Wintertime Blues

Barbara's loyal balloons guide her with writing.

The balloons help energize Barbara.

Do you struggle with wintertime blues? I know I do as the days get shorter. I went to a condo homeowner’s association meeting last night and sat in a chair prepared to listen and take notes. Instead, I nodded off to sleep during a good part of the meeting. No one chatted about Mylar balloons, nor did I regale anyone with my latest balloon adventure at the Giant and Acme supermarkets. No seminars on writing techniques or opportunities to get a critique on my WIP. Instead, the conversation centered over graphs, numbers, and charts as the Board discussed the upcoming 2015 budget. Every so often, tempers exploded over some imaginary error a Board member committed. I frankly felt that the Board members deserved serious balloons!

What’s more, the meeting room was cold, enough to necessitate my sweater and winter coat. I suspect the people in charge dropped the temperatures so that the attendees would stay awake and pay attention. Their actions had the opposite effect on me. Cold drains my energy, and during winter I need an average of nine hours of sleep each night. I do my best writing and meeting attendance on my “off” days from work when I’m rested. During the winter, I’m more liable to sleep through a meeting. Come spring, I’ll have more energy for meetings and the like. My doctors mention seasonal affective disorder, but I think of it as the wintertime blues.

Last year, when I worked under a deadline during the winter, I made the writing my first priority when I get home from work, while I still had energy left. I need to start doing that again. Then after seven, I can go through my email, wrestle with my balloons, or browse the online shops. Buying a Mylar balloon should help my energy stores, too.

Do you struggle with the wintertime blues? How does it affect your writing and other activities? What helps you shore up energy during the cold winter? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Here There Be Skeletons

This anthology features zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer.At the bottom of my fascination with zombies, revenants, and evil aliens lies a terror of human skeletons. Every writer fears something, a “demon” that drives their stories. Some people dread the site of fire; for others it’s the Great White. For me, the sight of a skeleton, particularly one with debris on it, will send me burrowing inside a bouquet of Mylar balloons.

Why? I think my dread of skeletons started with my trip to Atlantic City that I described in my Night to Dawn blog. The mummy’s parchment dry skin literally hugged her bones. Not a shred of fat or muscle. My skeleton terror accompanied me everywhere I went.

For example, at age thirty, I underwent three knee surgeries, necessitating frequent visits to an orthopedist’s office, where the skeleton became a teaching tool. But I wasn’t interested in any anatomy lessons. Instead, I covered the bones with my coat, sweater, and sometimes a sheet if one was available. My orthopedist Dr. Hill asked one day why I covered his skeletons. Blushing, I yanked the sheet off the bones. My quick movement jarred the head, causing it to snap off the body, land on the floor, and roll like a bowling ball down the hall.

Dr. Hill stood there and laughed. He wisely sent me to another room for future checkups.

At the time, I went to school at night, and one of the instructors held her class inside an anatomy lab equipped with a human skeleton. Spooked, I draped my coat and scarf over the bones for every lesson. A creative writer, my instructor encouraged me to channel my fear into a horror fiction tale. You’ll find plenty of skeletons in Twilight Healer, Steel Rose, and City of Brotherly Death. Ditto for the sequels to Steel Rose.

So what’s your personal demon? Which monster motivates you to write horror fiction? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.


When the Devil’s in the Details

Twilight Healer features vampire fiction by Barbara Custer.These last weeks, I’ve taken marching orders from my Mylar balloons regarding the manuscript reformatting and new cover for Twilight Healer. If something’s off, I’ll hear about it. As a writer buddy once told me, the devil’s in the details.

The process began with me reading each chapter and correcting mistakes the way the balloons instructed me. I imagined the manuscript with page headers and numbers, when the rustling of the balloons by my chair caught my attention.

Balloons, frowning: That manuscript isn’t ready, Bar-ba-ra.

Me, smiling: It will be after I do the pagination and headers.

Balloons: How about changing the spelling of “okay” to “OK” the way Gemini Wordsmiths taught you? Are you sure you’ve got consistent spelling for the last names? What about extraneous adverbs?

Me, with a sigh: Want me to do a Search and Find for these items?

Balloon, patting me on the head: Dats wight, wabbit. And while you’re at it, ask Teresa Tunaley to look over your back cover. Betcha she’ll have good suggestions.

