Does Intelligent Life Exist in other Worlds?

I once asked a priest this question. As he put it, the universe is a vast place, and he would find it hard to believe that God would create the universe for just humans. So other questions came to mind: what are these people like? What color eyes? What color hair, if any? What about language, verbal and nonverbal? Do they possess telepathy, telekinesis, or any of the other powers with which our movies endow them? Are they gentle friendly beings or are they monsters that prey on weaker species?

I didn’t go into my other questions with this priest, but I searched Google and Yahoo to get others’ thoughts on aliens. I’m not referring to our neighboring planets where the environment isn’t hospitable to life as we know it. I’m considering the yet-to-be-discovered planets outside our solar system. If people live in these worlds and visit our own, their technology must surpass us by centuries to construct spaceships capable of traveling to Earth.

Some folks believe the aliens would treat us the way we do animals – capture, dissect, see what it’s all about, tag it, release it, and study it in its natural habitat. In some cases, we might steamroll over it, destroying the habitat and wiping out the species. At worst, they might eat us, enslave us, torture and attack us. In Steel Rose, Woehar and her evil renegades do just that – inject a chemical that turns their human prisoners into zombies. When she’s not torturing, she hunts humans for nourishment the way we might hunt a deer or pheasant.

However, I’d like to think that bad and good qualities exist in the extraterrestrials just as they do in humans. The bad ones like Woehar might regard us as subservient beings deemed for slavery or an entrée for the dinner table. The decent ones might work shoulder to shoulder with us at a job, use their knowledge to help find cures, and may try to understand what it means to be human. Yeron, a refugee alien, works at Jackson Hospital in a research laboratory, trying to develop cures for cancer and other killer diseases. He works closely with the human doctors in that laboratory and shields Alexis from the evil hospital administrator. Sometimes humans make the worst kind of monsters.

Even in best case scenarios, the aliens’ culture and beliefs will be radically different from ours. Their logical minds would preclude a belief in any god. Before his compound exploded, Yeron grew up doing experimental treatments on human prisoners and releasing them (into their natural habitat). In his mind, he was doing The Right Thing by treating their injuries and ailments. The people getting the treatments didn’t agree, and he had to hypnotize them into forgetting. Alexis and Yeron have a tough go at working together at first because of the cultural differences.

Talk about diversity training. Imagine working with a boss from Planet X or having lunch with a coworker from Planet Y. Most workplaces teach diversity, and alien coworkers would present new challenges for the instructor.

Someone on Yahoo asked what people would do if they saw extraterrestrials roaming the streets. I’d stay in the house and watch between the drapes before taking any action. How do the aliens treat humans? If any blood spilled, I’d lock my doors and windows and hide under my balloon tree. If however, the aliens and humans engaged in pleasant interaction, I might come outside and introduce myself. And if there was one alien, and people were shooting at him, I might invite him in my house and offer him shelter under my balloon tree. Above all, I hate seeing people bullied, human or alien.

Whether we anticipate it or not, we might have to prepare for a meeting with people from other worlds one day. The weather patterns have gotten more erratic with tornadoes, harsher blizzards during the winter, and droughts that result in fires, not to mention earthquakes such as the kind that leveled Haiti. It may not happen in my lifetime, but one day the severity of these patterns will make Earth incompatible with human life unless we build underground or dome-covered cities, or migrate to other planets. Will we find friendly neighbors and embrace diversity? Might their advanced technology afford cures for diseases like cancer? Or will we be fighting for the right to live?

In Barbara Custer's Steel Rose, her characters learn what it means to work with extraterrestrials.

Interview with Author Michelle Hoefle


Barbara: Hi, Michelle! It’s great to have you with us. Can you tell us a little something about your book?

Michelle: Carpathian Blood: A Carpathian Blood Novel follows Mackenzie into a Terranian vs. Vampyre War…Will Vlad be her salvation or her damnation?

Mackenzie travels to Romania to begin a new life with her younger brother, Alain. She doesn’t plan on being a meal for a vampire. When her rescuer reveals himself, she wants no part of his life or his war, but her traitorous heart has other ideas. The dark and dangerous Vlad wants her for himself and will stop at nothing to possess her heart and soul. However, after a brutal attack can their love conquer the challenges that face them?

Barbara: What was the inspiration for Carpathian Blood?

