About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine

Identifying with your Characters?

Barbara Custer's Life Raft: Earth features suspenseful science fiction.I’d gone quiet for awhile because I’ve had to temporarily relocate due to major termite damage. Among other things, I feel as if I’m walking in one of my characters’ shoes.

About two years ago, I released a novella, Life Raft: Earth, in which protag Natalie and other humans face an exploding star hurtling toward the earth. After lengthy negotiations with politicians, Chibale, a kindly Trittonite, uses his technology to tow the Earth out of harm’s way and toward a benevolent galaxy. Without his help, Natalie, her family, and everyone else would die. Still, the trip is inconvenient and creates hardships for the humans and the Trittonites. How does my termite problem relate to Life Raft: Earth? In the spring, I learned that termites had eaten away the joists under my living room, kitchen, and office.

Damage like this seen in Life Raft: Earth and Barbara Custer's real life.Because the homeowners’ association is responsible for termite inspections and the structure of its properties, they’re paying for the repairs. The damage was bad enough to warrant them moving me to a different location while their contractors worked. The process necessitated lots of preparation on my part, too; I had to pack away enough medicines and supplies to last a month – more than that, in case the repairs take longer. I brought several Mylar balloon trees with me, so they required a miniature tank. I worry about the ones left, for the extended stay studio apartment can only accommodate so many balloons. Much of my writing time went into packing, transporting, and storing boxes. Without the homeowners’ interventions, the floors might have caved in under my weight, as you can see from the photo to the left.

This got me to thinking about Life Raft: Earth and the preparations Natalie had to make. Her ride included radical changes in weather, requiring the purchase of pressurized suits and sophisticated heating systems. That included a doggie suit for her beloved Brutus for his outside walks. The Trittonites’ evil leader tries to sabotage the transport. Because her father’s political connections made Natalie a target, she lived out of a suitcase on Chibale’s ship, where she learned ways to protect herself. Of course, Brutus came along, so that meant packing dog food, along with human-friendly treats, clothing, etc. Frequent fires and droughts, along with pictures gotten of the star left Natalie with no choice but to put her life in the hands of strangers and dealing with an antsy dog. She misses her job and her home and winds up leaving the ship, despite protests by Chibale and his companions.

I myself have snuck back to the house a couple of times to scope out the progress. Mike and I have lived in that house almost 30 years, so it holds a lot of memories. I miss my bed, my oven, and other conveniences. The outcome is where Natalie’s story and mine differ. I’m in a safe place, and when the repairs have concluded, I anticipate having a new kitchen and rebuilt floors. Natalie’s traveling through hell, and her chances of surviving the trip are iffy. But when it comes to homesickness, the inconvenience of relocating, and having to trust strangers, I can identify with her.

Have you ever found yourself identifying with your characters? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

 

Personal Demon: Shadow or Ghost?

Personal Demons haunt Barbara Custer as she shields herself with Mylar balloons.At night when the lights go out, the moon outside throws shadows on my walls. My hair stands on end, and I burrow my head in my Mylar balloons so I wouldn’t have to look. A small voice inside asks, “Is that a shadow or a ghost?”

The photo above should give you an idea why. I took this picture three years ago after putting up summer drapes in my bedroom. I’d gotten privacy film for the window panes, but little cracks of glass peeked under the film, and hence, half-moons of white on the wall. I took a photo of the moon shining in so people could see why the ghost images haunted me.

When I was a child, those white shadows terrified me. Worse, we lived in a corner house near a busy intersection. Every time a car passed, its headlights shone through the windows, and what looked like what figures danced across the walls. Because of this, I slept with the lights on until I turned twelve. Perhaps my experience with the Atlantic City mummy reinforced my fright. In any case, I imagined that the shadows were evil spirits; so long as the lights were on, I would be okay. At the time, I shared a bedroom with two older sisters, and they were fit to be tied. They wanted the lights out, but per Mom’s ruling, the lights stayed on until everyone was sure I’d gone to sleep.

These night demons served me well in writing. In many of my tales ( City of Brotherly Death and When Blood Reigns, for example), shadows on the wall served as harbingers of danger for my characters. These ghostlike images continue to haunt me, so more of this will crop in future tales.

I still have to deal with the necessity of getting a good night’s sleep. Certainly, the Mylar balloons help, but I’d like to stop those shadows from creeping up my walls. The privacy film I’d gotten before didn’t work. This past week, I put up new colorful film (photo below). It ensures privacy, but I’ve still got my winter drapes up. Tomorrow, the pink summer curtains will replace the drapes, so I’ll put the new film to the test come nightfall. If the shadow ghosts break through, I’ve got my Mylar balloons at the ready, along with a notepad to make notations for a scene.

What kind of demons show up in your writing? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

This ghost screen shoud protect Barbara Custer from personal demons and shadows.

Salami and Writing – to Self-Publish or Not

Barbara Custer enjoyed salami and cheese at the writing workshop.

