Angel of Syn Author Shares Thoughts on Outlining

Angel of Syn features paranormal thriller.Outlines are the Zombies Eating my Brain

As a writer, I’m constantly striving to improve my craft. There’s a ton of information and advice out there. But it seems everywhere I’ve looked lately has led to experts and/or seasoned writers talking about outlining stories. They lecture the need to lay the bones of the plot in the right sequence so elbows are attached to arms instead of legs and heads sit atop necks, not hip bones. I have no doubt that this is very desirable when building a person-shaped thing. But what if the thing is story-shaped?

I confess to being the type of writer than sits at the keyboard with only the barest wisp of an idea before plunging ahead. The voices in my head tell me what to do next. Wait. That didn’t sound right. My story characters’ voices in my head tell me what to do next. Better.

My attempts at outlines feel like Doctor Frankenstein’s creation but not as handsome or talented at tap-dancing. I’ve tried to create outlines. Really. Many times. In different mediums and multiple colors. I’ve built my skeletons, even grown some flesh on them. But what comes shambling out is not what I intended at all.

And they all want to eat my brain.

Okay, maybe it just feels like they want to chomp on my gray matter. The theory of outlining a story is a solid one. It makes perfect sense, and seems like an exceedingly logical way to proceed. The problem is that, like zombies, outlines are scary, partially formed things chasing after you with serious noshing on their minds or stomachs, whatever. To me, the thought of writing to an outline is like that of a zombie eagerly sucking brains through a straw sticking out of a hole in my head – akin to a coconut husk cocktail on Tiki night at the Luau.

So why even try to outline if it doesn’t work for me? I have a guilty little squirmy feeling that I haven’t really given outlining a chance. And I might be missing out on a really good thing. The zombie might not be irredeemable. Like the zombie guy in Warm Bodies, there might be a heartbeat under the disintegrating skin of its chest. So, I want to believe. I want to believe that the magical properties of outlining will be able to transform the zombie into a hot guy, uh, I mean, into a useful member of society (no, I really meant hot guy). I’m going to try outlining my third novel to the Synemancer trilogy (tentatively titled Dark Syns). And if I have any brain matter left after that, I’ll call it a success and be enlightened to the joys of outlining. Unfortunately, just typing that last sentence made something dribble out of my ear. Well, let’s see what happens.


Angel of Syn features a paranormal thriller.BLURB:

Contemporary witch Cara Augustine goes international and inter-dimensional, from San Francisco to France to an alternate Eden-like dimension, in this second book of the Synemancer series.

Cara is a fugitive, pursued by the Portalkind police for breaking a major covenant. When she accidentally made a werewolf her witch’s familiar, it amounted to enslaving a human. And the punishment is death. On the run for her life, she and her companions stumble into a strange paradise dimension. But they quickly find the dangerous world is filled with strange creatures, deadly and beautiful. And, because she’s quickly learning a Synemancer’s life is never simple.  Cara has to deal with an amorous Nephilim (half-angel half-witch), a dangerously deranged French werewolf, and the darkly handsome Nightkind she just might love. Each powerful supernatural man has his own reasons for wanting to possess Cara, body and soul. But if the Portalkind police catch her, she’ll be in a fight for her life.


The Angel of Syn features a paranormal thriller.I currently live with my husband and dogs in northern California.  I have a son who attends college in San Francisco. After years of working in the business world while secretly wishing I could be a writer, I finally took a leap of faith and started writing. My first book, SYN IN THE CITY, was published in 2010 and I haven’t looked back since.  Well maybe a few glances in the rearview mirror, just to see if anyone was tailing me, but not many.



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Mertianna will be awarding a canvas tote bag printed with the book cover on one side and a saying on the other (“Are you a syn-er?”), and filled with goodies plus a $20 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour (S ONLY).



Bart straightened from his defensive semi-crouch, still eyeing the Hounds warily. I glanced around the room to see if the orbs were here, but they were nowhere in sight. The mirror chimed and shimmered for the umpteenth time since I’d come into the room. A tall, pale man dressed in black and wearing a black backpack walked into the room. Azrael stood silently on Amelia’s hardwood floor, and by the expression on his beautiful face, he was angry enough to chew spells and spit out hexes.  He quickly scanned the room.   His ice-blue eyes focused on me and I had his full attention.  All Hades was about to break loose.  With two weres, two Hellhounds, and a Nightkind in the room, the situation was about to get bloody.



