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.

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.

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.

When Mylar Balloons and Manuscript Rejections Go Together

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction, vampire tales, and poetry.Night to Dawn has had to close to submissions again because a lot of folks responded, and I hate to make writers wait three years to see their work in print. A lot of acceptances went out, along with rejections.

How do I approach story submissions? When a story intrigues me, I take that work along with several others to the meeting room, where twenty-five Mylar balloons float around a long table, each with copies of the manuscripts, prepared for a go-no-go discussion on each tale. I ask every balloon for their thoughts on the first story, and a heated discussion follows. The heart-shaped balloon complains that the story needs more romance. The Smiley face might prefer a humorous piece. The flower points out that the story will need a lot of editing. The pink butterfly might holler, “Damn all edits, let the story fly!” With six stories on the table, the meeting might last three hours, and maybe three stories will make it to Night to Dawn. If I bring a novel manuscript to the table, I’d better pack a lunch. The ensuing meeting could take all day.

At least that’s how it works in my balloon world.

In the real world, like many other small publishers/editors, I read submissions borrowed from time needed for editorial and writing chores, not to mention my day job and life events. There is no editorial board or meeting room, though I might enlist the help of beta readers. I read each one, at least the first three pages. If the first pages keep me in suspense, I’ll continue to the end. The stories that spoke to me outright got an immediate acceptance, especially if they haunted me long after I closed the file. Some tales read mostly well, but something along the way stopped me. These went on my shortlist. Some folks haven’t heard from me yet because their story’s on the shortlist.

Several folks sent a cover letter addressed as “Dear Editor.” You don’t want to do that with any editor, balloon world or not. When you’re ready to submit, take the time to visit the website and find out the person’s name. Other publishers—and agents—have complained about “Dear Agent” or “Dear Editor” submissions on their blogs, too. My name is plastered all over my website, so a “Dear Barbara” cover letter would work. Heck, if someone sent me a letter addressed “Dear Balloon Lady,” I’d smile and think, this person sure did their homework.

On many of the rejections, the story doesn’t begin until page four or later. One story had a beautifully written setting that went four pages, describing the heat in the protag’s town. I imagined an egg frying on the pavement, but I couldn’t use the story. If you want to start with your setting, litter the ground with some dead bodies. Cleaning out a closet is backstory, but if the character stumbles into a corpse dangling by a rope, that will keep me reading. And, by the way, there’s no need to send “you’ll-love-this-work” cover letters. Like a Mylar balloon, a well-crafted horror tale will get my attention on its own merit.

Beware of typos. We’re all human, and no writer sees their own mistakes, but…a submission littered with typos would give any editor pause. Most authors review their submissions before sending, but folks who use their eyes a lot (like writers) can run into visual issues, especially as they get older. I know – I’ve dealt with cataracts and now, scarring. So if you’re straining to read the print, turn up the zoom feature. For editing, I magnify mine and use Word’s “search and find” feature.

Occasionally I get well-written work in a genre I don’t publish. Though I can’t use them, I might ask to see more work. Anytime I ask to see more work or offer a though critique, take heart. I never waste time picking dust off of battered balloons. And if I have nightmares after reading your Night to Dawn tale, you’ve done a great job. My Mylar balloons would agree.

Your thoughts?

The litter is a horror tale featuring feral children.

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