An excerpt from Generic Vampire Novel #937 Part One American Sexy by C Z Hazard
Finishing the final passage of the chapter, he raised his head and looked over the top of the page at his captivated audience. An awkward, uncertain silence filled the air. No one seemed willing to be the first to make the first move, or even to make a noise. As the sea of dumb-struck faces stared vacantly back at him, he realised a simple gesture of finality was needed.
He closed the book.
Almost instantly, an energy seemed to course through the crowd, prompting them to applaud in unison.
Despite wishing – not for the first time – that the opening chapter had been better written, he felt the book reading had gone well. This was the third such reading he had done today, and his throat felt raw from repeated recitation. And this was only the fourteenth stop on a scheduled tour of forty-seven book stores up and down the country.
It was going to be a long month for Shamus Ohio, but hopefully a profitable one.
His book, Horrorcaust was fast becoming the best-selling novel he had ever written. It had debuted at a modest level and held, before gradually beginning to rise. In a day and age when success was measured by first-day sales, opening weekends, and membership of Oprah’s prestigious Book Club, this was an unheard-of phenomenon; you either debuted high, or disappeared. Shamus’ book had bucked this trend.
His agent, normally happy to take the pay-check (any pay-check) seemingly for doing as little work as he could get away with, was suddenly not only returning Shamus’ ‘phone calls in a timely fashion, but actually making outbound calls, and had even gone so far as to organise an expedient book tour.
Ironically, Shamus had never set out to write a novel of this kind. Horrorcaust had been written on a whim during a two-week stop-over at a friend’s house in Guernsey, where he had taken a sabbatical from his day-to-day life, in a vain attempt to wrap up another novel, Starfish Prime, which he had been working on for months. While Starfish Prime was a project far more aligned with his science fiction roots and interests, he’d been finding a few aspects of the story difficult to wrap up and had started to worry that he’d written himself into a corner. Horrorcaust had been little more than a literary exercise which he’d hoped would break through his “thinker’s block”, as he called it – he could always write; it’s just that sometimes, what he wrote was rubbish – and allow him to finish working on a book he actually cared about.
Still, the novel had almost written itself and had helped him hit a deadline requirement, and – more impressively – was selling! Shamus had agreed to the tour, and (at the suggestion of his agent) had even hit the refresh button on his wardrobe in a misguided attempt to fit in with his new core target audience. Evidently, black with purple accessories was the new black.
As the applause of his ardent fans began to die down, Shamus stepped back from the lectern. An employee of the book store, a short, bespectacled lad – ageless in that particular way certain morbidly obese people are – nervously took the microphone.
‘Mr. Shamus will now do a short autograph session. Hadrian’s Wall of Books requests that there is a limit of three autographs per person, and that flash photography can only be used with the permission of Mr. Shamus.’
Shamus smiled to himself. The employee had managed to address a crowd of over a hundred people and his voice had only cracked twice. Not bad, thought Shamus, whose first public appearance had seen him sweating more than Nixon's upper lip. Had it been possible to lose a book reading competition to a dead Kennedy, he would have that day.
As Shamus took his position at the signing table, he tried to remember when that first appearance had been: was that yesterday or six months ago? Time had become something that was measured in hotel stays, train rides, and car journeys; broken up by fractured sleep, oddly-timed meals and equally irregular bowel movements (for instance, he distinctly remembered eating a greasy full English breakfast at 2:00am at the end of a long day of train delays and traffic jams, with a pint of lager sat next to his plate, with the chocolate pudding served as dessert repurposed as breakfast the next morning). He’d lost track of any more standardised meter of time.
He had decided to skip on the Q&A session, citing logistic restrictions as his excuse. The reality was that another round of inane questioning had the potential to send him into a blind rage, and might well result in the verbal assassination of a fan whose only crime was caring more about the characters in the book than Shamus did.
‘Is Merrcy Brown supposed to be beautiful?’ one fan had asked recently.
How was he to respond to that? The book had already gone to great (but easy to digest) lengths to define the vampires in the novel (or should he say “vampyres”, as his literary agent had oh-so-trendily suggested he spell it) as nasty, remorseless feeders, with no concept of romance, love, family or society outside of a “pack” mentality. But what could Shamus possibly tell this kid about beauty that would mean anything? He’d looked at the teenage girl asking the question, seen the goth make-up, the piercings, the buckles and chains and fishnets: to her (and to the repugnant boyfriend at her side), this was beauty. Her parents no doubt would have disagreed, but that was probably the point. In the end, Shamus diplomatically proposed that certain axioms hold true and that beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. From a PR perspective, this was a better move than had he followed his initial gut instinct to less-than-politely offer the fan a full refund on the condition she had to stop reading his books.
The autograph line looked long and daunting. Shamus tried to ignore his aching pen-hand, but the steadily increasing pain had him wondering which would fail first: his hand or the annoying, ornate gold pen he was using, which could only be considered sporadic at best, and which had been a congratulatory “gift” from his agent. He was coming to suspect that his patience would give up long before either.