I’m one of those people who shouts, “Ooh! Colors pretty!” at a nice book cover. If I’m at the bookstore, I want to hold the precious. If I’m on Amazon, I’m more apt to scroll the reviews and summary. The author has my attention…at least for the next ten seconds.
For me, the greatest covers belong to the Choose Your Own Adventure series. This article from Slate made me feel all gushy and nostalgic. Even now, when I see that familiar font, and those cover pictures it brings me back. I used to read those books every day until I wore them out. Which Way books weren’t so bad, either. I was so obsessed, I even played the hybrid Apple II+/book titles back in the ’80s. Obsessed!
Someday I’ll write a post about my love affair with Choose Your Own Adventure. It will be very long.
I only have one pet peeve when it comes to covers: faces. I know it’s popular to show a picture of the main character before the reader even starts turning pages. I’m probably in the minority, but if I see someone on the cover, I can’t visualize them correctly while I’m reading the book. It’s like the character moves through the book wearing a mask. This is especially true with movie adaptations. When I read Jurassic Park, I’d already seen the trailer for the movie. Ruined it. And yes, my imagination is fickle. I’m just being honest. This is why I was so hesitant about watching Game of Thrones, and why I can’t read the Charlotte Harris books after watching True Blood. Hell, Robert Redford almost ruined my first reading of The Great Gatsby, for crying out loud.
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My owner is an eight-pound miniature dachshund. I’m a grown ass man, but that dog wears the pants. Why else would I feed her on an exact schedule every day? Why would I take her for long walks, stand in the rain as she defecates, provide a warm lap and fresh hot towels for her to burrow into? Yes, we all love our pets. So it follows that I would do these mundane tasks out of love, right? Wrong. Maybe that’s the case for you; maybe you haven’t had “the incident” yet. But I have.
My dog can talk. Not metaphorically; I’m talking full on Now-I-Know-My-ABCs verbalization. The first time she spoke, I thought it was the coolest thing. I saw dollar signs, guest spots on Maury, an elaborate ventriloquist act. But once my pea brain processed the dog’s first words, reality sank in.
I was putting on my underwear at the time, getting ready for work. “What did you say?”
I began to mouth the first syllable of “Tell about what?” but stopped. Did it matter? Your pet knows more about you than anyone in the world. It knows you color your hair. It knows you spent last Tuesday watching Never say Never with the curtains drawn–that you purchased the All-Day Loop on pay-per-view, and cried into your pint of Rocky Road each time Bieber took the stage. It curled up on the edge of the couch and watched you whisper, “Never say never, Justin,” as the credits rolled.
Let me offer these words of wisdom: When you are alone with your pets, you’re not alone. They’re watching. So feed your pets on a schedule, take them for long walkies, provide a warm lap. Or one day, they’ll look up at you while you’re putting on a pair of dirty underwear and say, “I’ll tell.”
Burklin, the main character of Nether, has this problem. His soul is trapped inside his dachshund, giving the dog heightened intellect and the ability to speak. But Burklin keeps worse secrets than yours; his secrets could destroy the world.
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This public service announcement is brought to you by ZomClene.
In death, as in life, good hygiene is a must. Whether pursuing a career, interacting socially, or engaging in ritualistic mating, a pungent scent will spoil a first impression. Unfortunately, our dead brethren lack the wisdom to work a bar of soap and a spigot. Responsibility falls to the breathing. But there are risks to bathing your loved ones. To protect yourself, adhere to our patented Seven-Step ZomClene Process:
1) Mouthguard — Dental protection saves lives. Purchase a ZomGard from any major pharmacy. Remove from box and shake briskly to begin the coloring process. ZomGards change from lime-green, to ocean-blue, to red and so on. Wait until your zombie is hypnotized and begins mumbling happily. At this point, wedge ZomGard into its mouth until all teeth are covered. Remember to choose your mouthguard carefully. While most manufacturers flavor theirs with mint, we produce our ZomGards with 73% cow brains. This makes them so delicious, you’ll never have to worry about your zombie spitting them out prematurely. Taste tests prove our brand ten-times more preferable than Toothalicious, Yum Yum Brain, or the generic Zombie Mouthguard. And ours come fluoridated for the whitest possible smile.
2) Add Water — Fill the tub. Your zombie won’t notice the temperature when submerged, so it is your responsibility to make sure the water does not scald. Scalding may result in damaged flesh and domestic abuse charges from local authorities.
3) Add Soap — Grab an eight-ounce bottle of ZomClene (*now with prettier bubbles!), and empty it into the water. Once your zombie notices the swirling colors it will try to leap into the tub. Undress it first.
