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.

Finding Time to Write

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

You sit down before your computer, revved up to write a beaut of a chapter, and then the phone rings. Maybe your SO’s car broke down, leaving them stranded. Perhaps the doctor called with test results, or the loan company has a question about your account. In either case, life gets in the way, trashing any plans you had for your chapter. A week ago I began my vacation with the intention of adding two more chapters to my WIP, writing four blogs for this week’s October Frights Blog Hop, and serious editing of my Night to Dawn submissions for the magazine. I started off at a good clip. I made it through a chapter, three blogs, and three edited stories. Halfway through the week, I came down with a killer stomach virus and spent the next two days between my bed and the bathroom. Even my Mylar balloons wisely stayed out of the way.

Some folks might consider house construction—I’ve had a lot of that in the last year—as a life-in-the-way event. Thankfully, much of the work involved painting and spackling, and when the drills came out, I was able to tune out the sounds and continue with my projects. When you have a day job, time management becomes crucial. The daily to-do lists help, and I cross each job off as I finish it. A workshop leader suggested running a timer, but I found that counterproductive. I started worrying about the clock, and when I did work, I kept looking at the timer to see how far I’d gotten. Not good.

Some articles recommend Freedom or other software that will block your Internet or phone, thus removing distractions. I have two problems with this. First, these programs cost money that I can use toward marketing, publishing, and buying Mylar balloons. Second, NTD is a small press, and it’s great to be available if an author or illustrator has questions. I do try to budget “fudge” time for emails and phone calls related to NTD projects. Do I reward myself? Yes, by heading to the store for another Mylar balloons or just browsing the shops online.

Long ago, I invested in having someone come over to clean my house and cut the lawn. Given my track record with orthopedic surgery, the docs advised me to steer clear of the lawn mower. I can’t help but wonder how someone with a day job, kids, and house chores finds any time for writing or any other pursuit. Before I’d gotten sick, thankfully, I had jotted down notes on what I wanted for the last blog. Once I got better, I managed to finish the blog and look at other NTD stories. For the WIP, getting back in sync is tougher—it meant going through the last chapter and moving on from there.

Time management has been something I’ve struggled with at times, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with this and how you’ve handled the distractions.

Barbara Custer is sharing thoughts on time management for writing.

Balloons can help you focus more than any software!

I’m awarding prizes to random commenters. First prize is a $10 Starbucks gift card. Second prize is a comp copy of Night to Dawn Magazine.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Clarissa Johal

 

Writing after a Loved One Dies

 

Michael was very supportive of my writing endeavors.

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My family took the picture to the left a year before my husband Mike went into the nursing home. You hold onto the good days when you get them, and Christmas, 2009 was one of them. When he passed on January 29, the pain of losing him shot through my heart like an arrow. I wondered how this would affect my writing and other activities.

When my mother died in 1990, an instructor advised me to keep a daily journal. This journal evolved into fiction pieces, and months later, I submitted them for publication. In 1995, after my father died, I sat down and penned a short story in three hours. It got published within a week. Losing Mike has come with its own circumstances, though.

I seldom discussed Mike on social media, but if one wanted a true measure of my grief, they only had to look at my checkbook entries for March. I’ve had to scribble out and rewrite most of the entries, and it was hard to read what I’d written when I had to balance the checkbook. The writing dried up as well; I have written only two or three blogs during the last six months. It was like my internal gadget for blog making had gone into hibernation. As it was, the handling of Mike’s estate and increased need for sleep left no time for blogging. On my days off from work, I had numerous appointments lined up with the lawyer, the bank, insurance folks, etc. By 7:30 at night, I was ready for bed. Thankfully, I had previously pulled together Night to Dawn 29, and my authors have been understanding regarding other projects.

The story writing did a big slowdown, too. I’ve been trying to work on a sequel to When Blood Reigns, which should see a fall, 2016 release. I began writing it with visions of Alexis and Yeron setting up house and beating down the renegades. The thing was, when I attempted to write from Alexis’s point of view, I managed only a few paragraphs at a time. The appointments and the phone calls that came with them got in the way.

