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.

Parkinson’s Scorched Earth: The Conclusion

Mike was living a real life horror tale with his disease.

You grab the good days when you can.

The conclusion happened January 29th at about 2:00 p.m. The scorched earth warfare waged by Parkinson’s and dementia against Mike prohibited his ability to swallow, and that was when he died. I should have seen it coming; he’d been losing weight and getting frequent infections. My Mylar balloons tried to warn me. Every time I browsed Amazon to order him fresh supplies, the balloons stayed my hand. “Wait,” they advised me quietly. “He’s not going to need those. Save your money.”

Speaking of balloons, it was Mike who introduced me to them. He brought me some when we got engaged, and after his hospital stay in 1996, he thanked me for his care with several Mylar balloon bouquets. He loved my cheesecake, and I told myself that as long as this continued, no worries. Denial can be a comforting place.

He often regaled people with tales of his years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Later on, he added that the Navy gave him the happiest years of his life, and now I can see why. Time spent around other people enabled him to escape the reality of Viet Cong capturing people and Parkinson’s disease invading his body.

“Scorched earth” comes from the military strategy the US used to fight the Viet Cong. This strategy involved the destruction of crops, homes, and resources vital to the enemy. I don’t recall exactly when Michel’s war with Parkinson’s disease got ugly, but I know that dementia had imprisoned his talents. It whispered “scorched earth,” with gardening, driving, and activities of daily living becoming the first casualties. His frequent falls echoed “scorched earth,” necessitating admission to the Veterans home. The ability to swallow became dementia’s final target; yes, dementia can affect swallowing in its late stages. The patient’s cognitive function worsens until finally, his brain forgets how to swallow and sustain life. After his admission to the home, I learned that deep brain stimulation, when done in the subthalamic nucleus where Mike had it done can cause cognitive changes, including dementia.

I can sum up Michael’s fight with Parkinson’s by using an analogy about life. When I was ten, my mom sent me to a summer camp for three weeks. Other kids spent the summer; some stayed a week.  Some preferred sports; others leaned toward arts and crafts. One kid remained a loner and avoided most activities.

In many ways, life is like camp. God drops us off to “stay” for a while; some of us will remain here longer than others. Some people become writers or artists. Others go for medicine or law. Mike came to the camp of life with many talents, but as the years passed, he reminded me of the little girl who didn’t fit in.

His problems became apparent when his doctor attempted different medicines that resulted in intolerable side effects. At work, customers complained about his softening voice, accusing him of drinking (he was a teetotaler). Although surgery contained the tremor, it aggravated his cognitive changes and speech difficulties.

After Mike went on disability, he joined the neighborhood’s beautification committee. He had his horticulture skills behind him, and this seemed to give him purpose. Instead, after a few months, he came home, reporting that he’d been “ousted.” One of the other members who happened to be a nurse explained that Mike was exhibiting personality changes and none of them pleasant. Toward the end, he became a lone wolf like that little girl at camp.

Thankfully, the Veterans home nurses treated him like family. They appreciated the sense of humor and kindness still lingering under the dementia. He’d been supportive of my writing, and this continued on his good days. Up until a month ago, he giggled at my balloon adventures. I suspect that his relatives in Heaven will welcome him with love, balloons, and flowers. Whatever Mike saw upon passing must have been beautiful, for he had a look of awe on his face. His suffering is behind him, and I’d like to think that he’s filling up on cheesecake, picking balloons, and thinking of me. Heaven has surely gained an angel.

A look at Createspace, Lulu, and Lightning Source

Steel Rose is an unholy matrimony of zombie fiction and horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

Recently my writer buddies and I had a lengthy discussion about the best way to publish a book. Some went for Lightning Source, others Lulu, and many went for Createspace. I then posed this question to my Mylar balloons and got the answer: “Whatever earns you the most money so you can buy more of us.”

My balloons had a point.

All three companies will offer a professional-looking book. Lulu and Lightning Source use the same files, and what’s more, Lulu works with Lightning Source. I used to publish my books through Lulu. I still do Night to Dawn magazine through them because I can get nice-looking print for the spine. Createspace will not put print on the spine unless the book is 100 pages. Sometimes you can get really great sales through Lulu; otherwise, Lulu’s shipping fees are steep, along with the cost for author/publisher copies. This cost then gets passed down to the readers who pony up the money to buy the book.

I’ve never worked with LSI – I was too frightened by the $35.00 yearly fee they charge small publishers per book to remain in print. To set up your book, expect to pay $37.50 for the cover file and $37.50 for the interior file. The big boy companies prefer LSI, which has the means to distribute books to the brick-and-mortar stores. Because they have an excellent sales team, set up costs are not an issue.

