The Morning After the Night Before: Some more thoughts…

•October 15, 2014 • 3 Comments

Having had an evening to think about this, and read through some other blogs on the subject, I’ve had a few further thoughts.

First of all, I strongly recommend that you read Gabrielle Faust’s blog. http://www.gabriellefaust.com/archives/7079

Then take a look at R Thomas Riley’s Post.  http://rthomasriley.blogspot.nl/2014/10/permuted-press-changes-tactics-and-says.html

Also worthwhile checking out Jack Hanson’s Facebook post.  Click Here to Read It.

And finally, for the sake of balance, read Jessica Mieg’s response to Gabrielle’s blog post on Absolute Write. Click Here to Read It.

All done? OK, then I’ll continue.

First of all, I kinda understand what Permuted are saying with regards to this (even if I disagree). POD paperbacks, even reasonably priced ones, do not tend to sell very well. Certainly when compared to the ebooks. I produce them for my own press with little to no expectation of making back the small investment on them. That, however is not the point. I produce the paperbacks because SOME readers want them. Often the readers who buy the paperbacks are those who have bought electronic copies first anyway, but want a copy for their shelves. Other times it’s friends and family members who have not yet bought an e-reader and want a physical copy of the book. Some of the bigger review sites do not accept electronic copies either, so having a paperback to send out helps with those all important early reviews. And it certainly helps a book’s credibility when there are multiple versions – paperback, audiobook, hardback etc on the Amazon product page, rather than just an ebook. I do giveaways on Goodreads for every new release which has so far proven to be invaluable in generating early buzz and demand, and they do not accept ebooks for this sort of promo.

However, there is another reason I produce the paperbacks. Author copies.

Yeah, now the contract from Permuted that I have seen states that they will provide ten copies for “promotion”. It does not specify what format but I am willing to be that up till now it has been paperback. No paperback = no physical author copies.

I’ll let you read that last sentence again.

One of those defining moments for us as a writer is that moment when we get a physical copy of our book in our hands for the first time. Hell, even the second or third time. Probably every time. By taking that away from the author, Permuted have committed something of a cardinal sin, which I believe is very much why there has been such an outcry over this, when people were not too bothered about the shitty contracts. Although I think more than a few of those authors wish that they had negotiated a little harder over their contract terms today. Worse, because they have the rights to the paperback, the author can’t even sell those somewhere else, or even put out their own POD version of the book. The message is clear – make sure your book achieves bestseller status or it will never see print.

Sure, they are saving four hours work on the production of a paperback, and they are saving some money on having to produce those pesky author copies. On paper, from an accounting perspective, it makes perfect sense. However it shows either a complete misunderstanding or a total lack of regard for what is important to both authors and their readers. Publishers are the middle man. At this point, ANYONE can do what Permuted are doing. They bring nothing to the table apart from an enormous rights grab, terrible contract terms and an increasingly large pool of dissatisfied authors.

Considering that their backers came from a Traditional Publishing background, you would think that they would have applied the best of the Big 5 mindset to Permuted, instead of the worst.

And then it all went “Boom”!

•October 14, 2014 • 5 Comments

Since writing my blapocalypseog post two weeks ago, I have been astonished at how quickly things escalated and then blew the hell up at the press in question. Those of you that follow or are friends with any of their authors will know by now that I was talking about Permuted Press.

How things went so badly, so quickly was not even among the reasons that I listed in my last post. Not directly at least. However the reasons for the atrocious contracts, vanishing advances and production delays are very likely share the same root cause as their decision to arbitrarily cease production of print on demand paperbacks this week. Money and Greed being primary factors.

Now, pretty much every author that I know who signed with Permuted did it for one reason, and one reason alone. Permuted had a track record of being able to get books into physical book stores, in the US at least. Many of us will have seen or picked up copies of their best selling titles – the “John Dies at the End” series by David Wong and the “Ex Heroes” series by Peter Cline. I know I have, and loved both books to the point where I grab new entries in the series as soon as they come out. Authors saw this as their golden ticket. After all, even though Amazon and the eBook trade makes up a significant portion of the market, there is nothing like being able to go into a chain book store and see your title gracing the shelves alongside the likes of Stephen King. Apparently ;)

It is, therefore quite understandable that these authors are fairly pissed off at the fact that Permuted are now not even offering their books as Createspace Print on Demand paperbacks, let alone mass market “Platinum” titles unless they manage to achieve bestseller status as an ebook. They feel that Print on Demand titles are “too expensive”.

