Ode to Tom Johnson

Author of the man in the black fedora
Author of The Man in the Black Fedora

I met up with Tom and Ginger in the early 2000s via letters, telephone calls, and email. At the time, I was adding to my Mylar balloon collection and short story writing. Tom and Ginger published Weird Tales, Detective Mystery Stories, Alien Worlds, and other magazines through their enterprise Fading Shadows. They published many of my stories, and in time became mentors.

I started out writing horror; but after discussing with Ginger and Tom, I gravitated toward science fiction. Tom and Ginger recommended me to publishers, and later, after I assumed ownership of Night to Dawn, recommended Night to Dawn magazine to aspiring authors and readers.

Tom and Ginger talked me through the printing and layout process during the first few issues. They mentored other authors, as well. They’ve been married 58 years and have the patience of ten saints and a sense of humor. You need patience and good humor in the army, and Tom spent 20 years as a law enforcement officer. He had an infectious laugh, and when I first talked to him on the phone, he impressed me as carefree. It wasn’t until later that I learned about Agent Orange and the scorched earth policy it used on Tom.

When the book publisher folded, several folks came to me, asking if I would print their books under the Night to Dawn imprint. Tom came on board, and we co-authored three books, with Ginger doing the edits. We stopped after that because Tom loved his pulps the way I do my balloons, and I was getting deeper into the cross-genre science fiction and horror. Tom was the Stephen King of pulp fiction. He loved his reading and has wrote 80 books.

Around the beginning of August, Tom approached me with The Man in the Black Fedora, and he was hoping to bring it to a book signing. I found the story a page-turner, so I decided to publish the book. I then learned just how sick he’d been—Tom had contracted several serious illnesses, all complications of Agent Orange. I got the sense that he didn’t expect to survive much longer. So I hurried through the editing and printing processes so that he could be here to see his last book in print. It was the least I could do for someone who mentored me. On September 26, 2019, The Man in the Black Fedora went into print.   

Thankfully, Tom got to see his book in print and the five-star reviews that followed. He never made it to the book signing because, by that date, he was too weak to go out. On November 5, Tom Johnson passed away peacefully.

The book will continue to be available for the length of the contract. I am sure that right now, he’s watching over Ginger from Heaven and enjoying his books.

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.

A Mylar Balloon in your Home …

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

A Mylar balloon in your home is worth two at the store. Why moon over the balloons on display if you’ve already got a thriving one in the house? Sometimes, the store balloons are either too pricey or not for sale at all. Better to go with the sure thing.

That was my conclusion when I contemplated applying for freelance assignments from Upwork.com. You see, several weeks ago, I contracted with L. M. Labat to publish her second book, The Sanguinarian Schwartzwald, a sequel to The Sanguinarian Id. The Sanguinarian Id was well received by reviewers, and its excellent cover had drawn quite a few readers. I’m editing the book now and loving every moment of it. The Sanguinarian Id was a haunting tale of a woman who battled hordes of Nazi soldiers in her quest to hunt down a dangerous madman. The Sanguinarian Schwartzwald promises all that and much more. Methinks 2019 looks promising.

I’m still mindful of my work on the website. That means redoing a few pages and getting a new theme. Recent unexpected expenses made me hesitate to get a premium theme. That and the need to find a theme I like. A WordPress theme has to talk to me the same way a Mylar balloon does at the store before I’ll consider using, let alone buying. So now, I’ve put upwork.com on the shelf until a later date.

My Mike once said, “Stick with the one who brought you to the dance.” I think he had it right. That saying can be applied to publishers, projects, day jobs, and anything that has worked for you. With that in mind, I’ll stick with the Mylar balloons at home. However, I won’t complain if another materializes in my cart during my next visit to the supermarket. 🙂

L. M. Labat penned science fiction / vampire romance tale of medical malpractice.

 

 

Life Got in the Way

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Well, here we are in mid-November, and my Mylar balloons reminded me that I hadn’t blogged since the October Frights promo. The promo went well, and I settled into a routine with Night to Dawn, working from noon to 8:00 p.m. most days, with weekends off. I started some work on the website, cutting expenses and was about to install a different, more reasonably priced SEO. All that changed on October 30th when I had my car accident.

First up, I’m okay; my bruises and abrasions have mostly healed. I’ve gone back to the gym twice and was able to do the Pilates plank for the first time. I can’t say the same for my car; it was totaled. This means time spent with insurance agents and online researching cars. There are also trips to the doctors, to the stores to test drive cars and follow-ups with the insurance people. That meant cutting hours back to 4:30 to 8:30. I’ve had to hold off any work on the website, except for posting announcements and doing updates. Night to Dawn 35 is on schedule – I’ve always been obsessive-compulsive about getting the stories edited, so this helped.

