Clutter in my Home, Website, and Writing

I’ve started a campaign to clean out the clutter in my house. Today I mopped floors, changed kitchen curtains, and filed away the atomic piles in my office. In case you’re wondering what “atomic piles” means, I’m referring to the growing piles of folders and NTD material on the floor surrounding my office chair. I’m ditching some of the empty boxes I’ve got as well. You’d be surprised how fast they accumulate if you shop online. I began the job with a balloon acquisition, of course. I never undertake a difficult task without fortifying myself with a balloon.

I’ve attacked my website, about 3 pages/posts a day. Why the website? Well, gremlins crawled into some of the pages, interjecting weird-looking symbols when I upgraded the WordPress software. Also, I had a learning experience about When you upload photos to the Media Library to use on your pages, you’ve got to keep them forever. If you delete them, as I found out, the respective images will disappear off your pages and posts. That’s what I did, thinking I could conserve memory. Some of the people I interviewed changed publishers, so the images I have are obsolete. Also WordPress provides a thing called SEO, but you gotta type in your key words, summary and title with every blog post and page you do. So I’ll ‘fess up. I’d gotten lazy about doing that, so now I’m playing catch-up SEO installations.

Finally, my writing. While the floors dry and my website digests the changes I’ve made, I spent the next few hours going through When Blood Reigns, the sequel to Steel Rose. I found a lot of padding where words are concerned, so I’m tightening up the story. I’ve caught little inconsistencies which I’m fixing now. I’m missing an entire scene around Chapter 26, so I typed in “Chapter 26” and left a note, “insert a scene with Laurel and Woehar plotting here.” Yep, you’ve got it. Both women are up to no good, and our heroine Alexis is about to get the short end of the stick. I’ve stuck other notes in red here and there, to be addressed after I’ve gone through the whole story. I dread facing the ending; I struggled with it the first draft out. Steel Rose was meant to be a two-part serial, which means Needing A Satisfying Ending. Endings are tough. Coming up with a workable ending for “One Last Favor” (City of Brotherly Death) was a nightmare.

Okay, I’ll have some whine with my cheese, preferably Provolone because I love Italian cheeses. A purebred Italian, Alexis loves Provolone and homemade pastas. Alas, out in Zombie Land, shops that specialize in ethnic food don’t exist. She counts herself lucky to get canned spaghetti.

But here I digress. I’m focusing on cleaning up the clutter, the extraneous sentences and information dumps in my story, and facing the ending when it comes. Do you find yourself struggling with clutter in your WIP? I’d love to hear how you handle the revision process.

Steel Rose features zombie fiction by Barbara Custer.


Does Alexis of Steel Rose Like Balloons?

Barbara Custer's Steel Rose features a character who likes balloons. That’s a good question. After all, I can’t go into a supermarket without buying one. The balloons take on a life of their own when I arrive. My balloons have a way of creeping into all my blogs and seminars about respiratory care and writing. The characters in Alien Worlds and City of Brotherly Death have had a thing for balloons. Why not the denizens of Steel Rose?


Let me put it this way. Alexis doesn’t mind having balloons. She stockpiles them the way I do because she believes that the helium in them will protect her from Kryszka renegades. Yeron counts thirty balloons during his initial examination, and this doesn’t go over well at all. The helium in them is deadly toward his species. The balloons threaten Yeron, and an imaginary conversation plays through his mind:

Balloons: That’s right, Yeron, you don’t belong here.

Yeron: I do not like you either, so the feeling is mutual.

When Yeron contemplates his next approach to Alexis, the balloons grin at him. Is that so? You don’t know as much as you think you do, buddy.

On that last, Yeron hurries to his suite where he keeps his helium-proof mask. Initially, Alexis fears Yeron the way she does all men, and the balloons make an effective barrier. How then can Yeron and Alexis get romantic with all those balloons in the way? Well, folks, you have to read the story and find out.

Outside of protection, Alexis does not have a fixation on balloons, but she appreciates the sentiments written on them. She knows someone who has a thing for balloons. One of the other doctors has a wife who fancies balloons, and Alexis thinks it’s cute. Later on, the balloons will play an important role. They have to, just like Chekhov’s gun. You can’t introduce a loaded rifle into your story without using it, and the same goes for Mylar balloons. Much as I love my balloonies, I would not have put them in Steel Rose without a good reason.

In the sequel, the balloons will go bye-bye. Alexis will be too busy kicking zombie ass.

Steel Rose has just gone live, and you can read some excerpts here.

 In Barbara Custer's Steel Rose, Yeron finds his way toward Alexis despite all the balloons in his way.

Book cover by Dawné Dominique; Promo by Cyrus Wraith Walker

Zombie Apocalypse Forthcoming…Seriously Speaking

Yes, that’s right. I believe we’re headed for a zombie apocalypse down the road. I may or may not live to see it, but it’s coming. And I’m as serious as Parkinson’s Disease.

