What Would You Do in a Zombie Invasion?

In June, 2012, I posted a blog titled “Healthcare Workers and Zombies” in Charles Wellston’s Grits n Gravy page. My anthology, City of Brotherly Death, called for a reality check when I considered how modern-day people would respond to a zombie invasion. Eternal Press has slated Steel Rose for publication in February 2013. I anticipate more editing before the book goes to press. Another reality check.

The Kryszka aliens of Steel Rose, at least the bad guys, make zombies by injecting captured humans with a chemical to alter their brain function. The renegades starve their prisoners, gauge out their eyes, cut them, etc. When they’re through, the victim resembles one huge gaping sore. Afterwards, the soldiers will soak the prisoner with cadaverine and putrescine, chemicals found in decaying corpses. All the torture, brain damage and cell alteration strips away judgment and thinking, leaving behind an angry specimen starving for human flesh. At that point, people had better look out.

Unlike traditional zombies, the ones in Steel Rose breathe and have a pulse. They look and smell many days’ dead, but when they’re awake, they’re deadly. The chemical administered incites aggression, anger, and a craving that won’t quit. They only know hunger and will kill to satisfy it. Kryszka natives who ingest this chemical experience the craving, too.

Let’s revisit the hospital I mentioned in Grits n Gravy. Suppose our respiratory therapist is caring for someone who’s been “doctored” by the Kryszka renegades. Our doctors examine him, treat his wounds as best they can, and keep him sedated. The chemical coursing through his blood will never show in his lab reports. Our equipment, primitive by Kryszka standards, cannot isolate and identify the mysterious chemical. Keep in mind that hospital personnel are overworked and burned out as it is. When the patient wakes up and tries to bite people, most caregivers will label it “change of mental status” and restrain the patient. That’s the best case scenario.

Worst case? Our patient is sedated, breathing through a tracheotomy tube with mechanical ventilation. His respiratory therapist must suction his airway and mouth. This goes doubly so if his EEG fails to show brainwave activity and the doctors expect to harvest viable organs. No one will suspect aliens or zombies, even when he wakes, yanks out his tube, and bites the hapless therapist.

Let’s backtrack to possible events leading to the patient’s admission. Perhaps an innocent Joe gets into a fight with a Kryszka renegade, and manages to shoot and kill him. Alas, many aliens travel in pairs. At least the Kryszka do. The renegade’s backup injects our citizen with the chemical and carts him off to aliens’ underground compound for the zombie treatment. Later, someone finds his body in an alley and calls the police. The paramedics put him on a ventilator and rush him to a hospital. The doctors may appreciate the severity of his injuries, his emaciated state, and then blame a wild animal for the attack.

The hospital in Steel Rose has an advantage because a refugee Kryszka doctor works there. He trains the other doctors well, and they learn to detect foreign chemicals in the blood. Treating casualties by Kryszka renegades becomes a routine event. Still, traditional rules prevail; guns are banned. People dumb enough to obey the no-weapons rule become a Blue Plate Special for the invading zombies. Administration hates spending money for competent officers, and the security guards employed pick up their marbles and run home. They might be able to handle one Steel Rose zombie, and I repeat one. Not a whole slew of them.

Then I started wondering. What would I do if a horde of zombies broke into the hospital where I worked? In my fantasy world, I’d run to the gift shop and hide behind the Mylar balloons. That might not be so bad. The helium in those balloons is lethal to the Kryszka soldiers who lead these zombies. A few inhalations from a punctured balloon will kill them. As for the zombies? Different story. Reality check: adrenaline enables people to do surprising things – either speed run or fight like hell. No one can predict what they’d do until the zombies show.

Our staff therapist could run. He could try to fight back. As I mentioned in my other post, his tools, like scissors and a screwdriver, won’t get him far with zombies. If he’s lucky, he will get underground employment by a zombie squad. That’s probably the only way he’ll survive.

Steel Rose portrays a scene where our protagonist shoves an administrator into the path of the zombies. Uh, oh.

The helium in these balloons is lethal to the Kryszka alien.

The helium in these balloons is lethal to the Kryszka alien.


WordPress.com versus WordPress.org: a First Time Experience

I did it! I changed the CSS on my website to make the body text larger without balling up the rest of the website. This was my first time using CSS, and I did a LOT of reading before attempting the change. I’m feeling good about this, but now I’m thinking I want to change other things, like the font size on the headers, and the fonts themselves, at least on the body. But I made a start.