Yesterday, I got to attend the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop at the Sonesta Hotel. I began my day with salami and provolone cheese sandwich for breakfast; then I headed downtown. It was an excellent conference, but the classes that struck home related to the dos and don’ts of self-publishing (loved that class) and the advantages of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I had my lunch over at De Bruno Brothers and took advantage of the opportunity to buy cheese. When you’ve tasted their fine cheeses, you’ll want to buy more.

Chuck Sambuchino discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of writing. With traditional publishing, there are no startup costs. The company will edit, handle the cover illustrations, and may even hire someone to provide marketing. Whatever money you get with your advance is yours to keep, and perhaps later, you might get film options. It carries an air of legitimacy; ergo people will be more agreeable to review your book and interview you.

Ah, but since the company is fronting the money, that leaves you at the whims of others. After the advance, the royalties run about 10 percent, and it takes a lot of time from contract signing to book release.  Assuming you get an agent’s attention right away, it could take several months before the contract between you and agent is signed; months before that agent signs you with a publisher; a total of two to four years before the book is released.

Self-publishing gives you control over the editing, illustrations, formatting, price, etc. The royalties are decent. The length of the book and genre don’t matter; self-publishing would be ideal for someone who’s focusing on a unique interest and has a ready market for their book. What’s more, depending on the company, you could have your book released in a week. It took me six months to a year for each self-pub work because the book went through an editor before I got into formatting.

The downside is, you become your own agent, editor, marketer, etc. or be ready to pay upfront fees for these services.  Self-publishing still carries a stigma; bookstores and reviewers will shy away from your book. There’s no help with marketing or subsidiary rights, and without a platform, promotion is an uphill battle.

The time factor mention hit me where I live, and that was why I self-pubbed many of my books. Up until February 2013, I queried agents and lined up at seminars for pitches, but in 2013, I had two admissions to the hospital for water on the heart. Last January my husband died, and recently the homeowners’ association discovered significant termite damage in my floors. I’m healthy now and have had no mishap with the floors, but my takeaway from these events is this: Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. With that in mind, I’ve had a rough time wrapping my head around the idea of waiting four years for a book to go live. Thankfully, I’ve found ways to work around some of the disadvantages of independent publishing. I’ve also published with small presses; this helps with the time element.

That’s not to say I’d never try traditional publishing again; I may change my mind years from now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you feel traditional publishing is best or do you prefer independent publishing? What have your experiences been like?

In the meantime, there’s another salami and cheese sandwich with my name on it.

Darkness Whispers …

Darkness Whispers delivers deliciously chilling horror fiction by Richard Chizmar.Darkness Whispers will introduce you to the town of Windbrook, a sleepy little community nestled deep in the secluded Skullkin Valley of western Pennsylvania.

All is well in Windbrook, just like usual, just like always. Nothing changes here, nothing is different.

Except… except today something is different.

An old man with piercing gray eyes will arrive in town this morning. This man isn’t human. Not even close. And he isn’t coming alone. Death travels with him.

Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December, and Brian James Freeman, acclaimed author of The Painted Darkness, have combined forces to create an old-fashioned tale of horror, full of good and evil, with a breathtaking ending that will leave you wondering when this peculiar old man might be coming for you…

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Reviews and Praise:

“Anthology editors Chizmar (the Shivers series) and Freeman (the Dark Screams series) build tension and hook readers… with this svelte tale of modern small-town life gone wrong. The characters are instantly engaging, and the story moves at such a satisfying clip…” — Publishers Weekly

“Filled with enough plot, characterization and metaphorical heft to stuff a full-length novel, Darkness Whispers brilliantly depicts the supernatural exploitation of a small town’s moral failings. Subtly shifting from Bradbury-esque whimsy to badass horror worthy of the King himself, the novella is a major achievement by Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman.” — Bentley Little, author of The Consultant and The Influence

Darkness Whispers begins as a visit to a golden-hued, idyllic town that soon gets dark. Very dark. I quickly gave up trying to second-guess the formidable authors and simply surrendered to their lead all the way to the shattering conclusion. Chizmar and Freeman know that horror doesn’t work without humanity, and with this story they succeed in chilling our blood and breaking our hearts.” — Ray Garton, author of Live Girls and Night Life

Darkness Whispers offers chilling horror fiction by Richard Chizmar.

 

Night to Dawn Then … and Now

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction along with vampires.When I reviewed a proof for Night to Dawn 31, it occurred to me that though I often blogged about writing and my Mylar balloons, I mentioned little about NTD magazine. Some folks have asked me what goes into putting a magazine together. An editor once told me about software he was using to do his magazine.

The thing is, new software comes with a learning curve, not easily navigated when you work a day job. I can do all right with old-fashioned Word if I start with a template from Lulu or Createspace. Word comes with Publisher, which I use to format the artwork, and I can convert files to PDF. When I took over the magazine in 2004, Word was just a word-processing program. Night to Dawn was a spiral-bound magazine. I knew nothing about the process, so I continued with the spiral, hiring a printer to make copies of the pages. I’d bought a coil binding machine to attach the pages. How I did it, I don’t know because I had arthritis in both hands. Three issues later, I moved to a perfect-bound book; the printer did the binding.

