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. 🙂

 

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.

Writing after a Loved One Dies

 

Michael was very supportive of my writing endeavors.

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My family took the picture to the left a year before my husband Mike went into the nursing home. You hold onto the good days when you get them, and Christmas, 2009 was one of them. When he passed on January 29, the pain of losing him shot through my heart like an arrow. I wondered how this would affect my writing and other activities.

When my mother died in 1990, an instructor advised me to keep a daily journal. This journal evolved into fiction pieces, and months later, I submitted them for publication. In 1995, after my father died, I sat down and penned a short story in three hours. It got published within a week. Losing Mike has come with its own circumstances, though.

I seldom discussed Mike on social media, but if one wanted a true measure of my grief, they only had to look at my checkbook entries for March. I’ve had to scribble out and rewrite most of the entries, and it was hard to read what I’d written when I had to balance the checkbook. The writing dried up as well; I have written only two or three blogs during the last six months. It was like my internal gadget for blog making had gone into hibernation. As it was, the handling of Mike’s estate and increased need for sleep left no time for blogging. On my days off from work, I had numerous appointments lined up with the lawyer, the bank, insurance folks, etc. By 7:30 at night, I was ready for bed. Thankfully, I had previously pulled together Night to Dawn 29, and my authors have been understanding regarding other projects.

The story writing did a big slowdown, too. I’ve been trying to work on a sequel to When Blood Reigns, which should see a fall, 2016 release. I began writing it with visions of Alexis and Yeron setting up house and beating down the renegades. The thing was, when I attempted to write from Alexis’s point of view, I managed only a few paragraphs at a time. The appointments and the phone calls that came with them got in the way.

I found a lot of help from my writer’s support group in Hatboro and The Writers’ Coffeehouse. This has helped get the words moving. Night to Dawn 30 has gone together without a hitch; NTD released Sandy DeLuca’s Lupo Mannaro, and I’ve just released a new edition of Rod Marsden’s Ghost Dance. I will likely do a blog tour after my book When Blood Reigns goes live, so there should be more blogs coming.

The parade of Mylar balloons has grown, although the intense heat we have now has laid some to rest. At any supermarket, you’ll find a balloon or two trailing me to the cashier’s line. I tried getting around the writer’s block by introducing a new character into the book, one who likes balloons. She was supposed to be a secondary character, but … she’s taking over the book. When I work on a chapter that involves this character (she’s also dealing with grief), the words flow like balloons do toward me at the markets. Perhaps I am journalizing after all. In any case, I find myself jumping around and writing the material from her point of view. I anticipate completing this book, but it’s liable to turn out way different from what I had imagined.

This leaves me to wonder how grief affected other writers. Did you find yourself changing genres or going off on a different tangent? Did you keep a journal? I’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

Ghost dance, a horror tale written by Rod Marsden.

Parkinson’s Scorched Earth: The Conclusion

Mike was living a real life horror tale with his disease.

You grab the good days when you can.

The conclusion happened January 29th at about 2:00 p.m. The scorched earth warfare waged by Parkinson’s and dementia against Mike prohibited his ability to swallow, and that was when he died. I should have seen it coming; he’d been losing weight and getting frequent infections. My Mylar balloons tried to warn me. Every time I browsed Amazon to order him fresh supplies, the balloons stayed my hand. “Wait,” they advised me quietly. “He’s not going to need those. Save your money.”

Speaking of balloons, it was Mike who introduced me to them. He brought me some when we got engaged, and after his hospital stay in 1996, he thanked me for his care with several Mylar balloon bouquets. He loved my cheesecake, and I told myself that as long as this continued, no worries. Denial can be a comforting place.

He often regaled people with tales of his years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Later on, he added that the Navy gave him the happiest years of his life, and now I can see why. Time spent around other people enabled him to escape the reality of Viet Cong capturing people and Parkinson’s disease invading his body.

“Scorched earth” comes from the military strategy the US used to fight the Viet Cong. This strategy involved the destruction of crops, homes, and resources vital to the enemy. I don’t recall exactly when Michel’s war with Parkinson’s disease got ugly, but I know that dementia had imprisoned his talents. It whispered “scorched earth,” with gardening, driving, and activities of daily living becoming the first casualties. His frequent falls echoed “scorched earth,” necessitating admission to the Veterans home. The ability to swallow became dementia’s final target; yes, dementia can affect swallowing in its late stages. The patient’s cognitive function worsens until finally, his brain forgets how to swallow and sustain life. After his admission to the home, I learned that deep brain stimulation, when done in the subthalamic nucleus where Mike had it done can cause cognitive changes, including dementia.