Last month, I signed on with www.godaddy.com, imported two plug-ins, and purchased spam filtering from www.askimet.com and backup services from www.vaultpress.com.  Every so often, I check my website for updates and install when one is available. www.typekit.com was offering free services to spare me the learning curve of CSS, but their instructions on how to install their proffered fonts went over my head.

Up until last month, I did my website through WordPress.com. They gave me the hosting, the spam filter, the backups, and for a small fee, fonts of various sizes that I could pluck and use on my website without bothering with CSS. Since I switched over to WordPress.org, I’ve had to do these things myself. It’s kinda like growing up and putting away my toys.

WordPress.com made a great site for my blog and Night to Dawn magazine. So why then did I make the change? Because Night to Dawn is much more than a bi-yearly magazine now. The Night to Dawn books, including the ones I write, demand a more genre-specific theme than the ones provided by WordPress.com. WordPress.org has a lot of nice plug-ins, including search optimization that I couldn’t get with WordPress.com. Ditto with genre-specific themes. As it was, I did a lot of tweaking with the background of the theme before the transfer. Also I found that a lot of public places used web filters that blocked my access to the WordPress.com and other blog sites. Not so with WordPress.org.

For me, the worst part was the transfer. I used WordPress.com guided transfer. They were great. In addition to the transfer, they provided two weeks’ worth of guidance. Al Sirois, my webmaster, demonstrated a lot of good humor during the process, including sitting beneath two enormous balloon trees while poring through the labyrinth of WordPress.com code.

I’m going to keep my background the way I have it for the next couple of years. But my writing mentors have suggested that I alter my theme every two to three years. Hopefully by the next theme change, I will have more than a nodding acquaintance with CSS.

WordPress.com was very good to me, and I strongly recommend it for a blog and beginning website. Since I’ve gotten into publishing and more writing, I had to move on. One thing has not changed, however. I still get waylaid by the Mylar balloons at the supermarkets.

Have you ever thought about trying WordPress.org?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Night to Dawn 23 features zombies, vampires, and dark fantasy.

Writer Bewares and Watchdogs

Over the last year, I’m seeing a lot of small press book companies set up shop, accept work for publication, and then close without communicating with the authors / artists, let alone paying royalties. In June, 2007, Triskelion Publishing Company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And sometime in 2011, Aspen Mountain Press folded after five years of publishing. Operations formally suspended in April, 2012, but the breakdown in communications and payments happened way before that. Other names have come up; the list runs long, including Dorchester Publishing, and self-publishing companies like Publish America (aka AmErica House).

Do these publishers open up their company with the intention of cheating authors? I doubt it in the majority of cases. Generally, the company is headed by one person who develops serious health problems. Perhaps the publisher began without adequate knowledge of formatting or distribution. Perhaps he took on too many projects too soon. No doubt the economy had a lot to do with it, especially if the publisher worked a day job that provided the capital for his venue. Mostly I contemplate Night to Dawn and conclude, there by the grace of God go I.

In the end, the authors / artists are left stranded. Folks, your works are important. You’re sharing part of you on the printed page. Whether you sketch or write about soldiers, monsters, priests, families, a part of you will show, and that’s priceless. You owe it to yourself to research your company before submitting, reading the contract carefully before nodding your okay, and promoting the book once it goes to press. With that in mind, I’m happy to list several watchdog sites that will give you the skinny on your prospective company. Keep in mind as you visit these sites that the bad boy companies have a way of changing their names to cover tracks.

Preditors & Editors:  an oldie but goodie company, P&E will list most companies and will give a thumbs up or down. You won’t get much detail, but you’ll have a ballpark idea of where your company stands.

Piers Anthony gives a concrete explanation for his opinion on given publishers. He focuses on e-publishers, and that’s a great thing since eBooks are now outdoing print books. To get his ratings, click on the “publish on web” link.

Absolute Write gives a thorough rundown on recommended sites, bewares, and advice to the newbie writer. That also includes advice on what to do if your publisher goes incommunicado. They discuss agents who charge fees (a no-no), and recommend publishers (yeah!).

