Romancing the Balloons

Barbara Custer's brand

Since April, when I wrote my first post on the pandemic, gyms and hair salons have reopened, albeit with restrictions. Some of my friends are jumping into activities full force. Others remain in quarantine. Per the discussions with my Mylar balloons, the activities are okay if I can take the risk from a level 10 to a level two. The balloon brigade at the supermarkets and pharmacies hasn’t stopped; my balloons deemed that activity a level two.

I’ve gone back to my hairstylist, but not the gym. I do ZOOM workouts while Daisy, my Mylar butterfly, becomes my trainer, coaching me on which weights to use. If she thinks I’m slacking off, she lets me know about it. I contemplated getting a traditional trainer, but I have what I need at home.

The pandemic has colored the way I write. My WIP involves a highly contagious virus that had a way larger death toll than corona. This means that, as in real life, my characters have to struggle to find a store that sells toilet paper, disinfectant, and other supplies they need. As in real life, my protagonist has Mylar balloons to guide her on her daily activities.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve noticed that driving’s gone downhill. I’ve seen people blow through red lights and make U-turns on four-lane thoroughfares, despite heavy traffic. Friends tell me that some folks think nothing of driving 100 miles per hour on the turnpike. About a month ago, a van came up to my right to make a U-turn and almost plowed into me. I had to get off the road. So I’ve used the back roads and avoid rush hour traffic as much as possible. The Mylar balloon principle applies: take the risk from a level 10 to a level two.

I never know when I’ll find a unique Mylar balloon. Maybe I’ll go to CVS to pick up a prescription, and a Valentine’s day balloon with lace will beckon from the card aisle. Perhaps I’ll go to the supermarket for bread and milk. If supplies hold up, I’ll get them, but a balloon, soft as a kitten paw, will make its way into my shopping cart. The balloons go into an isolation area for 72 hours at home, then joins the others in my living room.

How are you getting through the pandemic? I’d love to hear your experiences.

A $10 Amazon gift card will be sent to a random commenter after the bloghop.

Killing your Darlings

This year, I’ve been taking Your Novel Year with Kathryn Craft, and among other things, I am learning what it means to kill your darlings. No, not my balloons. My Mylar balloons are darlings, and they’re staying right where they are. I’m referring to the darling scenes I have in my WIP. 

The trouble was, my WIP had two protagonists. I started the book with one, Alexis. Maddie was a bit character who sought help from the underground Kryszka people with treatment for her husband’s sickness. However, Maddie wound up stealing the show and became a protagonist. I tried writing with two protagonists, but you can only have one, I found out. Readers will usually sympathize with the character they meet first. I had introduced the villain first, and after a class or two under my belt, I realized I couldn’t do that. So I started with Maddie kicking zombie ass.

After consultation with Kathryn, I saw that I had to completely restructure my book. Several good scenes had to go, as they had nothing to do with Maddie’s goal. What’s more, I had 114,000 words in the book, and genre books shouldn’t be longer than 100K words. So a love scene between Alexis and her partner went. So did a scene where Maddie visits her nephew in prison. It was a touching scene, but it didn’t further the story or relate to Maddie’s goal. 

However, new scenes have cropped up that I like better than the discarded scenes. For starters, Maddie develops a spine and tells off her heartless boss. Now, I may have to change that scene again, but we’ll see. And the Mylar balloons in the story get to stay. There is that. I strongly recommend Kathryn’s course. She’s been running it once a year.

How many times have you had to kill your darlings? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

A $10 Amazon gift card will be sent to a random commenter after the bloghop.

horror fiction by Allan Heller

The Great Pumpkin—Exploring the Senses

horror tales by Barbara Custer and other authors

Amidst my counting masks, paper products, and other supplies to wither the Great Pandemic, my butterfly Mylar balloon whispered, “How about baking a cheesecake? A pumpkin cheesecake. After all, it’s that time of the year.”

“What time of the year?” I rolled my eyes.

“The Great Pumpkin’s coming.”

My balloon had it right. So I started the balloon floating with a pumpkin-flavored latte at Starbucks. Next, a trip to Bath & Body Works for pumpkin-scented soap and hand sanitizer. If I have to use it, I might as well smell like pumpkin.