I found a lot of help from my writer’s support group in Hatboro and The Writers’ Coffeehouse. This has helped get the words moving. Night to Dawn 30 has gone together without a hitch; NTD released Sandy DeLuca’s Lupo Mannaro, and I’ve just released a new edition of Rod Marsden’s Ghost Dance. I will likely do a blog tour after my book When Blood Reigns goes live, so there should be more blogs coming.

The parade of Mylar balloons has grown, although the intense heat we have now has laid some to rest. At any supermarket, you’ll find a balloon or two trailing me to the cashier’s line. I tried getting around the writer’s block by introducing a new character into the book, one who likes balloons. She was supposed to be a secondary character, but … she’s taking over the book. When I work on a chapter that involves this character (she’s also dealing with grief), the words flow like balloons do toward me at the markets. Perhaps I am journalizing after all. In any case, I find myself jumping around and writing the material from her point of view. I anticipate completing this book, but it’s liable to turn out way different from what I had imagined.

This leaves me to wonder how grief affected other writers. Did you find yourself changing genres or going off on a different tangent? Did you keep a journal? I’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

Ghost dance, a horror tale written by Rod Marsden.

And … There’s Grammarly!

Mylar balloons and zombie fiction is Barbara's chief loves.I first heard about Grammarly a couple of years ago. It sounded like a great editing tool, but I couldn’t afford the fee required to use it. Let’s face it: I like Mylar balloons, and that fee might cut into my balloon fund; I couldn’t have that. I was using Internet Explorer, you see, which means that you can’t use any of Grammarly’s perks unless you’re willing to pay. My siblings use IE and warned me to steer clear of Chrome & Firefox several years ago after my laptop crashed, necessitating repairs over $500.

Trouble is, Night to Dawn requires me to edit, and I need to be able to do it well. Punctuation errors are the hardest things to find, and to be honest, I tend to be generous with commas. Spelling compound words have been an issue for me, too, as folks who’ve edited my manuscripts can attest. Then a few months ago, I read that Grammarly’s services were free if you used Firefox and Chrome. I really needed to use something, but I had tried Chrome and didn’t care for it. So I contacted my writer buddies at Caliburn Press, and no one there used Internet Explorer because it was too slow. The consensus was that Firefox had improved its security, and Chrome was ideal. After speaking with the tech that fixed my computer I went ahead and downloaded Firefox.

Grammarly came next. First up, Firefox is indeed faster than IE, and what’s more, I’m able to open legit attachments and photos easier. Heretofore, I used to complain that I had trouble opening attachments on IE. Sure enough, I was able to use Grammarly for basic editing on my Night to Dawn documents. There’s an add-in that you can download for Word. I couldn’t figure out how to load this add-in into Word, so I copied the contents of my document onto Grammarly directly, and this did the job. As for my online correspondence, Grammarly went ahead and cleaned up my posts afterward, including the ones on Facebook.

Up until now, I’ve been sloppy with my grammar on Facebook. On Facebook and other social media, I’m relaxed. I might daydream about my recent balloon purchase, planning my next, or admiring the Mylar butterflies in my living room. In any case, grammar goes by the wayside. But now Grammarly calls me on these lapses with the offending phrases underlined in red. Caveat: sometimes the grammar you set up is legit when you’re stressing a certain point, or if your story characters speak in dialect. In that case, you do have the option to select “ignore” when Grammarly red-lines you.

Night to Dawn authors reading this might wonder if this means more red ink on their manuscripts. Not necessarily. For one thing, Grammarly won’t work if you’re doing track changes. Too, sometimes I’ll ask for mini-rewrites if I think a scene won’t work. My thinking is that it’s best to use Grammarly for polishing after the author turns in edits. The charge for Grammarly’s still applies for the premium version, in which you get plagiarism detection, tweaking of vocabulary, and other goodies. I may consider using the premium version of Grammarly for editing the next NTD novel, but I have other resources I can use. There is that Mylar balloon fund to think about.

