Romancing the Balloons

Barbara Custer's brand

Since April, when I wrote my first post on the pandemic, gyms and hair salons have reopened, albeit with restrictions. Some of my friends are jumping into activities full force. Others remain in quarantine. Per the discussions with my Mylar balloons, the activities are okay if I can take the risk from a level 10 to a level two. Romancing the balloons at the supermarkets and pharmacies hasn’t stopped; my balloons deemed that activity a level two.

I’ve gone back to my hairstylist, but not the gym. I do ZOOM workouts while Daisy, my Mylar butterfly, becomes my trainer, coaching me on which weights to use. If she thinks I’m slacking off, she lets me know about it. I contemplated getting a traditional trainer, but I have what I need at home.

The pandemic has colored the way I write. My WIP involves a highly contagious virus that had a way larger death toll than corona. This means that, as in real life, my characters have to struggle to find a store that sells toilet paper, disinfectant, and other supplies they need. As in real life, my protagonist has Mylar balloons to guide her on her daily activities.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve noticed that driving’s gone downhill. I’ve seen people blow through red lights and make U-turns on four-lane thoroughfares, despite heavy traffic. Friends tell me that some folks think nothing of driving 100 miles per hour on the turnpike. About a month ago, a van came up to my right to make a U-turn and almost plowed into me. I had to get off the road. So I’ve used the back roads and avoid rush hour traffic as much as possible. The Mylar balloon principle applies: take the risk from a level 10 to a level two.

I never know when I’ll find a unique Mylar balloon. Maybe I’ll go to CVS to pick up a prescription, and a Valentine’s day balloon with lace will beckon from the card aisle. Perhaps I’ll go to the supermarket for bread and milk. If supplies hold up, I’ll get them, but a balloon, soft as a kitten paw, will make its way into my shopping cart. The balloons go into an isolation area for 72 hours at home, then joins the others in my living room.

How are you getting through the pandemic? I’d love to hear your experiences.

A $10 Amazon gift card will be sent to a random commenter after the bloghop.

How Much Do You Charge for an EBook?

Close Liaisons features Mylar balloons and science fiction by Barbara Custer

SF involving balloons and war $1.49

How much should you charge for your eBook? Some folks believe that charging $2.99 and less will result in more sales. The 99-cent novellas will make good publicity, an easy way to get to know an author’s style of writing. If nothing else, it will generate balloon money for the author and publisher. But I know of people who started out at $5.25 for their book, and when they lowered it to $2.99, sales tanked. What’s more, the lower price cut into their royalties.

Amazon likes to recommend prices when I upload Kindle books for myself or for NTD authors.  Basically, anything over $7 or under $3 won’t earn much. However, if you’re charging more for your eBook, you might want to run promos and specials where people can get the book for much less, thus meaning a larger audience. Many variables go into pricing and you might want to consider several things when you price your eBook, especially if you’re selling through multiple distributors.

  • The size of your eBook. If you’ve written a 10,000 word novelette, you’d charge much less than you would for your 80,000 opus magnum. It’s a matter of fairness. Why charge $4.99 for an eBook that would only have twenty pages in print form? It would be like charging someone $20.00 (the cost of a balloon bouquet) for one balloon. In tandem, consider your primary goals, that is, education versus entertainment. People will shell out more money for vital information, such as tips on winter driving and survival then they might for tales about Mylar balloon adventures.
  • Consider what other authors charge for the same size and genre. If you’re charging $10 for a 30,000 word zombie tale, but other authors are charging $1.99 for the same type of book, yours won’t sell many copies. If you’re only selling off your own website, you might have more leeway with price. My experience has been that most people prefer shopping through Amazon or Barnes & Noble over a private website. Why? If you shop on the NTD website, you’ll need a PayPal account, which requires a password. For that reason, I always provide links to Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. Most seller websites involve setting up an account and a password. It’s easier to remember one password (Amazon) than tracking different passwords for multiple websites.
  • What are your plans for your book? If your work is a 10,000-word novelette, it can serve as an intro to your larger, more expensive works. Most folks won’t mind shelling out 99 cents for such a story. Your book—and your ideas—will fall into more hands. If they like your work, you’ve got more potential buyers for your larger stories. If you don’t have a 99-cent eBook, you might want to create one. Your entry-level priced eBook will give readers a chance to know your work.
  • How large is your following? If you’re anything like Stephen King or Jonathan Maberry, your publisher might sell your eBooks for $10 each and more. That’s because both authors have dedicated fans who love their writing so much that they’ll gladly pay that to read their fiction. If you’re pitching to total strangers, they’ll balk, especially if they see other books of the same genre sell for $3.99.

