Behind The Forgotten People…

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” People have told me I’m different; you won’t find many people who collect Mylar balloons the way I do. Whenever I go to a supermarket, a balloon follows me and my cart to the cashier.

And so it goes with the protagonists in my newly-released, SF anthology, The Forgotten People. A lone woman grieving over her father’s death seeks comfort in painting. Another mourns the loss of her husband so much that she can’t focus, thus jeopardizing her job. It was as if someone from another planet had dropped these people off on Earth, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Perhaps the music they hear may come from an alternate universe. And, speaking of Mylar balloons, Chloe discovers balloons galore in “Popple Land.” However, the tales of The Forgotten People are not all balloonery and fluff. Some of the characters come packing heat. Two of the tales, in particular, “The Forgotten Ward,” occur in the future at a time when Medicaid stops. Without cash or health insurance, the indigent patients must go without treatment. The protagonist, a nurse, gets a front-row seat to the horrors of watching the sick being evicted to the Forgotten Ward, where all treatments stop. In recent years, evictions of the poor have occurred in some nursing homes and “The Forgotten Ward” is a depiction of what could happen if this is allowed to continue.

Is there a solution? I’d like to think most problems have answers; and with the Forgotten People, the boundaries are so thin, anything can happen. What if their circumstances changed? Suppose one of the loner’s paintings attracted the attention of visitors from outer space? What would happen if our nurse managed to smuggle medical aid to the poor?

Of people who march to a different drummer, Thoreau says, “Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” So I shall continue to waltz to the music my Mylar balloons play just as the characters in The Forgotten People will dance to the tune they hear.

Balloons like these flourished in “Popple Land.”

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.

Paperback or Ebook?

Night to Dawn features tales edited by Barbara Custer

Available in print format

At my Mylar balloons’ suggestion, I took a poll on Facebook to find out whether people preferred reading their books in ebook or paperback format. The results surprised me. Then again, I shouldn’t have been that surprised to read that folks prefer the feel of a paperback in their hands.

Sales on Night to Dawn ebooks had been almost nil, even though the price is less. When I started publishing through Night to Dawn, I did all right selling ebooks. Back then, the novelty was present. After all, it’s a lot easier to lug an iPad or Kindle on trips than it is to carry paperbacks and hardbacks. The lower price tempts one to buy, with a lot of ebooks selling for $2.99 or less.

Ah, but as the years go by, the blue light in the iPhone and brightness of most computer screens gets rough on the eyes. Besides, the novelty wore off. What’s more, there’s the cost of damages to consider. Drop a book, and you might have wrinkled pages. Drop an iPhone, and you’re looking at pricey repairs.

Aside from the poor sale of ebooks, my book Steel Rose is nearing the end of its contract. Currently, it’s available only as an ebook. If I take over the sale of that book, I’d like to see it in paperback. I’m also putting together a short story collection. I was thinking ebook, but I know now that I’ll want paperback format made available. I was contemplating making Night to Dawn available on Kindle and Smashwords, but it wouldn’t look the same without showcasing the back cover. In certain ebook formats, illustrations don’t always turn out well.

When people tell me their preferences, I try to listen. My Mylar balloons might not agree, but that’s beside the point.

I’ll still continue to sell my wares in ebook format. It’s a lot easier to travel with ebooks, but at home, it feels great to curl up with my Mylar balloons and a good print book. Your thoughts?

 

Horror fiction NTD book in paperback & eBook format.author who writes horror and science fiction

Tell versus Show

horror and zombie fiction published by Barbara CusterA while ago I turned down a manuscript because it had, as I put it, a lot of “tells.” This is something I’ve struggled with in my writing; as an editor, I can spot an issue right away. The author took my answer in stride, but he asked me to explain what I meant. This I did, but I got to wondering if other folks struggle with show-versus-tell.

Let’s look at the following paragraph:

Mary loves her Mylar balloons. Every time she goes to the store, she adds another floral shape or butterfly to her collection. She’s got every balloon shape imaginable.

This is a one-dimensional statement telling us that Mary loves balloons. But we do not see Mary in action when she buys them. We don’t see the expression on her face. The statement tells us nothing else about Mary, so why should the reader care?

Paragraph Two:

A Mylar butterfly balloon beckoned to Mary as she shuffled into the supermarket, shoulders drooping. Perched on a display stand, it glimmered with rainbow colors. “Balloon!” Mary cried, clasping her hands together. “So beautiful.” She could almost hear the balloon’s call: “Oh, Mary! Mary!” Shopping list forgotten, she raced down the aisle and snatched the balloon up in her arms. Its shushing sounds took the edge off her sadness. With a broad smile, she headed to the cashier to buy.

Now, this paragraph needs more detail. What if Mary had a long shopping list or a Spartan budget? Conflict arises. Does she buy the balloon, and if she does, does she go into debt or forego groceries? We know that something was bothering her. Perhaps she has little time for errands, or she has to make every penny count. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to hear more about Mary and what her balloons do for her.

Alas, it’s hard to see the defects in my manuscripts. The story I’m working on is my baby. For me to edit, it would be similar to a doctor treating his family. So I always hire an outside person to edit my work. Even with the welcome page for Night to Dawn, I ask someone to read. There are also my buddies from the Hatboro Writer’s Group, who serves as my beta readers. One issue people have had with my developing stories is the poverty of body language. Showing how the character feels has been a struggle, but I find that putting a story aside for a few days allows me to gain a fresh perspective for a rewrite.

The show-versus-tell conundrum continues. Has this been a problem for you? I’d like to hear your experiences and thoughts.

Commenters are eligible to win a copy of When Blood Reigns.

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