Michelle: I have always enjoyed reading paranormal romance novels and have been waiting for a book or series about an extraterrestrial race of beings that are very similar to humans, but have to ingest blood to survive. Lara Adrian (one my favourite authors) came close, but I envisioned a world totally different from her creations. When other popular authors did not come up with a book like I had envisioned, I created one myself. From there, the series was born.

Barbara: What characters were the most interesting to write?

Michelle: Vlad was the most interesting of the characters in the first book. The amount of research that I did to incorporate the history of Vlad Tepes was the reason he was so interesting. Of course I played with history for his role, but thoroughly enjoyed reading about the real “Vlad.”

Barbara: Which characters can you identify with?

Michelle: Mackenzie has to live through a series of bad events. First, losing her parents, then a vicious attack. I haven’t lived through anything quite like that, but I have definitely had my fair share of life altering events happen. So I identify with her the most, at least from the first book’s characters (you’ll have to continue reading the series to know which character mirrors me…hehehehe).

Barbara: If Carpathian Blood were made into a movie, which actor / actress would you want to play your main characters (Vlad and Mackenzie)?

Michelle: I definitely see Vlad’s character as being portrayed by someone who is devastatingly handsome, but rugged…Hugh Jackman. He’s well built (to say the least) and his accent fits the bill, not to mention he is one hell of an actor. Oh, and did I mention that he is dreamily sexy? “Purrrrrrrrrfectly so”

Mackenzie is young in the book, so her face should be fresh and young, but filled with life experience. Jordana Brewster would be a fresh face and a good choice I think. She has proven to be beautiful under fire so to speak in her action roles.

Barbara: What kind of challenges did you have, if any, writing this book?

Michelle: Carpathian Blood came very easily actually. My daughters are grown, so I have plenty of time to write. The difficulties did not come until I began book four. My muse took an extended vacation, so I ended up deleting more than half of what I wrote and had to rewrite it. I hate it when that happens, don’t you?

Barbara: I can relate to the frustration of a muse that takes a vacation. Tell us a little something about yourself that’s not in your biography.

Michelle: I was a fingernail biter until just a few years ago. Oh, and I love thunderstorms.

Barbara: What are some of your favorite reads about vampires and aliens?

Michelle: That would be Lara Adrian in her Breed Series. Hands down the best Alien Vampire novels to date. Okay, except mine (of course I have to say that, I am the author…hehehe)

Barbara: Describe the ultimate supernatural / paranormal man.

Michelle: At least six feet tall, broad shoulders, defined muscles, dark eyes, long black hair, and a libido that would put Casanova to shame! Oh, and did I mention that he had to be a vampire/werewolf hybrid?

Barbara: Will Carpathian Blood have a sequel? Any other projects in the works?

Michelle: Oh yes, the series will be at least seven books long, possibly more if the series is well received. I am working on book five now.

Barbara: Where can your readers find you on the Internet?

Michelle: I have a Facebook author page at

My Amazon page is at

Barbara: Any sage advice for aspiring authors out there?

Michelle: Write because you love it, not to get famous or rich. If you have a story to tell, tell it no matter how long it takes you to tell it. Do not listen to negativity and take constructive criticism to heart only to make your craft better. Never mourn the past. Leave it where it is, in the past. Last but not least, always…ALWAYS add the words “in bed” after every fortune cookie fortune.



I live in Lake Panasoffkee, FL with my mother, my brother, my two aunts, our four dogs, and three cats. I have two beautiful daughters that currently live in Michigan and are now on their own journeys in life. I am 45 years young and my hobbies include reading and woodcarving.

My inspiration for reading and writing comes from my mother. She used to read me bedtime stories when I was little, but she also read me works of Steven King and Dean Koontz when I got older. It was our special time together away from reality. So I have always enjoyed reading and thought about trying my hand at writing many times, but I just never sat down to do it. With my daughters now grown and my life a bit more settled, I revisited my love of writing with my brother’s encouragement. It is turning out to be an exciting and fun journey to write the books and now see them published.

Some of my favorite authors include Steven King, Dean Koontz, J.R. Ward, Jeaniene Frost, Lynsay Sands, Lara Adrian, and Christine Feehan. They are my favorites, but I love reading just about anything. I generally try to stay in Romantic Paranormal Fiction, but of course there are some non-fiction works that I have read.



