Pep Rally

Cathy Atmore has always dreamed of being on the Cresswell High cheerleading squad. But she’s never been popular enough or pretty enough. She hates being on the outside, looking in. Now the members of the cheerleading squad are being killed one by one . . .

Has Cathy’s jealousy driven her over the edge?

That’s the cover blurb for Pep Rally, #7 in the Horror High series by “Nicholas Adams,” and literally nothing in it, starting with the protagonist’s name, appeared in the novel.  There was no pep rally at any time.  Only one cheerleader got killed.  For that matter, the book’s actual title was Booster Club.

Cast back your mind to those heady days 0f 1991.  Doyle and I were young writers.  We were working on our own stuff, notably the Mageworlds series, but those books were being written one-per-year (with payments coming in once-per-year) while  bills came in every month.  So what’s a writer to do?  Answer: go to Packager Gulch to get quick piecework.

What is a packager, you may ask?  Well … you know those annoying people who come up to you at conventions and say, “I have a great idea for a book!  You write it and we’ll split the money!”  Well, packagers are like that.  Only they really do have an idea for a book (or more often a series), they’ve already made a deal with a publisher, and there really is money.  Which you may actually see.

Like the old man said in The Seven Samurai, “Find hungry samurai.”

What’s in it for publishers to work with a packager is that they get a pre-made series, all the books fully edited, no slush reading, no dealing with finicky authors.  All they have to do is slap their logo on the spine and send ’em off to the distributors.  Easy money!

The YA Horror boom was booming back then (thank you, Jovial Bob Stein), so there was a call for YA Horror in carload lots.  One or another of the packagers, I forget which one, came up with Horror High.  Which led to one of those fateful phone calls from an editor (again, I forget who — sorry about that, anonymous editor, but this was thirty years ago.   If you’re reading this and want to confess why not pop up in the comments?)

Anyway, the story as I recall was that an editor at the packager had contracted the series with a publisher, then gone on maternity leave, without having gotten the authors for any books beyond #1 in the series.  Now the printing date was coming up and someone noticed there were no manuscripts, so a scramble was on to find fast, reliable authors.  Someone who could write a book in under a month (for some reason the term “twenty days” seems to stick in my mind).  Would we be interested?  And, if so, could we get them an outline?  They were offering a few kilobucks.

Well, a few kilobucks sounded good right about then, so we had a thirty-page outline back to them the next day.  (We type fast here at Madhouse Manor.)  The day after that, the editor called back and said, “The whole art department is singing the song.”  So we got the assignment.

Was there a song in the outline?  There sure was!  It went (to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic):

Jenny Brodie’s bloody body’s bundled in a body bag
Jenny Brodie’s bloody body’s bundled in a body bag
Jenny Brodie’s bloody body’s bundled in a body bag
But her legs go marching on.

Gory, gory Jennie Brody
Gory, gory Jennie Brody
Gory, gory Jennie Brody
Her legs go marching on.

The protagonist was named Rachel Atmore, so I could get in the Sherlockian A Study in Scarlet reference to Rache (her nickname).  The name of the victim came about this way:  She started out as Anybody, who was Rache’s buddy.  So she became Any Buddy, then Jennie Buddy, then Jennie Brody.   The “legs go marching on” line meant that her legs had to be detached at some point, and so indeed they were.

The setting was a fictional high school somewhere in Rhode Island, which put it reasonably close to Fall River, Massachusetts, site of the “Lizzy Borden” murders.  That got us to an auto repair shop called the A. J. Bordon Garage (for Andrew Jackson Borden, Lizzie’s father, one of the victims of that multiple homicide).  I’m pretty sure that we didn’t put the motto of the A. J. Borden Garage into the final book, but it was in the outline.  The motto went “A. J. Borden takes an ax / And gives your engine forty whacks / And if the darned thing still won’t run / They give the trannie forty-one.”

Thomas Cranmer Memorial Hospital (note the Episcopalian joke) was based, in its layout at least, on Grasslands Hospital in Valhalla, New York (now Westchester Medical Center), where I had worked in the Bio-Chem lab as a teenager.  My main duties were spinning down the blood in a centrifuge, then running the samples through an SMA 12/50 (that’s a Serum Multi-Analyzer, which did twelve different tests in fifty minutes).  The Bio-Chem lab was across the hall from the pathologists’ lab,  which is how I first learned to recognize the smell of human decomposition (an important point in this book!  It’s a horror novel, y’know!)  Whenever the pathologists got a ripe one they got to wear gas masks.  We over in Bio-Chem… didn’t.

The pathology archive/museum we describe in Pep Rally is a pretty fair description of the archives at Grasslands.

Anyway we got the contract — and an advance — in the mail.  Included was a copy of the galleys from the first book in the series, whose style and tone we were supposed to match, with a Post-It note on the first page from the editor:  “I am not responsible for the panther.”  Which was just as well.

So to work! In the first chapter Rachel Atmore (who wasn’t a cheerleader, didn’t want to be a cheerleader, and didn’t have a jealous bone in her body) arrives at school, and as she is putting her coat in her locker and taking out the books for her first class (the layout of the school is based on Archbishop Stepinac (AKA Commie Martyrs High) where I’d gone), she’s approached by a one-eyed star pilot (a Mageworlds reference) who hands her a blaster and says, “Save the last round for yourself” before fading back into the crowd.  Once in her homeroom, Rache notices a cute new boy.  He introduces himself as Storm Matthews (the reference is to Planet Builders by “Robyn Tallis,” an earlier packaged series we’d worked on).  He points up to the top of the page and says, “You see that byline?  You’re in a Doyle & Macdonald novel.  They hit me upside the head with a piece of re-bar and  put me into an eighteen-chapter coma just because they could!” Then the bell rings and the  homeroom teacher says, “Everyone whose best friend is still alive, raise your hand.  Not so fast, Atmore!”