You might consider having a list price but discount that price from time to time. This way, you’ll drive more interest in your books. No price is ever set in stone, and because the eBook world is constantly changing, you should evaluate your prices from time to time.

Your thoughts?

Blue Plate Special is zombie novel by Harold Kempka

Tidbits of horror for $2.99

Anne Michaud’s Hunter’s Trap



Seventeen-year-old Dayton Mulligan is stuck looking after his little brother Jeremy when their father goes off on his annual hunting trip. But when Dad’s last phone call ends in a shotgun blast, it’s enough to send both boys out into a blizzard to search for him.

Caught in the killer weather, Dayton and Jeremy take refuge in an abandoned hunting cabin, which isn’t as empty as it first seems. A ghost inhabits its walls and promises to reveal the truth behind their father’s disappearance, but the brothers doubt their host’s sincerity as the spirit demonstrates its hatred for anyone who trespasses on its land.

Far from the safety of civilization, Dayton must swallow his fears, fight for himself and for his family before it’s too late and Hunter’s Trap claims them all, forever.



Author Information and Buy Links:

She who likes dark things never grew up. She never stopped listening to gothic, industrial and alternative bands like when she was fifteen. She always loved to read horror and dystopia and fantasy, where doom and gloom drip from the pages.

She who was supposed to make films, decided to write short stories, novelettes and novels instead. She, who’s had her films listed on festival programs, has been printed in a dozen anthologies and magazines since. Now, novels bearing her name are seeing the world, one title after the other.

She who likes dark things prefers night to day, rain to sun, and reading to anything else.

She blogs

She tweets @annecmichaud

She Facebook

Goodreads link:

Amazon link:

“Shhhh…” Dayton whispered to his brother, and Jeremy hid his mouth behind his scarf, eyes so big they ate his face.

Mumblings, vestiges of a fight. Not one but two voices came from above, and neither of them their father’s. “You have responsibilities, son,” a man said. “You can’t just leave me and never come back. We are family, we share the same blood.”

“I want none of it,” the other answered, sounding younger. “I hate you, I always hated you.” Stumps and clunks came from the first floor.

A trickle of sweat made its way down Dayton’s neck. His mind was racing as to why neither of these men had answered his calls, why they’d remained hidden until now, and how long it would be before they called the forest rangers on the brothers.

“Remember where the front door is?” Dayton spoke so low, Jeremy kept his eyes on his brother’s lips. “When I say go, you run, ‘kay?” After a quick nod from Jeremy, Dayton held his breath and climbed the steps as silently as possible.

Above their heads, footsteps creaked on the floor­boards so heavily that dust fell from between the planks. Dayton’s blood froze, unsure if his body reacted to the danger of being discovered or to how he found it hard to breathe in this airless basement. The fight started again, but fainter, from the back of the cabin.

The younger man screamed, “I took care of it, it’s more than you ever did.”

The second barked, “You shot him in the back, like the coward that you are.” Distorted but discernible, each word sent electric shocks down Dayton’s back.

The first added, his voice peaking, “That’s what he deserved. Just you watch what I do to the next trespass­ers.” Dayton and Jeremy were the unwanted, the strang­ers, the people that didn’t belong there. “They can hear us,” said the last man.