Chapter One: Carpathian Mountains, Romania Present day

Mackenzie and Alain Hilton hiked through the woods outside of the Romanian Village of Aninoasa. The hills here at the base of the Carpathian Mountains were extraordinarily beautiful. The trees and the meadows were different shades of bright green with the tall majestic pines and the birch and the oak. Here in late August, it was already chilly during the later part of the day. The terrain was rugged and completely natural, the villages were all widely spaced apart, and there was not a lot of technology to get in the way of Mother Nature. Mack looked to her brother knowing that they really needed this move. Romania was a world away from the flat, humid, sandiness of Florida.

They were crossing a meadow of tall grass that still held blooms of multi-colored wildflowers. They followed a path that looked to eventually lead higher into the hills and bluffs at the southern base of the central Carpathian Mountains. “Are you ready to go back to the inn yet? It’s getting late, almost four o’clock,” she asked her brother as she looked at her watch.

He smiled up at her, “No sis, not yet, k? I want to make it to those rocks up ahead.”

“I don’t know Alain, they are pretty far still and we have to make it back to the inn before dusk. I’ll compromise, we turn back now and tomorrow we’ll make a day out of hiking back up here to the bluffs. Have the cook make us a picnic with snacks and everything,” Mackenzie put her hand on his small shoulders and then tousled his spiky brown hair.

Alain was nine years old going on thirty. It was not his fault that life got in the way of his childhood. Mackenzie was twenty-three and had been raising Alain on her own since she was sixteen and he was two. Their parents died as a result of a drunk driver. Mack was able to get her GED at the age of sixteen and become an emancipated minor. She got a job as a bike courier and, after a short stay in the foster care system, was able to keep custody of Alain due to a good-hearted social worker.

The reason they were in Romania of all places? Mackenzie would start her new job as a travel consultant in Bucharest the following week. She had worked hard the last two years completing a hospitality management course at the community college in her home town of Sumterville, FL. She and Alain had spun their old globe, closed their eyes and blindly picked where to begin their new life together. Hands clasped, fingers pointed, they had landed on Bucharest, Romania. Now here they were with a new life, a new adventure, and a fresh start for them both.

A cold wind breezed through her, chilling her bones through her jean jacket. She looked around, suddenly becoming uneasy. “Okay bubby, let’s head back, I’ll race you,” she suggested, wanting to get out of the meadow now, right now.

Alain took up the challenge as she knew he would, “I’ll beat you Mack, I always beat you!”

They began jogging back down the path, making it to the border of woods. Headed back in the direction of the village inn, she thought the uneasy feeling would pass, but the inner chill increased sharply as they entered the forest. She had just opened her mouth to call out to Alain when out of the woods to her right, a large black shape came hurtling toward her, knocking her to the ground. Her breath exploded out of her lungs as she hit the ground hard. A heavy weight was pinning her down and she screamed as she felt a piercing pain in her neck. The pain was beyond anything she had felt before, the burning was intense. The creature’s weight was suddenly gone and sounds of grunts, cursing, and of fighting came to her. Alain was beside her crying and screaming her name, she tried to tell him that everything was ok, but her throat would not form the words. Why wouldn’t her throat work? She was cold, so cold…

Vlad stood over the shriveling corpse of the vampire, aware of the boy’s crying and screaming, he quickly turned his attention to the woman lying prone on the forest floor. She was bleeding profusely from the tear in her throat. He bent over her on the opposite side of the young male. Vlad took precious seconds to quickly read the boy’s mind, his name was Alain Hilton and the woman was Mackenzie, his older sister. They were here in the village on holiday before she was to begin a job in Bucharest the following week. He turned his attention to the woman lying sprawled on the ground, a thought foremost in his mind: Brousha! The thought came to him in his own language out of nowhere. It translated to roughly soul mate here on Earth.

Pushing that thought aside, he concentrated on healing the female. With only minutes available to him, he leaned over her throat, his tongue sealing her torn flesh. He then brought his wrist to his mouth and tore the skin away with his fangs. He pressed his bleeding wound to her still seeping throat, his healing purple blood mixing with her red cells. Her brother was in mild shock and lifted large, fearful blue eyes to his, “W-w-what are y-you doing to her?”

