Battle of the Covers

psychological horror written by Gerald Browning

The cover war started during Smashwords’ July promo. Because Smashwords had changed its formatting guidelines, two of the books that had been out awhile didn’t meet specs. I noted that Gerald Browning’s Demon in my Head had drawn attention, so I reformatted his book and ran a Facebook promo on it. During the process, I got to thinking, this is a darned good read. How come it doesn’t get more sales? That was when someone gave a vague criticism of the cover.

Designing covers are not my strong suit. The cover design is more straightforward for the Night to Dawn magazine because its cover has more real estate than the trade paperback books. I decided to apply the following maxim: if one person tells me I’m a balloon, I will ignore them. If two people call me a balloon, I’ll listen. If three people call me a balloon, I’d better get a ribbon and float.

I posted the cover image on the Facebook page for The Writers Coffeehouse. Many of my writer buddies belong to this group. Whenever I can, I go to their monthly meetings in Willow Grove. These folks recognize a good or bad cover, and I received a lot of constructive criticism with suggestions on what I could do to improve the cover. It was time to grab that ribbon and float.

After fortifying myself with a Mylar balloon purchase, I approached Gerald with the suggestions about his cover. He’d heard similar sentiments from people who read his book and was glad to get a new cover. Next an email to Teresa Jay, the cover artist for his book. She started with several ideas, and two of them looked good. Enthused, I took them back to my Writer’s Coffeehouse and got more helpful suggestions. One included using a filter to get rid of the cartoonish look on one of the images. Where I live, filters are for coffeepots or air conditioners, and I mentioned the same to Teresa. Thankfully, she has a great sense of humor. After going back another time, this is the final new cover for Demon in my Head.

I got four takeaways from this: first, if you read eBooks, you can get a great deal at Smashwords during July. Sometimes, the books are free. Second, Demon in my Head is a darned good tale, and folks who like psychological horror and the occult would find this a must-read.

Third, I want to thank Teresa Jay for her patience and good humor with making the changes. She does the back cover for my Night to Dawn magazines, and wraparounds for some of the books. I’m glad to have her. Finally, to the folks at the Writers Coffeehouse, I owe you guys a lot of thanks and balloons. I’ve proud to be a member, and I look forward to going to future meetings. To aspiring writers, I strongly recommend you go to some meetings. Initially established by Jonathan Maberry and other literary greats, the Writers Coffeehouse I attend meets the last Sunday of each month at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble, from 12 to 2:00 p.m. Jonathan later established one at the Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. There are meetings in Rosemont, PA, and other locations too. In any case, it’s about writers helping writers.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

A Good Reason and the Real Reason

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Yesterday, I headed to the supermarket to take advantage of the sales. Well, that was a handy excuse. The real reason I went was because I’ve contemplated the colorful Mylar balloons on their display shelves. Perhaps someone might cite ill health or better opportunity as a reason to quit a job, but deep down, they were simply unhappy working at their company. In both cases, we have our good reasons and our real reasons.

This principle applies to writing, too, so I have a confession to make. A while back, I blogged about The Forgotten People, citing my reasons for rewriting and publishing the stories. My post didn’t ring true. The reasons I gave were valid—the stories feature timid, bullied people who didn’t fit into society. I started working on spinoffs of these tales after the Termite Invasion of 2017. Along the way, I stumbled and needed the help of a good editor.

My real motive kept me going through the tough edits: our unstable political climate.

In particular, healthcare. The two last stories in The Forgotten People anthology, “The Forgotten Ward,” and “Good Samaritan” take place in 2050. Medicaid no longer exists, and due to the high costs, hospitals will not treat you without insurance or cash card. When your insurance runs out, better hope you have money. You can’t barter with real estate or other valuables unless you can find a buyer fast. Without money, all treatment stops. The protagonists in these tales find a way to smuggle life-saving medicine to indigent patients, but they pay dearly for their efforts.

I got to thinking about Trump’s proposed 2019 cuts to Medicare, SNAP, and Medicaid. His pending changes include Medicare enrollees paying the same copay on every doctor visit, whether it be routine or a specialist. This could shortchange specialists who may in turn refuse to treat Medicare patients (shades of “Forgotten Ward”). If I met Mr. Trump, I’d ask, “Since when did age and money define someone’s right to life and medical care?”

Granted, I took plenty of artistic license. In “The Forgotten Ward,” the sickest patients are warehoused into a dirty ward where they’re left to die. In reality, if we continue on this slippery slope, the hospitals of the future may simply discharge patients who run out of funds. But there you have it, folks: my real reason for publishing this book.

