Entertainment time – The Macbeth Trio

It has been some time since I last posted fiction (excluding all references to the Daily Mail). This one is a first draft. It might change, it might not, it depends whether I still like it tomorrow. One day though it will be in a collection.

It is fiction. Purely made up with no suggestion that it might be even remotely connected to reality. It was written in a few hours tonight and is not intended to be take seriously.

I have to say that part before I admit it was inspired by this, sent to me by   @Raven80504432 on Twitter.

I haven’t mentioned to Raven that I have had a large plastic raven flying in my house since last October. Synchronicity could raise its head here.

Anyway. To the story. Remember, it’s fiction. I just made it up. It’s probably not real.

Keep the tinfoil handy, just in case.

 

The Macbeth Trio

“Scrofula!” Doc Armitage banged the table. “That’s the next one.”

Doctor West pursed his lips. Turning to Doctor Smythe, he twirled his index finger beside his head.

“I’m serious.” Armitage rested his hands on the table and leaned forward. “It’s a not-so-deadly form of tuberculosis and we did that one a few years back. So we already have a vaccine that will probably work.” He straightened. “We can use the variant, Mycobacterium scrofulaceum, to claim we have to develop a new vaccine and even if we do have to, it’ll be a piece of piss.”

Smythe rubbed his finger alongside his nose. “I like it. We’re running out of diseases to make vaccines for. This one is rare but we can work with it.”

“Okay.” West steepled his fingers. “Let’s, for the moment, assume you both aren’t totally bonkers.” He held up his hand to forestall Armitage’s protests. “It’s a long shot, but let’s assume it anyway. How the hell do we get the population scared of a disease none of them have even heard of?”

“No problem.” Armitage folded his arms. “It’s related to tuberculosis, often caused by the same bacterium. We blame it on the immigrants, as usual, and show pictures of the few immunocompromised patients who have had it fairly recently.”

“Without, of course, mentioning the severely immunocompromised part.” Smythe winked at West.

“Of course.” West rubbed his temples. “It’s starting to sound good, or maybe I’m just going as crazy as you two.” He looked up. “Same procedure?”

“Yes indeed.” Armitage nodded. “We start up with stats showing this long forgotten disease has begun to make a resurgence. We use percentages so nobody catches on that our four cases became six to give us a 50% increase. Like we did with necrotising fasciitis. Then we start talking about the possibility of 100 new cases in the next century and as with mad cow disease, hardly anyone will notice that’s one case a year.”

“There’s one thing though.” West took a deep breath. “People don’t know scrofula. They’ll look it up. They’ll find out how rare it is. We don’t have the control we had with our own inventions – BSE and necrotising fasciitis and AIDS and so on. They’ll see through this one fast.”

“You’re right.” Smythe tapped his pen on his notepad. “We’ll need some ground work first. Edit Wikipedia and lock it with our version, get our own sites written and up to the top of every search. Get the official NHS and other medical sites on board too. We can afford it. We just need to get our versions in before we mention scrofula to the public. Then when they look it up, they’ll see what we want them to see.”

West shook his head. “We can’t edit every medical textbook.”

“Nobody reads the print ones any more anyway.” Armitage grinned. “And you’re wrong, you know. Most of those books are online or available as eBooks and we can edit them easily. They’ll even update the ones already downloaded onto every device out there. Let the print books carry the truth under a layer of dust. We can edit history and nobody will notice.”

West sat in silence for long minutes. He started to speak a few times but lapsed into thought again. The other two watched him, silent too. West was the one with the final say on this idea.

“It can work.” West said.

Smythe and Armitage high-fived each other.

“Okay.” West reached for the coffee pot and refilled his cup. “This one is going to take a lot of setting up. Smythe, get started on those disinformation sites right away. Armitage, start getting your lab ready for the volunteers. We say nothing about this outside this room until all mention of scrofula on the web is ours. Okay?”

Both nodded assent. Smythe scribbled notes on his pad.