A gunshot exploded so close and loud, Dayton crouched down, bringing Jeremy down with him. Dayton stayed strong against the awkward hug, feeling his broth­er’s nose and opened mouth against his thick clothes, reaching his skin and bones with the same horror. No holes broke the door, untouched as they left it minutes before.

Dayton climbed a step, then another, always making sure Jeremy stayed close behind. Grabbing his knife, Dayton shook fear out of his mind, and twisted the knob. The door whined. He stopped pushing, swallowing bile down.

“Who asked for help, Dayt?” Jeremy asked, his ques­tion a tremble. “Was it them? Do they want us to go help them?” he sounded about ready to cry, again.

“I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Can you still hear them?” Dayton searched the dark hall and the open space before him, both empty. “In the room.” He pointed with the tip of his blade toward the first door, the locked one, where the two men must have been hiding and still were. But they’d come out, Dayton had seen the floorboards move, and crack and leak dust.

But right now, he didn’t see or hear them: he felt their presence, as if they were waiting for the brothers to show themselves. As if they were facing him but he was blind; as if they were screaming at him but he was deaf. All that fresh air must have gone to his head, making him dizzy and hallucinating.

Another shot echoed and Dayton grabbed Jeremy’s hand and pulled him to the front door. “Go!” Dayton speeded to the bright light coming from the window on the door, but his brother slowed him down.

“Our stuff!” Jeremy cried out, pointing to the opened backpack by the fire.

“Shit!” Dayton raced back and bent over to grab the opened backpack, but in his haste, its contents spilled to the four corners of the room: the flashlight, the food, the extra clothes he’d made Jeremy roll tight like cigars. “Leave it,” he screamed, dropping the bag altogether when a shadow moved toward them, faster than the blink of an eye.

The knob’s cold metal chilled Dayton’s cuts as he pulled the door and faced the accumulated snow. With Jeremy right behind him, Dayton stumbled down the porch, not looking back. The cabin’s warmth left behind, the cold blizzard hit them in full force.

Dayton expected another gunshot, maybe two, this time aimed at him and Jeremy. He could almost smell the gunpowder, feel the pain in his chest as the bullet rippled through his flesh. He could almost hear the ringing of the shot. He waited for it, as he pushed deeper into the fury of snow and wind, but it never came.


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Getting through Tough Edits

Gemini WordsmithsThe denizens of hell attack in Barbara Custer's Steel Rose. completed the developmental edit on Blood Moon Rising, the sequel for Steel Rose, and the edits needed are extensive. Many of the fixes involve point of view, repetitive words or phrases, and inconsistencies in the plot. Better that these problems are caught now when I can fix them rather than having a reviewer call them out on her blog later. Yay, Gemini Wordsmiths! All the same, it’s taken several Mylar balloon acquisitions to fortify me for the work needed.

Most of the fixes are easy, and my editors have been patient with my questions. Some things I’m finding out I can look for when revising before sending to an editor. I’ve been struggling with repetition, clichés not so much, but I have seen clichés on others’ manuscripts. Solution: Prowriting Aid. I’ve found Prowriting to be a useful tool for winnowing out clichés, redundancies, and repetitive verbs and phrases. In this way, it works as a second pair of eyes. I regret not using Prowriting for Blood Moon Rising. Live and learn.

The Prowriting Aid didn’t help with the POV problems, however. I’ve noticed POV inconsistencies on other people’s manuscripts, too, problems similar to what you see in the following paragraph.

A bouquet of six Mylar butterflies, a rainbow assortment of red, greens, blues, and purples, called to Cassandra from the display stand. The soft shushing sounds they made when she ran her fingers through them brought a smile to her face. She just had to have them. The cashier, upon hearing the balloon sounds, called out, “Can I help you?”

That last sentence is a no-no because we’re in Cassandra’s head. So how would she know what the cashier heard? A better way to word that last sentence might be: The cashier’s voice impinged on her thoughts. “Can I help you?” he asked.

