When Balloons Lead to Change for a Website

I’m going to begin with a balloon story.

The other day, the Acme had great sales on items I needed, but they had a plethora of lovely Mylar balloons. So I put on my track shoes with the intention of running through the store, snatching up groceries as I went, so that the balloons wouldn’t catch me. I shopped early in the morning so that the store would be empty, allowing the run.

As the doors slid open, I barreled in…and collided with a grove of Mylar Margaritas and other balloons. So much for running. A Mylar Margarita snagged around my shoulders and plopped on my head. I continued running, hoping to dislodge my Mylar rider, but it clung to my head. Rather than be called on shoplifting, I paid for the balloon, explaining that it stuck to my hair. Got a lot of giggles for that one.

That’s right, Bar-ba-ra, the balloon whispered. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Mylar balloon Barbara Custer loves her zombie fiction.Out of the mouths of balloons come words of wisdom. For months I’ve been avoiding the issues with the print on my website. Running away from the problem, if you will, but I couldn’t hide. The glaring green hyperlinks kept staring at me every time I added or changed material on the website. I kept telling myself I’d read a book on CSS to change the font myself. It never happened.

Then the “aha” moment came to me at the Philadelphia Writers Conference when Cecily Kellogg discussed blogging and recommended dark print on a light background.  Those words slammed me against my chair as I got to thinking about my red background, white and green print. Tiny print. Change can be frightening. You can run, but you can’t hide, the balloon whispered.

I started reading posts about the best color combinations for blogs and websites, and got mixed opinions. So I ran a poll on Facebook, and the dark print on white background won hands down. The responses were helpful and much appreciated.  A couple of years ago, I’d entertained Walter Mitty fantasies of having a Zombie Apocalypse theme for my website. These fantasies rekindled, and I installed the theme. It gave me red print for the links and black for the posts.

Over the next weeks, I will likely want to do some tweaking with the images, but I feel great about the graphics and readability of the print.  Thank you, Miss Margarita Balloon, for pointing out the need to change.

When a Witch Hides to Survive…M. Lathan’s Hidden

M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.I am delighted to host M. Lathan as a guest blogger. Before reading her post, I thought I was the only writer reluctant to release her tales. Do other writers tend to hover? I think so…

The hardest part about writing is…

Writing is difficult work. Enjoyable, but difficult. Plotting, creating compelling characters, and editing are just a few of the tough tasks writers are faced with. But to me, the hardest part about writing is releasing a story.

While the technical issues of putting your work out there – querying agents or self-publishing, marketing, designing book covers, or writing a synopsis or description – are daunting tasks on their own, to me, releasing a book is difficult for one major reason: writers care and are personally connected to their work.

The story started as a tiny thing inside of your head and you’ve slowly developed it, nurtured it, and with great effort, brought it out of your mind and put it into words on a screen. Like a new mother or father, you’re hovering, being cautious, or screaming at it when you haven’t had any rest. You’re polishing polished scenes and making excuses to why it’s not ready to be out on its own.

Sometimes, a lot of times with me, it isn’t ready. It needs more love and discipline. It needs more time. The difficult part is distinguishing the times when you’re hovering and when your story baby really can’t make it in the world on its own.

I’m constantly trying to find a balance with this. In the past, I’ve tended to brush off my concerns and rush. Now, I’m becoming a bit of a hoverer. If I had to choose a side to be on, I think I’d rather hover than rush. However, if you hover too long, you may never take that leap.

Of course this isn’t the only aspect of writing you have to master, but, in my opinion, learning how to balance being cautious and trusting your story is the biggest hurdle writers will face.

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M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.BLURB:  

Sixteen-year-old Leah Grant has given up on being normal. She’d settle for stopping the voices in her head, intrusive visions of the future, and better odds of making it to her seventeenth birthday.

That’s the thing about pretending to be human in a world where magic used to exist – at any moment, her cover could be blown and she’ll be burned to death like the rest of the witches.

Everything changes when she loses control of her powers and flees the orphanage she grew up in. She desperately wants to be invisible but finds her face plastered on every news channel as humans panic over the possible resurgence of her kind. And now the hunters won’t give up until they find her.