When Balloons Lead to Change for a Website

I’m going to begin with a balloon story.

The other day, the Acme had great sales on items I needed, but they had a plethora of lovely Mylar balloons. So I put on my track shoes with the intention of running through the store, snatching up groceries as I went, so that the balloons wouldn’t catch me. I shopped early in the morning so that the store would be empty, allowing the run.

As the doors slid open, I barreled in…and collided with a grove of Mylar Margaritas and other balloons. So much for running. A Mylar Margarita snagged around my shoulders and plopped on my head. I continued running, hoping to dislodge my Mylar rider, but it clung to my head. Rather than be called on shoplifting, I paid for the balloon, explaining that it stuck to my hair. Got a lot of giggles for that one.

That’s right, Bar-ba-ra, the balloon whispered. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Mylar balloon Barbara Custer loves her zombie fiction.Out of the mouths of balloons come words of wisdom. For months I’ve been avoiding the issues with the print on my website. Running away from the problem, if you will, but I couldn’t hide. The glaring green hyperlinks kept staring at me every time I added or changed material on the website. I kept telling myself I’d read a book on CSS to change the font myself. It never happened.

Then the “aha” moment came to me at the Philadelphia Writers Conference when Cecily Kellogg discussed blogging and recommended dark print on a light background.  Those words slammed me against my chair as I got to thinking about my red background, white and green print. Tiny print. Change can be frightening. You can run, but you can’t hide, the balloon whispered.

I started reading posts about the best color combinations for blogs and websites, and got mixed opinions. So I ran a poll on Facebook, and the dark print on white background won hands down. The responses were helpful and much appreciated.  A couple of years ago, I’d entertained Walter Mitty fantasies of having a Zombie Apocalypse theme for my website. These fantasies rekindled, and I installed the theme. It gave me red print for the links and black for the posts.

Over the next weeks, I will likely want to do some tweaking with the images, but I feel great about the graphics and readability of the print.  Thank you, Miss Margarita Balloon, for pointing out the need to change.

When a Witch Hides to Survive…M. Lathan’s Hidden

M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.I am delighted to host M. Lathan as a guest blogger. Before reading her post, I thought I was the only writer reluctant to release her tales. Do other writers tend to hover? I think so…

The hardest part about writing is…

Writing is difficult work. Enjoyable, but difficult. Plotting, creating compelling characters, and editing are just a few of the tough tasks writers are faced with. But to me, the hardest part about writing is releasing a story.

While the technical issues of putting your work out there – querying agents or self-publishing, marketing, designing book covers, or writing a synopsis or description – are daunting tasks on their own, to me, releasing a book is difficult for one major reason: writers care and are personally connected to their work.

The story started as a tiny thing inside of your head and you’ve slowly developed it, nurtured it, and with great effort, brought it out of your mind and put it into words on a screen. Like a new mother or father, you’re hovering, being cautious, or screaming at it when you haven’t had any rest. You’re polishing polished scenes and making excuses to why it’s not ready to be out on its own.

Sometimes, a lot of times with me, it isn’t ready. It needs more love and discipline. It needs more time. The difficult part is distinguishing the times when you’re hovering and when your story baby really can’t make it in the world on its own.

I’m constantly trying to find a balance with this. In the past, I’ve tended to brush off my concerns and rush. Now, I’m becoming a bit of a hoverer. If I had to choose a side to be on, I think I’d rather hover than rush. However, if you hover too long, you may never take that leap.

Of course this isn’t the only aspect of writing you have to master, but, in my opinion, learning how to balance being cautious and trusting your story is the biggest hurdle writers will face.


M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.BLURB:  

Sixteen-year-old Leah Grant has given up on being normal. She’d settle for stopping the voices in her head, intrusive visions of the future, and better odds of making it to her seventeenth birthday.

That’s the thing about pretending to be human in a world where magic used to exist – at any moment, her cover could be blown and she’ll be burned to death like the rest of the witches.

Everything changes when she loses control of her powers and flees the orphanage she grew up in. She desperately wants to be invisible but finds her face plastered on every news channel as humans panic over the possible resurgence of her kind. And now the hunters won’t give up until they find her.

