Editors Have Wounds, Too

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

In June 2018, Author Kelly Simmons gave a talk on characterization at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. She listed the traits that a sympathetic character should have: desire, spunk, resilience, foolishness, disbelief, and wounds. That last stuck with me in particular as I worked on my material.

Fast forward six months later, I went through the Night to Dawn submission pile and read someone’s first chapter. His letter reported that he had already gotten rave reviews. However, I couldn’t get beyond the first page. The protag started off by declaring an urge to kill his teammate, who happened to be a class clown, maybe overly talkative, but basically harmless. I got the image of the protag as a bully straightaway, and I said so to the author in no uncertain terms. The author asked why, and I could tell from his letter he was hurt.

Damn, girl! I scolded myself. You’re a balloon lady. Balloon people are sweet, not mean.

psychological horror written by Gerald Browning

Then I realized what had gotten into me. When I was in grade and high school, I was that class clown – and I’d gotten bullied in school. Junior college wasn’t much better. Those memories came to mind as I read, and that’s why I had to stop reading. So in my second response, I encouraged the author to keep submitting. I owned up to having been bullied in school, explaining that this may have biased my opinion, and assured him that another editor may have a different take on his work.

The takeaway? When workshop leaders tell writers to quit taking rejection personally, they’ve got it right. It would help, though, to explain why so here goes. Editors (and agents, for that matter) will arrive at the submission party with wounds of their own, just like your characters. Someone who’s been abused as a child may not appreciate a tale told from the abuser’s point of view. Alas, this type of information isn’t something you’ll find on AgentQuery Connect or the company website. Occasionally, if you’re going to a workshop run by said editor or agent, he or she may admit to a wound or two. Otherwise, if you’re submitting cold, all you can do is send and hope for the best, but have other publishers/agents in mind as well.

Your thoughts?

I will be giving a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.

The Mummy Demon Revisited

 

featuring horror and SF by Barbara CusterMy visit to Atlantic City was a trip through time. At the Johnny Rockets restaurant, where I had my supper, they played oldies from my childhood, such as the Drifter’s “Under the Boardwalk.” I later headed to the candy shops, and they sold the coconut slices I loved to eat. So it came as no surprise, as I munched on my treat when ahead loomed a sign: Make Your Own Horror Movie.

Underneath, read another: “Simulated Production.”

scene where the mummy awakens

A wrinkled, skeletal lady with wisps of jet hair sat in the display window to my right. I got some photos, but the sun was too bright to do the monster justice. Her blackened eyes sized me up, and I recognized the 1000-year-old denizen from my childhood. Dat’s wight, wabbits, the mummy from the Million Dollar Pier has paid me another visit. What’s more, the ten-year-old inside me was tempted to go inside the store and explore.

Come in and play, a voice whispered in my head. Maybe you’ll become like me, and we can both sit and watch the passersby.

I shook my head and backed away, but then tried to peer into the store. Someone had spray-painted blackout paint on the front glass door. The left window was also painted, but one clear section of glass revealed human bones. That, and a horrible zombie face.

Those things didn’t get me moving. The fact that none of the other passersby had stopped to check out the store did.

Perhaps the store intended a cheap Halloween thrill, but the possibility of snuff filming crossed my mind. In any case, I didn’t have my mom anymore to make it all better. Heck, I didn’t even have any Mylar balloons with me. Instead of exploring, I headed back to the candy shop to buy treats for my coworkers.

On my way back to the hotel, I looked for the store again but didn’t see it. Perhaps the heat had given me a case of the crazies. Maybe I stumbled into an alternate dimension.

Funny thing, later that evening, in my hotel room, I head the sound of exploding pipes. I assumed maintenance was doing some work. So when I went to take my bath, I was chagrined to see that black sand had blasted through the drain into the bathtub. Black sand! AC doesn’t have black sand, but some beaches around the Nile River of Egypt do.

I think the mummy was trying to send me a message.

I will be sending a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.

Leaving the Day Job

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.

