When Blood Reigns: Cover Reveal

Barbara Custer's latest release, When Blood Reigns, is a sequel to Steel Rose.Marked for death, Alexis accompanies her lover, Yeron, and four survivors of a zombie invasion on a search for the renegades who created a chemical that induces a zombie-like state. On the way, ravenous flesh-eaters attack Alexis’s team; one survivor turns on her. She realizes too late that the renegades have been tracking her every move. When officials capture her, she becomes deathly ill. Can DNA splicing save her? Will Yeron’s attempts at rescue jeopardize all their lives?

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I had Walter Mitty dreams of having When Blood Reigns release slated for October 10. Given the preparation involved, I had to push that back, so there will be a December release. Still, I’d like to tell you a little about the book and what led to its completion.

At one time, When Blood Reigns was part of Steel Rose, which had grown to about 600 pages. Most publishers, including Yours Truly of Night to Dawn, frown on manuscripts much longer than 100K words. Howcumzit? From my observations, more words mean more pages manufactured, which means a higher price per book come distribution time. Someone of Stephen King’s ilk can get away with a 600-page novel—folks would buy his work at $30 if it came to that. But for the midlist and beginner authors, it’s best to work with forgivable prices, which requires keeping the word count at 100K or less.

So when I saw I’d arrived at 600 pages and still a distance from finishing the novel, I decided to split the book. I carved out an ending for Steel Rose and then moved into a beginning with When Blood Reigns. At the time, I called it by a different title—Blood Moon Rising. A wise publisher advised me to ditch that title because too many other books carried it. I came by When Blood Reigns by researching titles that felt right. Then I proceeded to take a democratic poll in my Facebook groups, and When Blood Reigns got elected. Steel Rose and When Blood Reigns got healthy edits before release—I strongly recommend Gemini Wordsmiths for edits.

You can expect to find many brutal zombies and renegade aliens. Alexis will have to do serious kickass fighting to survive. Remember the mummy of Atlantic City, described in an earlier blog? I had revisit Atlantic City and other personal demons because a few chapters will have a plethora of skeletal beings. During slower moments, I mellowed out with humor and tender moments between Yeron and Alexis. Around December 5 through 7, I will lay out excerpts and buy links.

You might wonder if there’s another sequel. The answer is yes, but I’m keeping the plotline under wraps until after I’ve finished the first draft. I’m introducing new characters, and it takes time to get to know them.

I’m offering two giveaway prizes to a randomly selected commenter. First prize is a $10.00 Starbucks gift card to a randomly selected winner. Second prize is a complimentary copy of Night to Dawn magazine. 

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Clarissa Johal

Discussing Your WIP

illustration by Wendy Fallon

Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood with a new look.

The writing pros advise us to write your next book while shopping your current book proposal. I did just that after I finished When Blood Reigns but I haven’t sought any critique on it. Nor have I discussed details in my blogs, FB pages, or at the writers’ meetings. Only my Mylar balloons know the details.

You might ask, whyyyy?

I never worked in a linear fashion with any tale. I tried writing out an outline first but couldn’t work with it because I’m a pantser. An outline can come after the draft but not before. But that’s not quite the reason for my silence either. A budding story idea will call to me the way the Mylar balloons do at the supermarket. In the developing stages of my first draft, I’ve found that if I start talking up the book too soon, I can wind up deflating the interest and motivation I had for the book. Why? Like the balloons, the creative process needs nurturing and motivation. Steel RoseIf I feel strongly about a subject, the words will float as easily as the Mylar balloons do through my house. Once I’ve discussed it extensively, I’m talked out. The words then leave me the way air escapes a punctured balloon, and the manuscript goes into a drawer.

This actually happened with a book I attempted to write after Twilight Healer. Pennsylvania’s winters were getting brutal, and cold provides lots of grist for stories. I imagined glass-domed cities and a race of vampires that thrived in the cold, and proceeded to write another book. Trouble was, I discussed the plot with every Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, and Sue, and the book motivation fizzled out. So when I began Steel Rose, I didn’t whisper a peep to anyone until the first draft was finished. By the time I reached the conclusion, I had enough material for two novels, so I made it a series. Since I already had a first draft in my pocket, I was peachy keen with discussing When Blood Reigns during interviews. I don’t have any first draft for the next book, so for now, what I do have written will stay between me and my Mylar balloons.