Making friends for the first time in her life and falling in love with one of them drives her to discover why she is unlike any being she’s ever met – human or otherwise. The dangerous powers inside of her that would repel Nathan, her new, handsome reason for living, are priceless to some. The locked up forever kind of priceless. And to others, they are too dangerous to allow her to live.

Let’s hope she can stay hidden.


M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.Author Information:

M. Lathan lives in San Antonio with her husband and mini-schnauzer. She enjoys writing and has a B.S. in Psych and a Masters in Counseling. Her passion is a blend of her two interests – creating new worlds and stocking them with crazy people. She enjoys reading anything with interesting characters and writing in front of a window while asking rhetorical questions … like her idol Carrie Bradshaw.




Twitter: @hiddenseries

Buy links: Amazon:



Sienna snatched last week’s Chemistry test from my desk. I hadn’t turned it over. I knew it was a D minus.

She cackled and passed it around.

“Leah, you would think someone who spends most of her time alone would have better grades,” she said. Her birds laughed on cue. “What do you do all day? Obviously not study.” She gasped slowly like she’d gotten a revelation in that blonde head of hers. “You fantasize about us, don’t you? You probably sleep in Whit’s old bed to feel close to her.”

Laughter spread around the room like an airborne disease. Disease. I shivered. That was an intriguing thought; I could almost hear the sound their bodies would make against the floor when it hit.

“Leah, come on. Say something. Scream at me, it’s been a while. At least cry,” Sienna said, laughing and leaning into my desk, closer to danger.

I didn’t cry. I never cry. And if I were going to, it wouldn’t be because of Sienna. I had bigger problems. I’d just broken a promise I’d made to God to not think about hurting His people, His children. And today was not the day to piss Him off.

My old roommate, Whitney Nguyen, graciously returned my test as she cackled with the rest of the birds. She liked the idea of me pining over her, but she knew I didn’t spend my free time thinking about her or sleeping in her old bed. After fourteen years of hard labor as my roommate, she’d given up on being friends or me being remotely normal. The current theory to explain my oddness was that I was in love with all of the girls and consumed by lust.

As long as they didn’t know it was magic.


One randomly chosen commenter will win a $50 Amazon/ gift card.

M. Lathan's Hidden features a paranormal thriller.

Capital Fate

Barbara Custer celebrated the release of Blue Plate Special with more balloons.

I did a great job saving on groceries this past week. Yesterday, I released another NTD zombie book by Harold “Hal” Kempka, titled Blue Plate Special. The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference is coming, and I needed a few things, so I headed to the Acme this morning.

Capital fate.

I arrived with a list of five items – notebook, ice cream, latex gloves, scar cream, and stockings. Ahead of me, a sweet voice called, “Barbara!”

The speaker was a Mylar flower tree. Yes, he was big as a tree. He nuzzled my hair when I approached him.

“Big balloon, isn’t he?” called a cashier. “He seems to like you.”

“Yes, he does,” I replied, and then I saw his price tag – $14.00. I shook my head and backed away.

“Why not?” The balloon stretched toward me. “Do you need everything on your list? Why ice cream? You’ll get plenty of desserts at the writers’ conference.”

“Good point,” I told him. “Let me think about this.”

I turned away, wondering what I was doing in this store. My hand fished out folded paper from my pocket. The list. Oh, yes, that’s right. I needed a notebook, among other things. Good thing I’d brought my list.

At the school supplies section, I found the notebooks. I picked out the cheapest one they had.

“Attagirl!” another balloon called to me. It was Cinderella, a Mylar Disney character. “Buy cheap, and then you can take me home with you.”

She really was a beauty and well inflated, but I had so many, more than 70. Could I justify buying another large balloon?  “Well,” I said, “let me think some more.”

I tried tiptoeing, keeping my head ducked so that other balloons wouldn’t notice me. It worked, at least through the detergent aisle for the gloves and the health supplies for the scar cream.

“You can run, but you can’t hide,” a flower balloon crooned from the front. Miss Sunshine, as I name her, wooed me with her siren song. I tried to telling myself to watch the money for the conference, but the telling did no good when I beheld her brilliant sheen.

“Come now,” she coaxed me. “You already have stockings. You don’t need more, right?”

I had to agree.

“Besides,” she whispered, “you just released another book. A very good read. Shouldn’t you reward yourself?”

I nodded.