He replied very softly, very calmly, “I am saving her lad, I am saving her. My name is Vlad Romaninsky and you and I are going to great friends Alain Hilton.” He lifted his bleeding wrist to her mouth and began to massage her healing throat so that she would swallow his blood. Vlad knew that he was performing an unforgivable sin against this innocent woman. However, he could not let her die, especially knowing that she was the only relative of young Alain, reading the knowledge from the youth’s thoughts. With his free hand he brought his satellite phone out and pressed the number for the compound.

Lot’s voice answered, “Hello my fearless leader!”

“I have a wounded civilian, human, and her younger brother with me. She was attacked. I am giving her blood now, but we will need a pick up ASAP. Get my GPS from the phone, I am outside the Village of Aninoasa, the Northeast sector. Tell Heltra to hurry Lotris, there was another with the vampire that I dusted, he is still out here,” he rambled off the orders.

“You got it boss man. Heltra is leaving now with your coordinates and will be at your location in twenty minutes. Meet her on the lane due west of your location. Hey, is the human pretty by the way? I only ask because now that you have given her your blood she’s a keeper.” Lotris’ humor knew no bounds.

Vlad growled menacingly into the phone, Brousha! The thought slid through his mind again. “Whoa there good buddy, only joking,” Lotris could be a real comedian at times. He was also a good friend and brother in arms, as well as a genius with Earth’s technology so Vlad could not kill him, not really.

Mackenzie came back to awareness with a wonderful, rich flavor in her mouth. She thought perhaps a rich Porte? Where was she and why was she so cold? She moved her fingers feeling the ground with one hand. Well that explained the cold, after all one does not lie on the ground in the woods of the Carpathian Mountains in late August and not expect to be cold. She remembers being in the woods…the creature…Alain!

Her eyes flew open looking around wildly, spotting Alain, she breathed out in relief, he looked to be alright. She then noticed the man bending over her. Her eyes widened, wow, Fabian had nothing on this guy. His hair was a rich dark brown and was pulled back from his strong features with a leather thong. His black brows slashed over cold black obsidian eyes, framed by long eyelashes. His cheekbones were high and pronounced. His nose was straight and proud, his jaw was squared and strong, with a five o’clock shadow. But his lips…his lips were full, sensual. He had very broad shoulders encased in a leather trench coat and black tee-shirt.

All of this took only seconds to sink in as she became aware that this stranger’s wrist was pressed to her mouth. Blood? Blood! That wonderful taste was blood! Her stomach heaved and she brought her hands up weakly to try to fend him away. What kind of sicko was he? Thinking that she had just entered the Twilight Zone or a Dracula role playing game that had gone terribly wrong, she looked again at Alain. Fear and adrenaline making her strong, she pushed the stranger’s arm away and sat up clutching Alain to her. The man brought his wrist to his mouth and licked the wound. Curiously that action made her insides clench.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Her voice croaked out, her throat was very sore. While scooting backwards along the ground, she tried to drag Alain away from the man. She knew some self-defense, but this guy was huge and could break her like a twig. Crouched on the ground as he was, he reminded her of a large jungle cat, a deadly predator.

“I know that you are scared, Mackenzie. I am Vlad Romaninsky and I mean you no harm.” His voice was velvety soft, a low base.

“Yeah riiiight, is that why you almost tore out my throat?!” She tried to yell, it came out hoarse whisper.

“Umm, Mack?” she looked at Alain, “Vlad didn’t hurt you. That man over there did, Vlad saved you, he saved us.”

Mack looked in the direction that Alain had pointed, there on the ground was a mummified body that lay in black clothes. She started to tremble, her hand going to her neck, feeling the roughened, raised scars, “What the hell!” she croaked out.

“I know that you are frightened, however, as this one was not alone when I was hunting him,” Vlad nodded back towards the body, “I want to get you and young Alain out of these woods as soon as possible.” Vlad stood and offered her his hand.

She stared at his hand then met his eyes, “You swear that you aren’t going to hurt us?” She thought, stupid Mackstupid, like he would admit it if he was planning on committing harry carry all over her ass?

“I swear on my life, that no harm will come to you or young Alain from me or my people,” Vlad placed his right fist over his heart and bowed slightly.