My takeaways: If you’re ever in an accident, see a doctor fast. When you’re in shock, you don’t feel pain, and the docs may catch a problem before it gets out of hand. You can replace a car. Second, if you’re contemplating retiring from the day job, think twice. No matter how much money you’ve saved, it’s never enough. I had no choice on retiring because the lack of night vision and other health issues prohibited my working at the hospital, but I do plan on signing on with upwork.com once the dust settles.

I hope to be back in business fulltime in December. I’ve got a blog in mind on revising, too. We’re supposed to have a harsh winter—Pennsylvania winters usually are—which means I will have my butt in a chair working on Night to Dawn projects and routine chores, and my Mylar balloons to supervise me.

Oldie but Goodie Writing Techniques

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

Lately, the sequel for Steel Rose and When Blood Reigns has been haunting me. Okay, I’ll confess, I used the pantser style for writing this book. I tried to outline—actually summarized chapters but then found myself lapsing into writing scenes, and I couldn’t work from an outline. The balloon lady in me wants to work on everything else—chapters for Darkness Within Magazine (love doing this); blogging, documenting my latest Mylar Balloon adventure on Facebook.

Why this sequel should give me a problem I can’t say. One of the protags thinks about, buys, and sleeps balloons, but she can quiet zombies in short order. When you get down to it, a book consists of nine types of scenes. The opening is the hook should be written within the first few paragraphs. This will set your story in motion. For the Night to Dawn magazine, I’d better see some tension on page one—you can’t pussyfoot around with a short story. All the same, I find opening scenes the hardest to write, and each book requires multiple revisions for the opening scene.

Set-up scenes are used to feed in primary background information such as the characters’ careers or motivations. It’s nice to know where your protag works, especially if the bloodletting takes place at the work site. What’s more, your protag’s career and family life may influence how he or she approaches the horrors in your story.

Verifying scenes establish the evidence for others you’ve set up and will reinforce the information you already included. I’m thinking along the lines of foreshadowing, but also if you mention that your protag is a nurse on page one, you might want to include reminders especially if that detail is essential to the story.

historical fiction novel by Michael De Stefano

Conflicts are critical for every fiction work. The battle could be with another person, an inner demon, or nature—perhaps a snowstorm, hurricane, or earthquake, and your character’s reaction to it. It must come across natural; with what you know about your character, ask if he/she would really act in a given way.

In the hindrance scene, your protag takes one step forward, then one or two steps back. Every time he/she making progress, throw a wrench into it. For example, maybe your protag finds an escape route, but the villain, being one step ahead, plants a minefield along that path.

In your turnaround scene, you’ve got the darkest moment. The character thinks he/she’s come thus far when something horrible happens, and it appears all is lost. For example, the serial killer traps the protag, their spouse, and children and pulls out a gun.

Flashback scenes should be used only if necessary. Perhaps something happens which causes the protag’s mind to flash back to previous events. This should appear in the early part of the story and have more dramatic action than what is happening in the present. If the flashback is too long, you may have started your story in the wrong place. Consider weaving this information into the story some other way.

During the climax, all conflicts are resolved. Perhaps the protag managed to slay the villain responsible for releasing the zombie infection; in a romance, the hero and heroine reach a commitment.

You’ve got your conclusion once you’ve reached a satisfying ending and have tied up all the loose ends. Endings are really tough to write. I’ve used up two or three of my best curse words, plus several Mylar balloon purchases to get the ending right.

Your thoughts?

I will be sending a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.

The Great Pumpkin Revisited

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

Last year I gave a little history on the pumpkin and why it was so crucial to Halloween. This year I’m focusing on the Great Pumpkin that Peanuts character Linus reveres. To make things clear: 95% of me doesn’t believe the Great Pumpkin exists, but five percent suspects there might be an acorn of truth behind it, for the pumpkin fever is on me. But my version of the Great Pumpkin doesn’t fly around a pumpkin patch the way Linus’s version does. Instead, my Great Pumpkin flies into supermarkets in the form of a Mylar pumpkin. I have two small pumpkin balloons, but to get the Great Pumpkin, I’ve got to pay my dues.

Last October, I made pumpkin muffins, cooked pasta with pumpkin sauce, and drank pumpkin coffee every day. What’s more, I visited Wawa for pumpkin shakes. I kept this up for a while, but about halfway through October, I complained about having to eat so much pumpkin. My whining didn’t sit well with the Great Pumpkin, and while I had a lot of balloons, none of them qualified as the Great Pumpkin. For him to come, you’ve got to be sincere.

This year, it’s going to be pumpkin cupcakes and cookies, along with pumpkin flavoring in the coffee. I’ve started the ball rolling with pumpkin lattes at Starbucks, and I will frequent the Wawa as well. Since I’m newly retired from the day job, I’ve got no excuse, and I will stow my complaints.

The following blogs will feature my adventure at Atlantic City; a discussion with issues I’ve had writing, a short story. So while you’ll enjoy, I’ll head to the Mylar balloon aisle at all the supermarkets and keep my eyes open for the Great Pumpkin.

I will be sending a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.


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