Now – Createspace are not an expensive platform to utilise. I use Lightning Source for my own books, which has a £50 ish set up fee because I feel the quality of the product is better and they have better global distribution. Createspace don’t charge a penny to set up the title as far as I know.

So – what are the costs that they are talking about? Well, the cost of an ISBN is one factor, but its negligible really. If you buy big blocks of them they are no more than a couple of pounds each. And the formatting? Well, depending on how weirdly formatted the source manuscript is, it can take between four and eight hours to properly format and check a paperback. Time consuming, yes, but not exactly onerous.

But then, Permuted were not just putting out a few books a year. Or even a month. Since the start of this year they have published more than 100 books. Or, as some sources have stated – 5 – 7 books a week. Base that on even the four hours worth of paperback formatting and you are starting to get close to a full weeks worth of work for someone. And what a horrendous, mind-numbing week that would be. Of course, I have it on good authority that they don’t have to spend anywhere near as much time on their ebooks. Given the way they react when you try to use the text to speech feature of a Kindle, it very much looks like they just lob a word document at an autoconversion utility. Fast. Easy. Shite.

Release dates, even on the ebooks were being pushed back. In some instances, one poor author who was due to have their book come out this week as told that it had now been pushed back to next year.

So, yeah. It looks very much like they over reached themselves, grew too fast, too soon. Maybe the money started drying up. Perhaps they were just not able to give those 5-7 books a week the sort of publicity and attention they needed to rise above the sea of other books that are released each week. And because their investors didn’t see the sort of immediate return they were expecting, costs started being cut. Because, lets face it, even people who are fans of a particular publisher are going to struggle to buy 30 books a month, let along read them. You take a look at the sales ranks of the books they have put out there, and they are not exactly stellar. Most are, infact languishing. No money was being spent on launch publicity. No advertising They relied on social media and word of mouth, and then deluged their target market to the extent that the books fell through the cracks and were lost.

Which is a real shame, because now that they are no longer in a position to exploit anything other than the ebook rights, the fuckers are still grasping hold of every piece of intellectual property associated with a title like Gollum holding on to his ring.

I hear reports that they are releasing some authors from their contracts, but with caveats. Chief among these seems to be that they are intending to recoup editing costs. Remember that blog post I did two weeks ago? Where I mentioned that they were paying some editors a percentage of sales instead of actual money? Yeah. That’s the first thing that I thought as well. And apparently there is a gagging clause in the release as well, so that people can’t talk about how badly they have been treated.

If you are unfortunate to have a book contract with this press, I honestly urge you to get the hell out of it as quickly as you can. This is spreading like wildfire through the community – and lets face it, the horror writing world is not exactly a big pond. Before very much longer the brand is very likely to become toxic, and I suspect that things will start getting really nasty at that point.

That faint, two day old corpse stink from a couple of weeks ago has burst forth into a full grown, maggot infested stench. My advice would be put a handkerchief over your nose and run in the opposite direction as fast as you possibly can.

UPDATE:

I had some more thoughts and linked to some other peoples post on this after posting this blog. You can read it HERE

We need to talk about…

•October 2, 2014 • 5 Comments

something-stinks_165Over the past year, something has been bothering me. It’s not something that has affected me directly, but it is affecting an increasing number of my friends. I need to be very careful about this blog post and I need to state up front that some of this post is speculation, because I don’t want an army of corporate lawyers descending on my arse. So, I am not going to name any  names and I will make very clear what the facts seem to be and my speculation on what this might mean.

In the middle of 2013 a very well respected small press changed hands. The original owner was highly regarded within the community, was trusted and respected. I actually dealt with him briefly before Moonstruck came out because he wanted the High Moor series, although I eventually walked away from the deal. This, it seems, was the best thing I could possibly have done because not only did the proceeds from Moonstruck allow me to expand Horrific Tales Publishing, but because of what happened with this press next.

