The reader is hearing about it for the first time too. Don’t just fob them off with a passing description of what they just heard.


For example, instead of saying, as you might in non-fiction/memoir:


It turned out that the truck had a flat. Someone had stolen the jack. They were stuck there for an hour.


You would write:


“What took them so long?” I asked, puzzled.
“They broke down!” my father exclaimed. “A flat.”
“But that takes no time at all.”
“The jack was gone. She thinks it was stolen.”


…And you would continue to show the whole conversation. Not just an introductory exchange, or then switch back to you telling the story. Let the characters unfold the story.


The first segment has no character development or character voice – it’s just your voice, the author, telling the reader instead of showing the reader. If you were writing in the third person (he/she) it would be a little more acceptable, but only if used sparingly. Never for first person. You need first person ‘ears and voice.’


It’s fine for non-fiction/memoir, when the reader is getting to know you, the author. But not for fiction – fiction demands that the author be invisible and that the characters do all the talking, even if the action being discussed did not happen to the POV character.


No matter how the news of the action reaches the POV character – telephone conversation, chance encounter, radio report – you MUST transcribe that report/exchange as dialogue. First person is no excuse – I wrote the whole of Death & the City from one POV and there was a ton of dialogue and action, including where Lara hears of action occurring away from her – I still wrote it as dialogue in scenes where she hears it as news for the first time (unless she was summarising a few incidences of a crap night at work, while on her own ruminating over her own mental health).


Whenever there is more than one person in the scene, THE DIALOGUE MUST BE WRITTEN. It doesn’t have to include every word spoken to a passing waiter, or regarding a ticket purchase for the bus. But all dialogue between recurring/important characters who are relevant to the events of the plot and outcome of the story must be shown.


With multiple POVs, including all of the dialogue is the best way for the reader to identify individual personalities as well. Otherwise, your own author voice is the predominant one, and the point of having first person/third person multiple POV is lost.


Remember it’s all about emotions and responses for the reader, especially in first person POV. Not the author telling the reader a story, sitting by an outdoor workshop campfire. It’s a play, being acted out in front of the reader. The reader is reading ‘I’ and ‘me’ in their own head – they want to know what that ‘I’ and ‘me’ is hearing, seeing, saying, tasting, smelling and feeling when they learn something for the FIRST time.


Not what the protagonist is picking over later – that’s not a story as it happens, it’s an anecdote (as in memoir writing) – of no emotional consequence to anyone.


Imagine you are writing a feature movie script. You wouldn’t write Scene One: X and Y sit in the restaurant booth and discuss their relationship. Scene Two: X and Y repaint the nursery together and discuss baby names. Scene Three… unless your movie is intended to be completely ad-libbed. You don’t ask your readers to ad-lib your novel. Even in the most artsy-fartsy literary fiction, it’s tedious when that happens (trust me, been there, read it, tried writing it, bored myself to sleep).


If your favourite author never writes the dialogue, try reading a few books by different authors. (And stop trying to emulate your favourite authors. They occasionally get things wrong as well).


You can see some further examples in an earlier post I wrote on Romance fiction writing.


Re-imaginings: Revisiting your earlier stories through new eyes

Twilight+Tenth+Anniversary-Life+and+Death+Dual+Edition

Stephanie Meyer revisits Twilight with a gender-bend portrayal in the Tenth Anniversary dual edition.

I love how mainstream authors now acknowledge the worldwide audience for fan-fiction, parody and tribute stories by taking the time to re-invent and re-imagine their old books.

EL James recently did it with Grey, but she now looks set to be upstaged by Stephanie Meyer. Rather than simply switch POV in her new edition, Meyer has changed the sexes of her characters, in what is known as a ‘gender-bend’ version. A popular method with writers of manga and anime fan-fiction, it looks like her new version of Twilight (called ‘Life and Death’, released in this dual edition above) will take her fandom by storm.

I’m not a Twilight fan, but as a fan of creative mash-up, re-cut and re-edit culture, I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Rather than bore you all with what would otherwise be viewed as yet another critique-based post drifting around cyberspace by a grumpy indie on the ‘talents’ of such authors and whether or not they need the money, I’ll just do my usual and see what happens when I try it out on my Zombie Adventure pet projects. Urgh. I think this might be unwise to read alone… 😀

***

DO ZOMBIES DREAM OF UNDEAD SHEEP?

(the gender-bend version of THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM)

CHAPTER ONE:

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a young man. That’s a relief. A man with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m shaving around my sideburns – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my teeth at the godforsaken hour of ten a.m. How dare he go for his STD check today, and pack me off instead to do his media studies homework? Couldn’t he have caught chlamydia some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Kristen Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. She’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring her office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Whatsisname, my housemate, says that he’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the Body Farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

He’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. She’ll have changed so much the next time I see her…

I leave Whatsisface, my best friend, packing his rucksack for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some condoms,” I concede, and slam the front door.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my mother’s trusty Fiat 500 in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blond Calvin Klein model dude is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Miss Kristen Dry,” I announce. “I’m Basil Ganglia. Mr Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text her,” says Brain-Dead, picking up his phone. “Have a seat.”

He eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded deck shoes and YSL suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“She’s on her way down,” he says, after a moment. He reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest he hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed YSL.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see her.

The black dress. The pallor of her skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Kristen Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Mr… Ganglia,” she moans softly, extending a ring-encrusted hand.

My heart palpitates wildly, noting the ragged cuticles, and the long, blue-tinged, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” I begin. “Mr Shitface – he couldn’t make it today. Having his down-pipes cleaned out and serviced…”

I grasp her outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. Her jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and her upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?

“Were you offered a refreshment, Mr Ganglia?” She gestures towards the famous vending machines.

I shake my head, and she turns to glare at the receptionist. He cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear her emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in his drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.

“Very wellll…”

My knees feel weak as she holds the door open, and beckons, her head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Mr… Ganglia.”

How she rolls my name around her tongue makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of her doe-like footfalls in my wake.

“Straight ahead, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is like tissue paper being unwrapped from around a stone urn. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.

Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my sweet Miss Wheelie-Bin…

Her arm extends past me to swipe her security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her poppy-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Mr Ganglia,” she practically whispers in my ear.

The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blond is banging his head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Kevin,” Miss Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in her voice? “Take Mr Ganglia’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Mr Ganglia.”

Kevin turns to look at us, his flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. He holds out his arms to accept the navy-blue YSL and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol soup can t-shirt. Mr Brain-Dead Mk II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where his head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

Kristen Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with her rolling, loping stride, like that of a wounded deer.

“My office…” she hisses, swiping her security pass a second time, and ushering me through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Mr Ganglia?” she murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom tattoo bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit female mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” she confides in a husky voice.

“It must be expensive.”

“Very,” she agrees. “Sit.”

I plant my nervous glutes onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in her office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

Kristen Dry watches me, calculatingly. She circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.

“Would you like something to drink, Basil Ganglia?” She moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of my full name on her lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Miss Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” Her hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”

“Yes please – the last one…”

I watch as her elegant fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I wonder what sort of businesses she supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.

She brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way she arranges herself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.

Oh no. She’s so married… the way she’s fidgeting her earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking her knee with the other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of married…

I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.

“It’s very hot,” she says, in a warning tone. It startles me.

“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?

“The soup, Basil.” Her mouth twitches in the corner, and her black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if she can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at her curt nod. Definitely married. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” she assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up her argument. But still…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.

“I am not saying anything, Mr Ganglia,” she muses, her eyes still faintly entertained, her head still quirked. “But you are, it seems. Is this some sort of empathy test?”

I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.

“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that her eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Miss Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

I look up at her, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. She is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of her eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of her lips, and the rumpled raven mane of hair, still intact. Her square shoulders and tiny waist in that black power-dress make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, dude? She’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of her within minutes, same as all the others…

I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and she has a cool answer for every single one.

“Are these questions designed to determine whether I am a businesswoman… or a zombie, Mr Ganglia?” she asks in return.

My blood runs hot and cold both at once. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.

“…Finally, Miss Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

She indicates the décor of the office.

“Black,” she confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

Her face darkens. She looks away.

“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

She puts her finger to her lips.

“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

She’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another married psycho cougar. I return to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR assistant soon.”

Outside the window behind her, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, she produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Miss Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with her. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” she asks, rising out of her seat. For the first time I notice how tall and shapely she is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant!

I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.

“I will have to show you out,” she reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is driving me crazy. And her hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blond Mk II.

“Thank you for your time, Miss Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blond the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” she agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Mr Ganglia.”

I run to the Fiat in my shiny deck shoes, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside her office, on the far side of the building.

Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare she hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare she make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…

As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is her pale and amused, sardonic and angelically attractive face.

Deckard meets Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’

See the original chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Available on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Chapter Three: Grey Matter – The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view, continued…

CHAPTER THREE

The intensity in the atmosphere is excruciating. Me, Crispin Dry (vending machine CEO of Dry Goods Inc., nouveau morte and bon viveur) in my element as host to a tasty morsel, exploiting all that the vast kitchenette of my Grade II-listed mansion has to offer. Chopping, dicing, blending, and mixing up the previously-mentioned cocktail, which is tailored especially for my salivating guest.

Her: Sarah Bellum – mild-mannered pizza delivery girl by night, ambitious Forensic Anthropology student by day, and incurable romantic. Apart from the very much alive Ace Bumgang, who she likes to watch from a distance through the chicken-wire fencing of Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard – especially when he’s outside his site office with his shirt off – bastard – the only male bodies she ever sees are in various stages of decay, on the Body Farm.

Not for much longer, baby. Have patience. Braaaiiins…

I’m lucky if I get five reports a week of her routine. So intriguingly little to go on! Her best friend and housemate is quite demanding, in contrast – with her electronically-tagged boyfriend, with whom Sarah also seems to be smitten.

More competition. I suppress a snarl, as my competitive libido broils, sending twitches to my flaccid appendix. What does she see in them?

And there is her dearest one at the Body Farm, Mr. Wheelie-Bin Under The Silver Birch Tree, a domestic violence victim. His hair, hanging off his scalp, like a bad ginger toupée… Another corpse to compete with. And he comes with a sympathy angle too. I thrust the five-star restaurant quality Sheffield steel cleaver back into its oak knife-block, picturing his festering innards in receipt of the same. Well, that won’t last – I will make sure of it…

I regain my composure as I slide the completed tray along the counter. A work of art.

“No peeping,” I murmur, and she nods, confirming that her eyes are still obediently closed. Good girl. “Perhaps we should retire to the other room, where you will be more comfortable. Take my arm.”

“Where are we going?” she asks, sliding off the seat at the counter.

She had been enjoying the food game. The noises indicated that her stomach was still hinting it had room for more. She reaches out for the cold cloth of my sleeve, and the even colder press of my flesh underneath tucks her arm intimately into my side, to guide her along.

Even closer to her braaaiiins…

“Just across the hall,” I confide. “There is a very nice late evening lounge.”

“You have a lounge for different times of day?” she asks, making careful effort to keep pace with my stride. I slow down even further, to draw out the enjoyment. She bumps against me with every roll of my limp, like butter to my biscuit. If I had a biscuit, that is.

My one responsive gonad agrees.

“I have a room for every time of day, Miss Bellummm,” I assure her, heavy with implied meaning. “Turn around,” I whisper against her ear, my other hand on her shoulder, pivoting her to face me. I test the sleeve of her Pizza Heaven work fleece. What other delights could be beneath? “Would you like to take this off?”

“Er, well, actually…” she coughs, trying to sound nonchalant. “I kind of had a nap before work tonight, so this is all I have on. Er. Underneath. Just me.”

Braaaiiins!

“Intriguing,” I merely say, approval in my tone. She gulps.

I move forward just enough to help her take a backward step into the soft give of a cushioned seat at the back of her legs.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I say, and she drops thankfully onto the velvet cushions. “I will return with the drinks. And still no peeping.”

“I promise,” she nods.

“I think I will take out a little insurance on your promise,” I remark, and I undo the knot at my collar with swish of silk. “I will use my tie to blindfold you. Do you mind?”

“Is it another game?” she asks, accepting the strip of material as I place it gently across her eyes.

So willing!

“Another sensory game,” I agree. “Not taste, this time. I think your tastes are well-established.”

“Good,” she says, relaxing a little. “Because blindfolds and food combined could create a potential choking hazard.”

Trusting her to wait with patience for me, I cross the marble hall floor, back to my vast food-court of a kitchen. She won’t so much as smell anything disturbing in that room. Not even a joss stick, or deodoriser designed to mask the scent of a personal hygiene problem, or anti-social habit. Braaaiiins… Nor sound. While I prepare, I strain to hear anything other than her trepidatious breathing, the well-being of my morsel – I mean, guest – of paramount importance. I announce my return with the clinking of glassware on the tray in my hands, and the shambling shuffle of my footsteps approaching her again.

Blindfolded, she leans into the embrace of the couch, trying to appear relaxed. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact that the back of the couch is a lot further away than she thought, so she falls through the loosely-heaped pillows in slow-motion, until nearly prone.

Mmmm – like on a slab, ready for dissection.

“I see you are getting comfortable, Sarah Bellummm.”

I tease her with the sound of her own name. I know that all she gets called at work is ‘Cheese-Bag’ or at University, ‘Bell-End’.

The ink printed on her birth certificate has never sounded so sexy.

The couch dips beside her, as I sit down casually. Her abdomen rises and falls feverishly in response, like an onset of dormant malaria.

“We are going to play a game of touch,” I say.

“Soccer?” she asks, puzzled. “Blindfolded?”

“No, the sensation of touch.” I attempt to contain my excitement. Must not lose control. “With your permission I will draw some different objects across the surface of your skin, and you will guess what they are.”

