Leaving the Day Job

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.

Yesterday, I retired from my job as a respiratory therapist. I worked at the hospital for 34 years, and much of what happened provided grist for my fiction. A lot of mixed emotions went into my decision, not the least which involved my struggles with night vision. Pennsylvania’s wet climate means rain and snow most nights, making getting to work in the dark, early mornings difficult.

I worked with a fabulous group of people and was amazed by the outpouring of love and support I received. But the decision to stay or go is never simple in real life, any more than it should be for our characters. All the same, retiring will mean exciting things for Night to Dawn Magazine & Books and my writing.

For starters, overhauling my website. The website needs work which requires more time than I had after working during the day. I’ve already consolidated the spam and backup, saving money. I’m contemplating Yoast and a premium template.

I’ll be doing a promo with the October Frights blog hop in the coming days. I have two book submissions I’m reviewing, I have in mind to start looking for people to review the magazine and books. There are also short story submissions and work on the layout of Night to Dawn 35. That, and my writing. As for that night vision problem, I’m working from home with plenty of light. Unlike the computer at work, mine has a zoom feature to enlarge the print.

One of the books needs overhauling to meet Smashwords’ requirements. The merge between CreateSpace and Kindle seems to be going well but may affect royalties.

I’m going to miss working with my buddies at the hospital, but I won’t miss the long hours. And I look forward to this next chapter with Night to Dawn.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on quitting the day job and, if you’ve taken the plunge, what it meant for you and your writing.

Ode to Mike’s Backpack

Barbara Custer's backpack

At the outlets this week, I bought a new backpack. The battered black one I was using went into the trash. No big deal except that the tattered bag belonged to my late husband, Mike.

Mike got that backpack in 1996 before he got sick. At the same time, he got a briefcase for me. Both items were brand new, but Mike said he found them in the trash. Perhaps he was pulling my leg, but at the time, several couples near us were divorcing. You’d be surprised at what people throw away during a divorce.

That backpack served Mike well during our forays to the islands. It accompanied us on tours through Italy. After Parkinson’s Disease enforced its scorched earth policy with Mike, I used that backpack to go to my writers’ conferences. I toted the bag to Ocean City and everywhere else until this week.

Discarding the backpack felt like trashing a memory. How could I do this, I wondered? But funny thing, the new bag is black, too, and decorated with poppy, flowers. Mike once told me I reminded him of the poppy flower, so he called me Popple. So those memories will continue with the new bag.

When you get down to it, both items are plain backpacks, made of canvas or leather, and such items wear off after months, sometimes years of use. But the memories involved will live on forever.

Endings and the “I Gotta” Revisited

zombie fiction by Barbara CusterLast night, I worked out an ending paragraph for “The Good Samaritan,” one of the stories in the upcoming anthology, The Forgotten People. It took me over an hour to do it. Tonight, I’ll go back and review what I wrote, and if it still doesn’t feel right, then I’ll look at other endings to short stories that have worked. Endings have been my bane since I first got into writing in the early 90s. Coming up with a workable conclusion was part of the reason I took a break from my sequel to When Blood Reigns.

Okay, I’ll have a slice of Provolone cheese to go with my whine.

I took a Facebook survey on endings, and found that most people are facing the same struggle I do. Stories don’t have to end on a happy note, but they should come full circle. One can tie up all loose endings or end at a cliffhanger, but the bottom line is: satisfy the reader. My Facebook buddies gave me an invaluable piece of advice: make sure I have a definite ending in mind, if not written before I write the story. Going forward, that’s what I will do. It won’t help with my current anthology or the sequel to When Blood Reigns, but I have a plan for the future.

So why do I keep going? Stephen King calls it the “I gotta.” I wrote the stories long ago for different magazines, and then last summer, after my adventure with the termites, I sorted my material and realized these stories spoke about the same alien race, the Athyrians. In case you’re wondering about the Athyrians, you’ll have to wait until the book goes live to find out. Science fiction appeal aside, many of the stories had a common theme: how health care was becoming more cost-prohibitive. All of them needed significant updating and revisions, so the “I gotta” was born, and now I feel driven to finish these revisions, including the ending, and get them into print. The “I gotta” for The Forgotten People was the main reason I took a break from my sequel, but once the anthology goes into print, I’m heading back to my sequel. The main character in the sequel loves her Mylar balloons, and some readers have been asking for a “balloon” tale.