“Then we claim scrofula is on the rise and as before, we blame it on immigrants.” West ducked his head to hide his smirk. “Poor buggers. The socialists invite them in and we capitalise on them. If only they knew.”

“The socialists have a narrow view of life.” Armitage raised his eyebrows. “They are easily manipulated, that’s why socialism uses them. Their leaders will never realise that all they’ve done is point out who can be manipulated.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’re not here for politics. This is far more important, it’s about money.” West waved his hand. “Next, Armitage, you call for volunteers as usual. You’re looking for carriers, of course, asymptomatic infectors, as always. The ones who get sick, cure them, send them home with a fat wad of cash. The ones who don’t but who are infectious, you ‘cure’ with a placebo and let them loose. The big payoff means you’ll get volunteers from all over the country so you get the best spread.”

“Works every time.” Smythe looked up from his notes. “It spreads, maybe a dozen or more get infected and then millions come looking for a vaccine.”

“All helped by the hysterical press. What would we do without them?” Armitage clasped his hands.

West laughed before speaking. “The tinfoil hat lot will be on about population reduction and saving the planet from humanity again. Every time. They can’t seem to grasp that we don’t give a shit about any of that. We just want the money.”

“It’s almost too easy. We use the same techniques over and over and nobody notices,” Armitage said. “But then antismokers, antibooze, anti salt, sugar, all of them use the same methods and nobody’s noticed that either.”

“People are dim.” West leaned back in his chair. “Most just want an easy life, no challenges, no hard parts. Offer to take the hard parts away and they’ll come running.” He stood. “Well, I think we have a new project. Let’s get moving and call this meeting closed.”

Smythe looked up from his notes. “When’s the next one?”

Armitage laughed aloud. “I think you mean, ‘when shall we three meet again?’ eh?”

______________________

 

If you don’t get the reference in the last line, I have to say ‘Macbeth’ to you

 

Treeskull Tales – the next Underdog Anthology

The third Underdog Anthology will be for Halloween. Its title (currently fluid) will play on tree/three and the cover will carry a picture of something that was already in this garden when I arrived.

It won’t be that particular picture. I’ve taken a few from different angles and I’ll get some more before finalising. It will of course be fiddled with before it’s done.

The holly tree is significant in pre-Christian beliefs, along with the oak. I don’t yet know exactly when this skull was placed in the tree but the tree had grown around it to a considerable degree. You can see the thickness of the branches that were cut to reveal it.

Midsummer is coming. In the old beliefs, that is when the Holly King kills the Oak King and takes dominion. The days get shorter and the nights longer and colder until the Oak King kills the Holly King on the winter solstice.The equinoxes are where these kings get reborn.

Halloween has nothing to do with all this, of course. It’s an entirely separate event, centred on dispelling demons with the aid of bonfires. Early Christian oppressors banned bonfires on Halloween, we now have them back for a different reason on November 5th. I’m not going into a lot of detail here, don’t panic, it’s not a lecture.

I’ll very likely burn stuff on Halloween. That’s not really news, I burn stuff often. I like burning stuff and I still have an enormous amount of cardboard to dispose of.

Anyway, back to the point of the post.

This year there will be no delays. I’ll close the anthology to submissions at the start of October because I want it ready in plenty of time. It’ll be loaded up and available well before Halloween. Also, I plan something special for this one.

I intend to have a ‘cover’ for each author section, if possible for each story. These will be monochrome because colour print books are damn expensive to make. The print on demand model does not allow the insertion of ‘plates’ so if you need the top quality paper for colour images, they use that posh paper throughout. Monochrome images show up fine on standard paper.

I don’t yet know if I can get them into the eBook versions but the print one will be easy. I will experiment with an eBook version of Dirk Vleugels’ ‘Han Snel’ which is full of pictures. Colour ones too – so it’s a costly print book.