Yesterday, I retired from my job as a respiratory therapist. I worked at the hospital for 34 years, and much of what happened provided grist for my fiction. A lot of mixed emotions went into my decision, not the least which involved my struggles with night vision. Pennsylvania’s wet climate means rain and snow most nights, making getting to work in the dark, early mornings difficult.

I worked with a fabulous group of people and was amazed by the outpouring of love and support I received. But the decision to stay or go is never simple in real life, any more than it should be for our characters. All the same, retiring will mean exciting things for Night to Dawn Magazine & Books and my writing.

For starters, overhauling my website. The website needs work which requires more time than I had after working during the day. I’ve already consolidated the spam and backup, saving money. I’m contemplating Yoast and a premium template.

I’ll be doing a promo with the October Frights blog hop in the coming days. I have two book submissions I’m reviewing, I have in mind to start looking for people to review the magazine and books. There are also short story submissions and work on the layout of Night to Dawn 35. That, and my writing. As for that night vision problem, I’m working from home with plenty of light. Unlike the computer at work, mine has a zoom feature to enlarge the print.

One of the books needs overhauling to meet Smashwords’ requirements. The merge between CreateSpace and Kindle seems to be going well but may affect royalties.

I’m going to miss working with my buddies at the hospital, but I won’t miss the long hours. And I look forward to this next chapter with Night to Dawn.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on quitting the day job and, if you’ve taken the plunge, what it meant for you and your writing.

A Good Reason and the Real Reason

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Yesterday, I headed to the supermarket to take advantage of the sales. Well, that was a handy excuse. The real reason I went was because I’ve contemplated the colorful Mylar balloons on their display shelves. Perhaps someone might cite ill health or better opportunity as a reason to quit a job, but deep down, they were simply unhappy working at their company. In both cases, we have our good reasons and our real reasons.

This principle applies to writing, too, so I have a confession to make. A while back, I blogged about The Forgotten People, citing my reasons for rewriting and publishing the stories. My post didn’t ring true. The reasons I gave were valid—the stories feature timid, bullied people who didn’t fit into society. I started working on spinoffs of these tales after the Termite Invasion of 2017. Along the way, I stumbled and needed the help of a good editor.

My real motive kept me going through the tough edits: our unstable political climate.

In particular, healthcare. The two last stories in The Forgotten People anthology, “The Forgotten Ward,” and “Good Samaritan” take place in 2050. Medicaid no longer exists, and due to the high costs, hospitals will not treat you without insurance or cash card. When your insurance runs out, better hope you have money. You can’t barter with real estate or other valuables unless you can find a buyer fast. Without money, all treatment stops. The protagonists in these tales find a way to smuggle life-saving medicine to indigent patients, but they pay dearly for their efforts.

I got to thinking about Trump’s proposed 2019 cuts to Medicare, SNAP, and Medicaid. His pending changes include Medicare enrollees paying the same copay on every doctor visit, whether it be routine or a specialist. This could shortchange specialists who may in turn refuse to treat Medicare patients (shades of “Forgotten Ward”). If I met Mr. Trump, I’d ask, “Since when did age and money define someone’s right to life and medical care?”

Granted, I took plenty of artistic license. In “The Forgotten Ward,” the sickest patients are warehoused into a dirty ward where they’re left to die. In reality, if we continue on this slippery slope, the hospitals of the future may simply discharge patients who run out of funds. But there you have it, folks: my real reason for publishing this book.

My Mylar balloons, who have an opinion on everything, from politics to writing, suggested that focusing on the real reason for telling a story may result in better writing. Methinks they have it right; it did, after all, motivate me to complete the book. Your thoughts?

PDF Software or Not

Will PDF software be used for future NTD issues?

