Personal Demons Revisited

Harold Kempka writes a series of chilling zombie tales in this book.The other night, I had a visitor over my house and she’d asked me how I got to writing horror. I told her how it started with Dark Shadows and the Hammer films. Stephen King, among other authors, only fanned the flames, I said, ignoring the fact that my dance with horror began 51 years ago, during a trip to Atlantic City with my mother. Had Mylar balloons existed, Atlantic City would have never happened because the balloons would have shielded my eyes from the sight. But, Mylar balloons didn’t exist, so I was left to face the monster on my own. And I never mentioned anything about Atlantic City to my friend.

After all, this story isn’t the kind of thing I’d tell to the uninitiated. I usually reserve this one for Halloween.

This mystery tale was written by JoAnna Senger.When I was a child, my mother and I used to go to the Italian Village at Atlantic City’s Million Dollar Pier. The Village knew how to make some mean hoagies, and gluten never entered the picture. At the time, there were amusements and goodies such as those booths where you could take four selfies for a buck. One day, they had a pavilion closed with a curtain, seated on a dais. The billboard read, “See live 1000-year-old woman.” That sounded awesome, so I got in line.

The people ahead of me formed a C-shaped ring around an ornate bathtub. Later on, I learned that bathtub was actually a sarcophagus.  Further ahead, I made out jet black hair and a shriveled face. The woman had on an ornate vest, but nothing else. I stepped up to get a closer look. Not a woman after all, but a mummified skeleton. I stood there frozen, and the people just kept looking and chatting among themselves, as if they were gathering at a party. Seconds later, she turned her head and raised her arms, extending her hand. At that, I bolted from the pavilion, screaming.

Campfire chillers features a series of horror fiction tales by Rajeev Bhargava.As I got older, I realized that most likely the folks who engineered this constructed machinery and invisible ropes to make the body move. But when you see a dead body look your way, you don’t consider possibilities. You run. For most of my life, thereafter, I’ve had this fear of skeletons—I’d discussed this in previous blogs. I think I worked my way through it; noticed that I have skeletal images for illustrations. I’ve got a real beauty of a skeleton photo in NTD 29. All the same, I rarely buy Halloween balloons. I go with floral shapes and Mylar butterflies.

I’d say this sighting in Atlantic City ignited my fascination with horror. Then I moved on to Dark Shadows and the Hammer films which fueled the flames, followed by Stephen King. Thankfully, my Mylar balloons serve as a moderating influence.

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.

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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Show and Tell

Barbara Custer writes zombie fiction and science fiction / horror.Today, I planned a show-and-tell with my latest book covers, never realizing that the activities would begin with my trip to the supermarket. I headed to the Acme to buy two gift cards for an early start on holiday shipping. The gift cards would have earned me a $20 coupon, but then Mylar balloons swarmed me as I entered the store. I hied over to Baking Supplies and bought needed items, all the while hiding; but at the fruit stand, I had to face the music. Six strawberry Mylar balloons hovered over the bananas I wanted. The store may have had gift cards, but all that was lost on me when the Mylar balloons waylaid me.

Maybe I deserve a balloon treat since I’ve got some new releases forthcoming through the Night to Dawn imprint. Night to Dawn 28 is making an appearance on Amazon, and its cover has drawn many compliments from viewers. Sandy DeLuca has done awesome illustrations and poetry duets with Marge Simon for Night to Dawn magazine.

After reading Allan M. Heller’s 40 Frightful Flash Fictions, the lights will stay on long after bedtime, assuming you can fall asleep, for devastation is served with a smile. The anthology is going through the formatting stage. Stan Horwitz provided the images—real beauties; and for lettering and design, Teresa Tunaley pulled frightening birds out of her hat. Look for 40 Frightful Flash Fictions in the coming weeks.

