Killing Your Darlings and other Writerly Issues

I got the edits back on Steel Rose, and was glad I had an editor look over the book. Maura Anderson has done a thorough job on Steel Rose, and Toni Rakestraw has done well by me on the stories for City of Brotherly Death. For me to edit my own work would be like a doctor treating his relatives. In both cases, we’re too close to the relatives (or book, in my case) to make wise choices.

One of my major weaknesses was inconsistency. Example: Laurel is my villain, and her negligence causes a patient’s death. The boss fires her and orders two security officers to walk her to her car. All well and good, but two pages later, when Laurel muttered a plan to kill people and dented a car on her way out of the garage, I failed to mention the guards. “What happened to the guards?” asked my editor in her thought balloon. “Surely, they would be watching Laurel.”

So I revised that scene, and upon further thought, I realized that several chapters later, when the police interview the protagonist Alexis about Laurel, they might mention that Laurel is wanted for fleeing the scene of an accident. So I will revise that section also.

It’s not enough that Laurel got fired. When negligence results in a patient’s death in a hospital, the employer is required to report this to the state license board. I know this full well, being a registered respiratory therapist. Alas, I did not include this in the scene where the boss fires Laurel, and the editor called me on it. I might have called my writers for NTD on similar issues. But like many writers, I find it hard to see my own mistakes.

Another area I struggle with is the need to kill my darlings. No, seriously. I love “cute” expressions, but I had to ditch a lot of them because they confused the reader. Example, I typed, “The essence of Laurel wafted her way.” The editor crossed out “essence of Laurel” and replaced it with “Laurel’s smell.” Toni and other editors have called me on my tendency to use too many metaphors, too. I had Yeron, Alexis’ alien lover, thinking the zombies were “wearing death like an overcoat in February.” Us humans might think that way, but not aliens. Hereafter I will save the “cuteness” for my Mylar balloons.

One thing Maura recommended was a timeline, and this advice ties in with a suggestion that author / agent Marie Lamba gave at the Writer’s Coffeehouse meeting about using a calendar to keep track of seasons and important dates for your protagonist. Hereafter I will consider outlining chapters.

I’d like to hear about your struggles with the writing process? Do you outline, and if you do, how has it worked for you? Do you find it hard to kill your darlings? Any other struggles? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Night to Dawn brings a new take on zombies and vampires


When the Writing I Gotta Bug Bites You

In Stephen King’s Misery, his protagonist Paul said the I gotta motivated him to keep writing despite the tortures inflicted by the villain Annie. By tortures, I mean the loss of body parts, starvation, and other horrors. But he had to keep going because of the I gotta bug.

At the time, I thought I gotta was a cool expression. I gave it no more thought until I came down with the bug.

These past weeks, I’ve been revising “One Last Favor,” a tale earmarked for my anthology, City of Brotherly Death. A small press magazine published “One Last Favor” years ago. The story opens with a horde of revenants, people returning from the dead to harm the living, invading Hartland Clinic. My protagonist Tara survives by trading sex for her life. As the story advances, the dead continue their invasion, destroying entire cities. A registered nurse, Tara continues treating the sick until the monsters who bargained with her years before return for another visit. In the original version, Tara (different name in first version) joins the dead because she hates being alone.

When I evaluated the story for revisions, I thought, how trite. Most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up humanity to join a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. Tara enjoys patient care, respect, a decent income, and a comfortable apartment. Why would she give those things up?

I kept the first half of the story, revised the second, and ditched the original ending. It never occurred to me, until I was deep into my work, that I should have outlined my revision. So I got stuck. I sat before a blank screen trying to come up with a brilliant ending. If not that (you can’t win the jackpot every time), an ending that would satisfy the reader.

The thought crossed my mind to scrap the tale and move on to something else. I couldn’t do that, not with all those zombies threatening my protagonist’s life. One of my friends suggested I put the story on the back burner and go with other activities. I tried doing that, but after a couple of hours, that story called to me, demanding that I finish it. If I told you that only the prospect of sales and a contract motivated me, I’d be lying. Diggity-damn, those zombies found a way into Tara’s house, and what was she going to do about it?