Victoria Strauss works with a watchdog group, Writer Beware, a service mark of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. When it comes to publishers who change their names, she doesn’t miss a trick, and she will edit her blog accordingly. However, her blog can be used by anyone, regardless of genre. She will also refer you to other sites that might make the submission process go smoother.

The alternative is self-publishing, which means you do your own editing, art, formatting, distributing, and marketing, or pay to get these services. The upside is that if you get a generous royalty per sale, especially with CreateSpace and Smashwords. The downside is that some reviewers and bookstores shy away from self-published books. A lot more authors are turning toward self-publishing.


The Story behind City of Brotherly Death

Although I’ve told everyone I weaned on horror with the Dark Shadows and Dracula, my introduction to horror happened long before Dark Shadows, when my mother and I went to Atlantic City before my eleventh birthday.

My mother gave me money for amusement rides while she rested on a bench, watching me. A sign caught my eye: 1000 year-old Preserved Woman. Because I’m a literal thinker, I believed someone had actually kept a woman alive and in good health for 1000 years. A crowd of people queued up before a pavilion with black curtains, and I followed them. Inside, the line formed a C-shaped curve around an ornate gold bathtub. A black-haired woman sat in the tub, smiling, but she looked like a zombie. Black circles surrounded her sunken eyes, and tight leathery skin rode like a blanket over her bones. She was a skeletal thing with hair and eyes. Later on, I learned she was a mummy sitting in a sarcophagus, but at the time I knew nothing about such things.

I shuffled along, rubbing my arms and shivering because her eyes stared at me. Then she raised her arm and pointed. I tore out of the line, screaming. On the boardwalk, I barreled into my mother’s safe arms. She took me to a comedy movie so I’d forget about it.

The movie made me laugh, but I didn’t forget what I saw. Afterwards, when I watched horror movies, I dreamed about skeletons and zombies. Movies like The Mummy were tough. When skeletons danced across the screen, I covered my eyes. Twice, I left a theater before the movie was over, admission cost be damned.

My skeleton phobia accompanied me to the doctor’s office when I had my knee surgeries in 1984. Every orthopedic surgeon has an adult-sized skeleton in his or her office. Dr. Porter’s bone man sent chills up my spine. During the wintertime, I covered his skeleton with my coat so I wouldn’t have to look. Sometimes I draped it with a sheet. Although Mike came with me, the skeleton gave me the creeps. On a particularly bad day, I got so upset that I threw my winter coat and sweater over its head and shoulders. The weight of the clothing wobbled it. The skull snapped off, bounced on the floor, and rolled out into the hall.

Upon seeing the skull, Porter stared at me, dumbfounded. “What the hell happened here?” he asked.

I looked over at Mike, who sat beside me, grinning behind his sports magazine, and then back at Porter. “Well, you see, Dr. Porter, it’s like this. I had a little accident.”

“Are you hurt?”

“Not at all,” I said quickly. “That skeleton spooked me, so I tried to cover it. The head broke off when I put my coat on it.”

Porter roared for laughter. He tried to comment and then burst into more gales of laughter. After he composed himself, he asked his nurses to put me in an examination room without a skeleton for the remainder of my care.

My fear of skeletons haunted me when I returned to college. At college, my English instructor Kelly taught in a room used for anatomy classes. A skeleton perched on a stand near the back door. That was awful. In my mind, that thing was watching and waiting for the right moment to creep up on me. What if, when I left class, that thing grabbed me with its bony fingers? So even in ninety-degree weather, I brought a coat and scarf to drape over the bones.

Kelly took me aside and suggested that I journal about my fear of skeletons. That spring, my mother died, and when I went back to college, I studied with Kelly again. She gave me writing assignments, and I found myself leaning toward zombie tales. Many of my stories evolved around skeletons, and some of them are in my anthology, City of Brotherly Death.

Funny thing, I tried reading someone’s blog that addressed writers’ fears. I couldn’t read one word because the author included grotesque illustrations of skeletons. I snapped off the computer straightaway. Guess I’m not over my fear yet. Better write another zombie story.

So what motivated you to write horror? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Anthology featurings zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer, set in Philadelphia

When the Writing I Gotta Bug Bites You

In Stephen King’s Misery, his protagonist Paul said the I gotta motivated him to keep writing despite the tortures inflicted by the villain Annie. By tortures, I mean the loss of body parts, starvation, and other horrors. But he had to keep going because of the I gotta bug.