I can sum up Michael’s fight with Parkinson’s by using an analogy about life. When I was ten, my mom sent me to a summer camp for three weeks. Other kids spent the summer; some stayed a week.  Some preferred sports; others leaned toward arts and crafts. One kid remained a loner and avoided most activities.

In many ways, life is like camp. God drops us off to “stay” for a while; some of us will remain here longer than others. Some people become writers or artists. Others go for medicine or law. Mike came to the camp of life with many talents, but as the years passed, he reminded me of the little girl who didn’t fit in.

His problems became apparent when his doctor attempted different medicines that resulted in intolerable side effects. At work, customers complained about his softening voice, accusing him of drinking (he was a teetotaler). Although surgery contained the tremor, it aggravated his cognitive changes and speech difficulties.

After Mike went on disability, he joined the neighborhood’s beautification committee. He had his horticulture skills behind him, and this seemed to give him purpose. Instead, after a few months, he came home, reporting that he’d been “ousted.” One of the other members who happened to be a nurse explained that Mike was exhibiting personality changes and none of them pleasant. Toward the end, he became a lone wolf like that little girl at camp.

Thankfully, the Veterans home nurses treated him like family. They appreciated the sense of humor and kindness still lingering under the dementia. He’d been supportive of my writing, and this continued on his good days. Up until a month ago, he giggled at my balloon adventures. I suspect that his relatives in Heaven will welcome him with love, balloons, and flowers. Whatever Mike saw upon passing must have been beautiful, for he had a look of awe on his face. His suffering is behind him, and I’d like to think that he’s filling up on cheesecake, picking balloons, and thinking of me. Heaven has surely gained an angel.

Featuring R. Arundel: The Hardest Part of Writing is…

R. Arundel, author of Face Transplant, delivers a compelling blog on writing.

The hardest part of writing is the middle or, as some have said, the “muddle.” It is relatively straightforward to create an interesting premise and an exciting opening to hook your reader. Also the ending of the book in a thriller will have a climactic end with revelations the reader did not expect. These parts of the book fuel the writer to fill the pages. The middle is a different story.

The middle of the story has to keep the story moving forward with interesting details, fill in exposition needed for the story, fill out the characters, develop subplot. This all has to be done in an interesting and fresh way for the reader to continue to enjoy the book. The opening is usually sketched out with relative ease since this sets up the story and really the only concern is how you will decide to reveal the opening. Likewise the ending really has been determined by what has already been written in the story. The conclusion naturally flows from what has already been written.

The middle can easy become unfocused and meander down paths that really don’t propel the story forward. The other problem with the middle is that it has to keep the fill in essential elements and be interesting. The initial pages can have a breathtaking scene, with details to thrill the reader. This can’t be done for the entire novel or it will lose its effect and the novel will become over the top and totally unbelievable. The middle has to take a more nuanced approach to storytelling. The pacing must vary, the characters must have interesting reveals. My personal approach to the middle is to make sure everything propels the story forward, even if some of the expository details are less exciting than the opening.

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TheFaceTransplant is a compelling tale written by R. Arundel.

Dr. Matthew MacAulay is a facial transplant surgeon at a prestigious New York hospital. When his friend and mentor, Tom Grabowski, dies under mysterious circumstances, Matthew uncovers his friend’s secret: a new technique that allows perfect facial transplants. No incisions, no scars. Tom was able to accomplish this monumental feat with the help of Alice, a supercomputer robot with almost human abilities. While trying to find the people responsible for murdering Tom, Matthew realizes he is the prime suspect. He must flee for his life with the help of Dr. Sarah Larsson, a colleague and reluctant helper, who has a secret of her own, and Alice, who helps them make sense of a baffling series of seemingly unrelated events. The clues carry Matthew and Sarah around the world. They stumble onto a sinister plot of monumental proportions that leads Matthew all the way to the White House.

The Face Transplant is a powerful medical suspense thriller of the first order. The novel was written by a surgeon who weaves politics, medicine, and espionage into a tightly paced, intelligent thriller.

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AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Arundel is a practicing surgeon. This experience brings realism to the story. The novel asks what would happen if a surgeon were to develop the perfect face transplant. This would allow people to have a new face, in essence create a new identity. You can create the perfect double, the perfect Doppelganger.