I’ve got pumpkin-flavored coffee, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin Cheerios. The pumpkin cheesecake tasted better than I remember. I will make a stop at Wawa for the pumpkin smoothies. I’m going for all the senses, so I’ve got room deodorizers and beads to keep the pumpkin scent going between baking brigades. There’s pumpkin-flavored ice cream for sale somewhere. I’m also contemplating a recipe for pumpkin soup. Last year, when I volunteered at the Ben Wilson Senior Center, someone made pumpkin soup. It smelled oh, so good, but it was made with regular flour, so my version will be GF.

Why the fixation with pumpkin? The smell of pumpkin is associated with Thanksgiving and autumnal harvest — a historically prosperous time of year. Pumpkin connotes comfort and warmth as we head into fall and colder weather. Pumpkin pie has become a traditional family recipe, so I think family and love when I smell pumpkin. Contemplate a famous scene in Proust’s masterpiece, “Remembrance Of Things Past,” where the narrator eats a madeleine cookie, and it seems as if he’s transported back to another time and place. Perhaps this happens to me when I have my pumpkin treats. Pumpkin spice takes me back to Thanksgiving as a child, when my mom baked pumpkin pie from scratch. In those days, we didn’t have to worry about Corona. Mom and Pop stores were thriving, and you didn’t have to go through a lot of rigmarole to buy stuff so long as you had the cash.

It could be I just love the smell of pumpkin spice.

With that in mind, I’ll keep my eyes open for pumpkin-shaped Mylar balloons, and I shall continue to enjoy my pumpkin treats through Thanksgiving. Do you have any favorite pumpkin treats? I’d love to hear your stories.

A $10 Amazon gift card will be sent to a random commenter after the bloghop.

A Lift to the Apocalypse

Many folks stare and gasp when I inform them that a Mylar balloon has found its way into my shopping basket. “The balloon’s contaminated,” they warn me. True, I don’t know where that balloon or any other product I buy has been. This is why I wear a mask and gloves to the supermarket. At home, the balloon goes into a separate room for three days. It takes that long for viruses to die on Mylar and other plastics. After washing my hands long enough to sing my balloon song, I wipe down my other groceries. As I patiently explained to one person, I’m giving a lift to the Corona apocalypse.

Meanwhile, others, such as the writer I wish to talk about, are Birders, also known as Twitchers. The sky everywhere is their domain, and like a hawk after prey, it does soar into this particular Australian’s work, representing hell as well as hope for a distant future.

Rod Marsden’s recent release, 50 Dragons, features an apocalypse after a nuclear war. The time set is the 23rd century. The human population has gone way down, and many areas of the earth are uninhabitable due to radiation. There are no balloons, but folks in this world have all the cleaning and paper products they need, unlike our present world. However, Marsden’s citizens have far more serious concerns than balloon acquisitions or toilet paper supply. In 50 Dragons, one centralized government of priestesses runs the world. Religion is mandatory, but you don’t get to choose which one. Attendance at the temple is compulsory. No one need protest because robots armed with guns patrol the streets, and they’ll shoot just as soon as look at someone.

This government practices population control by eliminating people they consider inferior. Five classes of people exist: priestesses, mavericks, maidens, knights, and dragons. In school, thirteen-year-old boys are tested. The ones who pass muster become mavericks, meaning they go to college, get a career, and have a good life. The others train to become knights who will slay the dragons, thus a short life. Being a maverick doesn’t ensure longevity. If he attracts unfavorable attention from the authorities, he can be demoted to knighthood without training. They have tournaments twice a year featuring knights versus dragons, and the government calls these biannual events the “culling.”

50 Dragons was not meant to be political, but I can see governments heading in this direction if we allow them. Already, one governor said that older people should volunteer to die to save the economy (shades of the high priestesses). I don’t want a government telling me how to worship. Perhaps the coronavirus is a wakeup call to appreciate, have, and pull together to avoid a nuclear war. So I’ll tell my relatives and friends I love them when we speak. If one day, we can go out and eat, I’ll savor every moment. And I’ll continue my “Mylar balloon chases” at the supermarket. I am, after all, giving a lift to the apocalypse.

