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.

 

When Flowers, Kindness, and Coupons Lead to Mischief

A wise coworker wondered if shopping at several different stores just to get bargains was a good idea. I compare prices before going market shopping, but she suggested that I might spend the money in gas.

Giant is having a special where they double the dollar coupons next week, but most of the groceries on my list I needed this week. The thought crossed my mind that I could postpone purchasing some items with dollars off coupons until next week. Then I got to thinking about my buddy’s advice. I don’t use much gas to go to this Giant, but it’s a dicey area for getting nabbed by Mylar balloons.

Right away, as I walked in, a large Disney character balloons tried to get at my cart. I had to run. I think I burned some serious calories fleeing from balloons.

Another work buddy did me a big favor, so it crossed my mind that she would love getting a daisy balloon. The daisy went into my cart. That balloon has her name on it, I told myself.

I picked up food to make for the Aid for Friends. Our church bulletin reported that food supplies had run low, and alas, the recipients do not have the funds or health to go to the store. Some of the recipients are homeless. So I decided to help by cooking a few meals.

I decided to do all my purchasing today, and never mind the dollar-off coupon deal. Good thing I did. After I finished shopping, the daisy started nuzzling my ear. What? I asked.

There are more balloons like me, the Mylar daisy whispered, and you know full well you want one for yourself.

Not this time, I told him. I am watching my budget.

Of course, you are, the balloon told me, and you’re helping other people. That’s great. Don’t you think you should reward yourself?

Oh, well, uh. More rustling from ahead of me. Another daisy waltzed over to my cart. I admit, I badly wanted that daisy. As I approached the register, the Disney character balloon jumped at me. Next time, I’ll get you, he said, smiling.

After I paid for my groceries, I said to the cashier, “This store is mighty dangerous with its balloons.” He laughed.

If I had gone back next week for the double dollar coupon sale, I might have saved on the respective items, but spent more on balloons. My coworker gave me good advice about shopping at one store.Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and zombie fiction.

 

The Call of the Wild

I never thought I would blog about my balloon collection, but as the cliche goes, never say never. Today was an unusual day for grocery trips. I went to a different supermarket, one that didn’t tempt me to buy balloons. More bad weather was coming our way, so I concentrated on buying supplies. I decided to check out the dollar discount store to see if I could buy some of the things needed for less. The dollar discount had a huge array of paper products, everything costing $1.00 each. Since birthdays are coming up for people I care about, I headed down the gift aisle for wrapping paper and cards.

That was when the balloon trees nailed me.

Actually, the courtship began as soon as I walked in. Balloon trees filled with bright reds, silver, and Valentine messages swarmed toward me. The individual balloons there, plenty of them at that, didn’t tempt me so much, but they might have if the balloon trees hadn’t overwhelmed me. There were so many, they literally ran wild. Even the storekeeper couldn’t contain them. Each tree boasts six smaller foil balloons, plus one large one. It could be a Valentine frog or bear. I went with the frog because of its pretty shade of green. Total: seven balloons for $8.00.

I had to sit my passenger seat flat to fit the balloons in the car. They threatened to break loose, so I shut the door fast. Later, after I’d gone to the supermarket and came back, I noticed balloon ribbons sticking out between the door and floorboard.

Why a balloon tree? Perhaps I am celebrating Alien Worlds, the book that I collaborated with Tom Johnson. Newly released, it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Maybe I was thinking of giving a couple to Mike for his birthday, and I will. Maybe it’s just because I love balloons so much and couldn’t resist the call of the wild.

City of Brother Death features zombie tales and horror fiction by Barbara Custer

To Lie or not to Lie; that is the question.

While lying with balloons, Barbara Custer contemplates novel ways to lie to her readers.

We lay in bed all day waiting for Barbara to lie down.

I’m referring to one of the verbs that give me and other writers a lot of grief –  the difference between lie, lay, and laid. That and certain words that mean one thing when used as a compound, and something else when used separately, can mess up an otherwise well-written tale.

And so therein “lies” the problem:

Lie as an intransitive verb: I am lying down with my balloons.

Lay as a transitive verb: John, please lay the balloon tree on the table.