My Mylar balloons, who have an opinion on everything, from politics to writing, suggested that focusing on the real reason for telling a story may result in better writing. Methinks they have it right; it did, after all, motivate me to complete the book. Your thoughts?

Tale of Two Word Programs

Some of y’all might have read my post on Facebook about having Word 2007 and Word 2016 on one computer. Dat’s wight, wabbits, two different Word programs, one computer, and no, my quest for good PDF software hasn’t caused me to lose it. On Word 2016, I’m finding a better quality of photo when I save. According to a coworker, it has a “PDF maker,” and what’s more, if I need to make small changes on the PDF, I can do so. I plan to use 2016 for the books I send to CreateSpace and Lulu.

So then, you may wonder, why am I hanging onto to Word 2007? Well, because I process my eBooks through Smashwords. Its Meatgrinder software requires Doc files, the kind produced by Word 2003 and 2007. Now Word 2016 is capable of producing a Doc file, but you have to keep remembering to save as Doc, and according to some folks, it may cause changes to your file. At first, I felt like the Biblical person trying to serve two masters. After a discussion with my Mylar balloons, I decided to keep Word 2007, but get 2016. My computer repair person cheerfully installed the new software without overriding the old.

If my Mike were alive, he’d be smiling and nodding, then say, “Yep. That’s my Barbara.”

This blog is my first go at Word 2016. I’ve been nosing around the ribbon and found a lot of cool gadgets, but not the Adobe add-in (PDF maker). However, I found that I can set my dpi to 330 when I’m working with files that have images. I think I can reset the dpi with Publisher 2016, which I love. It gives you some nice ways to highlight and shadow your pictures. I’m really grateful for the generous dpi allowed, as Adobe wasn’t user-friendly. The other PDF programs hand trouble handling files my size.
When I get my Night to Dawn proofs, I know full well there will be tweaks needed, and if I’m right, I’ll make those tweaks with Word 2016 on board. However, I’m redoing two books for Smashwords, which necessitates Word 2007.

Do you work with more than one Word program? How has this worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 🙂

PDF Software or Not

Will PDF software be used for future NTD issues?

Yesterday, after uploading The Forgotten People files to CreateSpace, I headed over to their book reviewer to see if the printing, chapter headers, etc had gotten through okay, and I was chagrined to see that I no longer had access to the book reviewer. Howcumzit? My versions of Adobe Flash Player, the one used for both of my computers, aren’t compatible with the one used by CreateSpace’s interior reviewer. Last time I published a book, I had different computers. The interior reviewer is a handy-dandy tool to inspect each page and assure that your images didn’t come out pixelated. Since The Forgotten People didn’t have any images, I sent the files to CreateSpace for inspection. After that, they gave me the option of downloading a PDF proof, which I did. Satisfied, I ordered a paperback proof.

“You’ve got a problem!” a cheery voice sang from over my shoulder.

The voice came from my loving Mylar balloons. “No, I don’t!” I replied with glee. “I’ve looked at the PDF proof.”

“We’re not talking about your novel.” The balloons wagged their ribbons at me. “Here you are, working hard on the Night to Dawn issues, and you count on that reviewer to see if the images came out all right. Last issue, you had to reformat some of the illustrations, remember? Soon, it will come time to upload issue 34. How are you going to inspect your illustrations?”

Here we go again! I sighed and fetched a look at my balloons. “I’m sure you can’t wait to tell me.”

“Word decompresses many of your images,” the balloons told me. “You wouldn’t have this problem if you bought PDF software.”

“Right.” Another sigh. “Like I have $500 lying around to invest in Adobe’s software.”

“It may not be that expensive,” said the balloons. “They might have a subscription plan that you can handle. And, like it or not, you’ve got to deal with this. You had trouble with Lulu over your images last time, and you wound not publishing with them. Things might have turned out differently if you’d used PDF software. Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Cornered, I had a look-see, and Adobe has a subscription plan for $14.99/month if I commit to a yearly payment. It works with both iPod and regular laptop (I use both). I also asked Mr. Google about “best PDF software,” and found other PDF programs that work with Word and are less expensive than Adobe. I think it best if I go with free month trials to see if it’s user-friendly, so over the next weeks, I shall have some chats with Mr. Google regarding such trials. The Forgotten People will also go live, and at some point, I’ll be doing a blog tour.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinion of PDF software. If you use it, what kind, and how has it worked for you? Are you thinking about buying? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 🙂

Endings and the “I Gotta” Revisited

zombie fiction by Barbara CusterLast night, I worked out an ending paragraph for “The Good Samaritan,” one of the stories in the upcoming anthology, The Forgotten People. It took me over an hour to do it. Tonight, I’ll go back and review what I wrote, and if it still doesn’t feel right, then I’ll look at other endings to short stories that have worked. Endings have been my bane since I first got into writing in the early 90s. Coming up with a workable conclusion was part of the reason I took a break from my sequel to When Blood Reigns.