In Infinite Sight, guilt over an infant’s death motivates protag Lilly into a rescue that catapults her into a war between two alien armies. Infinite Sight originally appeared in Fading Shadows’ Alien Worlds magazine as “The Good Samaritan Revisited.” It’s gone to Gemini Wordsmiths for a developmental edit, for no published book is complete without a healthy edit. At any rate, I’ve got a stunning front and back cover, thanks to Marge Simon. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Marge since I first took over Night to Dawn magazine as a spiral-bound book. I estimate a publication date during the holiday season or shortly afterwards.

What happens when the human brain spirals, cutting a swath between a masterpiece and monstrosity? You’ll find out in early winter (estimated) when L. M. Labat’s The Sanguinarian Id goes live. I anticipate a cover image shortly.

Ditto for When Blood Reigns, sequel to Steel Rose. I don’t have a publishing date or estimated time yet. It has gone through developmental editing and should be worth the wait.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the Giant supermarket for the remaining groceries still on my list. This week presented a heavy grocery list, and crunch time for budgeting. Will I remember that when the Mylar balloons come calling? I’m going to try, but when the Mylar “I gotta” bug bites, look out.

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire and zombie fictions.Allan Heller's 40 Frightened Flash Fictions features creepy zombie tales.







Barbara Custer's science fiction novel features a protag with "Infinite Sight."

Kingdom in Word’s Backyard

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire tales and zombie fiction.If you look at the front page of my website, you’ll notice five items under my “Coming Soon” list. While recuperating from foot surgery, I took on additional projects. It means separate folders for each item so I can better track my files. I’m making up these folders at the recommendation of my Mylar balloons. As everyone knows, the Mylar balloons like to give their input on all my projects.

I’m mailing out copies of Night to Dawn 28, and it should become available on Amazon in a few weeks. Two of the projects are on hold, awaiting notes from editors. I’m actively working on 40 Frightful Flash Fiction Tales, and the edits on The Sanguinarian Id will begin after that’s gone to press. When you juggle several balls at once, one is bound to fall and bounce—in this case, a printing glitch. I’m doing Night to Dawn 28 with two printers, and they both noted that some interior images are less than 200 dpi. I couldn’t understand this, because I always upload images at 300 dpi. After talking to people I learned that some folks use Adobe InDesign because Word compresses interior images. Thankfully, my illustrators—Teresa Tunaley, Marge Simon, and Sandy DeLuca—do much of the work on my covers. Sometimes I design the lettering, and for that, I use Publisher.

Not that Publisher isn’t capable of compressing images. Publisher 2010 has an option for compression, too. You don’t want blurry images, but you don’t want an oversized file that becomes impossible to email. Too high a resolution can make a document impossible to upload.

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and zombie fiction tales.

Remember–we’re da boss!

You see, this little balloon lady here can’t afford InDesign. The true-blue software costs over $1400. They do have a digital cloud version for $156.00. Ditto for Photoshop; one version costs more than $1400, and another about $160. Now maybe I could save for the cheaper versions, but there is a steep learning curve to consider.

I started thinking woe is me until I Googled ways to get around the compression problem with Word. It turned out to be an easy fix for Word 2010 which I have, but can be done in Word 2007 which I also have, since I have two computers. For 2010, you go under “file” and select “options” on the bottom of the left hand side. A drop down menu comes up, and you select “advanced.” You scroll down to where it says “images” and select “do not compress images.” For 2007, if you click on the image in question, a range of options for the picture will show up on the ribbon. One of them has to do with compression. Word also gives you the option of shadowing illustrations. I did play with one image and it looked much sharper. So I just might consider adding different background shadows for Night to Dawn 29. Finding all these extra benefits was like stumbling on a king’s ransom of diamonds –or in my case, Mylar balloons.

One thing the experts warn is that resizing on Word may compress dpi. Mind you, I’m just finding out about this.