If you want to provide your own illustrations, okay with me but I really can’t guarantee to be able to pay extra for them over paying for the stories. It depends how the money goes, nearer the time. I’ll provide illustrations – now that I know how to make images like the back cover of Margo Jackson’s ‘The Mark’ there won’t be a problem. It will however take a bit of time to think up suitable images and produce them.

A quick tip – if you want to produce your own image for the book, the page size is 6×9 inches and the image quality has to be at least 300 dpi (pixels per inch). Yes, I know, inches. What can I say? I’m a Luddite who still lives in the dark ages and have already commented to the Ancient One in Local Shop today that I was happier when we still had shillings.

I go for 320 dpi for images because I once had a book cover rejected and had to readjust and resubmit. It was 300 dpi but when they made it fit the page it dropped to 298 dpi. Nobody on this planet could possibly see the difference but… computer says no.

So if you have your own ‘cover’ for your story make it 320 dpi and probably 5×8 inches to make sure it doesn’t hit the page edges. That’s 5 inches wide and 8 high, just so there are no misunderstandings. You can do it in colour if you want, I can greyscale it here. I’d rather you greyscaled it of course, it would make the file size much smaller for emailing, but if not, I’ll deal with it. It’s not a problem.

Also if I get the eBook images to work, they could be in colour. There’s no fancy paper involved so it doesn’t ramp up the price.

This post is an early warning for anyone who wants to get a Halloween story into the anthology. There were so many delays on the Easter one that it drove me nuts – I was on time but hadn’t factored in that the people receiving it for printing/distribution were mostly on holiday. Then there was the Smashwords debacle which meant their version was seriously delayed.

Not this time. I’ll close the anthology in the first week of October and have it online by mid October. It should be available well before Halloween even if there are more delays.

It’s still summer here in the North. The sky is a lighter grey, the birds are bedraggled, the grass and weeds are filled with the vigour of life and the rain is warm. It’s hard to think of horror right now. The nettles though, they will face the horror of my new battery powered strimmer at the first dry spell we get. I’ll be a herbicidal maniac among those trees!

Get those nasty ideas stirring. I’m not looking for submissions right now, I have Mark Ellot’s ‘Blackjack’ to finalise and there are more to do as well as my own stuff. You have plenty of time. Four months of time. You only have to come up with a short story, a few pages, as many as the story takes. Make it big enough and I’ll publish it as a stand-alone.

Don’t worry about fitting the ‘treeskull’ idea. Your story does not have to involve trees or skulls, that’s just the title of the anthology. I have an idea for a treeskull story that might well be based on real and local life and if you have one too, great. It’s not a condition though. Any scary campfire story will fit.

Just be ready to be edited. I won’t change your style but might change a few words. Roo B. Doo will, I hope, co-edit once again (I must find a way to pay her for this in some way!) and I really do want to have those in-book images to spice it up.

All the old ghost story books had illustrations. I’d like to bring that back.

The Hollow Bunnies are coming

The eBook versions are now available. The Kindle book had some typos so there’s an updated version in the works. It’s uploaded and should be available soon. The one on Smashwords is the up to date version, and the print book had all the corrections in place before submission. I can fix errors in eBooks just by uploading a new interior but once it’s printed, it’s fixed. So the print book was the one that had to be right first time.

The print version has to be reviewed before release. That’s simply to check it will print correctly. Hopefully it will be done by tomorrow. It’s a little shorter (and therefore a little cheaper) than the first one.

Okay, I think I can take a couple of days off now and then go for some easy ones – as in, ones I don’t have to write anything for.

Now it’s time for a rest. And a drink…

Done!