Making friends for the first time in her life and falling in love with one of them drives her to discover why she is unlike any being she’s ever met – human or otherwise. The dangerous powers inside of her that would repel Nathan, her new, handsome reason for living, are priceless to some. The locked up forever kind of priceless. And to others, they are too dangerous to allow her to live.

Let’s hope she can stay hidden.

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M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.Author Information:

M. Lathan lives in San Antonio with her husband and mini-schnauzer. She enjoys writing and has a B.S. in Psych and a Masters in Counseling. Her passion is a blend of her two interests – creating new worlds and stocking them with crazy people. She enjoys reading anything with interesting characters and writing in front of a window while asking rhetorical questions … like her idol Carrie Bradshaw.
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Links:

Website: mlathan.com

Twitter: @hiddenseries

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/hiddenseries/

Buy links: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=B00A6301BO

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Excerpt:

Sienna snatched last week’s Chemistry test from my desk. I hadn’t turned it over. I knew it was a D minus.

She cackled and passed it around.

“Leah, you would think someone who spends most of her time alone would have better grades,” she said. Her birds laughed on cue. “What do you do all day? Obviously not study.” She gasped slowly like she’d gotten a revelation in that blonde head of hers. “You fantasize about us, don’t you? You probably sleep in Whit’s old bed to feel close to her.”

Laughter spread around the room like an airborne disease. Disease. I shivered. That was an intriguing thought; I could almost hear the sound their bodies would make against the floor when it hit.

“Leah, come on. Say something. Scream at me, it’s been a while. At least cry,” Sienna said, laughing and leaning into my desk, closer to danger.

I didn’t cry. I never cry. And if I were going to, it wouldn’t be because of Sienna. I had bigger problems. I’d just broken a promise I’d made to God to not think about hurting His people, His children. And today was not the day to piss Him off.

My old roommate, Whitney Nguyen, graciously returned my test as she cackled with the rest of the birds. She liked the idea of me pining over her, but she knew I didn’t spend my free time thinking about her or sleeping in her old bed. After fourteen years of hard labor as my roommate, she’d given up on being friends or me being remotely normal. The current theory to explain my oddness was that I was in love with all of the girls and consumed by lust.

As long as they didn’t know it was magic.

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One randomly chosen commenter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card.

M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.

Capital Fate

Barbara Custer celebrated the release of Blue Plate Special with more balloons.

I did a great job saving on groceries this past week. Yesterday, I released another NTD zombie book by Harold “Hal” Kempka, titled Blue Plate Special. The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference is coming, and I needed a few things, so I headed to the Acme this morning.

Capital fate.

I arrived with a list of five items – notebook, ice cream, latex gloves, scar cream, and stockings. Ahead of me, a sweet voice called, “Barbara!”

The speaker was a Mylar flower tree. Yes, he was big as a tree. He nuzzled my hair when I approached him.

“Big balloon, isn’t he?” called a cashier. “He seems to like you.”

“Yes, he does,” I replied, and then I saw his price tag – $14.00. I shook my head and backed away.

“Why not?” The balloon stretched toward me. “Do you need everything on your list? Why ice cream? You’ll get plenty of desserts at the writers’ conference.”

“Good point,” I told him. “Let me think about this.”

I turned away, wondering what I was doing in this store. My hand fished out folded paper from my pocket. The list. Oh, yes, that’s right. I needed a notebook, among other things. Good thing I’d brought my list.

At the school supplies section, I found the notebooks. I picked out the cheapest one they had.

“Attagirl!” another balloon called to me. It was Cinderella, a Mylar Disney character. “Buy cheap, and then you can take me home with you.”

She really was a beauty and well inflated, but I had so many, more than 70. Could I justify buying another large balloon?  “Well,” I said, “let me think some more.”

I tried tiptoeing, keeping my head ducked so that other balloons wouldn’t notice me. It worked, at least through the detergent aisle for the gloves and the health supplies for the scar cream.

