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Read the first chapter of THE PUFFIN OF DEATH at


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Sure-Fire Best Seller!

When I asked my Facebook friends last week to send me the elements that would guarantee a book become a best seller, I was amazed at the response. Here are some of the "must haves." Young adult genre. Zombies. Vampires. Romance. The Ming Dynasty. Small Georgia town. Key West Cemetery. Mutant dogs and cats. Evil clowns. The Shroud of Turin. Knights Templar. Nuns. Amoral jerk scientist. Sassy female protagonist. A hi-tech Russian submarine defecting to the U.S. that falls into a time warp. Lots of sex and guns. A space alien who attacks Earth out of revenge for his brother whose UFO was shot down by the U.S. in Roswell. Poisoned cereal. African gray parrots. A mysterious manuscript that reveals an age-old conspiracy. A crooked U.S. senator who pretends to be a Christian but who is really an atheist who was taken over by an alien species. A ghost that cooks. Recipes. An alcoholic down-on-his-luck detective whose one true love was killed by a psychopath. Adorable-acting triples who are actually evil. 10 drunk men who have sex with 10 drunk women who all get pregnant, and the men draw straws to see who marries whom. Parachutes. An over-imaginative little girl who sees all this insanity as an adventure.

So there you have it -- a bubbling cauldron of random ideas. Since I don't have time to actually produce the entire book (hey, I'm knee-deep in "The Llama of Death"), you'll have to be content with a five-part synopsis of "Love, Death and Zombies in Waycross, Georgia" You get the first part today (Chapters One through Three), and the rest will be parcelled out over the next two weeks. Enjoy the madness.


Nanjing China, 1382 AD
In 1382 AD, the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty, is building his tomb at the same time he receives a visit from Ali Afaq, an Arab trader, who shows him an ancient jeweled chalice for sale. The chalice, Afaq tells him, is reputed to be the cup used more than a thousand years ago by a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua who was crucified by the Romans. The legend also claimed that three days after dying, Yeshua rose from the dead, but if the chalice is ever drunk from again by anyone other than Yeshua – who still lives – a terrible curse will befall the world. “Truly this cup possesses magical powers!” Emperor Yuangzhan exclaims. Yuangzhan, who is terrified of death, signals his money handlers to pay Afaq a king’s ransom, and takes possession of the chalice. Years later, Yuangzhan dies, the chalice in his hands, believing that its powers will raise him from the dead, too. After his body begins to compose, his faithful priests finally realize that their beloved Emperor must go underground, so they bear him to an innermost room of his large tomb. They leave him with the chalice still clutched in his hands.

Moscow, 1917 --The chalice disappears for centuries, until in 1702, a team of grave-robbers, working by night, uncover the chalice. All die miserably by the end of the year, and the chalice disappears again. It reemerges in 1917 in the hands of a Russian Orthodox priest, who makes a pilgrimage to the Imperial Palace, where he gives it to Tsar Nicholas II, who is trying desperately to hold on to his besieged throne. The priest convinces the Tsar that the chalice is the Holy Grail, and will grant the Ruler of All Russia eternal life – as long as he doesn’t drink from it. But when the Tsar is forced to abdicate, his shattered nerves make him forget the priest’s warning, and he fills the chalice with vodka and drinks deeply. Within a year, the Tsar and his entire family have been slaughtered by the Bolsheviks in Ykaterinburg, and the Grail – which now carries a curse as well as a promise – is stolen by escaping palace guards.

Turin, Italy – 2013 -- Having “liberated” the Holy Grail from a Russian gangster, descendants of the Order of Knights Templar turn their attentions to the Shroud of Turin, which prophecy says must be reunited with the Holy Grail and the Holy Lance (which their order found centuries earlier in Palestine). After shooting tear gas into Turin Cathedral and securing the Shroud, they take refuge in Castello del Piagnaro, in Tuscany, where their treasures – including an ancient scroll supposedly written by Jesus himself -- are reunited for the first time in 2000 years. But before they can lock away the Shroud, the Lance, and the Grail, the castle is stormed by the Pagliacci Assassini, a vicious band of art thieves wearing clown masks. The Assassini kill all the Templars. Sir Reginald Montgomery, the lead Templar, is still clutching the Chalice when he is run through by the Holy Lance. While Sire Reginald’s body is still twitching, the Assassini celebrate their successful operation by drinking a rare 1978 Montrachet from the Chalice. They, too, are dead within the year.