“Oh, like Draw My Thing?” she concludes. I grit my teeth as jealousy wanders pervasively through my remaining organs, flinging the confetti of minor insecurities in its path, in a cavalier fashion. One of her favourite pursuits on the internet in the evenings, while not doing homework assignments, is to try and get Ace Bumgang to Draw his Thing and email it to her. And I bet his never plays dead on him. Lucky bastard. “Do I get three clues as to what you’re drawing?”

“If you relax, we shall start,” I say at last, swallowing down my rage. “And the game will explain itself as we go along.”

“Sure,” she shrugs, and rolls up her sleeve. “Nothing on the face. Or below the wrist, in case it doesn’t wash off. People don’t appreciate seeing knobs drawn on your hand when you’re delivering their pizza…”

She breaks off with a gasp, feeling something icy cold slide up the sensitive skin of her inner arm.

“What do you think this is?” I ask, as the tingling cold sensation slides slowly all the way down again, and back up, under my deft manoeuvres.

“Er…” The cold seems to have alerted parts of her that I didn’t even know were peckish. She could use another bucket of chicken wings, never mind that cocktail. Perhaps she’s hungry for something else… I try an adjustment of my groinal regions. Damn it. Still nothing! “Um, can I ask for a clue?”

“If you ask a question, it must be in the form of a question with a Yes/No answer,” I reply.

The icy cold sliding, torturously, all the way back down from her shoulder to her wrist. So different from playing online – she understands now…

“Okay,” she says at last. Her mouth is dry – it must be almost like sandpaper by now. Is that a twitch from below? My hope of satisfaction flares, before she voices her query for a hint. “Is it to scale?”

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

The original Zombie Adventures. Now on sale for the summer – 0.99c or equivalent from the Amazon Kindle ebookstore worldwide. (Also available on other reading devices)

Summer sale price on Kindle – the full-length Zombie Adventures

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

6th July – After today’s latest updates go live on Amazon, you will be able to download The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum (standalone full-length parody novel, 180,000 words approx) for 0.99c (or equivalent) from Kindle worldwide

After over 100 downloads through KDP Select over the weekend (Lucky you if you managed to grab a copy!), I’ve now reduced the price for a summer sale on The Zombie Adventures, if any of you were still wondering what all that ‘Grey Matter’ (to be continued) stuff was based on 🙂 Now includes the two bonus chapters “from Crispin Dry’s point of view” 😉

(Find your regional Amazon product page listed below).

Thanks for all your follows and likes, hope you enjoy the read! xx

UPDATE: 5th July – still showing up as Free on Amazon worldwide, last chance to download for free today! Get in there! 😀

USA – http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Adventures-Sarah-Bellum-ebook/dp/B00AIF3PKY/

UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zombie-Adventures-Sarah-Bellum-ebook/dp/B00AIF3PKY/

Canada – http://www.amazon.ca/Zombie-Adventures-Sarah-Bellum-ebook/dp/B00AIF3PKY/

Australia – http://www.amazon.com.au/Zombie-Adventures-Sarah-Bellum-ebook/dp/B00AIF3PKY/

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Chapter Two – Grey Matter: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view – the CtrlVquel

CHAPTER TWO

I hear the Pizza Heaven scooter protesting as it approaches up the mile-long driveway to my enormous stately home, and my equally huge anticipation is turgid, almost vibrating. I’ve never called out for pizza before. Chinese, Korean, sushi, fish-and-chips, shish kebab – many times. The little two-stroke engine is making those annoying noises, only slightly more annoying than the noises that Mrs Fritatta makes when I ask her to change the sheets for me – on the occasions that I’ve had a few too many braaaiiins, or a Jägerbomb cocktail more than three inches deep.

Good Lord, the suspense is killing me… Fuck. I can already smell her braaaiins.

My black stretch Cadillac limo is parked at the foot of the steps, the engine and exhaust still ticking quietly as it cools, as I have only recently arrived home. She will have to pull in behind. My eardrums pucker tightly, straining to hear every detail.

Footfalls scale the enormous marble steps. I wonder what shoes she is sporting now. Boooots?

In spite of the clear view of the morsel on my stoop from the security camera, my hitherto apathetic prostate leaps to attention at the press of the buzzer. Thank God, the damnest thing – it still has life in it! Ignoring the intercom, I loosen the resulting wedgie and attempt a nonchalant saunter across the grand entrance hall, hoping to build up my visitor’s own sense of anticipation.

She evidently gets a shock when the door is opened silently between us. She looks as though the world has just dropped out of her bottom. Or mine, for that matter.

Standing in front of her, my matt-black tie undone and just-dead hair hypnotically dishevelled, is me, Crispin Dry – vending machine magnate, entrepreneur, and the sexiest corpse she’s recently seen – at least, since 4.23p.m. last Thursday, in a wheelie bin under the silver birch tree at the Body Farm, or so the reports tell me…

What does she see in him? A mere Forensic Anthropology donor subject? Bastard…

“Mr. Dry!” she squeaks, terrified – and immediately thrusts the pizza box under my nose. It does not avert the even more delightful smell of nervous pizza-delivery girl.

Mmmm. Yum.

“Miss… Belllummm…” I slur, and feign innocence. “What a pleasant surprise. Do come inside. The kitchen is just this way.”

I turn in the doorway and shamble into the opulent entrance hall, beckoning for her to follow. Come hither, baby.

She has no choice. Sarah Bellum pulls the gigantic door closed behind her. I wonder if she now knows how Gretel felt, upon entering the gingerbread house…

My kitchen is vast – like a bowling alley. When I open the great refrigerator, and start selecting my condiments, I know she half expects to see the bottles deposited mechanically onto the shelf, like a set of ten-pins.

My spine tingles, sensing her tentative approach. Fuck. I never felt this alive in the presence of a woman – even when I was alive…

“I’ll just leave it right here, shall I?” she suggests, sliding the box onto the glassy-smooth granite counter-top. I picture her sliding across it herself, in turn.

I know what I’d rather eat.

Braaaiiins…

“Join me, Sarah Bellummm,” I say, surprising her. “I believe you might be famished, after your long day…”

She looks doubtful, and a flicker of jealousy flares unbidden, in my left gonad, while its master remains cold and unaffected. Bugger. It had better not fall off.

Dinner with me will scupper her usual Friday plans, of waiting outside Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard with a Chinese Meat Feast. Ace Bumgang always pretends to be surprised, which actively encourages her for some reason, and sometimes he even takes it with him. He’s usually in a big hurry to meet up with his friends at the boys’ club, Gentlemen Prefer Poledancers – which I am privy to, as I own the place. It means he’s telling her in his own special way that he’s not settled for anyone important yet… Why is he stringing her along? Isn’t it perfectly clear they’re not suited?

“Well – I think the last thing I ate, was a sip of chicken soup, from the vending machine at your office earlier…” she admits, timidly.

“Toooo long,” I agree, and give her a devastatingly wonky nod. “Take a seat. And close your eyes. I have a surprise for you.”

A big surprise, baby. I consult my downstairs menswear department hopefully, but still an armed response from there is pending. My other appetite, however, is already open for business, at full throttle. Braaaiins.

