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.

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.

Interview with John Nicholl, Author of Portraits of the Dead

portraitsofthedeadbannerToday, I’m delighted a feature an interview with John Nicholl, author of Portraits of the Dead. His other books include When Evil Calls Your Name and White is the Coldest Colour. John is always happy to hear from readers, bloggers, or anyone interested in proposing a joint creative project. He can be contacted through his author website: www.johnnicholl.com.

Barbara: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

John: Chocolate.

Barbara: Which mythological creature are you most like?

John: What the ….? My wife says I’m like a bear with a sore head. Does that count?

Barbara: First book you remember making an indelible impression on you.

John: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Barbara: How do you develop your plot and characters?

John: I start with the key characters in mind and let the story develop from chapter to chapter.

Barbara: Describe your writing space.

John: I write with family life going on all around me.

BLURB: Emma didn’t know how long he hid, silent and unmoving, in the large Victorian wardrobe to the side of her single bed. She didn’t know how long he peered out, salivating and drooling, between the two heavy dark oak doors, and watched, mesmerised, as she slowly drifted into fitful sleep. She didn’t know what time he pushed the doors open and crept towards her in the drab grey darkness of the night.

Detective Inspector Gravel finds himself floundering when a local nineteen-year-old university student is abducted and imprisoned by a sadistic serial killer, who has already tortured and killed five young women.

A gripping page-turner of a serial killer thriller packed with suspense. If you like Rachel Abbott, Robert Bryndza and Karin Slaughter, discover John Nicholl’s chilling new thriller today.

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portraitofthedeadmediakit_authorphoto

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

John Nicholl, an ex-police officer, child protection social worker, manager, and lecturer, has written three dark psychological suspense thrillers, all of which are Amazon international bestsellers, reaching # 1 in multiple categories in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia, Canada and the USA. John is always happy to hear from readers, bloggers or anyone interested in proposing a joint creative project. He can be contacted via his author website at:

 

http://www.johnnicholl.com

https://www.facebook.com/john.nicholl.988

https://twitter.com/nicholl06

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13795294.John_Nicholl

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Portraits-Dead-John-Nicholl/dp/1786972670/

One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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portraitsofthedeadbookcover

Excerpt:

Chapter One, 2:20 A.M. Saturday, 2 May 1998

Emma didn’t know how long he hid, silent and unmoving, in the large Victorian wardrobe to the side of her single bed. She didn’t know how long he peered, salivating and drooling, between the two heavy dark oak doors and watched, mesmerised, as she slowly drifted into fitful sleep. She didn’t know what time he pushed the doors open and crept towards her in the drab grey darkness of the night. But he did. She knew that he did.

Emma woke with a start, tense, alert, and opened her bleary eyes, telling herself insistently that the dark silhouette slowly approaching her was the nightmare construct of her subconscious mind. But initial anxiety became blind panic as the inky shadow took on an obvious human form that suddenly gained pace and loomed over her. And then a hand, a large hot clammy hand, pulled the bedclothes over her head, clamped her mouth tight shut and silenced her scream before it materialised.

A myriad unwelcome thoughts invaded her troubled mind as he pinned her head to the pillow and raised his free arm high above his head, before closing his fingers tightly, forming his hand into a formidable weapon and bringing it crashing down, again and again and again, with all the force he could muster, rendering her unconscious and bleeding.

She didn’t know how long she remained senseless, or what he did to her while she slept. She didn’t know what time he lifted her from her bed and carried her from her student bedroom, down the creaking wooden staircase and out into the Welsh city street. But he did. She knew that he did.

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?

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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. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Clarissa Johal

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