Key West Cemetery, Florida. November, 2014 -- Miami homicide detective Benjamin Nash wakes up in a cemetery surrounded by nine men and ten women, all of whom are as naked as he. Waking up with strangers hasn’t been unusual for Nash, or anyone else this past year, but as he studies his companions, he realizes his behavior has reached a new low. Judging from the clothing spread around the area, several of the women were nuns – or at least had been playing the parts of nuns in the local dinner theater production of “Sister Act.” Nash, born Catholic, hopes it was the latter, because the thought of attending an orgy with nuns horrifies him almost as when the news broke that a slow-spreading virus was turning the world’s inhabitants into hollow-eyed, shuffling zombies. Studying the sleeping forms near him, he sees the tell-tale signs of the infection on at least half of them: black buboes under their arms, darkened lips, an unnatural gauntness in the face. “My, God, have I caught it now?” he thinks. Just as he is about to pick up his clothing and flee, one of the uninfected women wakes up, looks around, and says, “Talk about not being in Kansas anymore.” Spying Nash, she demands, “Who the hell are you?” When Nash introduces himself, she smiles. “Nice to meet you, Detective Nash. I’m Sister Mary Catherine.”

Waycross, Georgia. February, 2030 -- Fifteen-year-old Aimee Lee Nash wishes her father would shut up already about the Before Time. She was tired of hearing how good things were and how rotten they are now. So what was the problem with picking up the weekly food supplement drop from the Capitol? There was no problem, that’s what. Well, other than the weird stuff going on with the Gro-Glo Cereal, of course. “It sure beats having to fight off all those zombies who overran The First Settlement last year, doesn’t it, Cody?” Aimee’s best friend, sixteen-year-old Cody Branson, always accompanied her through the thick rain forest to the food drop site, and only partially because he enjoyed getting out of The New Settlement. He was in love with the pretty little redhead, and just being near her made his day. He’d decided to tell her about his feelings as soon as they tested the cereal packages. Aimee, who he had to admit was smarter than him, had long suspected Gro-Glo had been laced with something other than vitamins, something that kept the villagers oddly tranquil even in face of the End Times. Not that he believed all that religious rot. Amiee, who paid more attention to politics than he did, said that hyper-religious Ulysses Graham Marshall, the 48th President of the United States, was a fraud. “He ran on the God First ticket only because he knew it would get him elected,” she’d said. “Just before my mother was murdered by that crazy man last year, she told me she’d once met him at an orgy in Key West, and he was a flat-out atheist then, and judging from some of the things he said later, he still is.” Cody raised his eyebrows. “Your mom attended an orgy?” Aimee shrugged. “Who didn’t in those days? What with the virus and all, everyone thought they were going to die any second so it was, like, gather ye-rosebuds-while-ye-may time.” Cody thought about that for a moment. “Do you think Marshall may be your father?” Aimee shrugged again. “He has red hair, but that doesn’t mean anything. Dad told me his mother had red hair, so even though he’s a blond, he could still be my biological father. He thinks he is, anyway.” Cody laughed aloud, scaring a flock of African gray parrots out of the trees. Along with other tropical animals, the parrots had migrated north once Global Warming had turned much of the U.S. into a tropic zone. Cody paid them no mind because he’d just realized something startling. “Wow, to think I might be hanging out with the daughter of the President of the United States!” Aimee responded with a string of expletives. Cody felt himself blushing, but he loved it when Aimee talked dirty.