She slips off her George and Mildred and tries to make the most of her helmet-hair as she arranges herself on the seat at the counter. I dart her a meaningful look, still foraging in the refrigerator, and obligingly she closes her eyes.

I wonder if she expects a big tip.

You won’t be disappointed, my love. Haha. My inside leg measurement remains obstinately unchanged. Bugger.

“Is that your Cadillac outside?” she asks, passing the time with small-talk, while I’m putting dishes on the counter in front of her.

“It is just a courtesy car,” I say, dismissively. “The Bugatti and the Maserati are away for servicing, and I only use the Diablo on holiday weekends, when I go hot-air ballooning.”

“Hmm,” she murmurs, disbelieving. Probably picturing more guys like Ace Bumgang, who have a couple of sports cars, a racing bike and a speedboat scattered around, as petrolhead mechanics always do… but she has no idea of what lights a businessman’s candle in the motoring department. A fleet of 1.2L commuter compacts, if anything…

“I hope you are hungry,” I say, rather darkly, interrupting any of her fantasies intruding on us about Ace Bumgang. “I have an idea of your tastes already. Open wide.”

She promptly rearranges herself on the seat.

Braaaiiins! Oh dear Lord – I wish I had something to put there! Perhaps I will have to get a clockwork one…

“I meant your mouth,” I croon, hiding my regret, and she slams her knees together again, like a barn door in a tornado.

Nervously, she lets her mouth fall open, in a textbook Q.

“Put your tongue in, pleeeaase,” I moan softly.

Her tongue is like an inviting ramp. Lead me to your braaaiiins… I can almost peer right into her skull. It’s so beautiful. A man could get lost in that empty space for days…

The Q becomes an O, as requested.

Her stomach rumbles immediately in response as I feed her the first tidbit, and she chews enthusiastically.

She’s eating!

“You approve?” I ask, hopeful.

“Yum,” she nods. “Is there more?”

I will not admit to her that it is my own recipe. Not yet. I have been trying to perfect these Korean Fried Fingers all week.

“Nine more, I believe,” I confirm, as she runs her tongue around her teeth to dislodge any gristly bits. She coughs on something dry, and removes a crispy fingernail from her cheek, which I quickly brush aside. “I think we have found your acquired taste exactly.”

“Do you have anything to drink?” she asks. Her eyes are still rapturously closed, all thoughts of the tanned, toned and droolworthy Ace Bumgang evidently forgotten.

So keen! Her thirst makes my own liver turgid with agreement.

“Be patient, Sarah Bellummm,” I whisper. “I am sure I have a cocktail worthy of you.”

I shock her with my intimate tone.

“It’s as if you were expecting me,” she gasps, blushing.

“But of course,” I say, so close to her ear, she nearly swoons off the chair. I inhale surreptitiously, savouring her heady, pulsating aroma. My stomach acids pump, in a most gratifying response. “I even made sure to re-stock the vending machine in my bedroom, right before you arrived…”

Nothing between us but braaaaiiins, baby…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

READ CHAPTER ONE HERE: GREY MATTER 1

BUY THE ORIGINAL ZOMBIE ADVENTURES HERE: THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM

Grey Matter: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view – the CtrlVquel

CHAPTER ONE.

As I approach the reception area of my office on the beach, through the tinted glass door I espy an attractive, brunette newcomer get up to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest handed to her by Heather, my secretary, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. She pulls it on grudgingly over a badly-fitting Chanel. It looks borrowed.

She appears awkward, like a gazelle through a huntsman’s gun-sights. It sends an arrow of excitement to my rotting guts. Braaaiiiins…

The adjoining door creaks, as I push it open, and she turns, still adjusting her Velcro.

She knows, the moment she sees me.

The black suit. The pallor of my skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. The limp… Her knees are trembling. She will be putty in my undead hands…

Braaaiiins.

“Crispin Dry?” Her voice catches in her throat.

“Miss… Bellllummmm,” I moan softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand.

I see her deliciously alive heart palpitating wildly, noting my ragged cuticles and my long, gray, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” she begins. “Miss Shitface – she couldn’t make it today. Got the uterine bailiffs in…”

She grasps my outstretched hand in greeting. So warm… and yet so apprehensive… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and she snatches her hand away quickly, as if scared of her own delightful response. I know my jet-black eyes are glittering, hungry and cold, and my upper lip curls in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Braaaiiins, baby.

“Were you offered a refreshment, Miss Bellumm?” Remembering myself, I gesture towards the famous vending machines.

She shakes her head, and I turn to glare at the receptionist. Heather cowers visibly, and I emit a long, low, guttural sound. Braaaiiin-dead bitch. The receptionist scrabbles in her drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” Miss Bellum croaks. Her throat does sound terribly dry. Such a wicked little liar. Mmmm – living braaaiiins…

“Very wellll…”

Her knees appear even weaker as I hold the door open, and I beckon, my head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Miss… Bellummm.”

How she staggers through the doorway makes my own gait feel more impeded than ever. I stumble hazily behind her through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and only the shuffling, shambling sound of my footfalls in her gazelle-like wake.

Braaaiiins. Must haaave…

“Straight ahead, Miss Bellumm.”

Her breathing is like snowflakes falling onto a headstone. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my disintegrating spine. It resonates with my deepest, darkest, hungriest thoughts.

Things I had not entertained notions of since breakfast…

Sexy braaaiiiins. Gimme…

My arm extends past her to swipe my security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her Pears soapy scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Miss Bellumm,” I whisper in her ear.

The door clicks open, and we step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and she gasps. Another personal assistant is banging her head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Debbie,” I say, a tinge of disappointment, or possibly disapproval in my voice. “Take Miss Bellum’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Miss Bellumm.”

Debbie turns to look at us, her flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. She holds out her arms to accept the navy-blue Chanel and hi-visibility vest as Miss Bellum shrugs them off, vulnerable and exposed now in an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe t-shirt. Boooobs…

Debbie takes her jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where her head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

I take Miss Bellum’s arm to steer her past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from her. She must be so aware of my long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the soft warm flesh of her tricep… she trips fawn-like along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with my rolling, loping gait, like that of a wounded panther.

I want to lick her ear. Braaaiins.

“My office…” I hiss, swiping my security pass a second time, and ushering her through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Miss Bellummm?” I murmur, seeing her openly gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” She sounds really very intimidated. She will find much more to be intimidated about, regarding my appetite. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” I confide in a husky voice. “Sit.”

She plants her quivering haunches onto the soft leather, and starts to take out her notes. The only sound otherwise in my office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

I watch her, calculatingly. I circle around the sofa opposite, not yet seated, assessing her professionalism in getting ready – for me.

Braaaiiins, baby…

“Would you like something to drink, Sarah Bellumm?” I move languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of her full name on my lips causes her own to part involuntarily, like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” she admits. “Yes, please, Mr. Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” My hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Braaaaiiiiiins?

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear her say, and her stomach grumbles in agreement. I recall the report of the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza she ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?” I prompt. She could use fattening up…

“Yes please – the last one…”

She watches as my clever fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I can sense her wondering what sort of businesses I supply this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. They are at the very bottom of our budget range.