The word on the internet was that this press had been purchased by a former employee of one of the Big 5. This person had years of experience behind him and the sort of contact network that most small presses could only dream of. This person brought in other seasoned business people. And they started buying up lots and lots of small press and self published titles. Lots. In fact, they seemed to be grabbing every title they could get their hands on. Authors were being offered multiple book contracts, with even single titles being expanded into trilogies at the very least. An absolute fuckload of money was being thrown at the business, and lots of authors were very happy.

This must have been a good thing. Right?

I have my doubts on this score. I’ll explain why.

I started hearing grumbles about the terms of the contracts. There were no reversion clauses in some contracts, and in others little more than a meaningless “out of print” clause that would never be fulfilled. If an author didn’t like working with them, then they were basically screwed because there was no way to EVER get the book back because they signed away their book for the length of copyright. That means its theirs for 70 years after the author dies.  Royalty rates were good, and some authors got advances, but increasingly it seemed that the risk was being pushed directly onto the author. Advances got smaller and then vanished all together. Release dates were nebulous and, in some instances, were YEARS in the future. However, the two worst problems were the “exclusivity” clause which stated that authors were not even allowed to TALK to anyone else about other projects outside of the ones they were contracted for. The authors had to give this press first refusal on EVERY project that they were even considering going forward. And worst of all, they did a massive, and I mean MASSIVE rights grab. All of them, infact. Every single right associated with the book in any format was licensed to this press for the length of copyright. Foreign translation, multimedia and even dramatic rights. Yeah, they paid a royalty on the “profits” but anyone who has ever had anything to do with book to movie deals will tell you that you should never agree to deals like that because companies have all sorts of ways of showing something never makes a profit on paper. The old $1000 per paperclip scenario.

It should then come as no surprise that this press recently announced a “movie” arm. Hell, they didn’t have to pay options on titles, or pay out the usual rate for licensing because they already owned the licences on hundreds of titles. The standard deal on a movie adaptation of a novel is that the author would get 2.5% of the total budget, usually capped at something like 100k. This way, the new “movie” arm would potentially never have to pay the authors a penny.

So – the net result of this was that a whole lot of self published authors in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genre were no longer self publishing. They were producing lots and lots of books for a press that would then release those books at some point in the next couple of years. Probably, although there was no guarantee in the contracts. Which meant that a lot of the mid list self pubbed horror authors were not going to have any new stuff coming out for the foreseeable future.

Then something else happened. The press started taking on editors. Some of the freelance editors who the more successful self pubbed authors sent their stuff to were now tied up working for this press – often for no money up front and for a percentage of the titles earnings.

Rumours began to circulate – like the ex Big 5 employee who bought the company may not have been quite as “ex” as people thought. Especially when it became apparent that the cream of this presses books were being licensed to that Big 5 company, although in those circumstances the terms given to the authors did not change because they had given away all licensing rights.

Now, this is where I am going to start speculating, but it seems to me that if, for example, a big company wants to kill off self publishing in a particular genre, or at least hamstring it, then one fairly effective way of doing this would be to remove all of the authors from the pool in the short term, and then start taking the editors that they use out of the picture. This would, in essence, get rid of many who “did it properly” and prevent the others from utilising the editorial resources, therefore creating a gap in the quality of the product. And because a lot of this is being done on a royalty only basis, there is very little financial risk to the company involved. They can just chuck these books into limbo, maybe release them after a while and hey, if they make money then great. If not, they only really lost the price of the cover art and the book formatting. Certainly, on the titles that have come out from this press this year, I have not seen much in the way of advertising, and these books Amazon sales ranks are not really anything to shout about at all.

This is, of course, pure speculation. The press in question may have nothing but honourable intentions and a really shitty contract, but something about this whole set up sets my spider sense off in a big way. It’s like a two day old corpse. There is a bit of a smell, but it’s not quite gone rotten yet. At the very least I will say this. Don’t allow your enthusiasm for being a published author mean that you will sign any contract. These things should be up for negotiation and if they are not, or not to the extent that you feel comfortable with, then you should never, ever be afraid to turn your back and walk away. And while some of the early authors were able to negotiate some of these terms out, apparently the press have now said that it is not their “policy” to negotiate these terms any more. If you have a shred of common sense, your policy should be to tell companies like that to go and fuck themselves.

