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.

Personal Demons Revisited

Harold Kempka writes a series of chilling zombie tales in this book.The other night, I had a visitor over my house and she’d asked me how I got to writing horror. I told her how it started with Dark Shadows and the Hammer films. Stephen King, among other authors, only fanned the flames, I said, ignoring the fact that my dance with horror began 51 years ago, during a trip to Atlantic City with my mother. Had Mylar balloons existed, Atlantic City would have never happened because the balloons would have shielded my eyes from the sight. But, Mylar balloons didn’t exist, so I was left to face the monster on my own. And I never mentioned anything about Atlantic City to my friend.

After all, this story isn’t the kind of thing I’d tell to the uninitiated. I usually reserve this one for Halloween.

This mystery tale was written by JoAnna Senger.When I was a child, my mother and I used to go to the Italian Village at Atlantic City’s Million Dollar Pier. The Village knew how to make some mean hoagies, and gluten never entered the picture. At the time, there were amusements and goodies such as those booths where you could take four selfies for a buck. One day, they had a pavilion closed with a curtain, seated on a dais. The billboard read, “See live 1000-year-old woman.” That sounded awesome, so I got in line.

The people ahead of me formed a C-shaped ring around an ornate bathtub. Later on, I learned that bathtub was actually a sarcophagus.  Further ahead, I made out jet black hair and a shriveled face. The woman had on an ornate vest, but nothing else. I stepped up to get a closer look. Not a woman after all, but a mummified skeleton. I stood there frozen, and the people just kept looking and chatting among themselves, as if they were gathering at a party. Seconds later, she turned her head and raised her arms, extending her hand. At that, I bolted from the pavilion, screaming.

Campfire chillers features a series of horror fiction tales by Rajeev Bhargava.As I got older, I realized that most likely the folks who engineered this constructed machinery and invisible ropes to make the body move. But when you see a dead body look your way, you don’t consider possibilities. You run. For most of my life, thereafter, I’ve had this fear of skeletons—I’d discussed this in previous blogs. I think I worked my way through it; noticed that I have skeletal images for illustrations. I’ve got a real beauty of a skeleton photo in NTD 29. All the same, I rarely buy Halloween balloons. I go with floral shapes and Mylar butterflies.

I’d say this sighting in Atlantic City ignited my fascination with horror. Then I moved on to Dark Shadows and the Hammer films which fueled the flames, followed by Stephen King. Thankfully, my Mylar balloons serve as a moderating influence.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

Balloons and Branding

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and horror tales.Jonathan Maberry, a wise author and mentor, once told me that the best way to get readers is not by pushing your book but by “branding” yourself. Perhaps you have a favorite shirt you might wear to signings. Perhaps everything you live and breathe resonates with Star Trek. I’ve been doing mine via Mylar balloons. Why balloons? I can’t say why, but I find it impossible to shop at most supermarkets without being waylaid by the balloons at the floral aisle. How many balloons do I have? A lot. If you’d like to guess how many, there’s a giveaway involved.

Barbara Custer wrote Close Liaisons, a science fiction book featuring aliens and Mylar balloons.Any time you blog or go to a writing venue you’re “on,” meaning that the way you carry yourself will become part of your brand. So whenever you blog, you’ll want to keep it positive. If you had a quarrel at home, leave it there. Give yourself plenty of time to get to an event because if you show up late, people might associate lateness with your brand. “Oh, yeah, that’s Barbara of the Balloons – she takes her time,” and so forth. When I’m with writer buddies, doing the editor letter for Night to Dawn, or blogging, I usually open the top with my latest balloon escapade at the Giant, Acme, or other market. And I find that balloon analogies have a way of getting the point across.

Michael DeStefano wrote this coming of age novel.Sometimes your brand can creep into your books. NTD author Michael De Stefano, for one, loves baseball, and you’ll find a lot of scenes involving baseball in In the Times of Their Restlessness and his other two books. Tom Johnson’s bouquet of balloons is his life in the military, and his experiences and love of science fiction creep into his Jur novels. Rod Marsden brands himself with his love of history in Ghost Dance, among his other books.

So … I guess you’re wondering if Mylar balloons have crept into my books. Well, let me put it to you this way. Did God make little green apples? Does it snow in Pennsylvania during the wintertime?  Heroine Alexis of Steel Rose kept a squadron of Mylar balloons in her hospital room because she felt that the helium in them, being especially poisonous for Kryszka aliens, might protect her from the renegades. You will also meet balloon queens in Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

The most important part of branding though is having fun. Why is it so important? Because the branding tool enables people to get to know you in a good way. When that happens, good reviews, if not sales, are likely to follow.

