Does Geographical Therapy Help Writer’s Block?

Infinite Sight, a science-fiction tale by Barbara Custer, features a young woman waking from surgery with psychic powers.

Can traveling help with editing this book?

Someone once suggested that the best therapy for any stress is an old-fashioned vacation. I’d planned a few days at Ocean City, NJ months ago. Lately, I found myself having a tough time with the edits for Infinite Sight, soon to be going live. After whining about it on my Facebook posts, I asked my Mylar balloons whether geographical therapy, that is, a vacation would help me through this conundrum, for anything major I do always involves a discussion with my balloons.

Well, my balloonies, who have an answer for everything, replied, “Put a balloon lady on the bus in Franconia, a balloon lady gets off in Ocean City.”

Still, it had been years since I did something like this, back when Mike was healthy. So I went and spent the three days shopping, soaking up sun, reading, and socializing. I didn’t lift a finger to write or edit anything, not even so much as taking notes. I didn’t sleep my best – I never do in a strange bed, away from my balloonies – but the day I came home, I slept 10 hours that night.

40 Flash Fictions, written by Allan Heller, features zombie tales.I’m not going to say that geographicals work for everyone, but when I came home, I found myself better to handle the edits. I found a plot hole that no one had mentioned and fixed it. I’ve made a big dent in the editing mess that I had … enough with confidence that this winter could turn out to be a happy one as far as book releases go. Still, my Mylar balloons had a point. Once, I woke up, thinking that I was in my bed, and rubbed the back of my head against the pillows, searching for Mylar balloons until I remembered that I was in a hotel.

So … I’d like to hear your thoughts on geographicals and writer’s block. Have you tried traveling to wake your muse? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

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As part of the October Frights Blog Hop, I’m offering giveaways to random commenters—a signed, print copy of Steel Rose and Night to Dawn Magazine’s 28th issue.

Show and Tell

Barbara Custer writes zombie fiction and science fiction / horror.Today, I planned a show-and-tell with my latest book covers, never realizing that the activities would begin with my trip to the supermarket. I headed to the Acme to buy two gift cards for an early start on holiday shipping. The gift cards would have earned me a $20 coupon, but then Mylar balloons swarmed me as I entered the store. I hied over to Baking Supplies and bought needed items, all the while hiding; but at the fruit stand, I had to face the music. Six strawberry Mylar balloons hovered over the bananas I wanted. The store may have had gift cards, but all that was lost on me when the Mylar balloons waylaid me.

Maybe I deserve a balloon treat since I’ve got some new releases forthcoming through the Night to Dawn imprint. Night to Dawn 28 is making an appearance on Amazon, and its cover has drawn many compliments from viewers. Sandy DeLuca has done awesome illustrations and poetry duets with Marge Simon for Night to Dawn magazine.

After reading Allan M. Heller’s 40 Frightful Flash Fictions, the lights will stay on long after bedtime, assuming you can fall asleep, for devastation is served with a smile. The anthology is going through the formatting stage. Stan Horwitz provided the images—real beauties; and for lettering and design, Teresa Tunaley pulled frightening birds out of her hat. Look for 40 Frightful Flash Fictions in the coming weeks.

In Infinite Sight, guilt over an infant’s death motivates protag Lilly into a rescue that catapults her into a war between two alien armies. Infinite Sight originally appeared in Fading Shadows’ Alien Worlds magazine as “The Good Samaritan Revisited.” It’s gone to Gemini Wordsmiths for a developmental edit, for no published book is complete without a healthy edit. At any rate, I’ve got a stunning front and back cover, thanks to Marge Simon. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Marge since I first took over Night to Dawn magazine as a spiral-bound book. I estimate a publication date during the holiday season or shortly afterwards.

What happens when the human brain spirals, cutting a swath between a masterpiece and monstrosity? You’ll find out in early winter (estimated) when L. M. Labat’s The Sanguinarian Id goes live. I anticipate a cover image shortly.

Ditto for When Blood Reigns, sequel to Steel Rose. I don’t have a publishing date or estimated time yet. It has gone through developmental editing and should be worth the wait.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the Giant supermarket for the remaining groceries still on my list. This week presented a heavy grocery list, and crunch time for budgeting. Will I remember that when the Mylar balloons come calling? I’m going to try, but when the Mylar “I gotta” bug bites, look out.

Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn features vampire and zombie fictions.Allan Heller's 40 Frightened Flash Fictions features creepy zombie tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Custer's science fiction novel features a protag with "Infinite Sight."

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 compound 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.

 

Discussing Your WIP

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

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 Rose. Ditto for The Forgotten People. If 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?

 

Coffee, the Writer’s Best Friend

Yesterday, I took advantage of Ocean City Coffee’s sale and ordered a healthy supply. I heaved a sigh after the order went through. Sometimes if the server is down or my laptop acts cantankerous, this doesn’t always happen. You must wonder what on earth coffee has to do with writing, or even the Mylar balloons that I like so much.

As most writers and editors know, coffee is our best friend. It helps keeps us alert when we have to revise, rework a difficult scene, or find a tactful way to explain to your client why a given scene won’t work. I suspect Jonathan Maberry owns stock in Starbuck’s, just as I should consider some in Ocean City. I want coffee that tastes good.

I first became acquainted with this brand about two summers before Mike went into the nursing home. We went on our last vacation together, a trip to Ocean City. One evening he felt particularly strong; we walked a ways down the boardwalk and happened upon the Ocean City Coffee store. I enjoy flavored coffees—cinnamon, coconut, and the like, so I stock up when I get a chance. Trouble was, every time I found a great store, they closed. So I stocked up over at the coffee shop and chatted with the owners. I promptly fell in love with their coffee flavors, and every few months I stopped by the website to reorder.

Horror fiction by Kevin Doyle involving feral children

Preparation of this book required a lot of coffee drinking. 🙂

Years later, coffee prices went up – coffee prices are going up everywhere, along with the price of balloons. So I thought I’d try cheaper brands, and found a decent coffee in Coffee Beanery. However, Ocean City had many more decaf flavors. I moved onto other brands, thinking I was getting good coffee. Instead, I got something that tasted like brine. I struggled to get it down, and listened to my Mylar balloons chant behind me: We warned you, Bar-ba-ra. When you buy cheap, you get cheap.

I won’t mention the name of the other brands here—not the kind of thing to post on a blog. But if you’re looking for great coffee, you’ll find it in Ocean City Coffee Company or Coffee Beanery. And if you need something really strong, go to Starbucks. My Mylar balloons would agree.

Your thoughts?

 

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?

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