However, the small publishers have to consider that yearly fee, and if they’ve published ten books, that means $350 a year, not to mention the cost for proofs ($20 plus nine cents per page and $40 for revisions per cover and / or text file. If the bookstores decide to return books, and for some reason, the publisher says okay to return book on the contract, they must pay LSI the wholesale price of each book plus postage. They can also have the books destroyed. Given the price to set up the book, the publisher or author will have to sell an awful lot of books to make a profit. The Jonathan Maberry brand of writers would have no trouble selling books, but unknown authors might.

Because Lulu works with LSI, they, too, pay for those revisions and distribution, then pass the cost to the publisher. Make sure your book is error free before approving for distribution; otherwise expect to pay hefty fees to revise.

Enter Createspace. At first I shied away from Createspace because I had trouble adjusting my margins to meet their specs, but using their templates took care of the margin problem. Soon after I got comfortable using Createspace, I felt as if I’d been given keys to a kingdom. For one thing, there aren’t any set up fees. You go on their website, set up your account, select “create a book,” and follow the prompts. Createspace and Lulu will give you free ISBN numbers, but you can use your own. Your book gets to go on expanded distribution for free. Author/publisher copies are reasonable, which means you can charge a reasonable price for the book and still get a decent royalty. Once you approve your book, if later you decide to revise, you can do so without charge. Michael De Stefano, JoAnna Senger, Tom Johnson, and I decided to get new covers for some of our NTD books years after they were approved. Createspace allowed me to change the covers without charge. There is a charge for a proof copy, unless you get an online proof. I wanted a physical proof so that I have a better look at the product.

As the old saw goes, there are no free Mylar balloons. Createspace is part of Amazon, but they, too, work with LSI to get extended distribution. But they don’t accept returns, and most brick-and-mortar stores want the option to return. What’s more, once the book goes to Ingram, and Ingram takes its cut, the discount offered to outside stores is only 25% – not enough to justify stocking the book. They’ll take orders for the book from paying customers, but not actually stock the book.

If you’re lucky enough to have really great sales, consider using LSI and Createspace. That way, you can get a generous royalty and a shot at the brick-and-mortar stores. But use different ISBN numbers. Anytime you publish through two different distributors, you must use separate ISBN numbers.

Like my Mylar balloons advised, I went with the option that offered the best royalties and lowest expenses, given my situation. Your thoughts?

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.

A zombie book written by Barbara Custer

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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An Intense Discussion on Italicizing Thoughts

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and science fiction tales.One evening, I headed to a writers’ group meeting where of all things, we had a discussion on whether or not to italicize thoughts. Why are we talking about this, I wondered? My mind kept wandering back to my visit to the Giant earlier in the day, when a humongous Disney Princess Mylar balloon waylaid me. I still kept reliving the touch of the balloon against my hair as it blocked my view from the other balloons that wanted my attention.

Italicizing thoughts? Indeed. All of my writing life, I’ve been taught that anything in thoughts should be italicized in fiction manuscripts. Actually that’s not true. In the early days, when I submitted, I had to underline my characters’ thoughts, with the understanding that the editor would then know to italicize. That’s not required now unless you’re doing a college term paper. Mind you, people send me work with stuff underlined, and I’ll change it to italics without complaining.

Ah, but when I went to my trusty references, I found that while italics can make a useful tool, something too many is overkill. Italics might definitely work for thoughts that are especially significant. Otherwise, find an unobtrusive way to express thoughts.

Barbara Custer edits Night to Dawn magazine, featuring horror, zombies, and science fiction.So let’s figure this out with a scene describing my balloon purchase. Example 1: The Disney Princess balloon called to me as soon as I entered the Giant. Whoa, I thought, that looks like one pricey balloon. (Internal dialogue) Using “I thought” and italics serves to distance me (the character) from this internal dialogue. Example 2: I examined the balloon, smiling, holding it up to the light, wondering how it would look near the butterflies in my living room. This sentence gives a different way to word thoughts, without italics, along with body language to demonstrate my feelings. This technique brings the thought closer to me. Which way is best? Either will work. It depends on your story and the effect you’re trying to achieve through your character.

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We also had a debate on whether intent was an adjective, and that maybe intense should be the adjective, while intent is the noun. So I headed to my trusty references. Sometimes Google, but often times Chicago of Manual Style.  Here’s another one just to confuse y’all: intensive. So let’s clear up the mystery.

Intense is in fact an adjective, meaning exerting extreme force, or being having strong feelings. So … if you want your book to read well, it may need intense editing. I have an intense interest in Mylar balloons.

Intensive means focused on one topic. So an intensive edit might be focused on characterization.

Cross genre horror / science fiction book by Barbara CusterIntent can work as an adjective or a noun. Intent is synonymous with intention which means a general plan to get something done. Intent is stronger, meaning a firm resolution to get something done. Example: In spite of the distractions from the Mylar balloons, I was intent on finding every item on my grocery list.

As a noun, intent can mean aim or goal. Example: My intent was to get all of the groceries, but the Mylar balloons got the better of me.

So … I’d like to hear your thoughts on italicizing and the use of intent versus intense.

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.

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