Waycross, Georgia – June, 2030 -- Watching the inhabitants of The New Settlement slip into blissed-out stupors after eating their ration of Gro-Glo, Aimee’s suspicions about the cereal were confirmed, but she and her father still had to eat, so she picked up her bow, slung her quiver of arrows over her shoulder, and set back out into the forest. Let the others pursue their druggie Nirvana, she and her father would live on what she could kill. On the way to the area where deer were known to graze, she passed Dog Town, where a Golden Retriever exited his hut and ran out to meet her. “Whatcha doin’, Aimee, whereya goin’, can I go with, oh please oh please oh please?” the retriever begged in his doggy patois, jumping up and down with excitement. The virus that had created so many mindless human zombies had had the opposite effect on dogs and cats, raising their I.Q.s enough that they could not only build crude huts, but talk, too. Dogs, being pack animals, glommed together in ramshackle villages; not so the cats, who had always been loners. Cats emerged from their individual lairs only to hunt or torment the dogs. “I’m looking for deer, Yellowfur,” Aimee answered the eager retriever, “but I’d rather do it alone. Every time you spot a herd, you start barking and scare them off.” Yellowfur’s doggy face looked stricken “I won’t I won’t I won’t I promise, Aimee, please please please let me go with and I have this tick on my back and can’t get it could you could you could you get it please please please?” Aimee dutifully removed the tick and threw it to the ground, whereupon Yellowfur pounced and ate it. “Yummy, Aimee, yummy, sorry I didn’t’ leave any for you I’m so sorry I’m a bad dog but maybe there’s another one and if there is you can have it if you find it, so yummy, Aimee! See how unselfish I am, I am, so can I go with please please please?” Knowing Yellowfur well, Aimee turned down his offer and continued on her way. In the background, she could hear Yellowfur dog howling his disappointment. Almost drowning out his howls was the satisfied hisses of a flame point Siamese, who as Aimee walked away, stopped hissing long enough to remark, “Me loves the sound of unhappy dogs in the morning!”


Waycross, Georgia – June 2030 -- An hour after Aimee distributed the Gro-Glo Cereal, former homicide detective Benjamin Nash noticed the villagers of The New Settlement falling into a near-stupor. And as they always did when in such a state, they began to scrapbook. Scissors snipped and hand-made paste stuck salvaged photographs, news articles, and even leaves into hand-bound books. As soon as the Gro-Glo wore off, they’d look at their creations as if they’d never seen them before, but for now, scrapbooking was the obsession. Nash wondered what it meant. “They’re fools, aren’t they?” he said to Mary Catherine, his dead wife. Her frowning ghost hovered near the stove, anxious for Aimee to return with the meat from the day’s hunt. Her vocal chords not being what they once were -- the decay of death does take it's toll -- she used her hands to signal disapproval of her husband’s judgmental tone. “Sorry, sorry," he said. "I know you think I’m being rough on my neighbors, but I’m getting pretty tired of me and Aimee – well, and maybe Cody – being the only people who work around here. You’d think the rest of them would have figured out by now that the Government is poisoning them into submission. They used to say that religion is the opiate of the masses, but now we know it's scrapbooking.” Mary Catherine’s expression changed to one of sadness. Relieved that she was no longer angry, Nash continued, “A runner from North Encampment came by yesterday, delivering news. Did you know that? I mean, you weren’t here at the time. Where were you?” Mary Catherine pointed skyward. “Why are you able to come back?" he asked. "Are you the only ghost around? Or are there others?” The ghost shrugged. They’d had this conversation many times before, and all she ever did was shrug, leaving the workings of God or whomever was up there these days as mysterious as ever. “Anyway, dear, the runner from North Encampment said there’s a rumor going around that the Holy Relics have finally arrived from what’s left of Rome after the zombies sacked it, and that the relics were moved to the Smithsonian. They’re under lock and key, the runner said, and the President is the only one who’s allowed to see them. Which kind of makes me wonder. The runner also told me that the Jesus Letter has finally been translated into English from Aramaic but that the President won’t tell anyone what it says. Why does he…?” Nash was interrupted by the loud wail of a dog, “Oh, gimme pelt, Aimee, gimmie pelt please oh please, me loves to chew pig, pig tastes so good with all the bristly hairs and runny luscious red and white stuff, oh please oh please, Aimee!” It was Nash’s turn to scowl. “It’s that damned Yellowfur again. I don’t know why she puts up with him. It’s not like the lazy thing ever does anything other than eat us out of house and home. Why doesn't he hunt with the rest of his pack?" Aimee staggered in, dragging a dead wild boar. “Dad! I've got something to tell you. I heard…” Nash looked over to the kitchen where his wife’s ghost still hovered near the stove. “I laid out the barbeque sauce recipe for you again, Mary Catherine,” he called. “I know your memory isn’t what it used to be.” The ghost blew him a kiss. She couldn’t talk and her memory was fading, but at least she could still cook up a storm.