Yesterday, after uploading The Forgotten People files to CreateSpace, I headed over to their book reviewer to see if the printing, chapter headers, etc had gotten through okay, and I was chagrined to see that I no longer had access to the book reviewer. Howcumzit? My versions of Adobe Flash Player, the one used for both of my computers, aren’t compatible with the one used by CreateSpace’s interior reviewer. Last time I published a book, I had different computers. The interior reviewer is a handy-dandy tool to inspect each page and assure that your images didn’t come out pixelated. Since The Forgotten People didn’t have any images, I sent the files to CreateSpace for inspection. After that, they gave me the option of downloading a PDF proof, which I did. Satisfied, I ordered a paperback proof.

“You’ve got a problem!” a cheery voice sang from over my shoulder.

The voice came from my loving Mylar balloons. “No, I don’t!” I replied with glee. “I’ve looked at the PDF proof.”

“We’re not talking about your novel.” The balloons wagged their ribbons at me. “Here you are, working hard on the Night to Dawn issues, and you count on that reviewer to see if the images came out all right. Last issue, you had to reformat some of the illustrations, remember? Soon, it will come time to upload issue 34. How are you going to inspect your illustrations?”

Here we go again! I sighed and fetched a look at my balloons. “I’m sure you can’t wait to tell me.”

“Word decompresses many of your images,” the balloons told me. “You wouldn’t have this problem if you bought PDF software.”

“Right.” Another sigh. “Like I have $500 lying around to invest in Adobe’s software.”

“It may not be that expensive,” said the balloons. “They might have a subscription plan that you can handle. And, like it or not, you’ve got to deal with this. You had trouble with Lulu over your images last time, and you wound not publishing with them. Things might have turned out differently if you’d used PDF software. Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Cornered, I had a look-see, and Adobe has a subscription plan for $14.99/month if I commit to a yearly payment. It works with both iPod and regular laptop (I use both). I also asked Mr. Google about “best PDF software,” and found other PDF programs that work with Word and are less expensive than Adobe. I think it best if I go with free month trials to see if it’s user-friendly, so over the next weeks, I shall have some chats with Mr. Google regarding such trials. The Forgotten People will also go live, and at some point, I’ll be doing a blog tour.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinion of PDF software. If you use it, what kind, and how has it worked for you? Are you thinking about buying? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 🙂

Endings and the “I Gotta” Revisited

zombie fiction by Barbara CusterLast night, I worked out an ending paragraph for “The Good Samaritan,” one of the stories in the upcoming anthology, The Forgotten People. It took me over an hour to do it. Tonight, I’ll go back and review what I wrote, and if it still doesn’t feel right, then I’ll look at other endings to short stories that have worked. Endings have been my bane since I first got into writing in the early 90s. Coming up with a workable conclusion was part of the reason I took a break from my sequel to When Blood Reigns.

Okay, I’ll have a slice of Provolone cheese to go with my whine.

I took a Facebook survey on endings, and found that most people are facing the same struggle I do. Stories don’t have to end on a happy note, but they should come full circle. One can tie up all loose endings or end at a cliffhanger, but the bottom line is: satisfy the reader. My Facebook buddies gave me an invaluable piece of advice: make sure I have a definite ending in mind, if not written before I write the story. Going forward, that’s what I will do. It won’t help with my current anthology or the sequel to When Blood Reigns, but I have a plan for the future.

So why do I keep going? Stephen King calls it the “I gotta.” I wrote the stories long ago for different magazines, and then last summer, after my adventure with the termites, I sorted my material and realized these stories spoke about the same alien race, the Athyrians. In case you’re wondering about the Athyrians, you’ll have to wait until the book goes live to find out. Science fiction appeal aside, many of the stories had a common theme: how health care was becoming more cost-prohibitive. All of them needed significant updating and revisions, so the “I gotta” was born, and now I feel driven to finish these revisions, including the ending, and get them into print. The “I gotta” for The Forgotten People was the main reason I took a break from my sequel, but once the anthology goes into print, I’m heading back to my sequel. The main character in the sequel loves her Mylar balloons, and some readers have been asking for a “balloon” tale.

The “I gotta” has kept me going strong despite the breakdown of two computers and a host of other winter mishaps. None of them have challenged me as much as these endings.

Do you find your endings challenging? How have you resolved the problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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