Doyle had a lot of work to do to fix that chapter.

This was me typing pretty much stream of consciousness, where the important thing was to keep my fingers moving on the keyboard.  If I didn’t know what to say next, I’d say anything.  Fix it in the second draft.

The world in Packager Gulch harks back to the days of pulp magazines, the twenties-through-forties, when there was a huge need for stories to fill the magazines.  Pre-TV there were hundreds of markets buying thousands of short stories.  People who could write publishable first draft could make a living.  The Puissant Persons of Pulp, fueled by black coffee and unfiltered cigarettes, working under a bare forty-watt lightbulb hanging by wires from the ceiling,  pounding on a manual Remington with a keypress like a Charles Atlas hand exerciser, might produce a War story on Monday, a Romance tale on Tuesday, a Mystery yarn on Wednesday, Weird Horror on Thursday, a True Confession or a Sunday School fable on Friday, then over the weekend a porno novel (to be sold under the counter at bus station news stands everywhere) before starting again on the following Monday.  I know of one pulp author who fed a roll of butcher paper into his typewriter so he wouldn’t have to waste time changing pages.  There were magazines that published issues with a dozen stories … all by the same author under a dozen pseudonyms.  Most pulp stories were dull-to-mediocre, but some few were brilliant.

But back to Pep Rally. The biggest problem with the second half of the book is that if Rachel had two brain cells she’d step into the nearest phone booth to dial 9-1-1 and make it a very short book indeed.  So to finesse that we just kept her moving so fast that she plain didn’t have the time.

This is the book that killed two computers.  We were writing it on an Atari ST, saving the text on 3.5 inch floppies (remember those?).  When all of a sudden the disk drive stopped working.  “Drat,” we said, or words to that effect.  Mostly because we didn’t have time to retype the whole thing with the deadline approaching, and we couldn’t afford a new computer, we had to get creative.  So I hooked up the Atari ST to an Atari XL with a null modem cable (anyone remember those?), took  the lid off the ST and moved the read/write head of the disk drive across the floppy with a pencil point in order to scrape the text up and put it onto a 5.25 inch floppy  (remember those?) in the XL.  Which worked great, until the XL also died.  More through good luck than good judgment we still had our original Atari 800 around, and that would read the Atari 5.25″ disks, and so the day was saved.

Then, just before we were to print out the final text, we got an envelope from the packager with the cover flat in it (a cover flat shows the artwork from the front and back, and is used by salespeople to convince bookstores to order a ton of the books).  And there was the front sales line, “Cathy would kill to be a cheerleader … really kill.” 

“WTF Cathy?” we said, or words to that effect.  A brisk phone-call later it turned out that whoever had done the cover hadn’t read the outline, and had been mistaken about the name, and … the covers were already printed, so … we did a global search-and-destroy on the name Rachel, turned it to Cathy, edited out all the nice Sherlock Holmes jokes, and called it good.  What the heck, he who pays the piper calls the tune.  They wanted Cathy?  They’d get Cathy.  We printed out the manuscript with our trusty Juki daisy-wheel printer, and off it went in the mail.

One of our traditions was always to write an extra last chapter, never submitted to the publisher,  in which the actors who play roles in the book appear as themselves, rather than the characters they portray.  This is the cast party.  They wear loud Hawaiian shirts, drink entirely too much, throw each other into the pool, and otherwise carry on.  And at the end, the last sentence, they all raise a beer, and say “Here’s the the authors!  Without those overworked underpaid bastards we’d all be out of a job!”  The End.

In due time Pep Rally, complete with the blurb that had nothing to do with the book, was published by HarperCollins.

I’ve seen places on the ‘Net that list some, most, or all of the Horror High books as having been written by us.  They weren’t.  We only did Pep Rally.  Right now, on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database they list the “Nicholas Adams” novella in the collection 3 Times the Fear as having been written by us.  It wasn’t. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has us writing Nicholas Adams’ Blood Brothers and Vampire’s Kiss.  We didn’t.

For reasons that escape me the UK edition was re-titled Blood Game, and was released as #3 in the series in ’93.  There also seems to have been a Czech edition, Smrtící Povzbuzení (Deadly Encouragement) #3 in the Stopy Hrůzy (Traces of Horror) series, 1992.

And that is the true and complete never before revealed story of the writing of Pep Rally by Nicholas Adams.

It was fun.

 

 

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3 Responses to Pep Rally

  1. Jane Yolen says:

    Fun reading these an’t eait to see if you write about how I treated the two of you. Probably too lacking in great anecdotal material the way this one was!!!

  2. jamesdmacdonald says:

    Ah, Auntie Jane, your day will come! (Generally, being edited by you was a treat, and the stories are all good ones. But anecdotes? I haz some!)

  3. jamesdmacdonald says:

    As I look at the copyright page, it comes back to me: the packager was Daniel Weiss Associates, which, after some sales and mergers and name changes, is now a book-packaging-and-film-production unit of Warner Brothers.

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