I bring it to the low onyx table in front of her, and present it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way I arrange myself laconically on the sofa opposite, seems to disappoint her slightly.

She looks disillusioned, while I fidget my earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroke my knee with my other hand – I thought women were less threatened if a man threw at least fifty shapes of gay… Perhaps I should tone it down a little. But not too much machismo. Just enough heteropolitan transmosexual metrochismo to tease her braaaiiins a little bit.

She struggles to focus on the list of questions written out for her. She’s starting to worry that maybe she won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them. Haha. Braaaiiins, baby.

And when is she going to start eating? I’m literally dying to see her masticate. My bile gland twitches and swells in agreement.

“It’s very hot,” I say, in a warning tone. It startles her.

“Hmmm?” Is she always this jumpy? Perhaps I’ll have to tie her down and use the braaaiiin hooks…

“The soup, Miss Bellummm.” My mouth twitches in the corner, and my black eyes crinkle slightly. I can see into the dark shadows at the back of your own mind, baby. Braaaiiins.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” she says, brightly, apparently batting away the shadows in her head at my curt nod. She definitely assumes I’m gay – I must work on that. She looks down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” I’m disappointed in turn. This is not the sort of question I hoped for. My answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” She scribbles this down, in what must be her best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” I assure her. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up my argument. But still… she doubts me! The complexity of her mind must be delicious… I cannot wait to savour it. I almost croon out loud. Braaaiiins…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” she asks, not a dampener to my appetite in the slightest.

“I am not saying anything, Miss Bellumm,” I muse, my eyes still faintly entertained, my head still quirked. “But you are, it seems.”

She stares down at the page, and blushes at having spoken out of turn. That last question was not on the list, her own impetuous mouth running away with her. Not one of the listed questions at all. Let me punish you, Miss Bellummm!

“Moving on,” she says swiftly, aware that my eyes are mentally dismembering her. She looks at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Mr. Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

She glances up at me, as if uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. I am still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of my eyes resting on her steadily. Her own eyes follow the line of my jaw, and the rumpled Bohemian mane of hair, still intact. My square shoulders in this black suit make her feel weak. What’s wrong with you, girl? It’s just a pretty corpse! You’d be bored sick of me within minutes, same as all the others…

She presses on with the duller questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and I have a cool answer for every single one. I’m relieved when she turns the page, and I find the closing questions are brief.

Finish me, baby…

“…Finally, Mr. Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

I indicate the décor of the office.

“Black,” I confirm. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

Braaaiiins. My face darkens. I look away.

“White?” Miss Bellum suggests, obviously thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

I put my finger to my lips, caressing them to tease her further.

“Best left unspoken.” My black eyes burrow into her head, and my remaining adrenal gland surges tumescently, with unexpected concurrence. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

There it is, baby. She looks distinctly uncomfortable now, and returns to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR girl soon.”

On cue, outside the window behind me, I hear something crash wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Fuck – there goes another jealous secretary. No braaaiiins in any of them. Without looking around, I produce a remote control, and close the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Mr. Dry.” She’s on her feet in that instant, suddenly appearing too wary of being in an enclosed office alone with me. That’s right baby – you should start running. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of her mind, at the closing of the blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” I ask in turn, unable to resist a further moment of mental torture, rising out of my seat. It gives her time to notice how tall and manly I am… was, I correct myself angrily. Big fucking braaaiiins, baby. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant! But she loves it!

She just nods, blushing fiercely, and heads for the door. Run away, baby, as fast as you can…

“I will have to show you out,” I remind her, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany her. “It has been a pleasure, Miss Belllummm.”

Her trembling is driving me crazy. I can’t resist putting my hand on her arm again, guiding her out of the door and into the corridor. She practically scampers ahead, snatching her coat back from Debbie.

Run – run – I want to part your cranium and taste your terrified braaaiiins…

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dry,” she says, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Heather the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get a new one. Sarah Bellummm would be – most serviceable. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” I agree, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Miss Belllummm.”

She runs to the Hummer in her pointy Pigalle pumps, and locks herself in, while the gulls continue flocking to the spot on the beach outside my office, on the far side of the building.

I watch her mournfully.

Braaaiiins, baby…

I reach for my cellphone, and dial the house.

“Mrs Fritatta,” I greet the housekeeper. “You will not be required to cook tonight. I wish to order in a pizza.”

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

The full-length original The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum parody is available in print and ebook on all devices – search for it in your e-reader store 🙂

Crocodile Tears and Crying Wolf – the negative effect of repetition on your writing

Bird… bird… bird… Personally, I prefer the Skrillex/Trashmen mashup versions 🙂

There are two types of unintentional repetition in writing. I’m not talking about intentional repetition, related to storyline or humour (the only thing you need to be concerned about there, is that your plot makes sense for characters to revisit scenarios more than once, and that your hilarious repetitions in dialogue and description are in fact funny).

Unintentional repetition comes in two forms.

The first is word-blindness, where you have used a key word more than necessary in a passage, making it sound clunky to the new reader. These are usually forgivable, and easy to miss for the novice writer while rushing through a proofread:

She shut her eyes as she heard the door shut behind her. Why was he shutting her out like this? She shut the thought off immediately. She decided to go to the store instead, but then remembered at this time of night it would already be shut.

This type of repetition is usually cured by checking a thesaurus:

She closed her eyes as she heard the door slam behind her. Why was he excluding her like this? She blocked the thought immediately. She decided to go to the store instead, but then remembered at this time of night it would already be shut.

Not every word you replace has to have the exact meaning. Note that ‘slam’ is more descriptive of action and emotion, while ‘blocked’ is a different internal action, but serves the same purpose in illustrating the protagonist’s attitude. You don’t have to replace every incidence of your ubiquitous word – it’s fine to keep one in where appropriate, and you’ll find it becomes much less of a nuisance when pared down to the minimum of appearances per scene.

Another form of word-blindness is The Room Full of Pillars:

She stepped out from behind the pillar, and faced the pillar. Pressing her back to the pillar at first, eventually she stepped bravely away, passing the pillars, until eventually she reached the pillar in the middle. The pillars stretched out in all directions. She looked back longingly at the safety of her pillar.

The same scene could take place in The Forest Full of Trees or The Auditorium Full of Seats.

If you have a scene which involves more than two of anything – pillars, kittens, cars, nameless children, police officers, protesters, apples, pubs – find some way of describing the scene to your readers so that they can see what you see in your mind’s eye without feeling as though they’ve been left in a stock warehouse of your writing without an inventory.

With children, animals and crowds, it’s easy enough to give them names, or a passing description. Even a car can be described shortly, without sounding clunky or dated – ‘the red car’ or ‘the red muscle/sports/hatchback car’ is sufficient, while ‘the red Audi R10 with super-slick wheels’ will have your readers recalling how it caught fire on Top Gear several seasons ago. So unless that’s your intention, try to limit your taste in consumer product envy regarding briefly transitional objects.