My balloons need helium. Forget that. I gotta find out if Tara will live. Will the cavalry arrive in time to save her? Two editing projects are sitting in my queue. They’ll have to wait. I gotta see where Tara will finish up if she survives. I gotta know who will mourn her if she dies. I gotta find out if she manages to destroy the zombies.

Like a pearl necklace that motivates me to save until I have enough money to buy it, the I Gotta holds the promise of a brilliant ending. Chores be damned, I’ll keep going until I find that ending.

It took three tries to get a workable ending. Raising the stakes in the middle opened things up a bit, especially when Tara finds love. However, the ending is subject to change. The tale has gone to the editor. Toni of The Unbridled Editor has edited most of my tales for City of Brotherly Love. I highly recommend her.

While I wait for the edits, I shall fill my balloons and work on the other Night to Dawn projects. Because when the edits come back, I suspect there will be another go-round with the I gotta bug.

Has any of you been bitten by the I gotta bug? How did it affect your writing? Were you satisfied with the results?

Anthology featurings zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer, set in Philadelphia

Tom Johnson’s Interview with Illustrator Teresa Tunaley

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction along with vampires.I first became aware of Teresa Tunaley’s illustrations in Barbara Custer’s Night To Dawn magazine a few years back. In fact, I was so taken with Teresa’s art I went to her website and looked at the many pages of fine illustrations she had already done for book covers and magazines. It was no surprise to see the many Awards she has received for her art and website design. When it came time for a new edition of “Jur: A Story of Pre Dawn Earth,” I naturally thought of her for the cover. The previous three editions of my book sported some pretty horrible covers, I assure you. But I felt Teresa had the right technique to capture the scene I wanted. She did!  Let me now introduce you to a very fine lady who has been fun to work with on several projects so far.

Tom: Teresa, to begin, please tell the readers a little about yourself, where you are from, and where you are now living.

Teresa: Many moons ago, I was born in the United Kingdom in a small village called Wigston, in Leicestershire.  In my mid 20’s I had the opportunity to holiday in Tenerife, one of seven small islands off the West coast of Africa (governed by Spain).  I fell in love with the tranquil way of life and found myself spending every summer here; so, after dozens of holidays, I decided in 2002 to move and make it permanent.  So much easier having your Mum, sister and cousins already out here!  They had made the decision to move much earlier than I had.

Tom: How did you become involved in art creations, and has this always been your life’s dream?

Teresa:  I recall painting quite early before my teens, but didn’t take it up as a hobby until much later.  I worked initially in Watercolors and felt quite proud as I sold a few of my paintings to co-workers.  Monet’s works adorned my lounge walls at this time.

I could spend hours in Art Museums; I was fascinated by art especially large pieces painted by the Masters.  The detail even in the background was stunning, fine lace, jewelry and clothing painted so well, every fold was real to me.

I experimented in Oils, Acrylics and left behind watercolors.  Oils became my favorite as it allowed me more time to add and blend.

Tom: Were there any inspirations or artistic influences early on, or later in life. I’m sure you have grown in your fantastic talent over the years. Did you attend art schools, or are you self-taught?

Teresa: No one person inspired me to paint; it was the creation of something new, something entirely familiar or even alien.  To put paint to paper meant you could imagine a scene, in any time, another reality or planet; put yourself and the onlooker right there.  There are no boundaries.

Tom: I’m sure that art is a big part of your life, but do you have other interests? Family and associates, or hobbies that you would like to talk about?

Teresa: Art is a big part of my life because I need to do it.  I have images going around in my head all the time and need to get this on paper; some of my best paintings have been conjured up late at night between wake and sleep and I must say, most of these would be best placed in the Horror Genre lol.

Besides art, I do the normal day to day things around the house: cook, sew and clean.  I don’t dislike any of this but sometimes find it difficult to pull myself away from my art.  I could sit at my easel at 9.00am just to touch up one section or fine tune another; before I know it literally hours have gone by.

Weekends I try to spend with friends and family.  My partner Stefano is Italian and paints as much as I do but only in Acrylic.  The lounge is mainly our studio with easels for each of us.  There are canvasses leaning everywhere, the walls are strewn with art.  We sit in the early evening talking about our work and commenting on each others. (Gently, as we are both sensitive to negativity) each to their own we say…we have differing styles but lovely all the same.