The “I gotta” has kept me going strong despite the breakdown of two computers and a host of other winter mishaps. None of them have challenged me as much as these endings.

Do you find your endings challenging? How have you resolved the problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Motivates your Muse?

Barbara Custer included lots of zombies in When Blood Reigns.A few weeks ago, at a writer’s coffeehouse, we discussed what motivates us to finish a book. Each person had a different answer. I secretly thought it was Mylar balloons; however, I said it helps me to go outside for a walk to clear my head, and it does. That’s assuming, though, that the weather is sympathetic. During the dead of winter, I stay in the house.  That’s not to say I can’t write during the winter, but the walk outside won’t be one of my tools.

Someone else suggested rewriting the scene from a different character’s point of view. I’ve never tried this, but I found the idea intriguing. I will gladly give it a go. I’d like to know if any of you all have tried revising and writing from a different character’s viewpoint.

Someone else said it had to do with their surroundings. They found it helpful to change the room where they write. I have to agree, but I think I’d have to ask why. Most of my blank spells happen in my office, despite my cushioned chair and large desktop screen. In the living room, I’m sitting in a hard-back chair, hardly conducive to creativity, with a 14-inch screen laptop. Ah, but I’ve got a comfortable stool to prop my foot; not so with my office. What’s more, my laptop works with Firefox so I can find meanings of words and other information; my desktop is given to frequent hiccoughing and freezes. In the living room, I’ve got my Mylar balloons to coach and motivate me, whereas, in the office, I work alone. It has helped to bring a balloon tree into the office with me.

I’d like to mention that a typical shift on the day job, if tiresome, can deplete my energy. Someone commented that getting into writing can energize them after a stressful day, but when my energy is gone, it’s gone, particularly during the cold months. There is also this: it helps to be available to work at my computer. That means home, or at a library, and not at the doctor’s, or otherwise occupied. So … when I know I’m going to be scarce or have major NTD work, I use my desktop, and keep my iPhone nearby if I need to Google something. If I’m home, or otherwise available, I use my laptop. Wherever I am, it sure helps to have those Mylar balloons.

What motivates your muse? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Commenters are eligible to win a copy of When Blood Reigns.

 

Salami and Writing – to Self-Publish or Not

Barbara Custer enjoyed salami and cheese at the writing workshop.

Yesterday, I got to attend the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop at the Sonesta Hotel. I began my day with salami and provolone cheese sandwich for breakfast; then I headed downtown. It was an excellent conference, but the classes that struck home related to the dos and don’ts of self-publishing (loved that class) and the advantages of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I had my lunch over at De Bruno Brothers and took advantage of the opportunity to buy cheese. When you’ve tasted their fine cheeses, you’ll want to buy more.

Chuck Sambuchino discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of writing. With traditional publishing, there are no startup costs. The company will edit, handle the cover illustrations, and may even hire someone to provide marketing. Whatever money you get with your advance is yours to keep, and perhaps later, you might get film options. It carries an air of legitimacy; ergo people will be more agreeable to review your book and interview you.

Ah, but since the company is fronting the money, that leaves you at the whims of others. After the advance, the royalties run about 10 percent, and it takes a lot of time from contract signing to book release.  Assuming you get an agent’s attention right away, it could take several months before the contract between you and agent is signed; months before that agent signs you with a publisher; a total of two to four years before the book is released.

Self-publishing gives you control over the editing, illustrations, formatting, price, etc. The royalties are decent. The length of the book and genre don’t matter; self-publishing would be ideal for someone who’s focusing on a unique interest and has a ready market for their book. What’s more, depending on the company, you could have your book released in a week. It took me six months to a year for each self-pub work because the book went through an editor before I got into formatting.