People can be described in all sorts of ways. Depending on the tone and attitude of your protagonist/narrative voice, accompanied by varying levels of political correctness or offensiveness. You would be safe to describe a child in a woolly hat, or a man with a limp in order to identify them. You might cause a few bloodstreams to boil if you referred to the child’s ethnic group in slang terms, or the man’s conveniently obvious mental condition in the same way, when his only purpose in your plot is to fill a gap in the crowd. But with satirical novels, as with the author Tom Sharpe, even that borders on acceptable in context.

Mix it up a bit, though. You don’t want your crowd scene to be depicted as a parade of differently-coloured woolly hats – you’ll run out of colours, for one thing…

The child in the red hat was being chased by a dozen children, the ringleader in the pink hat, closely followed by one in a yellow hat, one in an orange hat, and then three of them were wearing very similar blue hats, but Officer Rainbow could see that one was turquoise, one was Royal blue and one was aquamarine, a child in a magenta hat was egging them all on, especially the one in the peach hat, and the only one who appeared to be in any doubt was the one in the chartreuse hat, which the Officer would later describe in his report as ‘Forest green, possibly Kelly, but not quite Khaki’.

…In the same way, a crowd scene can be crippled (pun) by over-enthusiastic issuing by the author of quirks, disabilities and passing viral infections. Do not hand out warts, boils, speech impediments, age-related conditions and man-flu in a cavalier fashion. For a start, why would any of these people be in a crowd scene, unless they’re keen to catch something new???

The man with the running nose and thinning hair picked up the pool cue and launched himself at the one-legged lady. The boy with the rampant teenage acne snatched the dartboard from the wall, and knocked the girl with the lisp unconscious. Three seconds later, two children in a red woolly hat and an aubergine woolly hat respectively, one of them eating a Dairylea Dunker and the other one with Asperger’s Syndrome, picked up the snooker table, threw it across the bar at the barman who couldn’t speak English (not the one with the Rastafarian toupee, weeping facial bedsores and an aunt with morbid consumption), and all hell broke loose.

N.B. The above scene might work if it takes place in a doctor’s surgery or hospital waiting-room.

Back to the embarrassment of scenery/furniture that has bred beyond all control in your story. Of course, you can’t put woolly hats on pillars, name them Fred, give them chicken pox or an allergy to small coinage. Pillars, coffee mugs, front doors etc. can be any colours you want, made of a wide variety of materials (although again, once you’ve gone from sandstone to bronze, you’ve still got to fit in a story around your vast knowledge of chemical compounds and load-bearing solid matter). The best way to get around a multitude of identical inanimate objects is to think outside the box – what their properties are, their purpose in the story, and their effect on the characters:

She stepped out from behind her shield of stone, and faced her target. Pressing her back to the pillar at first, eventually she stepped bravely away, passing through the tall shadows, until eventually she reached the featureless tower in the middle. The other pillars stretched out in all directions. She looked back longingly at the safety of her hiding place.

‘Other pillars’ is a manageable reference to the first pillar – but you can only get away with using it once.

This leads us neatly into the other form of repetition – the repetition of Actions, that our characters seem to think is what makes them three-dimensional, living, breathing, frequently sighing, eye-rolling and bottom-lip-chewing flesh and blood beings.

From The Room Full of Pillars we dive straight into The Lovers’ Arms:

Her eyes filled with tears as she leaned forward and took his left hand in her right hand. In her right hand she had hold of the horse Shalimar’s reins, and in his left hand was his briefcase and her Harrod’s hat-box. A tear rolled down and landed on their joined hands. “Oh my dearest,” he sighed, leaning forward and cupping her chin with his hand. “You have no need to cry.” Tears sprang to attention in her eyes as he leaned forward towards her, while his eyes shone with tears. He wiped them away with both hands, sighing in frustration. “But you are the only one!” she sighed, leaning forward and seizing his lapels passionately in her fists, weeping profusely. Their fingers still entwined, tears pricking at her eyelashes, he leaned forward, simultaneously brushed back her hair, gave the horse Shalimar a sugar-lump and a friendly pat on the hindquarters, clasped her face between his two hands and leaned forward to kiss her. “My darling,” he sighed, and his tears torrented forth while she bravely held hers in check – he mustn’t see her as weak! “I believe you!”

Unless your characters are the ten-armed aliens of Betelgeuse, remember that your characters are limited to one pair of hands each. Try to remember where they are, and when they were put there.

Also, try to recall the correct sequence in which crying happens.

How often are your character’s sighing, and is it related in any way to a medical condition?

And also – there are only a fixed number of times that a person can lean forward before they have prostrated themselves fully on the floor.

Prostrated

The same goes for characters who frequently ‘turn to look out of the window’ or ‘turn away to gaze at the distant mountains’ either mid-speech, between contemplating their own navel, or to function as a narrative pause in any other events at the time. If your character is directed to look away from the plot and out at the scenery at any point, make sure something is going on out there requiring their attention. (If it’s distant mountains, they had better be massively significant later on).

I know how it works. You are watching the scene unfold in your head, the dialogue is flowing, and you know, at key moments, that your characters will show some form of reaction, illustrating their emotions or mind-set. So you reach for your ‘realism’ toolkit of shorthand reactions. Rolling eyes. Biting lower lip. Scratching head. Wringing hands (as many as they’ve got). Scuffing toecaps. Farting nervously? No – better stick with rolling eyes again. That’s realistic enough… If your character is a rabbit with myxomatosis, go for your life with the optical twitching and chewing on one’s own body parts.

If you find you are fond of a trait you have ‘invented’ for your character, try counting the number of times you show this trait in your prose so far. Whether it’s that she chews on her hair, or he fingers his moustache. Why authors find these sadly-afflicted nervous wrecks attractive as protagonists (and antagonists) is a mystery, but a reader should not be brainwashed by the end of your book into pulling their own hair out by the roots one at a time, or letting their eyes roll around like marbles, particularly while driving. Keep your character’s nail-biting, earlobe-tugging, mouth-chomping, foot-stamping and hair-tossing to a minimum. More than once, as with anything else, and it loses its impact.

That’s the point. You want your story to have impact, and you want your characters to leave an impression.

A love scene is not defined by the number of times the characters say “I love you” – more than once each in exchange, and the power drains out of it. The same goes for sighing, storming out, slamming doors, stamping, bursting into tears, and blatant attempts at attention-seeking.

Someone who suddenly cuts out 6000 calories a day and reduces their portion sizes is on a diet (or possibly a hunger strike). Someone who has only eaten a lettuce leaf a day for the past 20 years just has a small appetite (or is a rabbit, hopefully not with myxomatosis). The difference is change.

If your characters are constantly demonstrating repetitive ways of illustrating their mood, mindset, and characterisation itself, they are static – even predictable. Nothing about them changes, moves on, develops, affects the plot, or in turn, is affected by the plot in your story. Just because your protagonist chews gum while she thinks, or flicks his Zippo on and off when trying to control his temper, doesn’t make them enthralling characters to the reader. Not after the sixth or seventh time it happens, especially.