So … how do you go about branding yourself and your work? Do you have a special interest in something that works? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

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Show and Tell

Barbara Custer writes zombie fiction and science fiction / horror.Today, I planned a show-and-tell with my latest book covers, never realizing that the activities would begin with my trip to the supermarket. I headed to the Acme to buy two gift cards for an early start on holiday shipping. The gift cards would have earned me a $20 coupon, but then Mylar balloons swarmed me as I entered the store. I hied over to Baking Supplies and bought needed items, all the while hiding; but at the fruit stand, I had to face the music. Six strawberry Mylar balloons hovered over the bananas I wanted. The store may have had gift cards, but all that was lost on me when the Mylar balloons waylaid me.

Maybe I deserve a balloon treat since I’ve got some new releases forthcoming through the Night to Dawn imprint. Night to Dawn 28 is making an appearance on Amazon, and its cover has drawn many compliments from viewers. Sandy DeLuca has done awesome illustrations and poetry duets with Marge Simon for Night to Dawn magazine.

After reading Allan M. Heller’s 40 Frightful Flash Fictions, the lights will stay on long after bedtime, assuming you can fall asleep, for devastation is served with a smile. The anthology is going through the formatting stage. Stan Horwitz provided the images—real beauties; and for lettering and design, Teresa Tunaley pulled frightening birds out of her hat. Look for 40 Frightful Flash Fictions in the coming weeks.

In Infinite Sight, guilt over an infant’s death motivates protag Lilly into a rescue that catapults her into a war between two alien armies. Infinite Sight originally appeared in Fading Shadows’ Alien Worlds magazine as “The Good Samaritan Revisited.” It’s gone to Gemini Wordsmiths for a developmental edit, for no published book is complete without a healthy edit. At any rate, I’ve got a stunning front and back cover, thanks to Marge Simon. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Marge since I first took over Night to Dawn magazine as a spiral-bound book. I estimate a publication date during the holiday season or shortly afterwards.

What happens when the human brain spirals, cutting a swath between a masterpiece and monstrosity? You’ll find out in early winter (estimated) when L. M. Labat’s The Sanguinarian Id goes live. I anticipate a cover image shortly.

Ditto for When Blood Reigns, sequel to Steel Rose. I don’t have a publishing date or estimated time yet. It has gone through developmental editing and should be worth the wait.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the Giant supermarket for the remaining groceries still on my list. This week presented a heavy grocery list, and crunch time for budgeting. Will I remember that when the Mylar balloons come calling? I’m going to try, but when the Mylar “I gotta” bug bites, look out.

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire and zombie fictions.Allan Heller's 40 Frightened Flash Fictions features creepy zombie tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Custer's science fiction novel features a protag with "Infinite Sight."

Kingdom in Word’s Backyard

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire tales and zombie fiction.If you look at the front page of my website, you’ll notice five items under my “Coming Soon” list. While recuperating from foot surgery, I took on additional projects. It means separate folders for each item so I can better track my files. I’m making up these folders at the recommendation of my Mylar balloons. As everyone knows, the Mylar balloons like to give their input on all my projects.

I’m mailing out copies of Night to Dawn 28, and it should become available on Amazon in a few weeks. Two of the projects are on hold, awaiting notes from editors. I’m actively working on 40 Frightful Flash Fiction Tales, and the edits on The Sanguinarian Id will begin after that’s gone to press. When you juggle several balls at once, one is bound to fall and bounce—in this case, a printing glitch. I’m doing Night to Dawn 28 with two printers, and they both noted that some interior images are less than 200 dpi. I couldn’t understand this, because I always upload images at 300 dpi. After talking to people I learned that some folks use Adobe InDesign because Word compresses interior images. Thankfully, my illustrators—Teresa Tunaley, Marge Simon, and Sandy DeLuca—do much of the work on my covers. Sometimes I design the lettering, and for that, I use Publisher.

Not that Publisher isn’t capable of compressing images. Publisher 2010 has an option for compression, too. You don’t want blurry images, but you don’t want an oversized file that becomes impossible to email. Too high a resolution can make a document impossible to upload.

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and zombie fiction tales.

Remember–we’re da boss!