Mind you, printing magazines at a local printer cost over $400 back then, as opposed to Lulu or Createspace now. I had no way to make a PDF version, columns, or tucking art inside a story; I printed the stories on a plain Word document with the illustration downloaded after each piece. Thankfully, Editor Ginger Johnson talked me through the processes; so did Marge Simon and Cathy Buburuz, especially embedding illustrations.

My watershed moment came when someone at a writer’s conference told me about Lulu. I’d known about Lulu, but I thought they only handled novels. I never realized until later that I could print the magazine at a much more reasonable price. Why? Lulu and Createspace operate on a larger scale than a print shop, and can get away with charging reasonable while making a profit.  Lulu’s price enabled me to use four-color covers, whereas the print shop charged extra for doing so. I still use the print shop for supplies, but leave the magazine printing to Lulu and Createspace.

Nowadays, I use Createspace to distribute my books and magazine because I can charge reasonable, get fast distribution, and get a decent royalty, but I use Lulu for the initial print run because I like the work they do with the covers. Both companies provide the templates needed for the covers and manuscript. Letter designing isn’t my strongest suit so artist Teresa Tunaley has been designing my back cover. Sandy DeLuca does the front cover and a lot of interior art. I’ve also gotten great interior illustrations from Denny Marshall, Chris Friend, and Elizabeth Pierce.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.Night to Dawn started out as a vampire magazine, but now it features different monsters, usually vampire or zombies. Night to Dawn 31, which has just gone live, has tales from the zombie’s point of view. The “welcome” page started out dry and flat, but I changed the name to “Pickings and Tidbits.” I’ve started dressing up the column by including a recipe and an anecdote about my Mylar balloons. People are always hungry and they appreciate a good laugh.

The one thing I haven’t been able to do is print Night to Dawn on Kindle. It’s more about time constraints – the formatting would need a radical change, along with the illustrations. One day in the distant future, I may want to revisit Kindle. For now, though, I’m focusing on the magazine and books, and perhaps creating a few nightmares of my own.

Revisiting “Where’s the Bread”

These Italian gluten-free pizzelles taste like my mother's.

Gluten-free pizzelles

I spent my recent days holiday baking. Unlike previous years, my gluten-free pastries were reminiscent of my Mom’s recipes, and my Mylar Balloons whispered, “Shouldn’t you blog about your baking?” No, I’m sleepy, I thought and promptly dozed off on my computer chair.

Then yesterday, I photographed my gf anginetti (Italian lemon-flavored cookies) and pizzelles, and people began asking how I came by these recipes. “You see?” my balloons crooned, “Better Batter and King Arthur cup-for-cup flour worked for you, right? And you’ve been posting some of your recipes in Night to Dawn. How about sharing your experiences with your followers?”

The balloons had a point. Back in 2014, I posted a blog titled Where’s the Bread. There were no photographs of bread or other treats because whatever I attempted tasted awful. My cheese rolls hardened like baseballs. Though I contented myself with my homemade chicken rice soup and Udi’s bread; I continued to try different recipes.

I found a user-friendly method with Pamela’s Pizzelles, and these taste like my mom’s version. I use anise extract for flavoring. They’re hard to tell from the regular pizzelles, so I had to mark the containers carefully.  I also tried recipes provided by Nicole Hunn. She posts a blog and has written several books on gf cooking. Whatever food sensitivity is the issue, she can suggest ways to work around it. When I made cheesecakes, I substituted gf crust; there was Mike’s cheesecake, and he got a hearty slice with each visit. I haven’t been able to bake cheesecake since he died but found a lot of treats with Nicole’s recipes. I also tried her cheese bread recipe, but that didn’t turn out well. Italian cheese bread, called “pitz” (spelling?) is the Holy Grail in my family. I bake it every Easter but have yet to manage a gf facsimile that works.

These tasty gluten-free pastries were baked by Barbara Custer.

Gluten-free anginatti

I found tasty recipes on King Arthur Flour’s website, particularly their chocolate chip cookies. Last time I made them I substituted coconut for half the chips and they were awesome.  This past year, King Arthur came out with a Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour which you can substitute for regular flour to convert traditional recipes to gluten-free.  I used it to make butter cookies and anginetti, using concoctions similar to my mom’s. You might wonder how come I didn’t go with my mom’s recipes. Mom never measured flour, and neither did I. I’m not ready yet to try gf baking without measuring. The butter cookies taste like Mom’s; the anginetti came a little heavier than I liked but decent. For the anginetti and wedding cake cookies, I had to use more liquid than the recipe specified. So if the recipe called for one cup of orange juice, I used 1.5 cups. Better Batter Flour advertises as “cup for cup”, but they recommend that you add extra liquid.

Barbara Custer found a way to doctor a bread mix to get these delicious gluten-free rolls.

The bread’s over here!

Oh, by the way, I found my bread – Pamela’s bread mix has worked for me nicely as you can see in my photo to the left. And I will continue posting my recipes on Night to Dawn’s “Pickings and Tidbits” page. Even writers and connoisseurs of Mylar balloons and fiction have to eat sometimes! 🙂

Have you had to alter ingredients or find new recipes to accommodate a food sensitivity? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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