Sounds simple but when we move to the past tense, complications arise. For example, the present tense of lie is lie. Example: He lies on the rug. The past tense is lay. Example: Robert lay on the floor. The past participle is lain. Example: He’d lain in that bed for some time.

The present tense of lay is lay. Example: I lay my purse on the table. The past tense is laid. Example: Barbara laid her balloons in the cart. The past participle is laid. She’d laid the bags on the table an hour ago.

Looking at compound words, I found that certain words, when used separately or as a compound, mean two different things. One example is setup. Is it set up, set-up or setup? So I went to my trusty dictionary.

“Setup” is a noun, while “set up” is a verb. But it’s not quite that simple. You always use “set up” when you’re using it for a verb, so….

You must set up your computer software.

Mary set up her balloon tree.

Frank set up a bank account for his client.

As a noun and adjective, you would use either setup or set-up and each means different things. Setup is the noun or adjective used pertaining to computers and their setup. Set-up is the noun or adjective used pertaining to things unrelated to computers and their setup. So…

This PC setup screen is unique.

The computer’s setup is compact.

But:

That bag of pot was a set-up from the beginning.

Some banks charge exorbitant set-up fees

The set-up of her entertainment center is precarious.

Sometime versus some time. It sounds simple, but isn’t…quite. When “some time” is used as a certain / unspecified duration of time, use “some time.” Example: I spent some time looking for the rose balloon. When “sometime” is used as an adjective meaning “former,” it’s one word. Example: That balloon salesperson is my sometime friend. If we’re referring to an unspecified point of time in the future, either “sometime” or “some time” is appropriate. Example. I plan to travel to the islands sometime / some time next year.

As I continue my work, if I find other compound words that stump me, I will post them in a future blog. For now, I have it clear in my mind which of the above words to use in my work-in-progress. Somehow, though, when I get engrossed in the heat of the scene, I’m liable to forget and mix up the verbs. A wise instructor once told me that English was the most difficult language to learn. I think she had it right.

Do you find yourself struggling with “lie” versus “lay,” or any of the compound words? I would like to hear about your experiences with compounds and words like “lie/lay,” and how you worked your way around them.

 

Interview with Balloon Artist Turned Author Ralph E. Horner

TandemTrystSome time ago Night to Dawn Books published Heroes of Ancient Greece, an anthology featuring Ralph E. Horner’s tale, “Atalanta.” I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to learn about his brainchild Tandem Tryst and forthcoming sequel. Also fascinating is his background in magic and balloon art. He has crafted every balloon animal you can imagine and now, he has brought his experiences with him into publishing and marketing. So let’s hear what Ralph has to say about Tandem Tryst and his upcoming sequel.

BARBARA: I’ve known that you’ve written short stories for some time, having published one in Heroes of Ancient Greece. What motivated your transition to novels?

RALPH: Actually I started writing novels first. I wrote three rather short novels between 1985 and 1995. They were about fifty-five to sixty-five thousands words, and during that time I did write one short Christmas story. Even though I was a bit discouraged after none of these novels got published, the concept of Tandem Tryst seemed better than the other stories I had written. That alone motivated me to continue writing it. I also decided that extending the story to eighty thousand words would make it easier to sell.

BARBARA: Could you tell me about balloon animals and magic? How do you garner publicity for your business?

RALPH: Every year I try to make four or five new balloon creations. I’m up to around one hundred now. I used the term make new balloons rather than learn because once you’re up to making twenty-five or thirty you start creating things that aren’t in balloon books. Figures like Angels, Frankenstein, the wolfman, fairies, etc. Also with magic, I learn a new trick or two a year and try to implement comedy into most of them. If you can get the kids laughing that really helps a magic show. I now teach balloon art and magic for children and adults at a local junior college. For advertising my business I use the area phone book which also gives you an on-line listing.

BARBARA: Do you find yourself bringing your experiences as a clown to the printed page? If yes, can you give an example?

RALPH: Outside of the fact that clowning and creative writing are both considered entertainment, they are very different. With my stories usually being series in nature, I don’t often use humor, but there are exceptions. In “Pandora Spoxx” from the Startling Stories Anthology, I used humor to color my Captain Danger and the Space Rangers story. I used a lot of puns and satire in that one. Even in my novel Tandem Tryst I occasionally wrote in a humorous situation and a little joke here and there, and when the two main characters are watching a vaudeville show, I wrote an entire comedy routine that could have taken place at that time.