You see, this little balloon lady here can’t afford InDesign. The true-blue software costs over $1400. They do have a digital cloud version for $156.00. Ditto for Photoshop; one version costs more than $1400, and another about $160. Now maybe I could save for the cheaper versions, but there is a steep learning curve to consider.

I started thinking woe is me until I Googled ways to get around the compression problem with Word. It turned out to be an easy fix for Word 2010 which I have, but can be done in Word 2007 which I also have, since I have two computers. For 2010, you go under “file” and select “options” on the bottom of the left hand side. A drop down menu comes up, and you select “advanced.” You scroll down to where it says “images” and select “do not compress images.” For 2007, if you click on the image in question, a range of options for the picture will show up on the ribbon. One of them has to do with compression. Word also gives you the option of shadowing illustrations. I did play with one image and it looked much sharper. So I just might consider adding different background shadows for Night to Dawn 29. Finding all these extra benefits was like stumbling on a king’s ransom of diamonds –or in my case, Mylar balloons.

One thing the experts warn is that resizing on Word may compress dpi. Mind you, I’m just finding out about this.

Publisher came with the Microsoft Office software that my sister got me. I use it to make birthday cards for work and for the wraparound Night to Dawn magazine covers (and books when I do them). Publisher 2007 is nice, but the 2010 version has many more tools for dressing up images.

The thought crossed my mind that one day formatting the magazine in Publisher then converting to PDF. I think it might be doable because my sister did a multiple-page document in Publisher, about four pages. First, though, I’m going to check out these treasure troves I discovered in my Word backyard. Maybe the Mylar balloons and I will have a tribal conference about software.

Do you use any specific software images to format them? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your experiences.

Which Compound Words Confound You?

Barbara Custer writes horror and science fiction tales. She collects Mylar balloons, too.During my NTD edits, I find that about fifty percent of them involve compound words. This doesn’t surprise me because I, too, struggle with the proper spelling of compound and hyphenated words. Sometimes I check Google’s dictionary to get the correct spelling. I got to thinking that other writers might have issues with this, so I decided to take a closer look.

Chicago of Manual Style has rules to guide you, but alas, exceptions, too. It’s the exceptions that cause the most problems with the English language. For example, you should hyphenate adjectival phrases used before a noun. Examples: The distance to the hospital is a six-mile drive. The doctors made last-ditch efforts to save the patient.

But we’ve got an exception: I’ve had a 10 percent increase in balloons. “Percent” should be spelled out and not hyphenated.

Hyphenate compounds using “all” when they follow or precede a noun, says Chicago’s Manual. Example: The balloons that watch over me are all-knowing. But compounds with the word “fold” get spelled as one word, as in: My balloon collection has increased threefold during the last five years.

Exception: If the adjective using “fold” involves a figure, hyphenate. Example: The business realized a 20-fold increase in sales.

Words with “like” can be spelled solid. No exceptions. Examples: He’s got a childlike innocence. The balloons are lifelike figures.

Words beginning with “self” get hyphenated at all times. Example: She’s self-sufficient. He’s a self-serving man.

Proper nouns with “wide” get hyphenated. Other nouns do not. Example: The zombie infection spread Hospital-wide. But: The zombie infection also spread citywide.

“Light-headed” and “lighthearted” will get you every time. The first refers to a physical sensation (dizziness) and the second pertains to an emotion. Most other words involving “light” are open, as in “light pen;” the exceptions are “light-headed” and “light-rail.” When the word “light” is the last element in a compound, it’s spelled solid. Examples: flashlight, candlelight, etc.

Certain compounds can be spelled open or closed depending on the meaning. “Long distance” as a noun makes two words, but as an adjective gets spelled with a hyphen. Example: The balloon soared a long distance during the long-distance flight. “Back up” as a verb is two words, as in: I look carefully before I back up my car. As a noun, it’s one word, as in: I called for backup before I saw my patient.

Other compounds words, having been used together for a long time, became spelled as one word, such as bloodstains, windowsill, fireman, postman, droplet, etc. I’m hoping one day that “balloon bed” will become a common enough term to be spelled as one word. Because there are so many exceptions, your best friends when it comes to spelling compound words are the Chicago of Manual Style and the dictionary.

So what compound words give you a challenge? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This futuristic Science Fiction novella was written by Barbara Custer.The Prodigy of St. Pete's is Michael De Stefano's coming of age novel.

 

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