At the time, I thought I gotta was a cool expression. I gave it no more thought until I came down with the bug.

These past weeks, I’ve been revising “One Last Favor,” a tale earmarked for my anthology, City of Brotherly Death. A small press magazine published “One Last Favor” years ago. The story opens with a horde of revenants, people returning from the dead to harm the living, invading Hartland Clinic. My protagonist Tara survives by trading sex for her life. As the story advances, the dead continue their invasion, destroying entire cities. A registered nurse, Tara continues treating the sick until the monsters who bargained with her years before return for another visit. In the original version, Tara (different name in first version) joins the dead because she hates being alone.

When I evaluated the story for revisions, I thought, how trite. Most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up humanity to join a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. Tara enjoys patient care, respect, a decent income, and a comfortable apartment. Why would she give those things up?

I kept the first half of the story, revised the second, and ditched the original ending. It never occurred to me, until I was deep into my work, that I should have outlined my revision. So I got stuck. I sat before a blank screen trying to come up with a brilliant ending. If not that (you can’t win the jackpot every time), an ending that would satisfy the reader.

The thought crossed my mind to scrap the tale and move on to something else. I couldn’t do that, not with all those zombies threatening my protagonist’s life. One of my friends suggested I put the story on the back burner and go with other activities. I tried doing that, but after a couple of hours, that story called to me, demanding that I finish it. If I told you that only the prospect of sales and a contract motivated me, I’d be lying. Diggity-damn, those zombies found a way into Tara’s house, and what was she going to do about it?

My balloons need helium. Forget that. I gotta find out if Tara will live. Will the cavalry arrive in time to save her? Two editing projects are sitting in my queue. They’ll have to wait. I gotta see where Tara will finish up if she survives. I gotta know who will mourn her if she dies. I gotta find out if she manages to destroy the zombies.

Like a pearl necklace that motivates me to save until I have enough money to buy it, the I Gotta holds the promise of a brilliant ending. Chores be damned, I’ll keep going until I find that ending.

It took three tries to get a workable ending. Raising the stakes in the middle opened things up a bit, especially when Tara finds love. However, the ending is subject to change. The tale has gone to the editor. Toni of The Unbridled Editor has edited most of my tales for City of Brotherly Love. I highly recommend her.

While I wait for the edits, I shall fill my balloons and work on the other Night to Dawn projects. Because when the edits come back, I suspect there will be another go-round with the I gotta bug.

Has any of you been bitten by the I gotta bug? How did it affect your writing? Were you satisfied with the results?

Anthology featurings zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer, set in Philadelphia

Tom Johnson’s Interview with Illustrator Teresa Tunaley

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction along with vampires.I first became aware of Teresa Tunaley’s illustrations in Barbara Custer’s Night To Dawn magazine a few years back. In fact, I was so taken with Teresa’s art I went to her website and looked at the many pages of fine illustrations she had already done for book covers and magazines. It was no surprise to see the many Awards she has received for her art and website design. When it came time for a new edition of “Jur: A Story of Pre Dawn Earth,” I naturally thought of her for the cover. The previous three editions of my book sported some pretty horrible covers, I assure you. But I felt Teresa had the right technique to capture the scene I wanted. She did!  Let me now introduce you to a very fine lady who has been fun to work with on several projects so far.

Tom: Teresa, to begin, please tell the readers a little about yourself, where you are from, and where you are now living.

Teresa: Many moons ago, I was born in the United Kingdom in a small village called Wigston, in Leicestershire.  In my mid 20’s I had the opportunity to holiday in Tenerife, one of seven small islands off the West coast of Africa (governed by Spain).  I fell in love with the tranquil way of life and found myself spending every summer here; so, after dozens of holidays, I decided in 2002 to move and make it permanent.  So much easier having your Mum, sister and cousins already out here!  They had made the decision to move much earlier than I had.

Tom: How did you become involved in art creations, and has this always been your life’s dream?

Teresa:  I recall painting quite early before my teens, but didn’t take it up as a hobby until much later.  I worked initially in Watercolors and felt quite proud as I sold a few of my paintings to co-workers.  Monet’s works adorned my lounge walls at this time.