Okay, I’ll have a slice of Provolone cheese to go with my whine.

I took a Facebook survey on endings, and found that most people are facing the same struggle I do. Stories don’t have to end on a happy note, but they should come full circle. One can tie up all loose endings or end at a cliffhanger, but the bottom line is: satisfy the reader. My Facebook buddies gave me an invaluable piece of advice: make sure I have a definite ending in mind, if not written before I write the story. Going forward, that’s what I will do. It won’t help with my current anthology or the sequel to When Blood Reigns, but I have a plan for the future.

So why do I keep going? Stephen King calls it the “I gotta.” I wrote the stories long ago for different magazines, and then last summer, after my adventure with the termites, I sorted my material and realized these stories spoke about the same alien race, the Athyrians. In case you’re wondering about the Athyrians, you’ll have to wait until the book goes live to find out. Science fiction appeal aside, many of the stories had a common theme: how health care was becoming more cost-prohibitive. All of them needed significant updating and revisions, so the “I gotta” was born, and now I feel driven to finish these revisions, including the ending, and get them into print. The “I gotta” for The Forgotten People was the main reason I took a break from my sequel, but once the anthology goes into print, I’m heading back to my sequel. The main character in the sequel loves her Mylar balloons, and some readers have been asking for a “balloon” tale.

The “I gotta” has kept me going strong despite the breakdown of two computers and a host of other winter mishaps. None of them have challenged me as much as these endings.

Do you find your endings challenging? How have you resolved the problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

An Uneasy Armistice

Horror fiction by Kevin Doyle involving feral children

I think I deserve a Mylar balloon. I signed an armistice over the last two or three days.
I’m not referring to the World War I treaty; I’m talking about the war between Word 365 and me. The fighting began in January after both of my PCs died. Because the laptop was on its tenth year, and the desktop its fourth, I thought that something like this could happen, so I bought a 12-inch Apple iPad Pro which serves as my tablet and workstation. Enter Word 365 and its home subscription designed for the iPad.

I tried Word 365 and took an instant dislike to it. I’d grown fond of the ribbon for Word 2007 and 2010, but there was no ribbon here, as you can see in the photo below. There’s just “home, insert, draw, layout, review, and view across the top. I typed up a blog but had no clue how to format the paragraphs, let alone format book files, pages numbers, and other chores done by Word. So I shipped the file to my “go-to” Word software so I could properly format before posting on the website. I continued using the other benefits of the iPad.

Software used by Barbara Custer to create nightmaresAfter the two computers died – both on the same day, I borrowed someone’s computer, and had a bunch of my current files sent over to the iPad so I could continue Night to Dawn operations. I attempted to print out two birthday cards, something easily done on Publisher 2007, but the pics came out off-center, the print one color, etc. I cried about Word 365 every day to my sister, writer buddies, coworkers, Mylar balloons, and anyone else who would listen.

On the iPad, Word 365 doesn’t come with Publisher software. So to fix or format covers necessitates borrowing a computer that has Publisher. Thankfully, I formatted the Steel Rose file for Smashwords. Smashwords prefers Doc files, not Docx, but I can save as a doc 2007 and 2010. Not so with Word 365 on the iPad. I started going through material for NTD 34. At first, I couldn’t even figure how to center a paragraph, let alone formatting for PDF and page numbers.

I’ll get a new PC but not until the end of the month. It will have Windows 10, which has its own learning curve, along with Word 2007. Because I’m working on several projects, I’ve had to make my peace with Word 365. I got a little tutoring, and learned about tapping the lightbulb image to get help with the things I didn’t understand. So now my stories are formatted – I sent material to an editor for Darkness Within from my Word 365. I may have discovered some worthwhile things, such as the background for pictures. I’ve gotten to type up headers and page numbers, and found a way to convert to PDF, too.

Still, Word 365 continues to test me—I can hyperlink titles but the hyperlink won’t cross over to the website page. I used track changes to edit a flash piece. It showed that I made changes, but the actual edits didn’t show.The armistice is there, but uneasy. However, I got some real writing done. So I’ll likely get that Mylar balloon tomorrow.

Have you had new Word software thrust on you? What was the learning curve like? How did it affect your writing? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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