Tell versus Show

horror and zombie fiction published by Barbara CusterA while ago I turned down a manuscript because it had, as I put it, a lot of “tells.” This is something I’ve struggled with in my writing; as an editor, I can spot an issue right away. The author took my answer in stride, but he asked me to explain what I meant. This I did, but I got to wondering if other folks struggle with show-versus-tell.

Let’s look at the following paragraph:

Mary loves her Mylar balloons. Every time she goes to the store, she adds another floral shape or butterfly to her collection. She’s got every balloon shape imaginable.

This is a one-dimensional statement telling us that Mary loves balloons. But we do not see Mary in action when she buys them. We don’t see the expression on her face. The statement tells us nothing else about Mary, so why should the reader care?

Paragraph Two:

A Mylar butterfly balloon beckoned to Mary as she shuffled into the supermarket, shoulders drooping. Perched on a display stand, it glimmered with rainbow colors. “Balloon!” Mary cried, clasping her hands together. “So beautiful.” She could almost hear the balloon’s call: “Oh, Mary! Mary!” Shopping list forgotten, she raced down the aisle and snatched the balloon up in her arms. Its shushing sounds took the edge off her sadness. With a broad smile, she headed to the cashier to buy.

Now, this paragraph needs more detail. What if Mary had a long shopping list or a Spartan budget? Conflict arises. Does she buy the balloon, and if she does, does she go into debt or forego groceries? We know that something was bothering her. Perhaps she has little time for errands, or she has to make every penny count. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to hear more about Mary and what her balloons do for her.

Alas, it’s hard to see the defects in my manuscripts. The story I’m working on is my baby. For me to edit, it would be similar to a doctor treating his family. So I always hire an outside person to edit my work. Even with the welcome page for Night to Dawn, I ask someone to read. There are also my buddies from the Hatboro Writer’s Group, who serves as my beta readers. One issue people have had with my developing stories is the poverty of body language. Showing how the character feels has been a struggle, but I find that putting a story aside for a few days allows me to gain a fresh perspective for a rewrite.

The show-versus-tell conundrum continues. Has this been a problem for you? I’d like to hear your experiences and thoughts.

Commenters are eligible to win a copy of When Blood Reigns.

What Motivates your Muse?

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.A few weeks ago, at a writer’s coffeehouse, we discussed what motivates us to finish a book. Each person had a different answer. I secretly thought it was Mylar balloons; however, I said it helps me to go outside for a walk to clear my head, and it does. That’s assuming, though, that the weather is sympathetic. During the dead of winter, I stay in the house.  That’s not to say I can’t write during the winter, but the walk outside won’t be one of my tools.

Someone else suggested rewriting the scene from a different character’s point of view. I’ve never tried this, but I found the idea intriguing. I will gladly give it a go. I’d like to know if any of you all have tried revising and writing from a different character’s viewpoint.

Someone else said it had to do with their surroundings. They found it helpful to change the room where they write. I have to agree, but I think I’d have to ask why. Most of my blank spells happen in my office, despite my cushioned chair and large desktop screen. In the living room, I’m sitting in a hard-back chair, hardly conducive to creativity, with a 14-inch screen laptop. Ah, but I’ve got a comfortable stool to prop my foot; not so with my office. What’s more, my laptop works with Firefox so I can find meanings of words and other information; my desktop is given to frequent hiccoughing and freezes. In the living room, I’ve got my Mylar balloons to coach and motivate me, whereas, in the office, I work alone. It has helped to bring a balloon tree into the office with me.

I’d like to mention that a typical shift on the day job, if tiresome, can deplete my energy. Someone commented that getting into writing can energize them after a stressful day, but when my energy is gone, it’s gone, particularly during the cold months. There is also this: it helps to be available to work at my computer. That means home, or at a library, and not at the doctor’s, or otherwise occupied. So … when I know I’m going to be scarce or have major NTD work, I use my desktop, and keep my iPhone nearby if I need to Google something. If I’m home, or otherwise available, I use my laptop. Wherever I am, it sure helps to have those Mylar balloons.

What motivates your muse? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Commenters are eligible to win a copy of When Blood Reigns.

 

The Pumpkin Bug

I’ve been infected with the pumpkin bug, and so I must do my yearly duty with pumpkins. As one who loves pumpkin spice, I baked over a dozen pumpkin cupcakes, and 12 pumpkin muffins. I’ve got pumpkin spice flavoring to add to my coffee. What’s more, I chose the above graphic to feature my posts for the October Frights blog hop. I’ve earmarked Wawa and probably Starbucks for pumpkin flavored shakes and lattes. Finally, I went and bought pumpkin sauce to use instead of traditional tomato sauce for some of my spaghetti meals, for the pumpkin rules. My Mylar balloons understand because they deal with my fever every year.

Food aside, the pumpkin is an important ingredient for Halloween. We have the Irish Festival Samhain to thank for Halloween as we know it. Samhain marked the passage from the summer harvest season to the dark of winter. People believed that fairy spirits, and not the nice kind, lurked in the shadows. To distract these spirits, people would carve faces into large turnips and set lit candles inside them. They would then place these lanterns among roadways and gates to light the way for travelers and caution the fairies.

The immigrants from Ireland and Scotland arrived around the mid-1800s, and these folks found the pumpkins useful for the jack-o’-lanterns. Thus this Halloween ritual was born.

My other upcoming blogs will have three discussions on writing issues and one short story. My tales don’t contain any scenes involving pumpkins, but you can sure make some delicious treats. Since people are always hungry, you might want to stop by King Arthur Flour to check out their pumpkin recipes. For gluten-free diets, you can substitute their Measure-for-Measure flour for regular flour.

I know of a lot of folks who set up pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns, but I’d much rather buy canned pumpkin and bake. Carving involves a lot of hard work, and some pumpkins weigh as much as 25 pounds. That’s not to say I won’t indulge in pumpkin Mylar balloons—I’ve got about two or three of them now.

Today, I found a pumpkin cupcake in my lunch kit. I must give the pumpkin his due.

Commenters are eligible to win a print copy of When Blood Reigns.

This zombie novel was written by Gerald Browning

Great tale to enjoy with your pumpkin bread!

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.

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Clarissa Johal

 

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