Does it sound superstitious? Maybe. But I’ve heard other authors express the same reluctance about discussing their budding work. I’ve learned not to ask other writers too many questions about the WIP. The book will come when it’s ready.

Your thoughts?

JoAnna Senger writes compelling mystery fiction, including Reservation Ravaged

Here There Be Skeletons

This anthology features zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer.At the bottom of my fascination with zombies, revenants, and evil aliens lies a terror of human skeletons. Every writer fears something, a “demon” that drives their stories. Some people dread the site of fire; for others it’s the Great White. For me, the sight of a skeleton, particularly one with debris on it, will send me burrowing inside a bouquet of Mylar balloons.

Why? I think my dread of skeletons started with my trip to Atlantic City that I described in my Night to Dawn blog. The mummy’s parchment dry skin literally hugged her bones. Not a shred of fat or muscle. My skeleton terror accompanied me everywhere I went.

For example, at age thirty, I underwent three knee surgeries, necessitating frequent visits to an orthopedist’s office, where the skeleton became a teaching tool. But I wasn’t interested in any anatomy lessons. Instead, I covered the bones with my coat, sweater, and sometimes a sheet if one was available. My orthopedist Dr. Hill asked one day why I covered his skeletons. Blushing, I yanked the sheet off the bones. My quick movement jarred the head, causing it to snap off the body, land on the floor, and roll like a bowling ball down the hall.

Dr. Hill stood there and laughed. He wisely sent me to another room for future checkups.

At the time, I went to school at night, and one of the instructors held her class inside an anatomy lab equipped with a human skeleton. Spooked, I draped my coat and scarf over the bones for every lesson. A creative writer, my instructor encouraged me to channel my fear into a horror fiction tale. You’ll find plenty of skeletons in Twilight Healer, Steel Rose, and City of Brotherly Death. Ditto for the sequels to Steel Rose.

So what’s your personal demon? Which monster motivates you to write horror fiction? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

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.

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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.

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Healthcare Workers and Zombies

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.Before I wrote Steel Rose and City of Brotherly Death, I wondered how healthcare workers would handle zombies. What would my role as a respiratory therapist entail in a zombie invasion?

Let’s consider a brain-dead patient, someone whose heart still beats, but the lack of brain wave activity defines him as legally dead. The patient breathes through a tracheotomy tube with mechanical ventilation until he goes to the operating room for organ donation. My duties would include keeping his airway clean and making sure his ventilator works. Supposing I did my job, never suspecting that the “dead” person could be a zombie waiting to feast on someone?

Let’s backtrack to possible events before the patient’s admission. Perhaps our patient gets assaulted by a zombie, and he blows its head apart. All well and good, but the zombie bites him. Our guy’s shaken up and has no business getting behind the wheel. But he does anyway and drives to the police station. Instead, he winds up in a horrible accident that leaves him with traumatic brain injuries and broken bones. The severity of his wounds necessitates a tracheotomy. The unsuspecting paramedics put him on a ventilator and rush him to a hospital. The doctors may not notice the bite until too late. They’re more worried about the patient’s possible brain death.

Hours later, the zombie’s bacteria infiltrate Trach Man’s system, most likely before the hapless therapist or nurse come in to suction him. Mr. Trach Man yanks out his breathing tube, lurches out of bed, and chases his caregivers, all the while spewing bloody secretions from his tracheotomy before feasting on someone’s brains and flesh. Other staff may hear the screams. Because guns are banned at most hospitals, most people will stand by wringing their hands while their coworker(s) dies. The braver ones might tack the zombie, mistaking him for a combative patient, and get bitten themselves.

