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

 

Autocrit Revisited: When Your Book Needs More

Some time ago I raved about the merits of Autocrit. I ran Steel Rose and other work through it and became ecstatic when the software ferreted out repetitions, cliches, and problems with sentence structure. I showed up at the PWC with Autocrit-edited work, and learned that Autocrit made a great proofing tool indeed. The extraneous adverbs became history, and so did problem sentences.

But workshop leaders told me the manuscript needed something more. The one-dimensional characters had to go. The villain was all-evil, with no saving graces. Even Dracula had his sympathetic moments. I took a figurative slap on the wrist because my villain turned from a medical professional into a monster who wants nothing but blood. Where’s the conflict?

There wasn’t any. Shame on me.

At the conference, the workshop leaders preached the merits of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I got the workbook, started reading it, and got a strong awakening. For starters, my protag Alexis whined too much. Granted she has serious problems, but don’t we all? Not many people sympathize with a whiny character. So I’m whittling down the whining as I go through each chapter.

By the way, Alexis grew up in a strict religious family. During her treatments, she falls in love with and beds down an alien lover. Whaaaaat? This goes against her religious beliefs, not to mention her mother’s feelings. In my rewrite, Alexis will have to fight with her conscience before she agrees to love this fellow.

Maass encourages the writer to think of his protagonist’s defining quality. Then he prescribed the writer to write a paragraph in which their protagonist does the opposite. Okay, in Steel Rose, Alexis loves her mother and would never do or say anything to upset her. As the book reads now, Alexis doesn’t mention squat about her alien romance, knowing her mother would get angry. For my rewrite, Alexis will tell her mom, “Hey, it’s my life, and I’m the one who has to live with him.” Just thinking about this makes me respect Alexis more.

I just did the same exercise with a secondary character. After I rewrote the respective chapter, I saw a big difference in the way it read.

With the chapter on antagonists, I softened villain Laurel a bit, and gave her an extra dimension. Now I’ve got to do the same with another antagonist. I will need to work those exercises a lot more before doing the chapters with the villains.

After I’ve walked through (there’s no running here) each chapter through Writing the Breakout Novel, I will revisit Autocrit for help with proofing.

Has anyone else worked with the Breakout Novel workbook? How did it help you?

Barbara Custer's Steel Rose evolves into zombie novel.

When Flowers, Kindness, and Coupons Lead to Mischief

A wise coworker wondered if shopping at several different stores just to get bargains was a good idea. I compare prices before going market shopping, but she suggested that I might spend the money in gas.

Giant is having a special where they double the dollar coupons next week, but most of the groceries on my list I needed this week. The thought crossed my mind that I could postpone purchasing some items with dollars off coupons until next week. Then I got to thinking about my buddy’s advice. I don’t use much gas to go to this Giant, but it’s a dicey area for getting nabbed by Mylar balloons.

Right away, as I walked in, a large Disney character balloons tried to get at my cart. I had to run. I think I burned some serious calories fleeing from balloons.

Another work buddy did me a big favor, so it crossed my mind that she would love getting a daisy balloon. The daisy went into my cart. That balloon has her name on it, I told myself.

I picked up food to make for the Aid for Friends. Our church bulletin reported that food supplies had run low, and alas, the recipients do not have the funds or health to go to the store. Some of the recipients are homeless. So I decided to help by cooking a few meals.

I decided to do all my purchasing today, and never mind the dollar-off coupon deal. Good thing I did. After I finished shopping, the daisy started nuzzling my ear. What? I asked.

There are more balloons like me, the Mylar daisy whispered, and you know full well you want one for yourself.

Not this time, I told him. I am watching my budget.

Of course, you are, the balloon told me, and you’re helping other people. That’s great. Don’t you think you should reward yourself?

Oh, well, uh. More rustling from ahead of me. Another daisy waltzed over to my cart. I admit, I badly wanted that daisy. As I approached the register, the Disney character balloon jumped at me. Next time, I’ll get you, he said, smiling.

After I paid for my groceries, I said to the cashier, “This store is mighty dangerous with its balloons.” He laughed.

If I had gone back next week for the double dollar coupon sale, I might have saved on the respective items, but spent more on balloons. My coworker gave me good advice about shopping at one store.Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and zombie fiction.

 

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