Tom: I noticed several Preditors & Editors Awards, as well as other awards listed on your website. Please tell us about them, and how they came about.

Teresa: I had forgotten about these until you mentioned them as they are quite a few years ago. Some have been won for my work appearing in certain publications. Others for the art website that I have

My most recent award was July last year here in Tenerife.  I entered a competition along with hundreds of other artists from all over the world.  I produced a lady on a large 1.5 m sq canvas. I painted the contours of her body in various colors which represented the heat source.

Well, I was both surprised and overwhelmed to win the Public Vote award. The certificate hangs in my office, its very special; being recognized as an actual Artist makes me feel special.

Tom: What do you find is the most enjoyable aspect of creating art/covers?

Teresa: The fact that others can enjoy my work as much as me gives me the inspiration to create on a daily basis.

Tom: Would you say there is anything you find difficult with creating art, or working with authors/publishers?

Teresa:  I can’t really say that I have worked with any difficult authors or publishers.  I have worked with the same people time and time again; after 10 yrs of working with dozens of publishers, I have made many friends.  Perhaps, I have found it easy. I try to paint a cover or design that the Author/Publisher actually wants, not what I want.  I haven’t written the book, the author has.  They want a cover that depicts a scene and I create it.

There are times I get a full script to read but there are also times I only get notes from authors, one or two phrases to explain their needs.  Either way, I’m neither happy or done, until the client is happy!

Tom: Is there any advice you would like to give aspiring artists and creators who are just starting out, or on their way up?

Teresa: My advice would be: never lose your own style, although you may have to tweak and vary it a little for particular assignments.  Don’t get put off by rejections because they will come thick and fast (they never stop). It’s only the acceptances that count and when you get one, put your heart into getting it right!

Tom: Are you working on anything special at the moment? And most important, where can viewers find your website and contact information?

Teresa: I have just completed “Eden’s Planet” for you Tom, which is always a pleasure.  I have constant assignments from SamDotsPublishing. I am currently creating a piece that features strange planets and aliens for Tyree Campbell, scheduled to appear in the next Drabble issue.

I enjoy receiving copies of each and every book or magazine I illustrate. Especially as I live on a Spanish island with little or no reading matter available in English. I have a huge collection over the years and love to go to my book shelf and pick one up at random, read through the wonderful stories that take me to places afar.

Tom: Teresa, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Your art has really impressed me, and I know it will others. I love the work you’ve done for my books, and I look forward to working with you again in the future.

Teresa: Tom thank you.  I am proud to have been a part of your venture; I still get a buzz when a piece is complete, the author loves it and its ready for print even after creating art for the last 30 years.


When Flowers, Kindness, and Coupons Lead to Mischief

A wise coworker wondered if shopping at several different stores just to get bargains was a good idea. I compare prices before going market shopping, but she suggested that I might spend the money in gas.

Giant is having a special where they double the dollar coupons next week, but most of the groceries on my list I needed this week. The thought crossed my mind that I could postpone purchasing some items with dollars off coupons until next week. Then I got to thinking about my buddy’s advice. I don’t use much gas to go to this Giant, but it’s a dicey area for getting nabbed by Mylar balloons.

Right away, as I walked in, a large Disney character balloons tried to get at my cart. I had to run. I think I burned some serious calories fleeing from balloons.

Another work buddy did me a big favor, so it crossed my mind that she would love getting a daisy balloon. The daisy went into my cart. That balloon has her name on it, I told myself.

I picked up food to make for the Aid for Friends. Our church bulletin reported that food supplies had run low, and alas, the recipients do not have the funds or health to go to the store. Some of the recipients are homeless. So I decided to help by cooking a few meals.

I decided to do all my purchasing today, and never mind the dollar-off coupon deal. Good thing I did. After I finished shopping, the daisy started nuzzling my ear. What? I asked.

There are more balloons like me, the Mylar daisy whispered, and you know full well you want one for yourself.

Not this time, I told him. I am watching my budget.

Of course, you are, the balloon told me, and you’re helping other people. That’s great. Don’t you think you should reward yourself?

