Writing (and Editing) What You Know

I have two specialties in life: respiratory therapy and balloons, so my stories contain many references to them. Having married a history buff, I learned about the Depression and World War II. After growing up in an Italian family, I can make anginettipizzelles, stuffed olives, and other goodies. I’ve been to the Italian Market. So when Michael De Stefano sent me Waiting for Grandfather, I thought editing would be straightforward. Waiting for Grandfather is a tragic comedy featuring an Italian family preparing a surprise birthday party for their patriarch.

Ah, but most of the major characters think, dream, and play baseball. They can recite baseball scores from years ago by heart. Yours truly doesn’t know squat about baseball. The best thing to do is to consult someone who specializes in the subject. Instead, I went and consulted every article on Google to see how scores are written. I happen to be literal. If you try to teach me new equipment and mention a part called a balloon, I’d start thinking about my Mylar balloons, and that would end the lesson. So the baseball terminology made no sense either, and that’s not something Professor Google can explain.

My poverty in understanding resulted in some interesting edits on the baseball scenes. Thankfully, Michael had a sense of humor, and he rejected the baseball edits, easy enough to do with Word’s tracking feature. Going forward, if an author sends me a tale featuring a sports-loving character, Michael offered to help with what I didn’t know.

You’ve got to have a sense of humor to narrate the interactions between the Corelli family members. The father, who is a frustrated plumber, uses plumbing analogies when he describes ballplayers. The grand-uncles get into one scrape after another, and their oldest brother, Grandfather, has to bail them out. The story spans from the 30s through the modern day.   

I owe a lot of thanks to the folks at Small Publisher’s Talk, a group on Facebook, for their guidance in designing a cover. I had a rough time with the lettering for the cover until author John Green from the group came to my rescue. With that in mind, I’m delighted to present Waiting for Grandfather, now available on Amazon.

family comedy by Michael De Stefano

PWC2019 Days Two and Three.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

When I got on the train on Saturday, the conductor said hello. I smiled and shouted, “Choo choo!” The other passengers burst out laughing; then someone noted that new lines were being painted on the parking lots. I piped up with, “Yes, and they’re also painting Mylar balloons on these lines so that people can see to park between them.” If Mike were here, he’d smile and say, “That’s my Balloon Lady,” but you see, anticipating the second day of PWC2019 had put me in a jolly mood.

The jolliness prevailed because I started the day in Jonathan Maberry’s master class on action scenes. I once believed that martial arts would enable anyone to defend themselves. However, I learned differently in that class. Martial arts have too many rules, said Jonathan, and they don’t teach the physics involved in a fight. Your character can use common items for self-defense weapons, but there’s a way to turn to apply torque to make that weapon more effective. 

Saturday night, Jonathan was the keynote speaker, and he told everyone how he started out with teaching martial arts and writing nonfiction books. He then moved onto fiction, starting with Ghost Road Blues; he described how different writers have influenced him and his writing. In that speech and his Writer’s Business Plan class, he emphasized the importance of professionalism: don’t slam other writers, don’t put people on a pedestal, approach politics with caution on social media, and avoid negativity. As my mom used to say, if you don’t have anything kind to say about a person or organization, don’t say anything at all (at least on social media).  

Sunday morning, I got up, tired, but I greeted everyone with a smile and “Top of the balloon to you,” for I anticipated more good things. And I got them in Brian McKinley’s class. He provided a lot of great material on horror, specifically log lines, elevator pitches, and book blurbs. One formula given: protagonist must do something brave to achieve a goal, with high stakes. There should be a time limit given, for example, a ticking bomb. For a one-sentence plotline, the formula is: in a setting, a protagonist has a (problem) caused by (antagonist) and faces (conflict) as they try to achieve a goal.

I also got plenty of good material from Shirley Hailstock’s class. The most important takeaway: the protagonist must do all the work. I can’t have God working miracles or the cavalry rescuing her. She also gives a tool for managing the ending, something I have difficulty writing. Have the story come full circle. So I’m thinking that if my book starts with a monster wreaking terror, perhaps the book could end with the protag slaying the beast or watching it die.

I owe the Liars Club and the PWC board a 50- balloon thank you for the hard work that went into this writing conference. This had to be one of the best I’ve attended, and I hope to go to many more.