“Come, let’s go,” she said, perching on my shoulder. “Balloons know best.”

This Mylar balloon lured me with her siren song.

This balloon lured me with her siren song.

Why did I cave in? Perhaps my fellow peeps encouraged me to buy. Perhaps I was celebrating Blue Plate Special because it’s got a lot of flash horror fiction. While those things are true, I must confess, I’ve become a magnet for balloons.


Store Brand versus Name Brand…when Best Laid Plans Float Away

Recently I tried to shave my grocery bill by buying store brand cereals and other items. With cereals, I didn’t notice any difference in the consistency or taste. The store brand ice cream had a flat taste, however, so I continued to pony up the money for name brand. Most store brands are no-frills. You get the same quality and ingredients, but you lose the pretty packaging and designs, especially with paper products. As for tissues…well, my nose didn’t notice any difference. I was able to get manila envelopes at the dollar store for a fifth of what I’d pay in a stationary store. For medications, I’ve stayed with the name brand Allegra because there’s something reassuring about the orange color of the pill. Otherwise, the generic medicines work just as well.

Sometimes, when the store’s offering a great sale and a coupon, I find it cheaper to stick with name brands. At the Giant last week, I bought a box of Eggo Waffles for seventy-five cents. Because I had a decent coupon, I got two Venus disposable razor packs for the price of one. Allegra’s always on sale, and with a generous coupon, too. Today, I found HP paper on clearance, and got two packs for $5.00 each. I recommend sticking with HP or other name brand computer paper and ink because the wrong paper / ink can damage or jam your printer.

Why do I go through all this trouble to save money? Because I have Walter Mitty dreams of getting my bedroom redone. Perhaps I want to save the money for jewelry or a trip. Maybe I saw a Coach purse with my name on it. So the question is, did I succeed in saving money at the supermarket? So far, no.

This past shopping expedition was a case of best laid plans floating away…literally. When I walked into the Giant, a glittery Mylar balloon with bows blocked my passage. I tried running the other way and bumped into a Mylar planter. Going sideways, I headed straight into a Mylar heart with butterflies – all Mother’s Day balloons and pricey ones at that.

“Why?” I gazed at the balloons helplessly. “I’m not a mother. I don’t have any children.”

“Of course, you do.” The balloons smiled at me. “You’ve got 68 balloons and you’ve been a great mother to them.”

So the glittery balloon with the bows went home with me. Cost: nine dollars. What’s more, I drove home with the AC on because I didn’t want the balloon to overheat. I remember shaking my head, thinking I was the first person on this planet to use air conditioning for a balloon’s comfort. But this one is a real beauty and well worth it.

Mylar balloons always find their way into Barbara Custer's zombie fiction.

I couldn’t resist tempting Barbara!

This got me to contemplating my character Alexis of Steel Rose and her buying habits. If Alexis could jump out of the pages, she’d brain me for spending nine dollars on a balloon. She and I make the same salary, but she takes a plethora of expensive medicines that insurance doesn’t cover well. She’s got to stick with store brand items so she can pay for her treatment, although in a weak moment, she might indulge in a CD. In the sequel, When Blood Reigns, things are getting ugly fast. Because of the zombie invasions, traditional mail and FedEx have ceased services to Philadelphia.

Because of this a zombie invasion may preclude balloon offerings at any supermarket. Fewer stores would remain open, if any, and soldiers would police the aisles for walking dead. In Alexis’ world, I’d buy whatever brands I could get and thank God I made it to the store alive. I’d hope I had plenty of food at home because shopping might mean a longer drive. The balloon with the bows might be available through the black market, so I’d better prepare to spend twenty dollars.

This is assuming I can get to the supermarket and back unharmed.

Zombies aren’t choosy where they feed, especially if they’re hungry. A bunch of them might gang up on my car while I’m heading to the store. My option? Shop at a local deli or learn to use a gun. I tried picturing myself shooting zombies so I could get to a supermarket. Yeah, it could happen. You always find a way when you want something badly. An image formed in my mind of me staring at the gun, and thinking, good grief, I’m the first person in creation who shot zombies so she could buy a balloon.

So, do you find buying store brands have saved you money? How would a zombie invasion affect your hobbies and shopping habits? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

How would this zombie affect Barbara Custer's purchase of Mylar balloons?

How would this monster affect Balloon Lady’s shopping habits?


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!

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