Publisher came with the Microsoft Office software that my sister got me. I use it to make birthday cards for work and for the wraparound Night to Dawn magazine covers (and books when I do them). Publisher 2007 is nice, but the 2010 version has many more tools for dressing up images.

The thought crossed my mind that one day formatting the magazine in Publisher then converting to PDF. I think it might be doable because my sister did a multiple-page document in Publisher, about four pages. First, though, I’m going to check out these treasure troves I discovered in my Word backyard. Maybe the Mylar balloons and I will have a tribal conference about software.

Do you use any specific software images to format them? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your experiences.

Class in Session – Formatting an eBook

Discarded Treasures contains zombie fiction tales by Harold Kempka.At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and meetings, several folks asked me about how to format an eBook and make it look good. After all, eBook formatting services cost up to several hundred dollars. Mind you, the Smashwords Style Guide is the ultimate guru on preparing your Word document for eBook formatting. My first attempts at eBook formatting looked as if I’d been daydreaming about my balloons, and Smashwords Style Guide helped me improve. Lately, I haven’t needed to refer to them unless I’ve got to include pictures with the eBook. Formatting illustrations is something that still makes me uncomfortable.

Most people start by ditching their headings, page numbers, and space between chapters, but I use Smashwords Style Guide’s nuclear method. Before I’m ready to send my book through Kindle, Nook, or anywhere else, that text has gone through several computers—the author’s, mine, and if there’s an outside editor, their text, too. Maybe some passages in the text came from a reprint, too. This results in a conflict of styles that result in AutoVetter errors on Smashwords. You won’t get such messages from Kindle or Nook, but when you open your new eBook, the print looks uneven. The nuclear method will clear all the previous formatting from your file, including the headers and page numbers.

You can do the nuclear method by highlighting your entire manuscript and hitting “copy.” Open WordPad and paste the manuscript onto that. Then open a new file that will be your eBook file, copy the manuscript off WordPad, and paste it onto your new file. You’re now ready to work with a clean manuscript.

For starters, you don’t want your title larger than 16 point font. Stick with a font like Times New Roman, Garamond, Book Antiqua, or Bookman Old Style, and keep the same font throughout the book. All the letters should be black. No colorful letters, curlicues, or other designs. You shouldn’t have more than four returns between chapters. I only use one between each paragraph/chapter. I start out with my title in bold, using 24 point spacing below it via the Paragraph function. This way, I avoid the carriage returns. I move onto the author’s name, the name of the person or company publishing it, and basically the same items you’d see on the masthead of any novel. This would also include your ISBN. I prefer 12 point font for the masthead information.  This is where I’d put my disclaimer information, too.

The dedication comes next, and I allow 30 point (arbitrary amount) spacing between the masthead and dedication. Another 30 points and I have my table of contents. You need a table of contents for the eBook even if you didn’t use one for the paperback version. Why? Because readers like to skim and skip through chapters sometimes, so each chapter should get hyperlinked to the respective section in your book. You can’t use page numbers in an eBook. People need different print sizes to read, so assigning page numbers won’t work. More on the hyperlinking as we go along.

I type each chapter header in bold, usually a 12 or 14 point font. The chapters start 30 points under the Table of Contents. The nuclear method should have made all the indents go bye-bye – nothing wrong with them; they just haven’t worked for me. Instead, I maintain six point spacing between each paragraph, and then 30 points before the next chapter. This may not look good on your file, but on a computer, the spacing always comes out nice and even.

Caveat: the nuclear method also wipes out any italics you’ve used, so you’ll need to go through each paragraph on your file and italicize the appropriate words. It doesn’t take that long, just something I wanted to point out. You should review each paragraph anyway because the lettering can resemble symbols, or words hyphenated where they shouldn’t be.

I find the bookmarking easiest to do as I go along. On Chapter One, I’ll highlight the whole phrase and on the ribbon, select “insert.” Underneath “view,” you’ll see “hyperlink,” and below that, “bookmark.” Click on “bookmark” and you’ll be asked to type in a name. If it’s more than one word, Word won’t accept it, so I’ll type something like “ChapterOne and the name of chapter as one word. I usually bookmark several chapters, then hyperlink them.