The second Underdog Anthology is ready to roll. I expect to load it up tomorrow, once I’m certain the formatting is all correct. Here’s a contents list –

Foreword

Mark Ellott 
Myffanwy and the Egg
Easter 1916
Morning Cloud and the Spanish Angels
Gridlock
Death and the Life Heareafter

Stephen W. Duffy     
Changed Upon the Blue Guitar
Doth Close Behind Him Tread

Roo B Doo
Morning Run
The Inchoate Egg

Justin Sunshine
The Journey Chosen

H K Hillman
The Night of the Hollow Bunnies

Afterword

 

153 pages this time. All the stories are Easter themed, with the usual mix of genres. Just the one story from me, although it does occupy 20 pages of the book and features Dr. Dume, one of the Blackthorn family and Romulus Crowe. It was a tough one to write, they all had their own ideas about where the story should go.

The order is simply the order in which the stories arrived. I’m last because I was the one holding things up – that story was torn from my very soul, word by word.

Tales the Hollow Bunnies Tell is finished. Next up is a biography of a Dutch artist and a novel. The biography shouldn’t take too much time. You can’t really edit a true story.

The next Underdog Anthology will be Halloween, and this year it will be ready on time. I’m getting the hang of this…

 

Normal service will resume soon.

Teaser time 🙂

 

The contents page for the second Underdog Anthology, ‘Tales the Hollow Bunnies Tell’…

 

Mark Ellott
Myffanwy and the Egg
Easter 1916
Morning Cloud and the Spanish Angels
Gridlock
Death and the Life Heareafter

Stephen W. Duffy
Changed upon the Blue Guitar
Doth Close Behind Him Tread

Roo B Doo
Morning Run
The Inchoate Egg

Justin Sunshine
The Journey Chosen

H K Hillman
The Night of the Hollow Bunnies

 

A couple of last minute entries in there but they don’t need much editing. I’ll have full access to my office (and email) again on Thursday and that will be the Big Push to the finish line. Not as dramatic as it sounds, really. I have most of the book in format and assembled, I just need to get the authors to quickly check for blunders in formatting. The book will be out in time to get it for Easter.

Father is recovering well, and will soon be back to his normal determined curmudgeonly self. They leave on Thursday so he has no time to rebuild dry stone walls outside or try to paint the 10-foot-high walls in the other rooms. I already decorated the room they’re in so he wouldn’t be tempted.

He did a fantastic job on the greenhouse, and if he’d still been fifty I think the house would have had a full internal remodelling job by now.

Anyway, the book. No more Easter stories please, there’s no time to fit in any more. Start thiking up Halloween shorts. If there are enough summer themed ideas I’d do a summer anthology but I might not be in it. Summer horror is a tough one.

Since I have email restrictions while I have visitors, I’ll put some minor contact points here.

Stephen, I need an ‘about the author’ bit from you. It can be a couple of lines or a full page and it doesn’t have to be true 😉

Justin, I’ve edited your story (didn’t need much work, as usual) and the edited version along with the author contract will come back to you by the weekend.

Roobee, likewise, your second story will be edited within 24 hours and the author contract is heading your way.

I think I have to set up a backup office in one of the other rooms. It’s nice to be visited but being separated from the main machine is restrictive. I need to set up a mirror machine.

Still, I got most of the book work done before the visit so it’s not a big deal.

Okay, better get back to it.

The Hollow Bunnies

The second anthology has passed the first hurdle. It’s over 100 pages which is the minimum to make it worth putting out in print. Print On Demand means there’s no back stock to worry about but the unit price depends on the number of pages. That’s why Hugo Stone’s ‘Cultish’ is expensive in print. It’s quite a tome.

There’s a base price too, so go much below 100 pages and the price stops dropping. Basically it means if it’s below 100 pages of 6×9 inches (trade paperback) then it’s not going to be cost effective in print. It can still work as an eBook because, naturally, there are no print costs. Even Hugo’s massive tract of depravity can be reasonably priced as an eBook.

Tales the Hollow Bunnies Tell has passed that hurdle and will be in print and eBook in time for Easter. The stories are edited and formatted (only one author prevents it from coming out right now and I have to hold my hand up to that one). The front cover is ready and looks like this –

Yes, Roobeedoo helped with the editing again. She’s on her way to being a permanent member of staff, even though we’ve never met.