One bottle Heinz catsup
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar (more if you like a sweet sauce)
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 minced cloves garlic
1 tablespoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
3 tablespoons Tabasco sauce (more if your mouth can handle it)
3 minced Ancho chili peppers (culinary weaklings can cut it back to one)

Mix ingredients in a saucepan, bring to boil, then cover and simmer for 2 hours. Serve on pork or chicken cooked almost to charcoal in an open pit barbeque or smoker. Have plenty of white bread and water on hand to absorb the heat.

Aimee stood over the slain boar and frowned at her father as Yellowfur danced around her legs, begging for a piece of hide. “Dad, will you listen to…” Nash smiled and said, “I’ll butcher the boar and start the fire. Dinner should be ready in a couple of hours.” He started to go outside to the open pit they’d built out of cement blocks and wire, but Aimee blocked his way. “I said listen to me!” his daughter yelled. “Aimee, I have to…” “Dad! A runner from East Encampment just brought the news that a Russian submarine washed up on Marlin Rocks! And he says it’s from 1954!”


Gentle Reader, this is the last installment of the book. Unlike previous installments, where actual dialogue is used, the remainder of the book is only a brief synopsis of the action. Why? Because this project, begun mainly as a joke, has entertained me so much I’ve decided to actually write the book – zombies, talking dogs, contemptuous cats, Knights Templar, UFOs, mad scientists, Ming Dynasty kung fu concubines and all.

And here we go...

When Aimee, her father, and Cody reach the Russian sub, they learn from the English-speaking mad scientist on board that the sub fell into a time warp and wound up in the Ming Dynasty, where they met Peony Sun, a former concubine who had become a martial arts master. Peony told them about the Emperor’s terrible illness, and warned them not to go anywhere near the bejeweled chalice he’d bought from an Arab trader. It carried a curse, and anyone who touched it dies within a year. However, its fellow treasure, the Sacred Scroll, was written by Jesus himself, and was reputed to contain the formula for eradicating the zombie curse. The Holy Grail, the Holy Lance, and the Sacred Scroll have been hidden at Castello del Piagnaro, in Italy, and are guarded by descendants of the Knights Templar, who have sworn to fight unto death to keep their treasures out of the hands of Infidels.

Getting to Italy is no problem, Aimee, Cody, and her father decide, because the Russian sub – named Krasnyi Mest (Red Vengeance) – is in good shape, although much slower than before due to the depletion of nuclear fuel. It’s getting the Scroll away from the Templars that they fear could be problematical. Yes, lives will certainly be lost in the battle, but the Russians, Americans, and the kung fu princess all decide to chance it. They will somehow steal the Sacred Scroll, decipher the formula, and manufacture the life-saving cure. During the trip across the Atlantic, Peony and Aimee become close friends. The Russians, using a method developed by the mad scientist, learn excellent English. The Americans learn Russian, and everyone learns Mandarin Chinese. During their language lessons, they discover they have a stowaway on board. It’s Yellowfur, who wants to do his part to save the world. Yellowfur is discovered to have a lovely singing voice and gives nightly concerts as they travel slowly across the Atlantic.