“You can run, but you can’t hide,” a flower balloon crooned from the front. Miss Sunshine, as I name her, wooed me with her siren song. I tried to telling myself to watch the money for the conference, but the telling did no good when I beheld her brilliant sheen.

“Come now,” she coaxed me. “You already have stockings. You don’t need more, right?”

I had to agree.

“Besides,” she whispered, “you just released another book. A very good read. Shouldn’t you reward yourself?”

I nodded.

“Come, let’s go,” she said, perching on my shoulder. “Balloons know best.”

This Mylar balloon lured me with her siren song.

This balloon lured me with her siren song.

Why did I cave in? Perhaps my fellow peeps encouraged me to buy. Perhaps I was celebrating Blue Plate Special because it’s got a lot of flash horror fiction. While those things are true, I must confess, I’ve become a magnet for balloons.

 

Does Alexis of Steel Rose Like Balloons?

Barbara Custer's Steel Rose features a character who likes balloons. That’s a good question. After all, I can’t go into a supermarket without buying one. The balloons take on a life of their own when I arrive. My balloons have a way of creeping into all my blogs and seminars about respiratory care and writing. The characters in Alien Worlds and City of Brotherly Death have had a thing for balloons. Why not the denizens of Steel Rose?

Indeed.

Let me put it this way. Alexis doesn’t mind having balloons. She stockpiles them the way I do because she believes that the helium in them will protect her from Kryszka renegades. Yeron counts thirty balloons during his initial examination, and this doesn’t go over well at all. The helium in them is deadly toward his species. The balloons threaten Yeron, and an imaginary conversation plays through his mind:

Balloons: That’s right, Yeron, you don’t belong here.

Yeron: I do not like you either, so the feeling is mutual.

When Yeron contemplates his next approach to Alexis, the balloons grin at him. Is that so? You don’t know as much as you think you do, buddy.

On that last, Yeron hurries to his suite where he keeps his helium-proof mask. Initially, Alexis fears Yeron the way she does all men, and the balloons make an effective barrier. How then can Yeron and Alexis get romantic with all those balloons in the way? Well, folks, you have to read the story and find out.

Outside of protection, Alexis does not have a fixation on balloons, but she appreciates the sentiments written on them. She knows someone who has a thing for balloons. One of the other doctors has a wife who fancies balloons, and Alexis thinks it’s cute. Later on, the balloons will play an important role. They have to, just like Chekhov’s gun. You can’t introduce a loaded rifle into your story without using it, and the same goes for Mylar balloons. Much as I love my balloonies, I would not have put them in Steel Rose without a good reason.

In the sequel, the balloons will go bye-bye. Alexis will be too busy kicking zombie ass.

Steel Rose has just gone live, and you can read some excerpts here.

 In Barbara Custer's Steel Rose, Yeron finds his way toward Alexis despite all the balloons in his way.

Book cover by Dawné Dominique; Promo by Cyrus Wraith Walker

WordPress.com versus WordPress.org: a First Time Experience

I did it! I changed the CSS on my website to make the body text larger without balling up the rest of the website. This was my first time using CSS, and I did a LOT of reading before attempting the change. I’m feeling good about this, but now I’m thinking I want to change other things, like the font size on the headers, and the fonts themselves, at least on the body. But I made a start.

Last month, I signed on with www.godaddy.com, imported two plug-ins, and purchased spam filtering from www.askimet.com and backup services from www.vaultpress.com.  Every so often, I check my website for updates and install when one is available. www.typekit.com was offering free services to spare me the learning curve of CSS, but their instructions on how to install their proffered fonts went over my head.

Up until last month, I did my website through WordPress.com. They gave me the hosting, the spam filter, the backups, and for a small fee, fonts of various sizes that I could pluck and use on my website without bothering with CSS. Since I switched over to WordPress.org, I’ve had to do these things myself. It’s kinda like growing up and putting away my toys.