Of course, the balloons had it right, as you can see by the final version of the back cover above. As for the other chores, Word’s Find, Search and Replace feature served as my best friend. Search and Replace made it easy to change a character’s name. It provided an easy fix for a word I’ve consistently misspelled. For example, Wordsmiths had me use Search and Replace to change “okay” to “OK,” and I did the same for Twilight Healer. Be aware, though, that Word will change every word that has the letters chosen, so you may realize changes you hadn’t planned. Twilight Healer was missing commas in sentences that included the adverb “too,” when I meant “also.” So I did a Find, examining every sentence that used “too,” and found about seven missing commas. The Find feature takes longer to do, but you get more accurate results.

I’d like to mention Word’s Track Changes, a popular tool for editors and authors. Alas, I’ve seen a lot of people shy away from using the Track Changes. They don’t bite, folks. To access the Track Change on Word 2007, I go to the “Review” tab on the ribbon and right below, click where it says, “Track Changes.” This enables me to recommend changes and the text I delete or add will show in the color chosen (usually red). If I have more revising in mind, I’ll highlight the text in question, select “New Comment,” and a pretty balloon pops enabling me to comment, make a suggestion, or ask questions. If the author agrees with my changes, (s)he can hover the cursor over the added text, right-click on it, and a box will come up, giving the option to accept or reject the change. Once the author addresses the issues noted in my balloons, (s)he can click on the balloon for the option to delete the comment.

Getting back to Twilight Healer, I finished the pagination and was about to convert the file to a PDF, when something soft as a feather brushed my shoulder.

Balloons: Did you forget something, Bar-ba-ra?

Me, after looking at the front matter: Dang! I forgot the ISBN.

Balloons: Wight, wabbit. It wouldn’t do to omit the ISBN from the front matter.

Smiling, I typed in the ISBN and converted the file to PDF. The PDF is good to go. I’m waiting for Teresa to put finishing touches on the cover. Now it’s on to redoing the eBook, and of course, proofing a physical copy of the book. My Mylar balloons wouldn’t have it any other way. Like my friends said, the devil’s in the details.

Before You Send your Manuscript to the Printer….

Twilight Healer features Barbara Custer's timid respiratory therapist finding new life as a vampire.At my Mylar balloons’ encouragement, I got my refurbishment of Twilight Healer underway on July 24. Teresa Tunaley did a beautiful job with calligraphy on the lady-in-white front cover image (illustration by Dreamstime). Once I slapped together a new file with revised masthead, I’d have it up on Amazon within a few days, right? Wrongies. None of y’all heard a peep out of me since the 24th. What’s more, nobody’s seen the new cover on my website, Amazon, or anywhere else. That’s because the balloons weren’t finished giving me orders

As I copied and pasted Chapter Seven from the old Twilight Healer file’s contents to the new file, a familiar cry echoed from the balloon tree by my chair: Bar-ba-ra! What do you think you’re doing, Bar-ba-ra?

I stiffened upright, knowing full that I was in for it, and answered: I’m preparing the new TH file so I can send it to the printer.

Balloons: Without reading it? Don’t you think you ought to, you know, proof it?

Me: Proof it? That file’s been proofed twice – once by a content editor and then another editor from Tree Press Publishing years ago.

Balloons: We don’t care if ten editors went through it. You’ve copied and pasted that file many times, converting it to an eBook, and you may have lost material. If you’ve got a missing paragraph, you’ll wind up with a manuscript that looks like hell. You can’t send that file to Amazon or anywhere else without reading through it. Remember, anything that’s poorly done under the NTD imprint will reflect on the other books.

Me, after a deep sigh: So you expect me to go through every line. OK. I guess that means you want me to update my biography, as well.

Balloons, after rubbing my head: Dat’s wight, wabbit. While you’re at it, how about including Teresa’s biography, too? She did a beautiful job on the cover and deserve credit, don’t you think?

Me, with a sheepish smile: You’ve got me there.