But before the Krasnyi Mest finally makes landfall, it is attacked by an American submarine captained by U.S. President Ulysses Graham Marshall, who, it is revealed, is Aimee’s true father. Marshall wants the castle treasures for himself; he who rules the Grail rules the world! Unlike the crew of the Krasnyi Mest, he’s convinced that he’s immune to the Grail’s curse – after all, isn’t he a God-fearing man? The Krasnyi Mest wins the ensuing sea battle, and as the sticken renegade sub sinks to the bottom of the ocean, Yellowfur – who bears no animosity towards anyone – sings a soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Upon their landing near Genoa, the crew marches inland to Castello del Piagnaro, where they engage in a fierce battle with the remaining diseased Templars. Aimee, Cody, Peony and Nash fight bravely. Yellowfur bites much Templar ass. As the leader of the Templars lies dying, he reveals the secret of the curse. According to legend, a UFO crashed somewhere in China during the Ming Dynasty, and a wounded alien staggered out. An Arab trader happened to be passing by and attempted to render aid to the alien by giving him a drink from the jeweled chalice he was carrying. Unfortunately, water was poisonous to this particular alien and he died on the spot – after vomiting into the chalice; the chalice has remained poisoned ever since. Having delivered his story of the origin of the zombie curse, the Templar, covered with black boils, dies.

During the vicious battle, all the treasures, including the hopefully life-saving Holy Scroll, are recovered, but Yellowfur has been badly wounded. The mad scientist – who’d never liked Yellowfur’s singing anyway – wants him left behind, but after an enraged Peony kung fu’s the crap out of him, the mad scientist has a change of heart and says he’ll do whatever he can to save the dog. A weeping Aimee carries the courageous Yellowfur back to the Krasnyi Mest. The crew, now reduced to a quarter of its original size, begins the trip back to America with their Holy treasures.

The mad scientist, having been kung fu’d back into sanity, saves Yellowfur’s life after applying mouth-to-snout resuscitation, then rubbing the Holy Lance across his wounds. Having been schooled in ancient Aramaic, he is able to translate the Holy Scroll and discovers the formula. He says that it will either kill everyone on Earth or eradicate the zombie plague forever. Everyone on board agrees that it’s a chance they must take.

Back at Waycross Georgia’s New Settlement, the now-sane scientist sets up shop. It’s a race against time, because during the trip back across the Atlantic, everyone on board the Krasnyi Mest – including himself – developed black boils. They all know that within weeks, they’ll turn into zombies. But books like these always end happily, so the scientist succeeds, the New Settlement’s ham radio operator sends out the formula for the cure, and everyone once infected with zombie-ism is soon cured. Out of gratitude for his life-saving efforts, Peony marries the formerly-mad scientist. Aimee marries Cody. Yellowfur marries a German shepherd named Lily Marlene. And after her ghost is exposed to the now-cleansed Holy Grail, Nash’s dead wife, the former Sister Mary Catherine, is brought back to life. In the book’s final scene, Nash and Mary Catherine renew their vows under a flowering apple tree. The wedding is attended by every person (and talking animal) mentioned in the book. At the reception, Yellowfur delivers a stirring rendition of “Feelings.”

The world is saved and everyone lives happily ever after.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, Betty - hilarious!

Helen Ginger said...

Very cute. I'd read it.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis said...

Oh Betty, you've got a sure-fire thing here. I'm loving it. Now it I can only figure out how to work an ancient zombie into my latest book...

Alan Cook said...

The vampires. Where are the vampires? My mentee, a high school girl, has written a long novel about vampires and fallen angels. Maybe there's hope for it.

Betty Webb said...

Not to worry, Alan. There will be vampires. And aliens.

Renaissance Women said...

What a joy. I can just see how popular it will be with the 'tweeners'. They want to grow up so fast. Looking forward to the next installment.

lil Gluckstern said...

So-o-o funny! Sounds like a good barbecue sauce too:)

Carole Estby Dagg said...

Betty, what a hoot - a sure-fire best-seller! All it needs now is a cover with Aimee in a ball gown with twenty yards of satin in the skirt.

Betty Webb said...

And a gun in her hand, Carole.

Lori said...

Haven't had such a good laugh in a long time, Betty -- what a great work! Having been pushed into the YA genre more than once by my older sister (yes, we are both long past YA-hood!) I think this would be an instant bestseller! And I'd love to hear more from Yellowfur; I've always wondered what a conversation with my dog would sound like, and I think you're spot on! Great work!

Cat said...

Fabulous blog! I'm now a follower :)



Eunice Boeve said...

I was sure glad to read that they lived happily ever after.