Of course, the staff therapist can run. He could call Security or try to fight back. His tools (scissors and a screwdriver) won’t protect him from zombies. If he’s lucky, he’ll be employed undercover by the zombie squad, using the therapist’s uniform as a beard because that’s the only way he’ll survive.

Hospitals are supposed to have surveillance cameras, security officers, and training to handle such situations. They are supposed to be able to handle terrorists, right? Perhaps they could stop a would-be child kidnapping in progress? That may be; but given the potency of the zombie’s bacteria, most staff won’t figure out what’s going on until it’s too late in the ballgame for a lot of people.

For the respiratory therapist’s sake, I’m hoping that Mr. Trach Man started to turn on his way to the hospital, while the paramedic is administering CPR or inserting an IV. That would be disastrous, but most ambulance vehicles are equipped with a kind of circular saw, along with the standard life-saving equipment. The paramedic could ditch the ventilator and resort to sawing and tossing bits of the former patient out the backdoor. So much for the Hippocratic Oath department.

Suppose the zombie outbreak happened because of an alien conspiracy. Instead of bacteria, perhaps the aliens installed a computer chip or robotics to make the dead body come to life. In this case, whacking the zombie with a portable oxygen tank would disable the computer and immobilize him. If the therapist, nurse, or are other worker decides to fight the zombie this way, they had better strike true, or else end up as the zombie’s next meal. Of course, given most hospitals’ policies on violence, the caregiver might face termination of his job. But he could always even the score by pushing an administrator toward the zombies, right? The plot thickens.

 

 

Wake versus Waken versus Awake versus Awaken

While editing an eBook, I stumbled over the “wake versus awake” dilemma. The sentence was “he’ll go into a sleep from which he’ll never waken.” This was my first suggestion. Then I stopped and thought: should I have used “awaken?” I thought all three words meant the same thing. Not quite – each word has different slivers of meaning. I looked up awaken in the dictionary and got this definition: cause to stop sleeping, rouse from a deep sleep. It carried a literary meaning, too, so awaken wasn’t the word I wanted. Didn’t think it would get so confusing.

Let’s look at the four words and what they really mean. It gets more interesting when you examine their past tenses. All of these words can be used transitively or intransitively. I’ve used some of my best curse words struggling through this conundrum. Is it wakened or woken? I sometimes wish I had a cheat sheet for all my issues with grammar.

Events in Barbara Custer's City of Brotherly Death caused the zombies to awaken.

Has this zombie awakened, woke, or wakened? Either way, he’s dangerous.

Awaken (past: awakened, have awakened)

Transitive: rouse from a deep sleep. Example: The onslaught of zombies awakened Alexis’ warrior instinct.

Intransitive: to arise or spring into existence. Example: I awakened during the night when I heard the scratching.

Awake (past: awaked or awoke; have awaked, have awoken)

Transitive: To rouse (someone or something) from sleep. The alarms awaked (or awoke) him from a deep sleep.

Intransitive: To come out of the state of sleep. Example: The zombie awakes and he’s getting hungry. Very hungry.

Wake (past: waked or woke; have waked or woken)

Transitive: to make alert. Example:  The shushing sounds of the balloons woke her gently.

Intransitive: to stop sleeping or remain awake. When the zombie woke, he bit the nearest person.

Waken (wakened or have wakened)

Transitive: to rouse (a person or animal) from sleep. Example: The poisonous chemical wakened the zombie.

Intransitive: to wake; stop sleeping; to become awake. Alexis wakened during the night after a bad dream.

Looking at these definitions, I have my choice of verbs. I went with “waken,” but I could have used “awaken” or “wake.” Wake, wake up, and waken are the most commonly used words to describe rousing a sleeper. Awake and awaken carry a literary and theologian connotation that wake and waken does not. Examples: The teacher’s methods awakened creativity within me. The sinner awakened to his misdeeds. Another important difference: for past tense, always use the weak standard with awaken and waken. So it’s awakened, have awakened, but never awokened; and wakened, have wakened, respectively.

Do you find yourself struggling with look-alike words?

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One randomly drawn commenter will receive a signed copy of Steel Rose and a $10 GC for Starbucks.

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