I can resolve most POV issues without making major structural changes. The plot flaws require more work, the guidance of an editor, plus lots of Mylar balloons to get me through a tough chore. Many of my plot inconsistencies happened in the second half of the book. The first half got evaluated, rewritten, and evaluated again through writers’ conferences, etc. and thus saw editing done before Gemini Wordsmiths got the file. Not so for the second half. If I had my do-overs, I would have completed the first draft before attempting any revisions like the pros recommended. Instead, I wrote two chapters, edited them, moved on to the third and fourth chapters, edited again, and so forth.

I’d like to recommend a blog “10 Words to Search For,” which helped me cut the fat in my manuscripts. Juliet Madison suggested ditching words like very, just, almost, began, and start. I did a Word Search and Find, which enabled me to substitute the word with something better or ditch altogether. The plot issues are the hardest to fix, because even in a horror or SF novel, the world has to stay consistent. The characters should act consistently, too; if not, then I’d better come up with a good reason for the aberration in behavior.

So…what do you find most difficult about revising a manuscript? How do you get through the tougher edits? Do you use any shortcuts for self-editing? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.


Book Spotlight Struck by Clarissa Johal



The shadows hadn’t been waiting. 

The shadows had been invited.

After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift–one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister… for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.


Author Bio and Buy Links:

Clarissa Johal has worked as a veterinary assistant, zoo-keeper aide and vegetarian chef. Writing has always been her passion. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing or taking photographs of gargoyles. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters and every stray animal that darkens the doorstep. One day, she expects that a wayward troll will wander into her yard, but that hasn’t happened yet.






Amazon Author page:



A bolt of blue-white lightning snaked from the sky and hit the ground in front of her. The thunderclap that shattered the air was deafening. Gwynneth slammed on her brakes and skidded. It was a slow skid, or it seemed to be. Spinning around and around in a circle, she felt like she was watching herself from afar. Time felt like it was slowing. Oddly enough, she found herself wondering if there would be white or red flowers on Hannah’s casket. Or maybe none at all.

Gwynneth’s face smacked against the steering wheel. Reality hit her along with the pain. She had forgotten to wear her seatbelt. She pressed her fingers lightly to her throbbing temple and winced. “Shit!” Thankfully, she was in one piece. Gwynneth opened the car door. Lightning lit the area and bathed her senses in a flash of blue-white. Icy rain hit her skin. Stupid! You left your jacket back at the funeral home. She ran around the car and checked all the tires. The back one was flat, and on top of that, her car was quite obviously stuck in a ditch. “Great.” She had no spare tire, she knew that for sure. She also had no idea which way led back to the retirement home. Her headlights cast a weak glow through the rain. Soaked to the skin and shivering, Gwynneth peered into the darkness. A muddy road meandered across saturated fields and off into nothingness.

She sloshed back to her car and quickly turned the engine off. She certainly didn’t need a dead battery on top of a flat tire. “Okay, Gwen,” she said aloud, “you need to figure out what to do.” Rain ran in rivulets down her face and her tie-dyed T-shirt stuck to her like a second skin. I’m a soggy, shivering rainbow. She started to walk and cursed the fact that her cell phone wasn’t charged. Seth was always bugging her about that. “Suck it up, Gwen. It rains in Oregon too.” The inky blackness was disconcerting. Lightning intermittently illuminated the area like the flash of a camera. A snapshot of a road to nowhere. Gwynneth hoped that she was at least walking in the right direction. Her teeth were chattering so hard she was in danger of biting her own tongue. Thunder rolled up her spine and along her scalp like probing fingers.

Her thoughts wandered back to Hannah. A diary. I wonder what she wrote about? She wouldn’t read it, of course, it was private. I’m sure she just wants me to throw it away so her children don’t either. A pang of loss sliced through the cold and Gwynneth shook it off. They had spent countless hours chatting and Hannah never mentioned a diary. She bit her lip. If she could only turn back time, Gwynneth would have told her how much their time together had meant. Hannah had always encouraged her to start painting again, but also understood why Gwynneth couldn’t.