The apocalypse won’t be supernatural as it was in City of Brotherly Death, or the short story trio, Trilogy of the Dead, where the dead have major scores to settle with the living. In my forthcoming book, Steel Rose, and its sequel, aliens inject a chemical into live humans, turning them into flesh eating zombies. Sometimes the aliens implant microchips in the dead to make them walk and attack. However, I doubt aliens will have anything to do with real world zombies. I acquired a taste for zombie fiction, having read Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, and other books by Jonathan Maberry. He’s a brilliant writer, but I don’t foresee viruses causing zombie-like behavior either.

Jim Gurley touched on my suspicions about zombies in his book Hell Rig, which opens with Global Oil Rig #13 claiming twenty-one lives during Hurricane Katrina. When Ric Waters, the half-mad sole survivor, return with his restoration crew, they discover the presence of vengeful Voodoo Loas on the haunted rig. Now I don’t believe people will use Voodoo to make zombies in the future, but the weather will cause the dead to rise. I’m thinking about Katrina, Irene, and now Sandy. These monster storms seem to be our new normal. Ditto for the extreme winters where you get two feet of snow or more.

Sandy left behind many battered trees that fell on live wires and property. My local buddies and I have had to change driving routes to avoid the live wires and detours. I got to thinking what if some of those live wires landed near a cemetery. The thought takes me back to Frankenstein, where electricity gave life to a dead body. We’ve just gotten through Sandy, with another nor’easter coming in a couple of days. As the years pass, all of that rain and flooding will cause graves to open up. Lightning and live wires may electrocute the bodies, and cause them to move…and walk.

The zombie’s behavior will depend on how long it was dead before reanimating and the condition of the heart and brain at the time of death. In a recently deceased person who died of say, a gunshot wound to the stomach, the heartbeat might resume, delivering blood to the vital organs, including the brain. Such a person might be able to think, make decisions, and recognize people. They might speak clearly, know right from wrong, and be able to express affection.

A close relative or friend might feel wonderful about being reunited with his Uncle Joe, enough so that they bring the person home with them. And that’s where trouble begins. Basically, we’re talking about a crapshoot. By the time the person reanimates, the brain has sustained moderate damage, and resumption of circulation doesn’t guarantee that deterioration will stop. The first signs of brain damage include agitation, combativeness, and confusion. In the newly reanimated, family members may not pick up these signs in Uncle Joe. So after a couple of days, the “happy reunion” ends when the person fails to recognize his family, acts out, and bites. The bitten may not turn into zombies, but they will pick up a nasty infection, perhaps the kind that kills without timely treatment.

Most of the newly reanimated won’t be able to think because their brains have decayed so much. Their voices will sound like pebbles lodged in the windpipe. I picture them shuffling the streets like the fictional zombies, but not necessarily tearing up and chewing on people. They may become agitated and bite without provocation. If the bitten dies from the infection, they won’t rise from the dead unless another storm comes along, and lightning strikes the grave.

By the time our apocalypse happens, most people will own generators. I pray they do. I pray that someone comes up with a battery-powered generator because many landlords and homeowners’ associations won’t permit residents to own gas-powered generators. That stinks because when the dead rise, a power outage is inevitable. Howcumzit? The dead might go after people who run the power plants, and a plant can’t run itself. Also, if the dead break into a plant and start batting at the buttons and controls, the power from the plant will become history. I’m optimistic that given our track record of storms, most people will pony up the money for a generator and keep it hidden.

These zombies are not going to be strong brutes that can tear down telephone poles and transformers, so we may have electricity in some areas. Again, a crapshoot.

If the zombies come during my lifetime, I’m going to look over my shoulder wherever I walk in case one of the reanimated heads my way. As for my balloon stories or photos, I might share them with a friend who just died and reanimated, and thus able to appreciate a good balloon tale. At the first sign of agitation or confusion, though, I’m running as if King Kong were after me. I’m hoping by the time this apocalypse happens, science invents plasma guns, like the kind in Steel Rose. The kind that’s user-friendly for delicate hands.

How do you feel about zombies? Do you think we’re headed toward an apocalypse? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Aliens injected a chemical that turned Barbara Custer's characters into zombies in Steel Rose.

If live wires or lightning strikes a grave, we’ll get a visitor like this zombie.

What Would You Do in a Zombie Invasion?

In June, 2012, I posted a blog titled “Healthcare Workers and Zombies” in Charles Wellston’s Grits n Gravy page. My anthology, City of Brotherly Death, called for a reality check when I considered how modern-day people would respond to a zombie invasion. Eternal Press has slated Steel Rose for publication in February 2013. I anticipate more editing before the book goes to press. Another reality check.

The Kryszka aliens of Steel Rose, at least the bad guys, make zombies by injecting captured humans with a chemical to alter their brain function. The renegades starve their prisoners, gauge out their eyes, cut them, etc. When they’re through, the victim resembles one huge gaping sore. Afterwards, the soldiers will soak the prisoner with cadaverine and putrescine, chemicals found in decaying corpses. All the torture, brain damage and cell alteration strips away judgment and thinking, leaving behind an angry specimen starving for human flesh. At that point, people had better look out.