4) Add Distractions – Toss in plenty of toys to distract your zombie. Recommended bath toys include Rubber Human, Intestine Putty and our exciting line of ZomPlay action figures.
5) Begin Bath – Gently apply ZomClene to all orifices. Use our ZomBeauty sponge and ZomWash stick to reach difficult areas. Allow zombie to soak for ten minutes.
6) Remove Water — Drain the water around your zombie. If you encounter a clog, add six ounces of ZomPurge to the drain.
7) Distract and Dry — Studies show that zombies become angry as the “pretty water” disappears. Be prepared to counter their aggression with ZomDry Flashy Towels (at least three). Our patented technology causes them to change colors when wet.
With ZomClene your loved one can be a productive member of society. Stop chaining Uncle Bob in the shed, risking domestic abuse charges and visits from Zombie Social Services. Just bathe Uncle Bob daily, keep plenty of ZomGards handy, and move him into the guest room.
ZomProducts. We’re blurring the line between life and death, removing prejudice one bath at a time. That’s the ZomWay!
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Note: I submitted this for the NYC Midnight Flash Challenge. Enjoy!
We pull into the trailer park in Benny’s air-conditioned SUV. Sunlight glints off the trailers’ tin roofs. I squint to read the “Flea Market Today!” banner through the dust clouds. So much brown: the dirt, the trailer siding, the swirling air.
The afternoon sun slaps all three of us as we open the doors. Waves of heat flow off the dirt. Each breath fills my lungs with hot, stale dust.
We walk along the cracked asphalt separating the rows of trailers. The grizzled vendors sit behind folding tables and on blankets. They blast Spanish music, shaking the earth beneath our feet.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Mike says.
Mike needs to man up. After today we’ll be legends at Lincoln High School.
The three of us weave through wet brown men with bulbous stomachs and yellowed undershirts, and bony women with babies, and old people who’d leathered and pruned into unidentifiable races. Wares spread out on tables: dirty sand pails, toy trucks missing wheels, pots and pans, cassettes, Jesus paintings, baby clothes, desperation, apathy, hopelessness. A dog pisses on a blanket full of VHS tapes.
Mike locks eyes with a brown girl in glasses, maybe 13, sitting on a towel with her legs open. She holds a battered Bible against one knee, but she’s not reading it.
I elbow Mike when I see the “For Sale” sign on the left.
“Get the camera ready,” I say.
Two girls with metal collars struggle, chained to the side of a trailer. They moan and push forward, eyes burning with purpose. They smell like sour milk and perfume.
The vendor, a bearded man with a tremendous stomach, smiles through three silver teeth. “Special deal for you white boys,” he says.
He pulls one of the chains toward him. The blonde woman’s cheeks droop like melting plastic. A glamour skirt and black bra stick to her gamy skin, and she wears one high heel, broken. He grabs her head and pulls the lips apart. “No teeth. I pluck them out. No bite. See? She die recently, that’s a promise.”
She doesn’t look recent.
“Never used,” the vendor says. “She clean your house, too, huh?”
With so many corpses climbing out of the earth, trafficking had become commonplace. When the risen weren’t biting, they could push a mean vacuum, paint, and pick vegetables in the fields. This usefulness put some folks out of work.
“I dress them up nice, huh?” he says.
Benny points to the other girl, dark haired with a concaved skull.
Maria Sanchez. Fatally struck by a car while walking home from church. Rose from the dead last Wednesday, shambled to a friend’s house and ate a cat, then disappeared. Last seen here by someone trolling the Lodi Trailer Park.
She wears a brown teddy with lace along her exposed, bruised belly. Her springy spine makes popping sounds as she twists and writhes.
My heart races. After a summer of boring videogames and TV, our senior year at Lincoln High will begin in style. We’ll be famous—Boss Mode famous. Screw the Fire Challenge and Cinnamon Challenge; the Maria Sanchez Challenge will rule them all.
“How much?” Benny asks.
I nudge him. We can’t look too eager.
The vendor’s brown eyes sparkle. “You know this one? I see it.”
Benny stares too hard; we aren’t getting her cheap. Maria Sanchez, with the smooth brown skin and huge breasts that ballooned back in 8th grade—the girl I pictured whenever I masturbated. The only Mexican at Lincoln High. She never talked to anyone, just read her books and kept her head down, and never accepted any of my friend requests. Now I’d get her for real.
“100,” Benny says.
“500,” the vendor says. “I throw in half hour in my trailer, huh? You and your buddy. Not that one, though.” He points at Mike. “He better stop looking at my niece.”
I poke Mike again and tell him to stop staring at the 13 year old. Jeez, what’s his problem?
“300,” Benny says. He holds out the cash.
