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.

 

When Mylar Balloons and Manuscript Rejections Go Together

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction, vampire tales, and poetry.Night to Dawn has had to close to submissions again because a lot of folks responded, and I hate to make writers wait three years to see their work in print. A lot of acceptances went out, along with rejections.

How do I approach story submissions? When a story intrigues me, I take that work along with several others to the meeting room, where twenty-five Mylar balloons float around a long table, each with copies of the manuscripts, prepared for a go-no-go discussion on each tale. I ask every balloon for their thoughts on the first story, and a heated discussion follows. The heart-shaped balloon complains that the story needs more romance. The Smiley face might prefer a humorous piece. The flower points out that the story will need a lot of editing. The pink butterfly might holler, “Damn all edits, let the story fly!” With six stories on the table, the meeting might last three hours, and maybe three stories will make it to Night to Dawn. If I bring a novel manuscript to the table, I’d better pack a lunch. The ensuing meeting could take all day.

At least that’s how it works in my balloon world.

In the real world, like many other small publishers/editors, I read submissions borrowed from time needed for editorial and writing chores, not to mention my day job and life events. There is no editorial board or meeting room, though I might enlist the help of beta readers. I read each one, at least the first three pages. If the first pages keep me in suspense, I’ll continue to the end. The stories that spoke to me outright got an immediate acceptance, especially if they haunted me long after I closed the file. Some tales read mostly well, but something along the way stopped me. These went on my shortlist. Some folks haven’t heard from me yet because their story’s on the shortlist.

Several folks sent a cover letter addressed as “Dear Editor.” You don’t want to do that with any editor, balloon world or not. When you’re ready to submit, take the time to visit the website and find out the person’s name. Other publishers—and agents—have complained about “Dear Agent” or “Dear Editor” submissions on their blogs, too. My name is plastered all over my website, so a “Dear Barbara” cover letter would work. Heck, if someone sent me a letter addressed “Dear Balloon Lady,” I’d smile and think, this person sure did their homework.

On many of the rejections, the story doesn’t begin until page four or later. One story had a beautifully written setting that went four pages, describing the heat in the protag’s town. I imagined an egg frying on the pavement, but I couldn’t use the story. If you want to start with your setting, litter the ground with some dead bodies. Cleaning out a closet is backstory, but if the character stumbles into a corpse dangling by a rope, that will keep me reading. And, by the way, there’s no need to send “you’ll-love-this-work” cover letters. Like a Mylar balloon, a well-crafted horror tale will get my attention on its own merit.

Beware of typos. We’re all human, and no writer sees their own mistakes, but…a submission littered with typos would give any editor pause. Most authors review their submissions before sending, but folks who use their eyes a lot (like writers) can run into visual issues, especially as they get older. I know – I’ve dealt with cataracts and now, scarring. So if you’re straining to read the print, turn up the zoom feature. For editing, I magnify mine and use Word’s “search and find” feature.

Occasionally I get well-written work in a genre I don’t publish. Though I can’t use them, I might ask to see more work. Anytime I ask to see more work or offer a though critique, take heart. I never waste time picking dust off of battered balloons. And if I have nightmares after reading your Night to Dawn tale, you’ve done a great job. My Mylar balloons would agree.

Your thoughts?

The litter is a horror tale featuring feral children.

Writer’s Trial: The Synopsis

Night to Dawn 27 features horror and zombie fiction by various authors.People have asked what I find most difficult about writing. Every job has an unpleasant aspect, and for me, writing the synopsis is the toughest. Basically, the synopsis is a summary of the story, or if you prefer, an outline in prose form. For a pantser like me, outlines and synopses can be particularly daunting. I’m getting to the end of reviewing the edits, making final tweaks, and putting together a synopsis for Blood Moon Rising. Meantime, another sequel is calling to me, pleading to be written, presenting an opportunity to write by the seat of my pants, suspended by Mylar balloons. Ah, but I’ve got to stick to the task at hand and quit daydreaming about balloons and what-might-be-next plots.

Why a synopsis? It gives a potential publisher an idea of what the story is about. Is it a story that interests the publisher enough to read the whole manuscript? Does it have a cohesive plot? The synopsis can answer those questions. I myself have requested synopses from authors before reading their books. The synopsis makes a handy-dandy tool when it comes to approaching reviewers. The shorter (maybe one to two pages) the better. It provides material that I might use to advertise the book on my website, or to send to people who are doing promos for the book. What’s more, it provides grist for a back cover blurb and later, a description which goes to Amazon and other distributors. These last pieces of wisdom were whispered to me by my Mylar balloons when I started grousing that the task was oh, so hard.

Writer’s Digest has some good articles on writing synopses. A writer buddy suggested I start with a short back cover blurb and highlight the scenes from there. I’ve gotten a few days off from work which I have in mind to make a serious dent in the synopsis project, among other things. First, I’m getting some fortification from my Mylar balloons. I’m hiring Gemini Wordsmiths for an edit. And after the deed is done, I’ll reward myself by reading Stephen King’s Revival.  Your thoughts?

The Litter features a compelling horror tale about feral children.

Kevin’s well-written synopsis invited me to read this awesome book!

 

Why Has Night to Dawn Magazine Gone to the Zombies?