WordPress.com made a great site for my blog and Night to Dawn magazine. So why then did I make the change? Because Night to Dawn is much more than a bi-yearly magazine now. The Night to Dawn books, including the ones I write, demand a more genre-specific theme than the ones provided by WordPress.com. WordPress.org has a lot of nice plug-ins, including search optimization that I couldn’t get with WordPress.com. Ditto with genre-specific themes. As it was, I did a lot of tweaking with the background of the theme before the transfer. Also I found that a lot of public places used web filters that blocked my access to the WordPress.com and other blog sites. Not so with WordPress.org.

For me, the worst part was the transfer. I used WordPress.com guided transfer. They were great. In addition to the transfer, they provided two weeks’ worth of guidance. Al Sirois, my webmaster, demonstrated a lot of good humor during the process, including sitting beneath two enormous balloon trees while poring through the labyrinth of WordPress.com code.

I’m going to keep my background the way I have it for the next couple of years. But my writing mentors have suggested that I alter my theme every two to three years. Hopefully by the next theme change, I will have more than a nodding acquaintance with CSS.

WordPress.com was very good to me, and I strongly recommend it for a blog and beginning website. Since I’ve gotten into publishing and more writing, I had to move on. One thing has not changed, however. I still get waylaid by the Mylar balloons at the supermarkets.

Have you ever thought about trying WordPress.org?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Night to Dawn 23 features zombies, vampires, and dark fantasy.

When the Writing I Gotta Bug Bites You

In Stephen King’s Misery, his protagonist Paul said the I gotta motivated him to keep writing despite the tortures inflicted by the villain Annie. By tortures, I mean the loss of body parts, starvation, and other horrors. But he had to keep going because of the I gotta bug.

At the time, I thought I gotta was a cool expression. I gave it no more thought until I came down with the bug.

These past weeks, I’ve been revising “One Last Favor,” a tale earmarked for my anthology, City of Brotherly Death. A small press magazine published “One Last Favor” years ago. The story opens with a horde of revenants, people returning from the dead to harm the living, invading Hartland Clinic. My protagonist Tara survives by trading sex for her life. As the story advances, the dead continue their invasion, destroying entire cities. A registered nurse, Tara continues treating the sick until the monsters who bargained with her years before return for another visit. In the original version, Tara (different name in first version) joins the dead because she hates being alone.

When I evaluated the story for revisions, I thought, how trite. Most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up humanity to join a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. Tara enjoys patient care, respect, a decent income, and a comfortable apartment. Why would she give those things up?

I kept the first half of the story, revised the second, and ditched the original ending. It never occurred to me, until I was deep into my work, that I should have outlined my revision. So I got stuck. I sat before a blank screen trying to come up with a brilliant ending. If not that (you can’t win the jackpot every time), an ending that would satisfy the reader.

The thought crossed my mind to scrap the tale and move on to something else. I couldn’t do that, not with all those zombies threatening my protagonist’s life. One of my friends suggested I put the story on the back burner and go with other activities. I tried doing that, but after a couple of hours, that story called to me, demanding that I finish it. If I told you that only the prospect of sales and a contract motivated me, I’d be lying. Diggity-damn, those zombies found a way into Tara’s house, and what was she going to do about it?

My balloons need helium. Forget that. I gotta find out if Tara will live. Will the cavalry arrive in time to save her? Two editing projects are sitting in my queue. They’ll have to wait. I gotta see where Tara will finish up if she survives. I gotta know who will mourn her if she dies. I gotta find out if she manages to destroy the zombies.

Like a pearl necklace that motivates me to save until I have enough money to buy it, the I Gotta holds the promise of a brilliant ending. Chores be damned, I’ll keep going until I find that ending.

It took three tries to get a workable ending. Raising the stakes in the middle opened things up a bit, especially when Tara finds love. However, the ending is subject to change. The tale has gone to the editor. Toni of The Unbridled Editor has edited most of my tales for City of Brotherly Love. I highly recommend her.

While I wait for the edits, I shall fill my balloons and work on the other Night to Dawn projects. Because when the edits come back, I suspect there will be another go-round with the I gotta bug.

Has any of you been bitten by the I gotta bug? How did it affect your writing? Were you satisfied with the results?

Anthology featurings zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer, set in Philadelphia

 

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