The vendor nods and unhooks the chain from the trailer. He hands the lead to Benny.
“Oh, Christ!” I shout.
Maria Sanchez lunges at Benny’s neck and gums a vein. A frothy liquid pours from her lips and onto his sweaty white neck, dribbling down his collarbone.
The vendor laughs. “Harmless. No teeth.”
Benny pushes Maria Sanchez’s head away. The gums mash together in a sinewy, biting pantomime.
“Come on.” Benny punches Mike’s arm to get him to stop looking at the girl. “Jesus, Mike.”
“What about the trailer?” I ask. “The guy said we could use his trailer to…you know…”
Maria Sanchez growls.
Benny smirks. “Did you really think I’d put my dick inside this?”
“But I thought we’d get video of us—”
“Sick, man.” He points his keys at the SUV and unlocks it. “Back to the car.”
Benny drags Maria Sanchez by the chain over the hot asphalt. A hundred brown eyes follow us out. The Spanish music fades as we return to the SUV.
Mike looks drunk, his eyes dead. He shuffles into the brown brush under the merciless sun and vomits.
Benny tosses Maria Sanchez into the back of the SUV like a sack of groceries and she lands on top of a shovel. I notice Benny’s front bumper then. Dented, the paint chipped. I start to ask if that’s new, but then I remember hearing about the hit-and-run on the Sunday Mike and Benny went to see a movie without me, and how they couldn’t remember any plot details when I met them later at Benny’s house.
We chug bottled water and drive away in the air-conditioned SUV, the same car that kills Maria Sanchez a second time—only this time nobody finds her body on Mike’s street next to a bloodied Bible.
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India Drummond is one of my fellow authors at Lyrical Press. I’ve beta-read one of her upcoming books, and I can tell you she’s talented. India is great with character-depth and story. I’ve given her a platform here to discuss her latest book, Ordinary Angels.
1) Tell us about Ordinary Angels.
Ordinary Angels is an urban fantasy / paranormal romance novel in which Zoe Pendergraft falls in love with an angel, frees a soul from necromancers, releases a ghost trapped in the Void, and saves his living grandson from demons.
Most of Zoe’s friends are dead, but she doesn’t mind because they died long before she met them. Then one Tuesday night an angel takes her salsa dancing and turns her world upside down. Grim reality closes in when she discovers a body in her company’s boiler room and Higher Angels accuse her best ghost friend of murder. Knowing she’s the only one who can stand against them, Zoe resorts to lying, stealing and summoning. In the end, getting blood on her hands forces Zoe to question herself.
2) What attracts you to the genre of Paranormal/Urban Fantasy?
It’s the wide-open power of “what if.” It’s the limitlessness and the possibilities. There’s no barrier saying “but this couldn’t happen.” Sure I have to create coherent rules and systems for my world, the way magic works in some books or how angels behave in this book, but the rules are all ones I get to define. There are no stop signs in fantasy.
3) Tell us about one of your favorite characters in Ordinary Angels.
I like the main character Zoe because she’s not a “kick-ass heroine”, but she wants to be. She’s real and normal (if you don’t count the fact that she can see dead people.) As soon as she meets Alexander, an angel, strange things start happening all around her. She begins to change, whether she wants to or not. But even though she’s not a super-hero, she is accepting and takes a lot of things in stride. So although she’s “just a girl”, she is braver and stronger than she realises.
4) What was your greatest “Ah-hah!” moment as a writer (the story clicked, a great plot twist idea, etc)?
I think it was when I started writing this book, actually. Ordinary Angels is the second book I’d ever written. The first one I agonised over for ten years (on and off). I wrote the first draft of Ordinary Angels in six weeks. It was a joyful experience, and made me rediscover my love of writing. Just the happiness of it has propelled me into pursuing a career in writing.
5) Finish this: “India Drummond is in my favorite Cops episode. No, she’s not one of the police. India is that girl who ____.”
Hilarious question! Let me see… “India is that girl who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.” I haven’t been abducted by aliens, but I sure would like to be!
Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Fiction Author
India knew from age nine that writing would be her passion. Since then she’s discovered many more, but none quite so fulfilling as creating a world, a character, or a moment and watching them evolve into something complex and compelling. She has lived in three countries and four American states, is a dual British and American citizen, and currently lives at the base of the Scottish Highlands in a village so small its main attraction is a red phone box. In other words: paradise.
The supernatural and paranormal have always fascinated India. In addition to being an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, she also enjoys mysteries, thrillers, and romance. This probably explains why her novels have elements of adventure, ghosts (or elves, fairies, angels, aliens, and whatever else she can dream up), and spicy love stories.
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