Just my opinion, of course ;)

UPDATE:

Since writing this post, things have kinda blown up. You might have heard something about it. You can read my thoughts on the current explosion HERE and HERE

Fantasycon 2014: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

•September 7, 2014 • 1 Comment

Another Fantasycon draws the a close, and I find myself sitting in my hotel, waiting for the inevitable hangover to hit, and reflecting on what was something of a mixed bag of a convention for me.

The Good:

Well, in some respects this was one of my favourite conventions to date. York is a beautiful city that has a bewildering array of craft beer and real ale pubs, including one very reasonably priced one right outside of the convention hotel. I did my first ever panel – on How To Get Noticed – and despite bricking it before hand, not only was able to contribute to the discussion, but had people coming up to me for the rest of the convention telling me how valuable they found my contribution to the discussion. Which was nice. Chris Barnes, who narrates the High Moor audiobooks did a joint reading with me from High Moor 3 (video on the book facebook page) and it went down a storm. I met Chris and Jim Mcleod from Gingernuts of Horror for the first time and got on like a house on fire with them both. This was by far the most social convention I have attended to date, because I got to spend most of it down the pub with old friends and new.

Yes. Down the pub. Not in the convention. Which brings me on to the bad.

Where to start with the bad… Well, I would not exactly say that this convention was overburdened with organisation. The whole thing was slap dash, half arsed, badly implemented and clearly rushed through at the last minute. Reading slots were crammed into 20 minutes and then ended early instead of running into the night. There was no early arrivers meeting or early registration. No “dead dog” party at the end. The programming was basically of no interest to me for the most part because it was fantasy oriented and even then, mostly obscure and seemingly a bit pointless – there were two panels I was vaguely interested in going to, and one clashed with my reading, and the other with the panel I was on. So I didn’t go to anything apart from the very successful launch of the Spectral Book of Horror (for which I am so happy for Simon Marshall Jones and Mark Morris) and the launch of Gary McMahon’s new book “The End”, which he was kind enough to scrawl abuse into. There was no raffle, or much in the way of entertainment apart from the disco on Saturday and karaoke on the Friday night. The schedule was not included in the programme, so was basically just a sheet of A4 stuffed in the bag. The dealers room was tiny, with very little that interested me, which may have been due to limited space of the excessive cost of the dealer tables. Most damning, however, was the fact that apparently the banquet table for the volunteers, which they get every year as a thank you for all their hard work, was removed at the last minute because a few extra “paying” members wanted to attend. Which is shocking. Piss your volunteers off at your peril, boys and girls, because next time they might decide not to bother!

To be fair, it was the organisers first crack at it, so most of the above can be forgiven. They would have done better to look at a programme from Fcon2012 and see what was expected, but none of these are things that can’t be sorted out for next year. And none of them were enough to spoil the convention, even if it was a little disappointing at times.

However, there was one thing that really stood out as so fucking awful that it deserves its own heading.

The Ugly.

By which I mean the convention hotel.

Now, The Royal York is a very conveniently placed hotel, right beside the train station. However to say that it was pricey was putting it mildly. The convention rate on rooms was about £150 a night. So an awful lot of people ended up having to stay away in B&B’s. To be fair, this is par for the course to an extent. Lots of people don’t stay at the convention hotels, even when they are relatively cheap dumps like the Albion in Brighton. No, the big problems and the thing that almost killed the convention was the cost of food and drink, along with the attitude of some of the staff.

A tiny cup of acrid coffee  £3.95. £8 for a glass of wine. £4.40 for a pint of lager. These prices are not cheap at all, especially when you consider that the pub right outside had some gorgeous craft beers for £3 a pint. To add insult to injury, while the convention had negotiated a 10% bar price cut on certain things, the hotel seemed to take this with very bad grace and did their level best to charge full price for everything. One little tosser in particular would lie through his teeth and cop a massive attitude when you pointed out that yet again he had not applied the discount to the bar bill. Sometimes you would get the money back. Sometimes he would flat out refuse.

What this meant was that a lot of people spent a lot of time away from the convention hotel, in some of the many excellent pubs and restaurants nearby. Which meant that the convention had no focal point and it was not always easy to catch up with the people you wanted to see.