The downside is, you become your own agent, editor, marketer, etc. or be ready to pay upfront fees for these services.  Self-publishing still carries a stigma; bookstores and reviewers will shy away from your book. There’s no help with marketing or subsidiary rights, and without a platform, promotion is an uphill battle.

The time factor mention hit me where I live, and that was why I self-pubbed many of my books. Up until February 2013, I queried agents and lined up at seminars for pitches, but in 2013, I had two admissions to the hospital for water on the heart. Last January my husband died, and recently the homeowners’ association discovered significant termite damage in my floors. I’m healthy now and have had no mishap with the floors, but my takeaway from these events is this: Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. With that in mind, I’ve had a rough time wrapping my head around the idea of waiting four years for a book to go live. Thankfully, I’ve found ways to work around some of the disadvantages of independent publishing. I’ve also published with small presses; this helps with the time element.

That’s not to say I’d never try traditional publishing again; I may change my mind years from now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you feel traditional publishing is best or do you prefer independent publishing? What have your experiences been like?

In the meantime, there’s another salami and cheese sandwich with my name on it.

Night to Dawn Then … and Now

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction along with vampires.When I reviewed a proof for Night to Dawn 31, it occurred to me that though I often blogged about writing and my Mylar balloons, I mentioned little about NTD magazine. Some folks have asked me what goes into putting a magazine together. An editor once told me about software he was using to do his magazine.

The thing is, new software comes with a learning curve, not easily navigated when you work a day job. I can do all right with old-fashioned Word if I start with a template from Lulu or Createspace. Word comes with Publisher, which I use to format the artwork, and I can convert files to PDF. When I took over the magazine in 2004, Word was just a word-processing program. Night to Dawn was a spiral-bound magazine. I knew nothing about the process, so I continued with the spiral, hiring a printer to make copies of the pages. I’d bought a coil binding machine to attach the pages. How I did it, I don’t know because I had arthritis in both hands. Three issues later, I moved to a perfect-bound book; the printer did the binding.

Mind you, printing magazines at a local printer cost over $400 back then, as opposed to Lulu or Createspace now. I had no way to make a PDF version, columns, or tucking art inside a story; I printed the stories on a plain Word document with the illustration downloaded after each piece. Thankfully, Editor Ginger Johnson talked me through the processes; so did Marge Simon and Cathy Buburuz, especially embedding illustrations.

My watershed moment came when someone at a writer’s conference told me about Lulu. I’d known about Lulu, but I thought they only handled novels. I never realized until later that I could print the magazine at a much more reasonable price. Why? Lulu and Createspace operate on a larger scale than a print shop, and can get away with charging reasonable while making a profit.  Lulu’s price enabled me to use four-color covers, whereas the print shop charged extra for doing so. I still use the print shop for supplies, but leave the magazine printing to Lulu and Createspace.

Nowadays, I use Createspace to distribute my books and magazine because I can charge reasonable, get fast distribution, and get a decent royalty, but I use Lulu for the initial print run because I like the work they do with the covers. Both companies provide the templates needed for the covers and manuscript. Letter designing isn’t my strongest suit so artist Teresa Tunaley has been designing my back cover. Sandy DeLuca does the front cover and a lot of interior art. I’ve also gotten great interior illustrations from Denny Marshall, Chris Friend, and Elizabeth Pierce.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.Night to Dawn started out as a vampire magazine, but now it features different monsters, usually vampire or zombies. Night to Dawn 31, which has just gone live, has tales from the zombie’s point of view. The “welcome” page started out dry and flat, but I changed the name to “Pickings and Tidbits.” I’ve started dressing up the column by including a recipe and an anecdote about my Mylar balloons. People are always hungry and they appreciate a good laugh.

The one thing I haven’t been able to do is print Night to Dawn on Kindle. It’s more about time constraints – the formatting would need a radical change, along with the illustrations. One day in the distant future, I may want to revisit Kindle. For now, though, I’m focusing on the magazine and books, and perhaps creating a few nightmares of my own.

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