Contact link: http://www.amazon.com/R-Arundel/e/B00EBCQVEC

FOR A CHANCE TO WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF THE BOOK, go here: http://www.thefacetransplant.com/contact.html  FILL OUT THE FEEDBACK AND MARK SUBSCRIBE.

Prizes for the tour are as follows:

  • One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card.
  • One randomly chosen host will receive a $25 Amazon/BN.com gift card.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Face Transplant is a compelling tale written by R. Arundel.

Excerpt:

Guaarrr. It sounds like water draining from a very large bathtub, through a very large hole. I just killed myself. I just killed the patient. Dr. Matthew MacAulay looks down on the operating room table at the gaunt, graying man. Matthew quickly scans the operating theater. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the short wide man in the observation area.

I just killed myself, Sarah, and Amanda.

They have been hijacked into performing a face transplant. The patient is unknown. Mr. Glock, the short wide man, hovers in the far end of the operating room. He made it clear that if the patient did not survive, the three of them would be following him in short order. The 9 mm Glock with a silencer on the end gave credence to his profanity-laced words of warning.

Matthew looks across the operating room table at Amanda Soto, forty-two, an American of Spanish ancestry. She has been his scrub nurse, assisting him in the operating room for the last three years. Divorced, one child.

It will take a few more seconds for the monitors to tell everybody what Matthew already knows. Amanda already knows. She is right across the table. She saw him use the robotic arm to dissect the vessel and mistakenly cut the large artery in the neck. An operating room nurse of Amanda’s experience has seen it all. When Matthew looks into her eyes, they flash ever so quickly an acknowledgment that it is all over. Instead of any words, she quietly unclamps the suction. Now a dull hiss fills the air. To the casual observer, or the short wide man holding a 9 mm Glock pistol in his fat stubby hands, nothing really has changed. Amanda, anesthetist Dr. Sarah Larsson, and Dr. Matthew MacAulay act as if all is going well.

Matthew cannot help but glance over to the man with the 9 mm Glock. In his mind, he names him Mr. Glock. Adrenaline surges through Matthew’s body and time slows. The short wide man, Mr. Glock, has gray eyes. Pale, gray eyes. Very pale, almost tired. Matthew remembers reading somewhere that people with gray eyes have the best visual acuity. They make the best marksmen, the best assassins. He wonders if this was true.

Balloons and Branding

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and horror tales.Jonathan Maberry, a wise author and mentor, once told me that the best way to get readers is not by pushing your book but by “branding” yourself. Perhaps you have a favorite shirt you might wear to signings. Perhaps everything you live and breathe resonates with Star Trek. I’ve been doing mine via Mylar balloons. Why balloons? I can’t say why, but I find it impossible to shop at most supermarkets without being waylaid by the balloons at the floral aisle. How many balloons do I have? A lot. If you’d like to guess how many, there’s a giveaway involved.

Barbara Custer wrote Close Liaisons, a science fiction book featuring aliens and Mylar balloons.Any time you blog or go to a writing venue you’re “on,” meaning that the way you carry yourself will become part of your brand. So whenever you blog, you’ll want to keep it positive. If you had a quarrel at home, leave it there. Give yourself plenty of time to get to an event because if you show up late, people might associate lateness with your brand. “Oh, yeah, that’s Barbara of the Balloons – she takes her time,” and so forth. When I’m with writer buddies, doing the editor letter for Night to Dawn, or blogging, I usually open the top with my latest balloon escapade at the Giant, Acme, or other market. And I find that balloon analogies have a way of getting the point across.

Michael DeStefano wrote this coming of age novel.Sometimes your brand can creep into your books. NTD author Michael De Stefano, for one, loves baseball, and you’ll find a lot of scenes involving baseball in In the Times of Their Restlessness and his other two books. Tom Johnson’s bouquet of balloons is his life in the military, and his experiences and love of science fiction creep into his Jur novels. Rod Marsden brands himself with his love of history in Ghost Dance, among his other books.

So … I guess you’re wondering if Mylar balloons have crept into my books. Well, let me put it to you this way. Did God make little green apples? Does it snow in Pennsylvania during the wintertime?  Heroine Alexis of Steel Rose kept a squadron of Mylar balloons in her hospital room because she felt that the helium in them, being especially poisonous for Kryszka aliens, might protect her from the renegades. You will also meet balloon queens in Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

The most important part of branding though is having fun. Why is it so important? Because the branding tool enables people to get to know you in a good way. When that happens, good reviews, if not sales, are likely to follow.

So … how do you go about branding yourself and your work? Do you have a special interest in something that works? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

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