So, while I have really enjoyed this weekend, what it has been is three days of chat and sustained alcohol abuse with my friends in a beautiful city. The convention side of things was almost irrelevant.

Summer of Zombie Bloghop 2014 – Part 2 – Interview with Christine Verstraete

•June 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 

 

 

 

SummerZombie Shirt Front

Earlier in the month we were lucky to host the lovely Christine Verstraete, with an except of her teen zombie novel, Girl Z. Now, we welcome her back to tell us a little more about it. Enjoy.

Summer of Zombie 2014 SPOTLIGHT ON: C.A. (Christine) Verstraete

 

 

What is your latest zombie release? GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie

girlz-my-life-as-a-teenage-zombie (2)

Quick description of it (no spoilers) Becca’s life is turned upside down the day her cousin comes home and infects her with the Z virus via an accidental scratch. Now as a part-zombie, Becca has to cope with weird quirks and things no teenage girl wants to be noticed for, while protecting her friends and family against the full Zs. She also hopes to find, something, anything, to stop this deadly transformation . . . before it is forever too late.

 

 

Something unique about it.

My main character, Becca, is not your typical 16-year-old as turning part-zombie tends to give you a lot of odd quirks and an even odder diet. And no, she doesn’t eat “that.”

But that doesn’t mean she likes zombies. She’ll do what it takes to protect herself and her family against the full Zs. This is a different kind of zombie book, readers say.

 

 

Links for people to purchase it.

Kindle and print, Amazon.com – http://tinyurl.com/mwjn6v3

Amazon.uk: http://tinyurl.com/ctyd9dz

Amazon Canada: http://tinyurl.com/d8jv9hu

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/d889gzn

 

Your promo links.

  • Read/download Prologue and Chapter 1 –

http://www.cverstraete.com/girlz-teenage-zombie-book.html

 

Bio:

 

verstraete2C.A. (Christine) Verstraete enjoys writing fiction with a touch of horror and the macabre, along with a bit of humor. Her stories have appeared in Timeshares and other anthologies from DAW Books, and coming in Athena’s Daughters from Silence in the Library.

Her book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, won a 2014 Lovey Award for best paranormal, sci fi from the Love is Murder mystery conference, and was the YA winner for the 2013 Halloween Book Festival. Learn more at http://cverstraete.com and her blog, http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com.

*   *   *   *   *

 

 

The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.

 

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/286215754875261/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular&source=1

 

AND so you don’t miss any of the posts in June, here’s the complete list, updated daily:

 

http://armandrosamilia.com/2014/06/01/summer-of-zombie-blog-tour-2014-post-links/

An Apology Re: High Moor 3

•June 21, 2014 • 8 Comments

I’ve been putting off this announcement for a few weeks now, but there is just no getting around the fact, and I figured that I should let you all know. High Moor 3: Blood Moon will NOT be meeting the release date of July. I am hoping against hope that I can get it out in September this year.

The reasons for this are several, but they boil down to the fact that the book is not ready yet. There are some issues with the story that I need to get fixed, and rather than just release a book that is not up to standard, I am going to hold it back until such point that I am happy with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with an awful lot of this book. It retains the humour, drama and flat out carnage that have made the other two books so successful. But at the moment, there are some timeline and plot problems that need to be addressed.

So again, I’m sorry for the additional delay, and I will sort this out as quickly as I can. However I hope that you would rather I took the time with this and get it right than push out a product that is not quite there yet.  I will post further updates when I have them, and as soon as the book is ready I will get it into your hands.

Graeme Reynolds

Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014 – Christine Verstraete – Girl Z: My Life as a teenage zombie

•June 2, 2014 • 3 Comments

SummerZombie Shirt Front

 

The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie

https://www.facebook.com/events/286215754875261/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular&source=1

 

I am proud to host Christine Verstraete on this tour. Below are two excerpts from her novel. GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie

Enjoy

girlz-my-life-as-a-teenage-zombie (2)

 

Excerpt, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie

By C.A. Verstraete

 

Prologue

A virus. A freaking virus.

I’d been sick before, you know, measles, mumps…kid stuff…but not really sick.

Never like this.

This…this couldn’t be happening.

I tuned back in to the doctor’s explanation…new diet, pills, blah-blah-blah…and let his words fade again into the background.