Oh, well, uh. More rustling from ahead of me. Another daisy waltzed over to my cart. I admit, I badly wanted that daisy. As I approached the register, the Disney character balloon jumped at me. Next time, I’ll get you, he said, smiling.

After I paid for my groceries, I said to the cashier, “This store is mighty dangerous with its balloons.” He laughed.

If I had gone back next week for the double dollar coupon sale, I might have saved on the respective items, but spent more on balloons. My coworker gave me good advice about shopping at one store.Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and zombie fiction.


Revisions and then More Revisions

Over the months, I’ve alluded to a sequel: Steel Rose. Steel Rose wound up with its own cast of characters, so I can’t call it a sequel any more. Maybe this is good. At workshops, speakers have advised everyone to put their manuscripts aside for a few weeks, and then rework them. I put Steel Rose on the back burner while I worked on Starship Invasions. Now I’m back with fresh eyes, and I brought along my Autocrit program.

Putting the manuscript aside was the best advice anyone gave me. When I went back to it, I found a lot of inconsistencies and need for line editing. The big thing was repetition. One chapter was cluttered with “that.” There is nothing wrong with using “that” or “was,” but those words shouldn’t clutter the pages. In this, Word has been a staunch alley with its find and thesaurus features. Since I’ve gotten into publishing books and marathon revisions, I’ve made peace with Word, and I’m starting to appreciate its assets.

But let me not digress. The more revisions I make, the more I see that need to be done. Writing comes naturally, but introducing characters that people love can be difficult. The body language needs work, and I’ve seen that with others’ manuscripts. I found research helpful, and even more, the critiques I get from my writer’s group. Reading out loud enabled me to catch problems if I stumbled over sentences.

Some days, the revisions come easy, especially after a good night’s sleep. Other days, it might take three or four of my best curse words to do the job, especially when life gets in the way. On the bad days, I try to remind myself I’m making progress. And if later, an editor should suggest revisions, I will consider that person a good friend. It is better to fix the problems before the manuscript goes to print, than to have a reviewer or reader comment on them later.

That said, I have to wonder how Jonathan Maberry and other great writers get through the revision process. With deadlines, you have to move fast. I can edit fast. I have to sometimes for the NTD tales but revising comes slow. Perhaps if necessity was involved, I’d speed up my revisions.

I’d like to hear about your revising process. What was most difficult? What has helped you?

Steel Rose features cross-genre horror / science fiction by Barbara Custer

This tale received a lot of pruning before it went to press. Props to my editors!

The Call of the Wild

I never thought I would blog about my balloon collection, but as the cliche goes, never say never. Today was an unusual day for grocery trips. I went to a different supermarket, one that didn’t tempt me to buy balloons. More bad weather was coming our way, so I concentrated on buying supplies. I decided to check out the dollar discount store to see if I could buy some of the things needed for less. The dollar discount had a huge array of paper products, everything costing $1.00 each. Since birthdays are coming up for people I care about, I headed down the gift aisle for wrapping paper and cards.

That was when the balloon trees nailed me.

Actually, the courtship began as soon as I walked in. Balloon trees filled with bright reds, silver, and Valentine messages swarmed toward me. The individual balloons there, plenty of them at that, didn’t tempt me so much, but they might have if the balloon trees hadn’t overwhelmed me. There were so many, they literally ran wild. Even the storekeeper couldn’t contain them. Each tree boasts six smaller foil balloons, plus one large one. It could be a Valentine frog or bear. I went with the frog because of its pretty shade of green. Total: seven balloons for $8.00.

I had to sit my passenger seat flat to fit the balloons in the car. They threatened to break loose, so I shut the door fast. Later, after I’d gone to the supermarket and came back, I noticed balloon ribbons sticking out between the door and floorboard.

Why a balloon tree? Perhaps I am celebrating Alien Worlds, the book that I collaborated with Tom Johnson. Newly released, it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Maybe I was thinking of giving a couple to Mike for his birthday, and I will. Maybe it’s just because I love balloons so much and couldn’t resist the call of the wild.

City of Brother Death features zombie tales and horror fiction by Barbara Custer

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