Night to Dawn features an unholy blend of zombie fiction, vampire tales, and dark poetry.When I first became editor of Night to Dawn Magazine, I read each submission carefully, trying to find unique twists to the vampire monster. After all, I had the credentials; I’d just published Twilight Healer and seen many of my short vampire tales in small press magazines. But then Mike had taken me to two consecutive mummy flicks (back in the days before he’d gotten sick). Author Jonathan Maberry introduced me to zombies, and Tom Johnson had me writing SF and mystery tales for his publications. Before long, I started seeking mummies, zombies, evil aliens, and psychotic killers for my magazine. What’s more, my novels have turned toward evil aliens and zombies for monsters, and in some cases, the helium found in balloons was used for a weapon.

After reading enough tales and watching enough flicks about monsters, I realized that for me, the zombie makes the truest monster. Why? It takes me back to my childhood, when I visited a 1000-year-old woman on display in Atlantic City. The picture on the billboard displayed a model, but when I entered a room surrounded by drapes, I happened upon a skeletal woman dressed in rags, lying in an oversized bathtub. She sat up and waved to everyone. Later on, I found out that she was a well-preserved mummy, and the bathtub was actually a sarcophagus. Of course, people used mechanics and thin wires to make the body move. But at age ten, I didn’t know about such things. I only know that a dead woman was sitting in a bathtub, and I fled from the pavilion screaming.

Every author has his or her own pet monster, even if they don’t write horror. Tom Johnson specializes in pulp crime and SF, but you’ll find plenty of monsters (dinosaurs) in his Jur novels. In Michael De Stefano’s Gunslinger’s Companion, the criminals and some plantation owners behave worse than supernatural monsters. As everyone knows, humans can make the worst fiends. Stephen King finds monsters everywhere he looks—cell phones, revenants, psychotic killers, and yes, even helium balloons. Every author has their own reasons for choosing a given monster.

For me, the zombie serves as stark reminder of that mummified woman, and so naturally the zombie has shambled into Night to Dawn. My expectation is that future issues will include more zombie tales. Dead walkers terrorize people in Steel Rose and will continue to do so in its sequel. So…I’d love to hear about the monster that appears most in your fiction and why you’ve chosen this monster. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.

coffin-hop2014advert-scarecrow

Follow us on Twitter or Like us on Facebook!Follow Blood Red Shadows on Twitter Like Blood Red Shadows on Facebook

Getting through Tough Edits

Gemini WordsmithsThe denizens of hell attack in Barbara Custer's Steel Rose. completed the developmental edit on Blood Moon Rising, the sequel for Steel Rose, and the edits needed are extensive. Many of the fixes involve point of view, repetitive words or phrases, and inconsistencies in the plot. Better that these problems are caught now when I can fix them rather than having a reviewer call them out on her blog later. Yay, Gemini Wordsmiths! All the same, it’s taken several Mylar balloon acquisitions to fortify me for the work needed.

Most of the fixes are easy, and my editors have been patient with my questions. Some things I’m finding out I can look for when revising before sending to an editor. I’ve been struggling with repetition, clichés not so much, but I have seen clichés on others’ manuscripts. Solution: Prowriting Aid. I’ve found Prowriting to be a useful tool for winnowing out clichés, redundancies, and repetitive verbs and phrases. In this way, it works as a second pair of eyes. I regret not using Prowriting for Blood Moon Rising. Live and learn.

The Prowriting Aid didn’t help with the POV problems, however. I’ve noticed POV inconsistencies on other people’s manuscripts, too, problems similar to what you see in the following paragraph.

A bouquet of six Mylar butterflies, a rainbow assortment of red, greens, blues, and purples, called to Cassandra from the display stand. The soft shushing sounds they made when she ran her fingers through them brought a smile to her face. She just had to have them. The cashier, upon hearing the balloon sounds, called out, “Can I help you?”

That last sentence is a no-no because we’re in Cassandra’s head. So how would she know what the cashier heard? A better way to word that last sentence might be: The cashier’s voice impinged on her thoughts. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I can resolve most POV issues without making major structural changes. The plot flaws require more work, the guidance of an editor, plus lots of Mylar balloons to get me through a tough chore. Many of my plot inconsistencies happened in the second half of the book. The first half got evaluated, rewritten, and evaluated again through writers’ conferences, etc. and thus saw editing done before Gemini Wordsmiths got the file. Not so for the second half. If I had my do-overs, I would have completed the first draft before attempting any revisions like the pros recommended. Instead, I wrote two chapters, edited them, moved on to the third and fourth chapters, edited again, and so forth.

I’d like to recommend a blog “10 Words to Search For,” which helped me cut the fat in my manuscripts. Juliet Madison suggested ditching words like very, just, almost, began, and start. I did a Word Search and Find, which enabled me to substitute the word with something better or ditch altogether. The plot issues are the hardest to fix, because even in a horror or SF novel, the world has to stay consistent. The characters should act consistently, too; if not, then I’d better come up with a good reason for the aberration in behavior.

So…what do you find most difficult about revising a manuscript? How do you get through the tougher edits? Do you use any shortcuts for self-editing? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.

coffin-hop2014advert-scarecrow

Follow us on Twitter or Like us on Facebook!Follow Blood Red Shadows on Twitter Like Blood Red Shadows on Facebook

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 35 other subscribers