Does your heroine cry crocodile tears every few paragraphs, and is your hero crying wolf with his adolescent tantrums? How are you going to make the reader care when something really dramatic happens – and if you’ve used up all of their ‘personality’ already, how are you even going to portray it?

How do your characters put up with one another?

The other problem for you as the writer, is that repetitions at this scale mean your book is not ready for an editor to look at, let alone an agent or publisher. It does not yet contain enough of your writing. It merely contains a bit of your writing, replicated a number of times and in various word order. If you ask an editor to fix it at this stage, the result of such major surgery will not be your writing – anything they create to replace your repetitions will be their writing (you will basically be needing a co-writer or ghost-writer to rewrite your book for you, rather than an editor to proofread, correct grammar, and spell-check). These additional, necessary ‘edits’ will be reflected in the huge unsightly gaps that subsequently appear in your bank balance.

In other words, address the problem yourself first, before reaching for your wallet and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

Realism is smart. But repetition is not.

L 🙂 xxx

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How to write romance fiction – or, “Come and Have a Go if You Think it’s Hard Enough…”

SHE TO HIM

by Robert Graves

To have it, sweetheart, is to know you have it

Rather than think you have it;

To think you have it is a wish to take it –

Though afterwards you will not have it –

And thus a fear to take it.

Yet if you know you have it, you may take it

And know that you still have it.

Robert Graves, who wrote the most terrifying Emo-Gothic love poems, somehow nailed it with this short one above. It summarises the bonding and commitment, trust and faith that true love between soul-mates brings, which so many of the human race are still pursuing.

Another couplet of Graves’ at the end of the poem The Finding of Love, “With end to grief, With joy in steadfastness” illustrates how humanity as a whole – not just readers and writers – endlessly seek the comfort and escapism of a ‘happy ever after’.

If it evades us in reality, magical words on the page, perfect words read aloud, and words of everlasting love, whether spoken or sung, are summoned to feed our empty unrequited souls. Grief is what we experience when love is unattainable or impossible, even if we’ve never experienced it first-hand. It’s one of the universal experiences that as a human we can feel or sense is an entitlement, and although some of us have similarly strong feelings about obtaining success, money, fame and other artificial achievements created by humankind, love remains the most mysterious and elusive to pin down.

All the best Hollywood blockbusters rely on it. Blockbuster novels rely on it. Whether it’s romantic love, family love, love of pets, childhood love of toys, love of friends, love of country, love of one’s own faith, love of knowledge, love of art – love is the glue that sticks eyes to the screen or page. Even when we think it’s not there, or think we’re enjoying an amazing story without all that slushy stuff, truly epic writing has a way of sneaking it past us. These writers know that the magic and mysteriousness of uncompromised ‘love’ is the true universal language of the narrative spirit.

Stories that pretend to depict emotionless lead characters often have a supporting act, somewhere (if not an outright sidekick), who is secretly, sympathetically, and irrationally in love with them, causing the audience to believe that this sociopath is not just coldly charismatic but also lovable, beneath their tough outer shell.

We all want what that secondary character wants. Through their eyes, we think we can see through the icy armour too – even as the emotionally-dysfunctional protagonist denies it in as many words. The only emotions they can express are anger and frustration, usually at the sidekick’s insistence that they really are warm and fuzzy inside like a cashmere hot water-bottle cover, instead of being a calculating mess of grudges, hourly work rates, and logic.

If you take the love-struck idiot out of the story, er, I mean, the romance angle, viz, the infatuated sidekick/concerned neighbour/timid single parent (stereotypically new to job/town), you’re left with the Grumpy Old Psycho Codger – who was usually unmasked at the end of Scooby Doo.

So at least one of your characters has to be the manifestation of the most relatable human condition we are aware of.

By that, I don’t mean we introduce them asleep, or on the lavatory.

Imagine if going to the toilet was considered to be the universal narrative – no wonder artists and poets had to invent the concept of falling in love, so much more scope for plot in the complexities of relationships than in solitary bodily functions! Even DH Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover dissected this question. What if as much discourse in life and literature was dedicated to the analysis of lavatorial visits as it is to love and sex? Would over-attentiveness to any other simple necessity of life transform it into the vast, mysterious, lucrative, umm, intellectual and artistic industry that love and relationships are today?

(Looking at any comedy written in the 20th century, many people would say that scatological humour certainly had its heyday).

So we know that love and romance appears in various forms in most of what we consume. There may be different degrees of passion and wholesomeness, but it’s there, to tease, tantalise and inspire.

Even the most introverted, inexperienced desk-pilot like me will have the occasional rose-tinted steampunk-goggles moment, unexpectedly, in real life.

Those moments have to be treasured. One day I might have the need of a rose-tinted romantic analogy for my writing, in between toilet jokes, zombie anatomy, pop-culture psychology, and basic engineering mathematics and principles…

Barbara Cartland was the British doyenne of romantic literature in the mid-1900s. She was prolific, pink, frilly, the heroine of many real-life humanitarian campaigns in her lifetime (including fair wages for midwives and nurses, strangely enough an issue highlighted again today) – and perhaps economical in her writing practice. In her 1978 art history hardcover ‘Book of Love and Lovers’ focusing on art and its romantic subjects through the centuries, you can detect the skill she had in sparse, glossy (of the time), attention-grabbing, scandal-suggestive (but not explicit) prose – brief and to the point, rather like the gossip columnists of today’s celebrity magazines:

Napoleon: “On the night of the Coronation in the Tuileries, ablaze with thousands of lights, Napoleon dined alone with Josephine. He thought her crown ‘suited her so well’ that he made her wear it during dinner. Afterwards they went to bed.”

Napoleon, continued: “Eighteen, with slanting cat-eyes, Marie-Louise was more sensual than Josephine. On her wedding night, delighted with Napoleon’s love-making, she asked him to ‘do it again’. Impatient to have a son, he carried her off to bed before she reached Paris.”

I wonder if she knew she was pre-empting her own parodies?

Matt Lucas as Barbara Cartland in Little Britain

“Chapter One… The End.” Matt Lucas dictates as Barbara in ‘Little Britain’

Today’s romance novels are aimed at a wide range of interests and age groups, but the main thing they have in common is their function as brain-candy. Feelgood hormone promoters such as serotonin and oxytocin, stress-reducers and blues-busters. Whether it’s a romantic comedy, a historical epic, a paranormal or SF romance, a coming-of-age drama or a romance/crime thriller, your target is reaching the emotional context that other plots and prose do not reach.

Romance is all about positive pattern-matching for the characters and the reader as the relationships in the storyline develop, so you may have to write in an ‘alert’ state if you are new to the genre. This means being aware of your similes and your descriptions of the protagonists’ reactions and internal responses to one another. Your own writing has to be congruent with the mood you want to set – your whole book is presenting the ‘mood’ to the reader.

Unless your mood is ‘wooden’ or ‘flat-packed furniture’ you wouldn’t set your scenes by basic stage direction:

He walked in and closed the door behind him. He went to the chair in the living room and sat in it. He turned on the TV. She came in from the kitchen and asked what he wanted for dinner. He said pizza. She went back to the kitchen and switched on the oven.