The Website Changes Begin!

Mylar balloons for Barbara Custer, horror author

“Oh, Barbara!” purred a voice coming from a Mylar balloon tree. “Barbara!”

I looked up from the submission I was reading. “Yes?”

“You’re contracting several books and making promotion plans,” my Mylar balloon said. “Isn’t it high time you cleaned up your website?”

Aw, geez, why did they have to bring that up? “I will, eventually.”

“How about now?” the balloons asked. “How are you going to sell new books with the same, tired images?” Then they smiled as if offering a reprieve. “You don’t need a new theme. The one you’ve got gives you plenty of options to make your website look spiffy.”

I started with the header. I like to use rotating headers, and coming up with three headers I could live with took two afternoons. I thought I might need to redo them after I decided on a background, but this hasn’t been the case. Thankfully.

I started looking at backgrounds when my balloons piped up with. “How about getting rid of those advertisements? They’re an eyesore.”

These were WordPress ads – I agreed to run the ads with the understanding that if anything sold, I’d get a percentage. Trouble was, most of the items had nothing to do with my business. The folks at WordPress (I have a self-hosted site, but it works in tandem with my WordPress account) were glad to help, and the ads are gone.

I started looking over new themes again, and was about to download when the balloons got my attention. “Don’t you dare monkey with your theme,” they warned me. “If you do, you’ll make a lot more work and spend money that you don’t have. You’ve got a perfectly good theme that will enable you to change the font and the background. While you’re at it, look at your menus, too.”

My first attempt at changing the font didn’t go, so I installed a Google font plugin. For the menu, I merely had Night to Dawn Magazine & Books, LLC. If people clicked on it, they would get a dropdown menu of all the authors and their books. I rearranged the menus so that the authors have their own link in plan view and a dropdown for their books. One author had no link, but it’s fixed now. I got to wonder how people managed to find stuff on my website. What’s more, it would be helpful for each author and book to have a description to tempt viewers. So … I have more work to do in this area. Not sure if I like the white letters in gray … I’m saving that one for after I see how the new background works.

My takeaways? It pays to review your website every so often to make sure the links, images, and other items work. The balloons had it right about not changing themes. Each new theme presents a learning curve, along with all the work I needed to do on the menu. Later on, when certain issues have settled, I can look at getting a premium theme. Before changing themes, I would ask, what will the new theme give that you don’t have now? And I would back up the website before making the changeover, and consider putting into maintenance mode. And if you don’t know CSS skills, thankfully, WordPress has plugins that can help; but before using them, make sure they’re compatible with your version of WordPress. Do you use WordPress software? How do you approach website management? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 😊

A Mylar Balloon in your Home …

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

A Mylar balloon in your home is worth two at the store. Why moon over the balloons on display if you’ve already got a thriving one in the house? Sometimes, the store balloons are either too pricey or not for sale at all. Better to go with the sure thing.

That was my conclusion when I contemplated applying for freelance assignments from Upwork.com. You see, several weeks ago, I contracted with L. M. Labat to publish her second book, The Sanguinarian Schwartzwald, a sequel to The Sanguinarian Id. The Sanguinarian Id was well received by reviewers, and its excellent cover had drawn quite a few readers. I’m editing the book now and loving every moment of it. The Sanguinarian Id was a haunting tale of a woman who battled hordes of Nazi soldiers in her quest to hunt down a dangerous madman. The Sanguinarian Schwartzwald promises all that and much more. Methinks 2019 looks promising.

I’m still mindful of my work on the website. That means redoing a few pages and getting a new theme. Recent unexpected expenses made me hesitate to get a premium theme. That and the need to find a theme I like. A WordPress theme has to talk to me the same way a Mylar balloon does at the store before I’ll consider using, let alone buying. So now, I’ve put upwork.com on the shelf until a later date.

My Mike once said, “Stick with the one who brought you to the dance.” I think he had it right. That saying can be applied to publishers, projects, day jobs, and anything that has worked for you. With that in mind, I’ll stick with the Mylar balloons at home. However, I won’t complain if another materializes in my cart during my next visit to the supermarket. 🙂

L. M. Labat penned science fiction / vampire romance tale of medical malpractice.

 

 

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