It was an old world courtly gesture, how odd. He held out his hand to her again and she slowly took it. He helped her to stand, then held her by the arm to steady her when she swayed. After making sure she would stay upright he turned his attention to the body. He pulled a pack of matches from his pocket, lit the packet and dropped it on the body. The flames roared to life and almost immediately turned the remains to grayish ash. He turned back to Mackenzie, scooping her into his arms he started into the woods heading west. “Stay close by me Alain,” he ordered the boy. Alain jogged beside his longed legged gait.

“What do you think you are doing?! Put me down this instant,” Mack’s throat was still raw and sore so her demands came out as whispers. “I can walk you know, besides we are going the wrong way. The village inn is back that way!”

“We are meeting one of my people to the west of here, she will have a vehicle for us.” Vlad explained, “Besides if I put you down you may try to run, and Mackenzie, I will catch you if you try. We have many things to discuss you and I,” his dark eyes glittered ominously.

Don’t Take Candy off of Strangers

Author Jerry Jenkins announced an “Innovative Publishing Firm.” According to Victoria Strauss, innovative in publishing press release speak means charges a whopping fee. But writers might be willing to trust Jerry and his company more readily, believing they’re dealing with good Christian folks. Well, let’s see about that.

Jenkins established Christian Guild Writers Publishing, a self-publishing company targeted toward Christian writers. CGWP offers a six-month writing course, basic stuff for beginning writers. The writers are paired with mentors, that is, published authors who walk them through the process. Only one of the seven members is a fiction writer. At the end, CGWP will edit, proof, design, cover, and produce a book. You’ll get copy-editing, proofing, and basic services like ISBN. Cost to the author: $9,995. There are several caveats. CGWP doesn’t provide distribution; you’re on your own. If your book runs longer than 75K words, there’s a surcharge. Content editing raises the price. Custom design for the interior and cover cost extra, too. CGWP offers the option of hardback, but for print runs of 1,000 copies. Methinks I smell a scam.

Now there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. If that’s the way you choose to go, then you become a consumer evaluating a company that’s providing a service. You can publish your work on Smashwords and Kindle for free. Mind you, you’ll need an editor and someone to design your cover, but CreateSpace will provide such services for less than $2000 if you decide to use these services at all.

Speaking of distributing companies, let’s look at Autharium, a new British site. According to The Passive Voice, Autharium has made it easy for authors to upload, publish, and distribute their work. Out of curiosity I took a look at the site. At first glance, Autharium looks a lot like Lulu and CreateSpace. They’ve got a dashboard that enables you to upload files and directions on how to do it. You set your price the way you do with Lulu and CreateSpace, and they do a quality check before the book is approved for distribution. “At first glance” are the operative words. Things get ugly when you read Autharium’s terms and conditions. I posted some below.


  • “By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and license to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for the entire legal term of copyright (and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals of the term of copyright).” That’s the author’s life plus 70 years under British copyright law.
  • “Please note that your removal of your Work from sale in accordance with paragraph 13.1 above will not terminate this Agreement nor cause the exclusive digital publishing rights that you have granted to Autharium pursuant to paragraph 1 above to revert to you. You maintain copyright of the Work at all times.”
  • “If you wish to sell your Work in any Digital Form through any other publisher, distributor or means then you will need to contact Autharium at to agree transfer of the digital publishing rights to your Work.”

Let’s look at Starship Invasions, published by me and Tom Johnson through the Night to Dawn imprint. The contract runs three years, and then the rights revert to the author. I distributed the book through Lulu and CreateSpace, using different ISBN numbers. Suppose I decided to use Autharium, too? At the end of three years, Tom and I would have to get written permission from Autharium to continue publishing and submitting our stories. Let’s say a publisher comes by, offering a generous advance for our book. We’d still have to request permission and likely pony up a lot of money to get it.

Another scam, only this one acts as a distributor, enticing new authors who are anxious to see their books in print. My mother once told me never to take candy off of strangers. I think she had it right.

I’ve got to thank Mitzi Flyte for sending me the URL for Passive Voice. I’m also blessed to belong to a forum like The Writers Coffeehouse where I can find information like this. Jonathan Maberry originally recommended Preditors & Editors. If you’re testing an unfamiliar market, I recommend visiting as many watchdog sites as possible. If the candy the new publisher is offering really tempts you, these following watchdog agencies can advise you whether or not that company is legit.