Okay, so I’ve been reading each chapter as I format. Good thing I listened to my Mylar balloons. I’ve learned things about editing I didn’t know years ago that I applied to the book. Also found a few mismatched sentences. As for updating the biography, well…there wasn’t any. So I need biographies for me and Teresa. So the revising / formatting will take a little longer than I thought. Editors can do much for the book, but they’re human and can overlook something. So if you decide to self-pub a book previously published by another company, search every page for typos before sending the manuscript to Amazon or any other distributor. Ditto for the cover blurb, too. Your readers will thank you for it.

Book Covers Make the Author (and Publisher)

A few nights ago, while I was admiring the latest book covers on my web page, a voice issued from the Mylar balloons next to my office chair: “Bar-ba-ra! Bar-ba-ra!

The night before, a relative emailed me saying they wanted to buy a copy of Twilight Healer. That must have gotten the balloons’ attention. When they call me by their pet name for me, I know they’re up to something. The rustling from my balloons came next, and then the dialogue started.

Balloons: Look it this! You’re posting a book with an inferior cover and slipshod formatting. That book has enjoyed great reviews. How could you?”

Me: That was the first book I released through NTD and my first attempt at formatting. It looked pretty good to me.

Balloons: Oh, yeah? Go through that book and take a hard look at the cover. See if we’re not right.

Me, after glossing through TH’s pages and cover: You’re right. The formatting I use now looks better. So do the covers because of great artists like Teresa Tunaley, Marge Simon, and Sandy DeLuca.

Balloons: Dat’s wight, wabbit. A mediocre cover will reflect poorly on you and your company. People looking at the page might think you don’t care how your books look. Some of your authors have opted for new covers. How about following their lead?

Oh, dear, they’ve caught me, I thought, fetching a deep sigh. A book cover is the first thing people notice when they shop for books. Most people come in with limited funds, so what they get had better be worth the money. Of course, they’ll bypass a so-so looking cover. A poorly made cover and formatting might intimate that the writing needs work, too. It won’t matter if thousands of dollars went into editing the book. What’s more, if I were a publisher selling that book, people might think that all my books look bad. Appearances and first impressions count.

I thought of it this way. If I went on a job interview, I wouldn’t show up in dungarees and sneakers. I would wear a suit and good shoes. So what makes a professional book cover? The cover should communicate the book’s content to the reader. Look at other covers for books with a similar genre. What common element do the covers have? You want to use good images – at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) for good resolution. Best to hire an experienced designer. I know that now, but not when I did TH’s cover.

So I’ve begun reformatting Twilight Healer’s interior, and attempting to decide between two images what I’ll use for the new cover. Because I want what looks best. An appealing cover will reflect nicely on all the NTD books. The Mylar balloons would agree.

Have Balloons, Will Rewrite

Barbara Custer's Life Raft: Earth features suspenseful science fiction.Over the last few days I’ve been fortifying myself with Mylar balloons. I’m contemplating my next trip to Giant and a butterfly balloon acquisition. On top of that, I released my SF novella, Life Raft: Earth. Why? A lot of work lies ahead on When Blood Reigns, my sequel to Steel Rose. Over the last year, I took the book to my writers’ group for critique and then I finally sent it off to Gemini Wordsmiths for developmental editing. With these folks, you’re getting two pairs of eyes, so no mistakes will slip by. Having read my report, I think every writer should consider a developmental edit. Ruth and Ann are good writer buddies and they know their stuff. After the rewrite, I’m hoping to submit the manuscript. Perhaps I can learn something and be a better editor for the Night to Dawn authors.

Rewrite is the operative word. I’m looking at a lot of changes, some of them major. I didn’t realize I had so many plot holes. Developmental editing addresses facets of each character; it goes beyond content editing. Ruth assured me that red is good. Still, I’ve wondered if I’m up to the task. Mind you, the report came on the heels of my cataract surgery. Most news after any surgery can overwhelm, and this time out, I had inflammation and pressure changes in my right eye. Most of that has resolved and I’m doing better now.

Having read the corrected manuscript, I’m up for the job, especially if I’m well rested. On my last day off from my day job, I reworked a few suggestions, using the BIC (butt-in-chair) approach. The most difficult project will be introducing the characters so that When Blood Reigns can work as a stand-alone book. So I’m fortifying myself with balloons. Heck, if zombies broke into my neighborhood. I’d purchase a gun and somehow a Mylar balloon would follow me home.

Have you gone with a developmental edit? Did you find yourself having moments of discouragement? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


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