A loud ‘crack’ sounded and an iridescent white light surrounded her. Two things registered: a searing pain that ripped down her back and the ground which seemed to be pulled away from her at an alarming speed.

* * * *


Pain shot through the back of Gwynneth’s head as she opened her eyes. Somebody was standing over her. She tried to focus on the face, but it hurt too much. A cool hand slid across her forehead. She opened her eyes again.

Pale, almost white eyes. High cheekbones, aquiline nose, and a well-shaped mouth. Long, white hair. Ageless. Beautiful, like a Michelangelo. All of those details registered with clarity before agony ripped through her body. She arched her back and cried out. The man murmured something into her ear which she couldn’t understand. She could feel the vibration of his voice and his breath on her neck as he gathered her in his arms. She opened her eyes and saw lightning fork to the ground silently behind him. She blacked out again.




SupergirlsTour_Banner_copyCreating Villains

I love unexpected turns in stories, especially psychological twists. What you think is the monster turns out to be a purring kitten. The demon that should have terrified you is the one holding the bloody butcher knife, in your own hand.

A good psychological suspense thrives on ambiguity, but nothing is less ambiguous than cookie cutter, two-dimensional villains. Which raises the question, what makes a bad guy bad? Or more importantly, what makes a good bad guy?

When we were little, most of us were taught about right and wrong. We were raised with a set of rules. If you followed the rules you were “good,” if you broke them, you were “bad.” Good people get bubblegum. Bad people go to jail. Really bad people should die.

Hopefully, as we mature, our experiences and personal interactions will broaden our perspective. We learn that clear-cut distinctions can be very illusive in the real world. Sometimes there is no right answer. We find ourselves in the gray area between black and white. And that’s okay. Maintaining a black-and-white paradigm in a full color world is the root of all manner of evil.

The first thing we need to understand is that monster is a label, a false label. It allows us to separate ourselves from truly heinous villains, assures us that we are nothing like them because monsters are not human. But that is simply not true. Every villain that has ever perpetrated evil on anyone did so from some sort of human motivation. Usually it is greed or lust or envy, but a surprising number of evil deeds are done in the name of love or misguided attempts at justice.

Let’s take a look at the monstrous Andrea Yates, who drowned her five babies in the bathtub. She deserves the title “monster” because she lacked one of the most basic of human instincts: a mother’s drive to protect her young.

But that is the edited-for-nightly-news version. It generates a lot of attention and emotion, but it misses the essential truth. Andrea was suffering severe mental illness, which was exacerbated by a slew of mismatched psychotropic drugs prescribed by incompetent doctors. It was medically impossible for her to think rationally at the time of the murders. Her family was not available to support her. The only folks who did offer to help were a fundamentalist religious cult. They spent hours with Andrea each week, warning her of the horrors of hell, telling her that the devil was after her children and that he would get them unless they were baptized.

Andrea was terrified for her children. In her drug scrambled mind, the only way she could see to save her children from hell was to baptize them straight into heaven, where the devil couldn’t touch them. She knew murder was evil. She knew she would go to hell for killing the children, but she was willing to accept eternal damnation, if it would guarantee the safety of her children.

It wasn’t a horrible black heart that drove Yates to murder. It was, in fact, a mother’s love, that basic tenet of humanity. Yes it was misguided, deranged, horrific and inexcusable. But it was also human, a misapplication of the same motivations that control each of us. In this manner, we are the same as Andrea Yates. Yikes.

So, let’s bring that understanding into fiction. Villains need to be fueled by true human motivation. And it is best if that motivation is one with which we can sympathize.

My novella, Supergirls, follows two sisters born into white trash city. Their junkie mom and whatever guy happened to be crashing at the pad that night were the parental guidance. Jenn and May’s belief system is based on television and superhero comic books. The sisters grow up to be hookers and thieves. They take advantage of “good people.” They are the villains.