PWC 2019: Day One

featuring zombies, vampires, demons, and human monsters

Day One of #PWC2019 was everything I thought it would be and much more. I took classes with Shirley Hailstock, Jonathan Maberry, and Brian McKinley. I’d like to share some highlights from the conference.

Shirley discusses the types of plots, protagonists, and villains and recommends avoiding superhuman qualities unless I’m prepared to put them in situations that challenge these qualities. She reminded that most villains should have at least one streak of kindness and a favorite pet. In my current WIP, I have my protagonist being rescued. In the rewrite, my protagonist will still be rescued, but she will have almost finished her escape before the cavalry arrives. I’m thinking now that villain should love birds the way I do balloons. 🎈🎈

Brian discussed trends and advises that zombies have gotten old and recommended biological means as a way to craft good horror fiction. Thankfully, my previous job as a respiratory therapist helps this cause. He also recommended Dean Koontz’s rules on good fiction. To summarize, Koontz suggests multi-dimensional characters, anticipation to create suspense, avoiding something other than their own survival.

Jonathan discussed the business end of writing, query letters, and the technique of pitching a book. If I query someone, I will skip the cuteness and be professional. Save the Mylar balloon stories for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for balloons are my brand or uniform. Maybe allow a week to type that query letter because it needs to be strong. As for verbal pitching, I know now that I’ve been going about it wrong. Jonathan recommends noting five things that the book is about and five things that the book is not about. For example, Steel Rose has zombies, Mylar balloons, and fighting scenes between humans and hostile aliens, but that’s not really what the book is about, so I might not mention them. It’s about Alexis struggling with health problems and learning that she’s stronger than she thinks she is. She’s finding out that the world isn’t what it used to be. It’s about a Kryszka doctor trying to fit into a human environment. It’s about two people learning to love again.

For pitching, he recommends having feeling in your voice. That is something I struggle with. Perhaps I’d best practice with my Mylar balloons. In the meantime, I will prepare a follow-up blog with my thoughts on day two and three.

The Website Changes Begin!

Mylar balloons for Barbara Custer, horror author

“Oh, Barbara!” purred a voice coming from a Mylar balloon tree. “Barbara!”

I looked up from the submission I was reading. “Yes?”

“You’re contracting several books and making promotion plans,” my Mylar balloon said. “Isn’t it high time you cleaned up your website?”

Aw, geez, why did they have to bring that up? “I will, eventually.”

“How about now?” the balloons asked. “How are you going to sell new books with the same, tired images?” Then they smiled as if offering a reprieve. “You don’t need a new theme. The one you’ve got gives you plenty of options to make your website look spiffy.”

I started with the header. I like to use rotating headers, and coming up with three headers I could live with took two afternoons. I thought I might need to redo them after I decided on a background, but this hasn’t been the case. Thankfully.

I started looking at backgrounds when my balloons piped up with. “How about getting rid of those advertisements? They’re an eyesore.”

These were WordPress ads – I agreed to run the ads with the understanding that if anything sold, I’d get a percentage. Trouble was, most of the items had nothing to do with my business. The folks at WordPress (I have a self-hosted site, but it works in tandem with my WordPress account) were glad to help, and the ads are gone.

I started looking over new themes again, and was about to download when the balloons got my attention. “Don’t you dare monkey with your theme,” they warned me. “If you do, you’ll make a lot more work and spend money that you don’t have. You’ve got a perfectly good theme that will enable you to change the font and the background. While you’re at it, look at your menus, too.”

My first attempt at changing the font didn’t go, so I installed a Google font plugin. For the menu, I merely had Night to Dawn Magazine & Books, LLC. If people clicked on it, they would get a dropdown menu of all the authors and their books. I rearranged the menus so that the authors have their own link in plan view and a dropdown for their books. One author had no link, but it’s fixed now. I got to wonder how people managed to find stuff on my website. What’s more, it would be helpful for each author and book to have a description to tempt viewers. So … I have more work to do in this area. Not sure if I like the white letters in gray … I’m saving that one for after I see how the new background works.