I could spend hours in Art Museums; I was fascinated by art especially large pieces painted by the Masters.  The detail even in the background was stunning, fine lace, jewelry and clothing painted so well, every fold was real to me.

I experimented in Oils, Acrylics and left behind watercolors.  Oils became my favorite as it allowed me more time to add and blend.

Tom: Were there any inspirations or artistic influences early on, or later in life. I’m sure you have grown in your fantastic talent over the years. Did you attend art schools, or are you self-taught?

Teresa: No one person inspired me to paint; it was the creation of something new, something entirely familiar or even alien.  To put paint to paper meant you could imagine a scene, in any time, another reality or planet; put yourself and the onlooker right there.  There are no boundaries.

Tom: I’m sure that art is a big part of your life, but do you have other interests? Family and associates, or hobbies that you would like to talk about?

Teresa: Art is a big part of my life because I need to do it.  I have images going around in my head all the time and need to get this on paper; some of my best paintings have been conjured up late at night between wake and sleep and I must say, most of these would be best placed in the Horror Genre lol.

Besides art, I do the normal day to day things around the house: cook, sew and clean.  I don’t dislike any of this but sometimes find it difficult to pull myself away from my art.  I could sit at my easel at 9.00am just to touch up one section or fine tune another; before I know it literally hours have gone by.

Weekends I try to spend with friends and family.  My partner Stefano is Italian and paints as much as I do but only in Acrylic.  The lounge is mainly our studio with easels for each of us.  There are canvasses leaning everywhere, the walls are strewn with art.  We sit in the early evening talking about our work and commenting on each others. (Gently, as we are both sensitive to negativity) each to their own we say…we have differing styles but lovely all the same.

Tom: I noticed several Preditors & Editors Awards, as well as other awards listed on your website. Please tell us about them, and how they came about.

Teresa: I had forgotten about these until you mentioned them as they are quite a few years ago. Some have been won for my work appearing in certain publications. Others for the art website that I have www.artstopper.com.

My most recent award was July last year here in Tenerife.  I entered a competition along with hundreds of other artists from all over the world.  I produced a lady on a large 1.5 m sq canvas. I painted the contours of her body in various colors which represented the heat source.

Well, I was both surprised and overwhelmed to win the Public Vote award. The certificate hangs in my office, its very special; being recognized as an actual Artist makes me feel special.

Tom: What do you find is the most enjoyable aspect of creating art/covers?

Teresa: The fact that others can enjoy my work as much as me gives me the inspiration to create on a daily basis.

Tom: Would you say there is anything you find difficult with creating art, or working with authors/publishers?

Teresa:  I can’t really say that I have worked with any difficult authors or publishers.  I have worked with the same people time and time again; after 10 yrs of working with dozens of publishers, I have made many friends.  Perhaps, I have found it easy. I try to paint a cover or design that the Author/Publisher actually wants, not what I want.  I haven’t written the book, the author has.  They want a cover that depicts a scene and I create it.

There are times I get a full script to read but there are also times I only get notes from authors, one or two phrases to explain their needs.  Either way, I’m neither happy or done, until the client is happy!

Tom: Is there any advice you would like to give aspiring artists and creators who are just starting out, or on their way up?

Teresa: My advice would be: never lose your own style, although you may have to tweak and vary it a little for particular assignments.  Don’t get put off by rejections because they will come thick and fast (they never stop). It’s only the acceptances that count and when you get one, put your heart into getting it right!

Tom: Are you working on anything special at the moment? And most important, where can viewers find your website and contact information?

Teresa: I have just completed “Eden’s Planet” for you Tom, which is always a pleasure.  I have constant assignments from SamDotsPublishing. I am currently creating a piece that features strange planets and aliens for Tyree Campbell, scheduled to appear in the next Drabble issue.

I enjoy receiving copies of each and every book or magazine I illustrate. Especially as I live on a Spanish island with little or no reading matter available in English. I have a huge collection over the years and love to go to my book shelf and pick one up at random, read through the wonderful stories that take me to places afar.

Tom: Teresa, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Your art has really impressed me, and I know it will others. I love the work you’ve done for my books, and I look forward to working with you again in the future.

Teresa: Tom thank you.  I am proud to have been a part of your venture; I still get a buzz when a piece is complete, the author loves it and its ready for print even after creating art for the last 30 years.


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