But when I tell you their story, about how May is ill and Jenn wants nothing except to take care of her, about how Jenn dreams of taking May away from the slums and their shitty lives to a little house out in the country, when you see how much they love each other, how they sacrifice for each other—maybe, villains aren’t bad people. Maybe they’re just you and me, pursuing the American dream.

Jenn and May encounter many antagonists in Supergirls. From the mundane, everyday junkies, johns and thieves, to the stalking serial psycho—Frederic Bells, aka Fat Bastard. And Fat Bastard’s bodyguard, Leroy. And the Whistling Deer Head in the living room. But ultimately, we discover that Jenn and May are their own villains, their own worst antagonists…and we love them because of it.

Are they different from you and me? Not really. Sure, most of us don’t whore out our bodies or kidnap rich guys for their money. But we’ve manipulated or lied haven’t we? We’ve maybe taken advantage of someone? Does that make us bad people? Or does that make us good people doing bad things, perhaps even while trying to do the right thing?

In the end, reality isn’t white or black, good or evil. Reality is the gray mist in between, and we each are doing what we think is right.

Humanize a villain. Make them real. Give them emotions, dreams and fears. When we can relate to the villain, they become even scarier, because we may recognize the villain in ourselves. And that’s a good thing. Only after seeing our faults can hope to overcome them.

Mav Skye features horror and suspense.BLURB:

Sisters Jenn and May have finally found their golden ticket out of the slums. Pervy sugar daddy, Frederick Bells, promises to be an easy score with a big payoff—millions are hidden within his mansion.

The plan is simple: tie up the pig, steal his cash, and skip town. But fate has a different plan, including a villain with a wicked imagination. The sisters resort to playing their childhood game SUPERGIRLS to battle their fears in Bell’s den of horrors.

Will the SUPERGIRLS find their prize or will their heads join the pile behind the black cellar door?

The author of Supergirls loves suspense fiction.AUTHOR Bio and Links:

When Mav Skye isn’t turning innocent characters into axe murderers, refinishing old furniture, chasing around her spring ducklings, or reading the latest horror novel, she’s editing at the almighty Pulp Metal Magazine.

She adores puppies, pirates, skulls, red hots, Tarantino movies and yes, Godzilla.

Especially Godzilla.

She is the author of Supergirls and The Undistilled Sky. Look for her wicked horror romance, Wanted:Single Rose, this fall and the second book in the Supergirls series, Night without Stars, early 2015.

Find Me:


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Supergirls is available in print or ebook at: Amazon US:, Amazon UK:*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Mav will be awarding a $35 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner and a signed paperback copy of Supergirls (interntional) will be awarded to another randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. A $25 Amazon GC will be awarded to a randomly drawn host.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Supergirls features in horror and suspense fiction.Excerpt:

Old folks say the world is simply made of black and white. There is no gray. How is that true? How does that sum up reality? Right now, this second, I could toss the dagger, grab May’s hand and escape through the white door, white like heaven, and what then? We’d have zip. Nada. We can’t return to the studio. Fat Bastard and Leroy know where we live. All we’d have is our miserable, crappy (and psychotic) lives.

And each other, something whispers or does it whistle? I don’t know anymore. Through the white door—it’s running away. Running away from the one thing May and I have always wanted: peace.

No, the only way to peace is through darkness, the black door, through the cellar to the money.

I turn and face the black door, place my hand on the bolt. There is a monster in the dark to confront.

Perhaps I’ll die, perhaps May will. This is where the gray area lies, the future. Why can’t there be a clear-cut way of what to do and when?

The moaning creature pounds the door.

Fat Bastard. I grit my teeth and draw my eyes away from the tree with gems. Black, white or grey: if you want something you have to go for it, the consequences be damned.

The monster pounds the door harder.

May startles and turns to me.

I motion to her and breathe, “When I unbolt the door, I’ll drop to the floor and you shoot.”

She says nothing, but stands back and aims the pistol.

I say, “One, two, three…”

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