  • The Passive Voice – the Passive Guy (David P. Vandagriff) is a contract lawyer. He does not offer legal advice on his blog, but he discusses the trends in publishing. He also points out potential minefields for the writer, such as bad formatting or scam distributors.
  • Writer Beware – Victoria Strauss will dig through the underworld of literary scams, schemes, and minefields. She’ll also welcome guest bloggers for Writer Beware. Most of the guest blogs are related to writing advice or perhaps a current problem in the industry.
  • Absolute Write Water Cooler will give you the full disclosure on most agents and publishing houses. In addition, they post basic writing advice, how to handle rejection, “ask the agent,” and other good topics.
  • Piers Anthony is a well-known author, having had a lot of his books published by Tor. If you click on his link “Publish on web,” you’ll get his evaluation of eBook publishers in alphabetical order. Pay attention to the red print – that’s his latest update on the given publisher.
  • Preditors & Editors, an oldie but goodie, will give you the low down on publishers, agents, bookstores, editors, software (yes, writing software), magazines, workshops, game publishers, and so forth.

When you go through the watchdog sites, consider the date of the evaluation. A complaint written in 2008 won’t tell you much because that was then, and this is 2013. New management may have taken care of the problem. Sometimes you’ll get conflicting stories. If you do, I recommend my Balloon Rule. If one person says you’re a balloon, ignore them. If two people tell you you’re a balloon, listen. If three people call you a balloon, get a ribbon and float.

I wanted to include the watchdog sites because I’m a firm believer in writers covering for each other. Are there any sites I haven’t mentioned? What has your publishing experiences been like? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.


Barbara Custer never takes candy off of strangers.

This candy looks delicious, but I wouldn’t accept it from a stranger.


Does Alexis of Steel Rose Like Balloons?

Barbara Custer's Steel Rose features a character who likes balloons. That’s a good question. After all, I can’t go into a supermarket without buying one. The balloons take on a life of their own when I arrive. My balloons have a way of creeping into all my blogs and seminars about respiratory care and writing. The characters in Alien Worlds and City of Brotherly Death have had a thing for balloons. Why not the denizens of Steel Rose?


Let me put it this way. Alexis doesn’t mind having balloons. She stockpiles them the way I do because she believes that the helium in them will protect her from Kryszka renegades. Yeron counts thirty balloons during his initial examination, and this doesn’t go over well at all. The helium in them is deadly toward his species. The balloons threaten Yeron, and an imaginary conversation plays through his mind:

Balloons: That’s right, Yeron, you don’t belong here.

Yeron: I do not like you either, so the feeling is mutual.

When Yeron contemplates his next approach to Alexis, the balloons grin at him. Is that so? You don’t know as much as you think you do, buddy.

On that last, Yeron hurries to his suite where he keeps his helium-proof mask. Initially, Alexis fears Yeron the way she does all men, and the balloons make an effective barrier. How then can Yeron and Alexis get romantic with all those balloons in the way? Well, folks, you have to read the story and find out.

Outside of protection, Alexis does not have a fixation on balloons, but she appreciates the sentiments written on them. She knows someone who has a thing for balloons. One of the other doctors has a wife who fancies balloons, and Alexis thinks it’s cute. Later on, the balloons will play an important role. They have to, just like Chekhov’s gun. You can’t introduce a loaded rifle into your story without using it, and the same goes for Mylar balloons. Much as I love my balloonies, I would not have put them in Steel Rose without a good reason.

In the sequel, the balloons will go bye-bye. Alexis will be too busy kicking zombie ass.

Steel Rose has just gone live, and you can read some excerpts here.

 In Barbara Custer's Steel Rose, Yeron finds his way toward Alexis despite all the balloons in his way.

Book cover by Dawné Dominique; Promo by Cyrus Wraith Walker

Suspension of Disbelief

When I began submitting short stories, the editors bounced them back with comments such as “characters not believable” or “no suspension of disbelief.” This usually happened when I included a real-life event. I never understood why using real events didn’t work, but I found that embellishing the details helped my cause.

All fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. Basically, we’re trying to convince the reader that the characters and settings in our stories are real, and that the events depicted could happen in everyday life. In horror, fantasy, and science fiction, we’re talking about a giant suspension of disbelief.

We can convince readers our stories are believable by testing details for plausibility and proving that each event is a natural outgrowth from the one preceding it in the novel. For example, I wouldn’t have a blizzard in Florida or palm trees in Alaska, unless I prepared a foundation in my story to make that possible.