The sequel Midnight Mist, which I’m working on now, has the most humor of any novel I’ve done. For the first time I’ve even written in a character who is a birthday party clown.

BARBARA: Where did you get your ideas for your characters and theme for Tandem Tryst?

RALPH: I was mowing the grass one day and the concept of the story came to me. What if my wife passed away suddenly and then years later I was somehow able to travel back in time and meet her soul in a previous life. And what if she looked, sounded, and acted as my wife did? This would be the ultimate blessing for someone who lost their soul-mate.

Tandem Tryst was originally going to be a third story in my Witch’s Moon trilogy I was writing. Since the first two novels took place in MA this one would too, and the time was to be 1893. When I told my mother about this new novel she mentioned that the time was the same as the World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago. I’d heard of that fair, but knew very little about it. Since I live in the Chicago area I changed the story to that location. I spent more time researching the history of the fair than I did writing the story. I was only in the third chapter when I saw the book The Devil in the White City being advertised in the Chicago Tribune. I knew I’d done the right thing by putting the story at the fair. Instead of having this novel as a third story of an unpublished trilogy I decided to make this a separate story. As far as the characters, they evolved as I wrote the novel.

BARBARA: I hear you’re working on a sequel, Midnight Mist. Could you give a preview of this tale?

RALPH: While my lead characters, Jeff and Melody, in Tandem Tryst solve the problems, like revealing the stalker, another dilemma opens up as Tandem Tryst comes to a close. I don’t want to say too much about Midnight Mist that might spoil Tandem Tryst for people who haven’t read it, but the sequel gives the first story closure for the two lovers. In the first story Jeff, who is from 1993, goes back in time to Melody’s time 1893 and in Midnight Mist, Melody comes to Jeff’s time with some new and existing problems.

BARBARA: Most writers find moving from short stories to novels a great leap. What do you find the most challenging about novel writing?

RALPH: Well, since I started with short novels, and novellas, I would say the hardest part about writing a full length novel is trying to incorporate side plots and keeping the word count up, if you’re not use to writing that long of a story. The thinking process is different for a novel.

BARBARA: What advice would you give an aspiring author trying to hone his or her technique?

RALPH: Join a writers’ support group. You have to have other writers evaluate your work. Writing has so many facets involved; plot, dialogue, narrative, good descriptions, a good writing style or voice, punctuation and the list goes on. Just when you think you have these attributes down your writers group will find another flaw for you to consider. Your writing can always improve. Sometimes the criticism of the group is painful, but it’s worth it if you want to improve and get published. If the people in your group don’t find your problems, the editors at the publishing houses will.

BARBARA: “Atalanta” enjoyed a favorable review. What motivated that tales, and how did the collaborating with Tom and the other contributors come about?

RALPH: I had two stories published through Tom’s magazine Classic Pulp Fiction Stories and we had done another anthology together. One day he emailed me asking if I could write a story about Atalanta the woman warrior from Greek Mythology. I had never heard of her, but told him I’d do some research and write one. Tom was planning an anthology of Ancient Greek Heroes and also contacted a mutual friend, Mike Black to help him with the writing. Tom wrote two stories; one with Hercules and one about Atalanta. Mike wrote a Hercules story and I did a second one with the Atalanta theme. It was a lot of fun writing in a new genre.

BARBARA: Where may people get copies of Tandem Tryst and Greek Heroes?

RALPH: Amazon.com has both of them. You can also buy Tandem Tryst from my publisher, Wings-press.com, or my website www.ralphehorner.weebly.com, and the book store at the Chicago Architecture Foundation where they conduct the White City bus tours, and at their on-line store www.architecture.org. I believe now you can also order it at Barnes and Nobel.

BARBARA: If you could give one piece of advice to an author trying to promote their books, what would it be?

RALPH: I’m still learning myself, but I’d say get a website, try to get on-line reviews and schedule book signings and readings to get your name out there.

RalphTT

 

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