There might be some adjustment to the cover lettering. Otherwise it’s done. The back cover is not done but photos of pastoral scenes are not hard to come by around here. I’ll take a camera out tomorrow if the weather permits. I do have a particularly creepy driveway…

There is still time to send in another Easter-themed story. I plan to finalise this around the 27-28th of March and I’m on target to make it. Easter is later than usual this year so I have a little leeway but for once, I intend to actually meet a deadline.

Author contracts and then payments will go out soon. If I don’t have an ‘About the Author’ bit from you I’ll be asking for one – and if you want to update yours, you can do that too.

As usual, if you want payment in books rather than cash I can do that. Postage is ‘free’ which means I pay it, not you, but it’s a legitimate business expense so it’s tax deductible. If I get to the point where I’m sending a ton of books every month I might ask for postage but it’s small stuff so far.

I won’t have a final unit price on the book until I have it completely assembled and ready for print but I expect it to be roughly the same as the last one. If so you can take £10 per story or two books per story or any combination of those. It might change so don’t hold me to this – I might yet get a novella sent in that makes it a real biggie!

Although I think a story that’s over 100 pages in itself would be a separate book, with a separate contract.

Anyway, I have been looking into the process of marketing using my management manuals featuring someone called Dilbert.. There seems to be a lot of drinking involved.

So far, so good.

Writing day

Longrider’s novel is done. All editing, formatting and cover work is finished. I sent it back to him at three minutes to March for a final once-over and then it’s publishing time. Yeah, I missed the end of February deadline but not by much and I’ve left time to get the second anthology ready for Easter.

There are enough stories to make this one worth doing so the second anthology is a ‘go’. Could do with a few more authors – there are only four of us so far – but then Easter is a tough topic. Still, we have nine stories so far and some are long ones. It’ll be big enough to be worthwhile.

For the Longrider fans – yes, Morning Cloud is in it again.

And I’m bringing back my favourite demons, Foras and Bifrons, for this one too. I’m also working on a Dume tale that might or might not make it in time. If so, that would be ten stories.

There’s still time to think up a quick story or two. This one will pay at £10 per story plus a copy of the book, or all in copies of the book if you prefer. I can’t keep up the pay rate I had for the first one or I’ll go bust.

I have also started working on a cover. This is at the draft stage, all might change although I do quite like that title. I’ve gone for pastoral and cute, as you see. Well it is Easter…

cover2smallNo last minute rush this time. I’ll work up an intro and all the fiddly bits well in advance. It all comes with practice. Four books done under the Leg Iron Books banner and I’m finding out where the bottlenecks are. Mostly, it’s me  😦

I have always has this tendency to try to do everything myself. To the extent that I spurn instruction books until I get past the first few disasters. It’s been labelled ‘male pride’ in the past but it’s not that. It simply does not occur to me to ask for help. There is also an element of perfectionism bordering on the OCD. There were only ever two technicians who could work with me and that’s because they were just as picky as me. I didn’t have to check every detail of their work.

Not one PhD, M.Sc. or any other student ever failed when I was supervising. Some ended up utterly despising me but they all got their qualifications. There are some who will never speak to me again but they passed and that was what really mattered.

Okay, my one man show means everything gets done exactly as I want it done but sometimes – as with the rhubarb incident I’m never going to be allowed to forget and several others that have, to my relief, been forgotten – I have attempted a two man job on my own. I always succeed but rarely without some kind of minor injury.

Lately I have begun letting people help. Roo B Doo helped a lot on the editing of the first anthology but now she has a real job again, I am reluctant to ask her to help on the next one. It’s a lot of work and I can’t pay much. Hugo Stone (the author of ‘Cultish’) helped with the editing on Justin Sanebridge’s ‘The Goddess of Protruding Ears’ and without that help the book might still not be out yet.

It took me over half a century, but maybe I should consider letting other people help out once in a while.

Maybe next year.