My takeaways? It pays to review your website every so often to make sure the links, images, and other items work. The balloons had it right about not changing themes. Each new theme presents a learning curve, along with all the work I needed to do on the menu. Later on, when certain issues have settled, I can look at getting a premium theme. Before changing themes, I would ask, what will the new theme give that you don’t have now? And I would back up the website before making the changeover, and consider putting into maintenance mode. And if you don’t know CSS skills, thankfully, WordPress has plugins that can help; but before using them, make sure they’re compatible with your version of WordPress. Do you use WordPress software? How do you approach website management? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 😊

Learning Curve Conclusion

Last time I posted, I was struggling with KDP paperback publishing. Three Mylar balloons and two of my best curse words later, I hired Judi Fennell of Formatting4u.com to help Night to Dawn 35 to meet KDP specs. The process started out messy, but thankfully Judi had a lot of patience. The upshot was, Night to Dawn 35 is now available on Amazon. I’ve started mailing copies of Night to Dawn 35 to the respective contributors, not from KDP, but from Lulu Press.

Night to Dawn 35 of Amazon won’t look like Lulu’s or Barnes & Noble’s version because of these specs. For one thing, you can’t have a title on the cover and list of contributors. You need an author name, or in Night to Dawn’s case, “Edited by” name. So the cover page will read “Presented by Barbara Custer.” For the folks who haven’t read the book, I like to use two columns for many of the stories. That didn’t work for the KDP files, so all the stories and poetry in the Amazon version have one column. The illustrations, poetry, and tales are the same in both versions. 

Amazon had a great thing going with CreateSpace and moved too fast by switching over to KDP. CreateSpace used to supply their own manuscript and cover templates for people that needed them. KDP has interior and cover templates, too. Trouble was, I downloaded an interior template and received the Idle Buddy Trojan virus into my computer, necessitating a trip to the computer repair shop. Esther Mitchell, a good writing buddy, sent me templates I can use for the trade paperback and Night to Dawn magazine. These templates have worked on KDP and are safe to use. The 6×9 template was made by Publisher Gail Delaney.

My takeaways? I learned I wasn’t the only author having problems uploading. Formatting4U has been getting a lot of business thanks to KDP managing paperbacks. I also found out I may need to look at photo editing software so I can resize images without messing up the DPI.

Also, KDP does provide you with specs on margins and page layout, and I recommend that you use that instead of their templates. You don’t want a computer virus. If you wish, contact me at barbaracuster@hotmail.com, and I will be glad to mail you a blank template. I am using the template to format L. M. Labat’s The Sanguinarian Schwartzwald, but referring to KDP’s page for margins and adjusting as needed. Before I work with KDP again, I may want to fortify myself with another Mylar balloon. Your thoughts? 

Learning Curve

I need a balloon. Mylar balloons have a way of easing stress for me the way chocolate or beer might for other folks.

Night to Dawn 35 is ready for publishing, and I’ve started processing orders for contributors to get copies. Things worked out well with Lulu. They do an excellent job on the cover, as I can promise by the looks of the proof. CreateSpace no longer exists, and all of its books transferred seamlessly over to KDP. So why do I want a balloon? KDP paperback printing is not as user-friendly as CreateSpace was.

For starters, none of the templates Lulu and CreateSpace used are compatible with KDP. CreateSpace and KDP (both working under Amazon) had an arrangement which facilitated the transition of the paperbacks. That arrangement went bye-bye, and KDP has its own templates.

That means I’m on my own, and I have to reformat NTD 35 on a KDP template. KDP reports “problems with uploading your file—please send another,” but don’t tell you what the problem is. They don’t accept my PDF files at all and manage to butcher the Word files, and the proof will have skipped pages. It could be that the problem lies with KDP. ” /><

A writer buddy suggested distributing through Barnes & Noble. You can publish your print books directly through Barnes & Noble if you use a separate ISBN number. What’s more, the CreateSpace/Lulu templates are compatible with Barnes & Noble. The cover takes some work, but for the magazine, I can upload the front and back cover, and do the spine online. font:m

There is still the issue with KDP. I’m glad NTD 35 will be available through Lulu Book and Barnes & Noble. However, people like to order from Amazon, especially if they have prime memberships. So I finally bit the bullet and contacted someone who does formatting. Maybe I can learn a way to make a file KDP ready. I still want a balloon.

In the meantime, I’d like to know if any of y’all used Amazon KDP for publishing your paperbacks. How was the process for you? What problems did you run into, and how did you fix them?

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.
Quest for a friendly KDP template
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