Unlike traditional zombies, the ones in Steel Rose breathe and have a pulse. They look and smell many days’ dead, but when they’re awake, they’re deadly. The chemical administered incites aggression, anger, and a craving that won’t quit. They only know hunger and will kill to satisfy it. Kryszka natives who ingest this chemical experience the craving, too.

Let’s revisit the hospital I mentioned in Grits n Gravy. Suppose our respiratory therapist is caring for someone who’s been “doctored” by the Kryszka renegades. Our doctors examine him, treat his wounds as best they can, and keep him sedated. The chemical coursing through his blood will never show in his lab reports. Our equipment, primitive by Kryszka standards, cannot isolate and identify the mysterious chemical. Keep in mind that hospital personnel are overworked and burned out as it is. When the patient wakes up and tries to bite people, most caregivers will label it “change of mental status” and restrain the patient. That’s the best case scenario.

Worst case? Our patient is sedated, breathing through a tracheotomy tube with mechanical ventilation. His respiratory therapist must suction his airway and mouth. This goes doubly so if his EEG fails to show brainwave activity and the doctors expect to harvest viable organs. No one will suspect aliens or zombies, even when he wakes, yanks out his tube, and bites the hapless therapist.

Let’s backtrack to possible events leading to the patient’s admission. Perhaps an innocent Joe gets into a fight with a Kryszka renegade, and manages to shoot and kill him. Alas, many aliens travel in pairs. At least the Kryszka do. The renegade’s backup injects our citizen with the chemical and carts him off to aliens’ underground compound for the zombie treatment. Later, someone finds his body in an alley and calls the police. The paramedics put him on a ventilator and rush him to a hospital. The doctors may appreciate the severity of his injuries, his emaciated state, and then blame a wild animal for the attack.

The hospital in Steel Rose has an advantage because a refugee Kryszka doctor works there. He trains the other doctors well, and they learn to detect foreign chemicals in the blood. Treating casualties by Kryszka renegades becomes a routine event. Still, traditional rules prevail; guns are banned. People dumb enough to obey the no-weapons rule become a Blue Plate Special for the invading zombies. Administration hates spending money for competent officers, and the security guards employed pick up their marbles and run home. They might be able to handle one Steel Rose zombie, and I repeat one. Not a whole slew of them.

Then I started wondering. What would I do if a horde of zombies broke into the hospital where I worked? In my fantasy world, I’d run to the gift shop and hide behind the Mylar balloons. That might not be so bad. The helium in those balloons is lethal to the Kryszka soldiers who lead these zombies. A few inhalations from a punctured balloon will kill them. As for the zombies? Different story. Reality check: adrenaline enables people to do surprising things – either speed run or fight like hell. No one can predict what they’d do until the zombies show.

Our staff therapist could run. He could try to fight back. As I mentioned in my other post, his tools, like scissors and a screwdriver, won’t get him far with zombies. If he’s lucky, he will get underground employment by a zombie squad. That’s probably the only way he’ll survive.

Steel Rose portrays a scene where our protagonist shoves an administrator into the path of the zombies. Uh, oh.

The helium in these balloons is lethal to the Kryszka alien.

The helium in these balloons is lethal to the Kryszka alien. versus a First Time Experience

I did it! I changed the CSS on my website to make the body text larger without balling up the rest of the website. This was my first time using CSS, and I did a LOT of reading before attempting the change. I’m feeling good about this, but now I’m thinking I want to change other things, like the font size on the headers, and the fonts themselves, at least on the body. But I made a start.

Last month, I signed on with, imported two plug-ins, and purchased spam filtering from and backup services from  Every so often, I check my website for updates and install when one is available. was offering free services to spare me the learning curve of CSS, but their instructions on how to install their proffered fonts went over my head.

Up until last month, I did my website through They gave me the hosting, the spam filter, the backups, and for a small fee, fonts of various sizes that I could pluck and use on my website without bothering with CSS. Since I switched over to, I’ve had to do these things myself. It’s kinda like growing up and putting away my toys. made a great site for my blog and Night to Dawn magazine. So why then did I make the change? Because Night to Dawn is much more than a bi-yearly magazine now. The Night to Dawn books, including the ones I write, demand a more genre-specific theme than the ones provided by has a lot of nice plug-ins, including search optimization that I couldn’t get with Ditto with genre-specific themes. As it was, I did a lot of tweaking with the background of the theme before the transfer. Also I found that a lot of public places used web filters that blocked my access to the and other blog sites. Not so with

For me, the worst part was the transfer. I used guided transfer. They were great. In addition to the transfer, they provided two weeks’ worth of guidance. Al Sirois, my webmaster, demonstrated a lot of good humor during the process, including sitting beneath two enormous balloon trees while poring through the labyrinth of code.

I’m going to keep my background the way I have it for the next couple of years. But my writing mentors have suggested that I alter my theme every two to three years. Hopefully by the next theme change, I will have more than a nodding acquaintance with CSS. was very good to me, and I strongly recommend it for a blog and beginning website. Since I’ve gotten into publishing and more writing, I had to move on. One thing has not changed, however. I still get waylaid by the Mylar balloons at the supermarkets.

Have you ever thought about trying  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Night to Dawn 23 features zombies, vampires, and dark fantasy.

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