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.

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.

Finding Time to Write

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

You sit down before your computer, revved up to write a beaut of a chapter, and then the phone rings. Maybe your SO’s car broke down, leaving them stranded. Perhaps the doctor called with test results, or the loan company has a question about your account. In either case, life gets in the way, trashing any plans you had for your chapter. A week ago I began my vacation with the intention of adding two more chapters to my WIP, writing four blogs for this week’s October Frights Blog Hop, and serious editing of my Night to Dawn submissions for the magazine. I started off at a good clip. I made it through a chapter, three blogs, and three edited stories. Halfway through the week, I came down with a killer stomach virus and spent the next two days between my bed and the bathroom. Even my Mylar balloons wisely stayed out of the way.

Some folks might consider house construction—I’ve had a lot of that in the last year—as a life-in-the-way event. Thankfully, much of the work involved painting and spackling, and when the drills came out, I was able to tune out the sounds and continue with my projects. When you have a day job, time management becomes crucial. The daily to-do lists help, and I cross each job off as I finish it. A workshop leader suggested running a timer, but I found that counterproductive. I started worrying about the clock, and when I did work, I kept looking at the timer to see how far I’d gotten. Not good.

Some articles recommend Freedom or other software that will block your Internet or phone, thus removing distractions. I have two problems with this. First, these programs cost money that I can use toward marketing, publishing, and buying Mylar balloons. Second, NTD is a small press, and it’s great to be available if an author or illustrator has questions. I do try to budget “fudge” time for emails and phone calls related to NTD projects. Do I reward myself? Yes, by heading to the store for another Mylar balloons or just browsing the shops online.

Long ago, I invested in having someone come over to clean my house and cut the lawn. Given my track record with orthopedic surgery, the docs advised me to steer clear of the lawn mower. I can’t help but wonder how someone with a day job, kids, and house chores finds any time for writing or any other pursuit. Before I’d gotten sick, thankfully, I had jotted down notes on what I wanted for the last blog. Once I got better, I managed to finish the blog and look at other NTD stories. For the WIP, getting back in sync is tougher—it meant going through the last chapter and moving on from there.

Time management has been something I’ve struggled with at times, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with this and how you’ve handled the distractions.

Barbara Custer is sharing thoughts on time management for writing.

Balloons can help you focus more than any software!

I’m awarding prizes to random commenters. First prize is a $10 Starbucks gift card. Second prize is a comp copy of Night to Dawn Magazine.

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Clarissa Johal

 

When Blood Reigns: Cover Reveal

Barbara Custer's latest release, When Blood Reigns, is a sequel to Steel Rose.Marked for death, Alexis accompanies her lover, Yeron, and four survivors of a zombie invasion on a search for the renegades who created a chemical that induces a zombie-like state. On the way, ravenous flesh-eaters attack Alexis’s team; one survivor turns on her. She realizes too late that the renegades have been tracking her every move. When officials capture her, she becomes deathly ill. Can DNA splicing save her? Will Yeron’s attempts at rescue jeopardize all their lives?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I had Walter Mitty dreams of having When Blood Reigns release slated for October 10. Given the preparation involved, I had to push that back, so there will be a December release. Still, I’d like to tell you a little about the book and what led to its completion.

At one time, When Blood Reigns was part of Steel Rose, which had grown to about 600 pages. Most publishers, including Yours Truly of Night to Dawn, frown on manuscripts much longer than 100K words. Howcumzit? From my observations, more words mean more pages manufactured, which means a higher price per book come distribution time. Someone of Stephen King’s ilk can get away with a 600-page novel—folks would buy his work at $30 if it came to that. But for the midlist and beginner authors, it’s best to work with forgivable prices, which requires keeping the word count at 100K or less.

So when I saw I’d arrived at 600 pages and still a distance from finishing the novel, I decided to split the book. I carved out an ending for Steel Rose and then moved into a beginning with When Blood Reigns. At the time, I called it by a different title—Blood Moon Rising. A wise publisher advised me to ditch that title because too many other books carried it. I came by When Blood Reigns by researching titles that felt right. Then I proceeded to take a democratic poll in my Facebook groups, and When Blood Reigns got elected. Steel Rose and When Blood Reigns got healthy edits before release—I strongly recommend Gemini Wordsmiths for edits.

You can expect to find many brutal zombies and renegade aliens. Alexis will have to do serious kickass fighting to survive. Remember the mummy of Atlantic City, described in an earlier blog? I had revisit Atlantic City and other personal demons because a few chapters will have a plethora of skeletal beings. During slower moments, I mellowed out with humor and tender moments between Yeron and Alexis. Around December 5 through 7, I will lay out excerpts and buy links.

You might wonder if there’s another sequel. The answer is yes, but I’m keeping the plotline under wraps until after I’ve finished the first draft. I’m introducing new characters, and it takes time to get to know them.

I’m offering two giveaway prizes to a randomly selected commenter. First prize is a $10.00 Starbucks gift card to a randomly selected winner. Second prize is a complimentary copy of Night to Dawn magazine. 

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Clarissa Johal

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