Genre fiction introduces a new world with new rules.  Once you’ve set up your world and establish your rules, you have to consistently follow your rules if you want your story to be believable. For example, you can’t have a vampire shy away from religious objects in Chapter One and wear them in Chapter Five unless you’ve established a profound change in him.

One thing that I’ve struggled with is inconsistency in characters. I see this flaw in many books and movies, too. I could never understand how someone could be next to dying on television, and then two days later, back on the job. It doesn’t work that way in a real-life hospital. At least have the hero do some time in Physical Therapy.

If I’m reading a book about a hero with a phobia of heights, and by Chapter Five, he’s scampering up a ten-story building to rescue his beloved, I start to wonder. That character had better be sweating putty balls as he climbs. If he goes up the building calm and cool, that’s going to ruin my suspension of disbelief. I will probably set down the book and head for the nearest balloon store.

My Steel Rose protag has severe hand arthritis. Does she battle a monster? Of course. She has to draw on her strengths to fight. I gave her a long nap before the attack so she could stay alert and think fast. I’m not going to tell you if she survives because that’d be giving away the story.

I’m struggling with inconsistency now in my current WOP, and my writer buddies calls me on it when my protag acts out of character. That is a good critique group. One thing I’ve found helpful was using a calendar. Keeping track of the months in which events happen enables me to write the setting appropriately.

How do you deal with suspension of disbelief and consistency with your characters? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Kryszka renegades like this attack Alexis is When Blood Reigns.

Kryszka soldier that attacks Alexis

Do Writing Critique Groups Help?

Barbara Custer of Night to Dawn writes horror and science fiction.At the Writers’ Coffeehouse meeting last Sunday we had a discussion on critique groups and whether or not they help. Some people felt it best to stick with a group that has professional people such as published writers or editors. Without such member, said some, people may go to a critique group not really expecting to get published.

It was interesting that this topic came up. When I first started writing, the first piece of advice I got was “join a writer’s group.” At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I found plenty of writer’s groups. Some of them specialized in romance; others in nonfiction. Others preferred a mix of genres and subjects. My main consideration, though, was location and dates.

I started out with a group in Plymouth Meeting, PA. I got some great critiques initially, but we wound up becoming more of a social group. We wound up talking about movies, families, everything but writing. The group split up because of this but we remained friends.

I later moved on to Montgomery County Community College Writers’ group. They hold their meetings every other Thursday. I stayed with that group for several years until my problems with night vision made driving difficult. The college is on Route 202 and Morris road, and both of those streets have poor lighting.

For the last year or so I’ve been going to Bucks County Writers’ group in Warminster. They’ve been holding meetings Monday nights and Thursday afternoons. Editor Rita Breedlove runs the group, and I’ve found her critiques invaluable. Humor goes a long way when you’re delivering critiques. I’ve listed the advantages and disadvantages that I’ve found below.


  • You can get instant feedback on material you’ve written. This works especially well with a short story if you’re able to read the entire story in one sitting. A novel critique can work if you read installments to the same people each time. The other members can work as your beta readers.
  • Socialization. Let’s face it, writing is a lonely job. I can sit behind the desk so many hours, and then I got to get up and walk around for a little bit, with “little bit” being the operative phrase. After a few minutes, I’m back at my computer. The prospect of showing up at the next meeting empty-handed motivates me to keep writing.


  • If you’re working on a novel, and can’t get to sequential meetings, you’ll need to spend time filling people in on what happened in your book since the last reading.
  • Your timetable – if you work a day job, then you can’t get to morning or afternoon meetings. During the winter, a bad snowstorm may prohibit attending the meetings. Sometimes you can work around this by agreeing to have an online critique during the winter. Bucks County has done some online critiques, and I’ve been able to schedule days off to get to a meeting.
  • Other members may disagree with each others’ critiques. When this happens, I go with the majority. If one person tells me I’m a balloon, I smile and go about my business. If two people tell me I’m a balloon, I take pause and listen. If three people tell me I’m a balloon, I grab a ribbon and start floating.

All up, my experiences with Bucks County and the other groups have been great. The critiques have enabled me to get my short stories published. For my novels, the critiques point me in the right direction. After I’ve worked extensively on the book, then I take it to a content editor.

So…do you belong to a critique group? How has it worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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