Gone was the golden tan I’d nurtured over the summer with tanning cream and hours sunbathing by the pool with one of my cousins. My skin had a weird grayish tone, like I’d rubbed myself with fireplace ash.

I gazed at my legs, now mottled with strange gray blotches, and my pretty pink toenails peeking out from beneath the sheet.

The machine next to me made a frantic beep-beep.

I turned and caught my reflection in the metal canister sitting on the table next to the bed. Whimpering, I rubbed a hand over my cheek, wondering at the scaly texture, while at other times I felt almost nothing.

Large, deep brown eyes under ebony bangs stared back. I saw a decent nose.

I took in the pinkish patches and my uneven skin tone, which reminded me of those old battleships on the PBS show I’d watched with my aunt.

For the first time in my sixteen-year-old life I was…ugly.

I struck the bed frame over and over, the pain barely registering. The machine’s whir-click-whir turned into a wail almost louder than mine—beep-beep-beeeeeeep.

A nurse in blue scrubs rushed in and tried to reassure me, even as she attempted to keep me immobile on this slab they called a bed.

“Relax, it’ll be fine,” she said.

“No, it won’t,” I yelled, “it won’t!”

How could looking like freaking King Tut without his wrappings ever be fine?

 

Chapter One

Funny how the most important or memorable moments of your life are bookmarked between the ordinary.

That’s how it was the day my life changed—forever.

My cousin Carm—short for Carmella Sanchez—and I, Rebecca Herrera Hayes (Becca to my friends), hoped to go shopping and get in on the last of the sales for our final summer vacation trip. I was looking forward to visiting my mom’s friend in Lake Geneva, but fate, or something else, had other plans.

Instead, my ever-thrifty Aunt Imelda, whom I’d called Tia since I was little, told us to dig through the boxes of clothes she’d brought down from the attic before she committed to buying anything new. So, rather than sort through the racks at the store, we picked through our old wardrobes at home. Bummer.

But… maybe it was a good thing since we might not have heard the news otherwise.

To my delight, I grabbed another way-too-small pair of shorts from the box (that shopping trip becoming more real by the minute) when a staccato dee-dee-dee-dee signaling a news alert cut off Lady Gaga’s wails on the radio.

The announcer’s serious tone made Carm and I stop cold and stare at each other, our job, and the clothes, forgotten.

THIS IS AN URGENT NEWS BULLETIN: WINDALE POLICE AND WINDALE COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENTS REPORTED A RASH OF ATTACKS BY UNKNOWN INDIVIDUALS. THE ATTACKERS ARE DESCRIBED AS DISEASED, WITH AN OFFENDING SMELL AND LIMITED VERBAL COMMUNICATION. THE SUSPECTS DO NOT RESPOND TO COMMANDS AND EXHIBIT NO EMOTIONS OR REACTIONS UNTIL THEY ENCOUNTER THOSE NOT INFECTED. THEY ARE CONSIDERED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND WILL ATTACK FOR NO REASON. DO NOT APPROACH.

THE NATIONAL GUARD HAS BEEN CALLED IN AND LOCAL POLICE URGE CITIZENS TO LOCK THEIR DOORS AND STAY INSIDE.

REPEAT—USE EXTREME CAUTION—

My cousin’s face went white. “Bec, what do they mean?”

“I don’t know…”

Carm made a face like she’d bit into something bad. “Maybe it’s fake, you know like that War of the Worlds broadcast Tia told us about. I can’t believe all those people listening to the radio really thought they’d been invaded by aliens!”

“I-I don’t think so. Let’s see if there’s anything on TV about it.”

Carm and I fell silent. Scenes out of some horror movie come to life flashed across the screen—people running, others fighting off hordes of horrid creatures, their mouths bloody, their diseased hands tearing and ripping at human flesh. A staccato blast of gunshots ripped through the air. High-pitched screams and terrified yells erupted from the fleeing mob. The warnings scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen made the sweat break out on my upper lip—be alert… zombies… use caution… stay indoors…

I quickly shut it off. The images made me want to puke, or freak out, or both, but I still had trouble believing it was real. I mean, here? In our little Wisconsin town? We weren’t in some nowhere place, even if it felt like it sometimes. In an hour or so, I could be in Chicago or Milwaukee, or take an even quicker drive to Lake Geneva.