For hyperlinking, go to the Table of Contents. Highlight the respective chapter title, choose “insert” on the ribbon and go for the “hyperlink” option this time. A dialogue box will come up with four boxes from the top. Click on the second box from the top, “place in this document.” A big window will open, and you’ll see a list of the chapters you bookmarked.  If you’re hyperlinking Chapter One, select the words “ChapterOne” on the list of bookmarks. Hit “okay,” and now you’ll see that chapter number in neon blue on the Table of Contents. If you place your mouse over the hyperlinked text, you’ll be told to hit “control” and click on the hyperlinked text. That takes you straight to the respective chapter.

Smashwords Style Guide doesn’t tell you what to do with HTML because it’s not required for Smashwords. But you’ll want to use it for Kindle and Nook, and it also works best for Calibre software, but saving in HTML is easy. Simply click on “save as,” and for file type, select “web page filtered.”

What I have here is just the basics, but Smashwords Style Guide will give you what you need to know so you can format the eBook yourself. After your project’s done, treat yourself to something nice. After all, you’ve saved a bundle of cash. My balloons would agree.


Blurbs Dress up your Cover

When I was offered a contract on When Blood Reigns, I was ecstatic—still am. I’d already put together a blurb and logline because most publishers anticipate their authors will provide them. When I sent out When Blood Reigns, I made sure I had a logline and blurb prepared ahead of time. So when my publisher sent me an Author Information Form requesting such information, I moved to copy my ready blurb onto the sheet. That was when my Mylar balloons called out their siren chorus, “Bar-ba-ra!”

Here we go again, I thought. “What’s the matter?”

Balloons: Why are you in such a hurry to send out that form? Don’t you remember our chat about covers making the author?

Me, sighing: Don’t worry. I’ve got an awesome artist. She did a beaut of a cover for Steel Rose.

Balloons: You need a strong blurb, too. The one you’ve got is too wordy, flat, and gives away spoilers.

Me, fetching a deep sigh: Gee, whiz! Do you expect me to write another blurb?

Balloons: Dat’s wight, wabbit. The one you’ve got won’t work. Read posts from well-known authors on how to write a decent blurb. Then do it over.

So I brought up recent articles on what makes a good blurb and learned about “buzz” words, “pickup” lines, and the dangers of spoilers—that is, giving too much away. Basically, when your book goes to the marketplace, it’s going on a job interview. On any interview, you want to wear your best suit. Cultured pearls for the women and cufflinks for the men to dress up the suit. It wouldn’t do to wear costume jewelry with a Neiman Marcus suit. Well, the blurb is the pearls / cufflinks and the cover is the suit.

Realizing that concept, I slept on some ideas that night while my Mylar balloons made shushing sounds around me. The next day, I woke up with an idea for a blurb and headed for the computer. When I read it out loud, my balloons grinned. “This sounds better, but we recommend you ask your beta readers to review it. Betcha they come up with some interesting tweaks for it.”

The blurb went off to several writer buddies. They agreed with the balloons that the new blurb was better, but needed a more help so after a flurry of emails and brainstorming, I came up with a blurb I used for the author information form. My Mylar balloons gave it their blessing.

My publisher is reviewing my blurb and other items now. Since When Blood Reigns is in the initial stages of publication, it’s a little early for posting blurbs, in case the editors want to make further changes. I’ll definitely give updates as things move along. My Mylar balloons wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mylar balloons motivate Barbara Custer to write compelling horror tales.

We see no evil, hear no evil, and say no evil.

The Litter features Kevin Doyle's horror tale about feral children.

A lot of coffee got consumed by me and the author for this one.

The Gunslinger's Companion features Michael De Stefano's historical fiction about the Depression.


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