Your thoughts?

Sandy DeLuca's Lupo Mannaro features werewolves and dark fantasy.

A look at Createspace, Lulu, and Lightning Source

Steel Rose is an unholy matrimony of zombie fiction and horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

Recently my writer buddies and I had a lengthy discussion about the best way to publish a book. Some went for Lightning Source, others Lulu, and many went for Createspace. I then posed this question to my Mylar balloons and got the answer: “Whatever earns you the most money so you can buy more of us.”

My balloons had a point.

All three companies will offer a professional-looking book. Lulu and Lightning Source use the same files, and what’s more, Lulu works with Lightning Source. I used to publish my books through Lulu. I still do Night to Dawn magazine through them because I can get nice-looking print for the spine. Createspace will not put print on the spine unless the book is 100 pages. Sometimes you can get really great sales through Lulu; otherwise, Lulu’s shipping fees are steep, along with the cost for author/publisher copies. This cost then gets passed down to the readers who pony up the money to buy the book.

I’ve never worked with LSI – I was too frightened by the $35.00 yearly fee they charge small publishers per book to remain in print. To set up your book, expect to pay $37.50 for the cover file and $37.50 for the interior file. The big boy companies prefer LSI, which has the means to distribute books to the brick-and-mortar stores. Because they have an excellent sales team, set up costs are not an issue.

However, the small publishers have to consider that yearly fee, and if they’ve published ten books, that means $350 a year, not to mention the cost for proofs ($20 plus nine cents per page and $40 for revisions per cover and / or text file. If the bookstores decide to return books, and for some reason, the publisher says okay to return book on the contract, they must pay LSI the wholesale price of each book plus postage. They can also have the books destroyed. Given the price to set up the book, the publisher or author will have to sell an awful lot of books to make a profit. The Jonathan Maberry brand of writers would have no trouble selling books, but unknown authors might.

Because Lulu works with LSI, they, too, pay for those revisions and distribution, then pass the cost to the publisher. Make sure your book is error free before approving for distribution; otherwise expect to pay hefty fees to revise.

Enter Createspace. At first I shied away from Createspace because I had trouble adjusting my margins to meet their specs, but using their templates took care of the margin problem. Soon after I got comfortable using Createspace, I felt as if I’d been given keys to a kingdom. For one thing, there aren’t any set up fees. You go on their website, set up your account, select “create a book,” and follow the prompts. Createspace and Lulu will give you free ISBN numbers, but you can use your own. Your book gets to go on expanded distribution for free. Author/publisher copies are reasonable, which means you can charge a reasonable price for the book and still get a decent royalty. Once you approve your book, if later you decide to revise, you can do so without charge. Michael De Stefano, JoAnna Senger, Tom Johnson, and I decided to get new covers for some of our NTD books years after they were approved. Createspace allowed me to change the covers without charge. There is a charge for a proof copy, unless you get an online proof. I wanted a physical proof so that I have a better look at the product.

As the old saw goes, there are no free Mylar balloons. Createspace is part of Amazon, but they, too, work with LSI to get extended distribution. But they don’t accept returns, and most brick-and-mortar stores want the option to return. What’s more, once the book goes to Ingram, and Ingram takes its cut, the discount offered to outside stores is only 25% – not enough to justify stocking the book. They’ll take orders for the book from paying customers, but not actually stock the book.

If you’re lucky enough to have really great sales, consider using LSI and Createspace. That way, you can get a generous royalty and a shot at the brick-and-mortar stores. But use different ISBN numbers. Anytime you publish through two different distributors, you must use separate ISBN numbers.

Like my Mylar balloons advised, I went with the option that offered the best royalties and lowest expenses, given my situation. Your thoughts?

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