“It has to be phony, it has to be,” I insisted. “It’s too weird.”

Any further discussion had to wait when Carm’s cell phone dinged, signaling she’d received a text message. She pulled the phone from her pocket, and seeing her alarmed expression, I sidled next to her. “Carm? What is it?”

She didn’t say much before turning off the phone, her face creased in worry. “It’s my mom, she’s worried. She’s going to look for Spence. He texted he was sick and needed help. Now he doesn’t answer her calls or texts. “

My eyebrows raised in question when my phone flashed and beeped like that little Star Wars movie robot. I tapped the screen and quickly read the message. “It’s my mom, she’s going with. She said to lock everything, something bad’s going on, and don’t go outside. She said they’ll be home as soon as they can.”

My fingers flew over the tiny keyboard in response, saying we’d heard the news. No way could I tell her Tia had gone to get some milk before all this happened and wasn’t back yet. I had a feeling she didn’t need more to worry about.

I gulped when the radio announcer repeated the warnings. Now martial law was being declared. Anyone caught out on the street past curfew would be detained or arrested. Looters would be shot.

It didn’t get more real than that.

Breathing deep, I prayed Tia would come back soon. I tried to smother my growing panic at my whole family being somewhere else. I had to pull myself together. The quiver of Carm’s bottom lip and the way she picked at the pile of clothes on the table concerned me. My cousin had always been kind of chicken, so I didn’t need her falling apart. There was too much to do.

Time for some other distractions. I had to keep Carm busy. “Carm, c’mon, help me. Let’s move the couch over in front of the door. Then we better check the bedroom windows upstairs. Make sure they’re locked and the shades are down. I’ll check the windows in mom’s bedroom and the bathroom.”

I crossed the room and stopped on the staircase when she didn’t answer. “Carm?”

My cousin stood in the living room and peered out the window, an odd expression on her face.

“Carm, you okay?”

No answer.

I retraced my steps, reached out and tapped her arm. “Carm? What is it?”

“I-I’m not sure,” she whispered.

A peek out the window alerted me to the problem—some guy staggering around in the distance. The way he wove back and forth made me uneasy. “I think it’s some drunk. I bet our neighbor drove his car into the ditch again.”

“Bec, I don’t think so.”

I gasped when she inched behind the loveseat, threw the lock, and opened the door. “Carm, wait! You can’t go out there! What about that stuff on the radio and TV?”

When she ignored me, I had no choice but to either hold her back or follow. Part of me wanted to tackle her, but I trailed behind her instead to the porch, my eyes still on the guy in the field. He’d come a little further, close enough that even from here, I could see his hair was black, not gray like my neighbor’s.

He staggered closer and began to wave. My alarm grew when Carm stumbled and gasped, hand on her chest.

“Carm-Carm! What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“It’s him!” She pushed away my hand and ran down the steps.

I grabbed at her shirt and held on in an attempt to stop her.  “Carm, wait, no! You can’t go down there!”

She shook my grip loose and shoved past me. I ran in pursuit and tried to catch her, my heart pounding. “Carm, stop, please! Carm!”

I nearly ran her over when she came to a halt within a few feet of our visitor.

He stared, eyes like slits. He took another step.

As he came closer, I noticed several horrid raw sores and the sickening, pasty gray tone of his skin. I grimaced, grabbed Carm’s arm and backed up, stumbling over my feet, when he reached for me with a loud groan.

“No, no!” Carm screamed as his body crumpled and he fell into the grass in a heap. I tried to keep her from him, but she swore at me and pulled away before rushing to his side.

“No, leave me alone!” she yelled. “I have to help him!”

“Carm, no—don’t. Don’t touch him. He’s sick.”

“No, I have to help him,” she cried. “I have to.”

All I could do was stare at her, and then at him.

My cousin Spence had come home.

** Christine Verstraete likes to write slightly different stories, as with her book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, about a 16-year-old whose fate is worse than acne. Yeah, she turns part-zombie. Read/download the Prologue and Chapter 1 at http://www.cverstraete.com/girlz-teenage-zombie-book.html. Visit her blog http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com.

GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie:

Kindle and print, Amazon.com – http://tinyurl.com/mwjn6v3

Amazon.uk: http://tinyurl.com/ctyd9dz

Amazon Canada: http://tinyurl.com/d8jv9hu

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/d889gzn

******

Excerpt, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie

By C.A. Verstraete

 

(From Chapter 11 – Back to School)

 

I shook my head, feeling even worse when I saw Jimmy Churlin stagger down the hall, heading our way. Holy cow, the virus seemed to have done a number on the guys around here.

Jimmy made one ugly being, all drool, and even fewer manners than before.

Grimacing, I watched him make a rude comment to one of the girls who sashayed by, hips wiggling in an attention-getting tight skirt. I’d have thought the virus would have toned down some of his less desirable traits. Day by day, I’d noticed most of my deadened senses had returned even though they stayed at more muted levels. Like I could taste food again (sometimes), but it usually didn’t taste like it once did (or stay with me) for long.

Sure I had the wandering eye problem and tripped over my own feet, but so far, most of my problems were somewhat tolerable, considering everything. Not so for most male Zs, I saw. Carm and I exchanged horrified glances as we watched the rude, obnoxious way several of them acted, hoping it was a rare occurrence. Hardly.

The main thing on most teenage Z’s brains (the little they had left, of course) these days was food, followed by sex, a horrific combination.

The virus amplified the endless eating cycle teenage boys usually had. Even with all the protein drinks, I watched several stagger down the hall slobbering over packages of raw meat when they weren’t slobbering over girls. Ugh. I wanted to laugh, and would’ve, if it wasn’t so revolting.

“You’d think they would’ve put those guys by themselves,” I whispered to Carm.

She glanced down the hall and nodded. “I know, they’re so gross. Maybe Principal Thomas got scared he’d be sued?”

I shrugged. “There’re more parents with non-infected kids. If he’s watching, and I bet he is, once he sees what’s going on he’ll have the guys reorganized this afternoon. I don’t know how that’ll affect the few girls I’ve seen like me.”

“All right, get moving,” a security guard ordered several guy Zs. “You there, let’s go.”

Another guard moved in and hurried the other Z boys along towards the end of the hall. A teacher peeked out from behind one of the doors, grimaced, and seeing me watching, gave a hateful glare before she ducked back into her room.

Wow. Whatever plans had been developed so far to address the new school makeup weren’t working so well. Carm pointed out several colored spots. “See, there’re Z food stations marked on the map.” She paused. “Hmm, there’s one in the main hall, the rest are down the other hall.”

I’d barely had time to dwell on this development when a voice called my name. I turned and groaned as Jimmy C. shuffled in our direction. Bad enough he kept texting me ever since we’d worked on that class science project together. Ignoring him hadn’t worked.

“Hey, Becca baby, looks like you and me got somethin’ in common after all,” he yelled.

As he zigzagged towards me, I watched the students in his path jump to either side with a curse or run in the other direction. Others gagged and threw their hands over their mouths. I thought the reactions rather exaggerated until he came closer.

Even I had trouble breathing and staggered backwards at the horrid stench of rotten eggs and spoiled meat wafting my way. Several long gashes on his arms, and probably elsewhere, explained the smell.

I kept my distance and urged Carm to hurry. As Jimmy edged closer, a litany of curses and lewd comments on his crooked lips, I finally had had enough. I threw my extra papers and stuff in the locker, slammed the door and spun the lock.

“You know what, Jimmy? Bite me. Go bother somebody else.”

Oops. Too late, I realized my mistake. Jimmy gave a weird, strange leer and crept nearer. “Be glad to,” he mumbled.

**

 

verstraete2Christine Verstraete likes to write slightly different stories, as with her book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, about a 16-year-old whose fate is worse than acne. Yeah, she turns part-zombie. Read/download the Prologue and Chapter 1 at http://www.cverstraete.com/girlz-teenage-zombie-book.html. Visit her blog http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com.

GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie:

Kindle and print, Amazon.com – http://tinyurl.com/mwjn6v3

Amazon.uk: http://tinyurl.com/ctyd9dz

Amazon Canada: http://tinyurl.com/d8jv9hu

Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/d889gzn

 

 

 
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