…And stuck her own head in it, most likely, at that point.

What would you do with this paragraph? Does it sound like a paragraph from a romance novel? If it was a romantic comedy, what could you make happen? Can he smell another failed baking attempt as he walks in? Has she been caught washing the dog in the kitchen sink? What the hell has happened to his favourite chair? Where’s the dialogue itself?

You don’t have to go over the top, either…

“Honey, I’m home!” he announced as he burst into the hallway, a torrent of autumnal leaves following him in off the street. He was just in time for Storage Hunters! He dashed to the living-room, scattering leaves, coat, briefcase, pants and shoes in his headlong run, and dove flat onto the sofa, grabbing the remote. He nearly careered straight over the far end – damn wax furniture-polish on the leatherette again! “Where are you? And what’s that smell?”

“Nothing sweetheart! Must be the new doggy kibble mix,” she greeted him, appearing in the doorway, drenched from head to foot, holding a sink plunger in one hand and a dog-lead in the other. To him she looked as amazing as ever, and her scent today was Eau de Petit Chien. “We’ve only just got in from our walk. Shall I start dinner?”

“Great! Can we have pizza?” Only the thought of a piping hot spicy pizza was stopping him from jumping on her right now, and subsequently missing Storage Hunters.

“Sure!” she beamed, and went to make a lot of noise in the kitchen, turning on the fan oven and rummaging in the cupboards, while she discreetly rang Domino’s and ordered a large stuffed crust Pepperoni and two rounds of garlic bread…

Well, I’m already hooked, knew I shouldn’t have started that one… anyway, you see the difference? Same scene – two different ways of writing and setting the mood. It’s the same approach when writing any genre fiction. In horror you want to instill fear, in crime thriller you want to excite, in comedy you want to raise a chuckle (or at least a wry smirk). You don’t have to go as far as my bit of parody above, though…

What you want, is to imagine or remember a romantic mood – sometimes those can be the briefest flashes of inspiration, a piece of music, a dream you once had (as I did with One Stolen Kiss), a face you once saw… and keep that mood alive as you write. Don’t let other moods spoil it. The author’s mood will dictate the style of writing, so if you need certain music, or a scented candle beside you, or a hot chocolate, indulge yourself while writing romance. (You can go to the gym later).

Treat your romance writing as you would your actual romance.

Make it ‘special writing time’ – if you aren’t convincing yourself, who are you going to convince? It doesn’t mean you have to have the Ann Summers website open in the browser, or a wealthy dating guru’s webinar on dating NLP techniques channelled into your headphones. Treat yourself well while writing, think happy thoughts, plan how you’ll spend that first 99p you earn from your book on a treat from eBay (seriously, I won designer shoes for 99p that no-one else bid on!)

Imagine how happy you’d want to feel after reading a good romance – and work with that.

Romance is one of the genres that is easy to promote and has reader peer-recommendation networks already in place – you don’t have to stress about that. Put aside any thoughts about promoting and selling at this stage. Just enjoy writing the story.

Some authors, who are married or in relationships, find that writing romance fiction for the first time can be awkward, worry about being judged when it reaches the public, or, in contrast, are keen to use it as a form of sneaky self-disclosure.

Basically, write what you’re comfortable with – but if you’re feeling the strain, or the words coming out appear to be pointing back at you in an accusatory fashion, try being someone else while you write. Invent an author name for romance fiction.

That’s what I did. I find while I’m being Lauren the romance author, I’m a completely different writer. I don’t have my usual insecurities and hang-ups, I don’t worry what my writing says about me, and I’m not thinking about cars and dieting and exercise and zombies instead. That last one, definitely the important one, in my case.

And if you’re concerned about the nitty-gritty, or the pressure to join the more explicit ranks of books out there, you can find advice on writing bedroom shenanigans here, in a post I wrote a while back before I attempted it myself. I mean writing it, of course 🙂

L xxx

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The ‘Writing Process’ blog hop

Jill Pennington, the entrepreneur true-life author of Diary of a Single Parent Abroad asked me on FB the other day if I had a blog, and if so, would I mind following up her guest post on Tottie Limejuice’s blogspot as the next author to answer the same three questions as her?

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After telling her yes, I have maybe eight blog sites scattered around, and hadn’t done this blog hop thing yet on any of them, I said sure, why not. Pretty much everyone else I know has done one already, so I’m probably the last one ever. (Hooray, I hear you all cry).

Anyway, without further adon’ts, let’s get this mess over and done with, so we can all move on with our lives and never speak of this again… 🙂

Question one: What are you working on?

I’m working on a Toshiba M400 tablet laptop upgraded to Windows 7. I bought it off ebay. Highly recommended 🙂 Oh, the real answer? :/ More Zombie of Oz books for YA, more Lauren Boutain romance for the definitely adult, some sci-fi (including designing an open-source planetary setting that anyone can write about), some more parody/steampunk, and some more introspective stuff, which may or may never see the Kindle-fuelled light of day.

Question two: Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s there, in my head. If I don’t write it down as a creative outlet, it tends to manifest itself in other ways. Life would be unbearable with all those zombies turning up in reality. Me and Junior yell ‘Money should be falling from the sky!’ at least five times a day, because our nonsense creative conversation gets echoed back to us from the TV or by something occurring in real life. So writing down the nonsense is the safest place for it to go. Still waiting for the money to fall from the sky. That’s the real joke 🙂

Question three: How does your writing process work?

I switch off my ‘external monitoring’ and transcribe what I see and hear in my head. But I don’t need soundproofing or isolation to switch off my outside awareness. I like background noise, or TV, even doing laundry at the same time. Writing is just part of my normal life, and has been since I was 7 years old. I was doing it to kill time while waiting to make friends, did that, then later to kill time while waiting to have my first relationship, and I’m still waiting, so still basically killing time. There’s nothing really technical or methodical about it. I don’t need to ‘get into’ author mode, or put on a writing hat or anything. When I was younger I would have loved to grow up and be Barbara Cartland wafting around in a pink dressing-gown writing a book every day after lunch, now I don’t see being an author as having an idealised image attached to it. I can write for fun, and still be me, especially as all I’m doing for a living now is writing, since I’ve given up freelance IT support due to sports injuries that I’m awaiting surgery and rehabilitation for, so there’s nothing to hide and nothing to prove about it either.

I find I’m a more interesting person when I’m not talking about my writing, so I’m going to end there before I bore myself to sleep 🙂

I haven’t asked anyone if they want to be tagged, because they’ve all done the godforsaken deed already, so I’ll just recommend a couple of authors I know, for their indie inspiration:

Robert Rankin – also on Facebook

Sophie Neville – also on Facebook

You should check out what they’re up to, and how they market themselves and their work. Everyone’s different, but even though these two have a genuine hook they can exploit, they’re still working tirelessly to get out there in the real world and meet the public to promote their writing, rather than just banging away on social media.

Enough already – time for bed!

🙂 xxx