Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine

A Lift to the Apocalypse

Many folks stare and gasp when I inform them that a Mylar balloon has found its way into my shopping basket. “The balloon’s contaminated,” they warn me. True, I don’t know where that balloon or any other product I buy has been. This is why I wear a mask and gloves to the supermarket. At home, the balloon goes into a separate room for three days. It takes that long for viruses to die on Mylar and other plastics. After washing my hands long enough to sing my balloon song, I wipe down my other groceries. As I patiently explained to one person, I’m giving a lift to the Corona apocalypse.

Meanwhile, others, such as the writer I wish to talk about, are Birders, also known as Twitchers. The sky everywhere is their domain, and like a hawk after prey, it does soar into this particular Australian’s work, representing hell as well as hope for a distant future.

Rod Marsden’s recent release, 50 Dragons, features an apocalypse after a nuclear war. The time set is the 23rd century. The human population has gone way down, and many areas of the earth are uninhabitable due to radiation. There are no balloons, but folks in this world have all the cleaning and paper products they need, unlike our present world. However, Marsden’s citizens have far more serious concerns than balloon acquisitions or toilet paper supply. In 50 Dragons, one centralized government of priestesses runs the world. Religion is mandatory, but you don’t get to choose which one. Attendance at the temple is compulsory. No one need protest because robots armed with guns patrol the streets, and they’ll shoot just as soon as look at someone.

This government practices population control by eliminating people they consider inferior. Five classes of people exist: priestesses, mavericks, maidens, knights, and dragons. In school, thirteen-year-old boys are tested. The ones who pass muster become mavericks, meaning they go to college, get a career, and have a good life. The others train to become knights who will slay the dragons, thus a short life. Being a maverick doesn’t ensure longevity. If he attracts unfavorable attention from the authorities, he can be demoted to knighthood without training. They have tournaments twice a year featuring knights versus dragons, and the government calls these biannual events the “culling.”

50 Dragons was not meant to be political, but I can see governments heading in this direction if we allow them. Already, one governor said that older people should volunteer to die to save the economy (shades of the high priestesses). I don’t want a government telling me how to worship. Perhaps the coronavirus is a wakeup call to appreciate, have, and pull together to avoid a nuclear war. So I’ll tell my relatives and friends I love them when we speak. If one day, we can go out and eat, I’ll savor every moment. And I’ll continue my “Mylar balloon chases” at the supermarket. I am, after all, giving a lift to the apocalypse.

When to Say When

These days, Facebook is rife with political discussions and the sharing of experiences at the grocery store. Along with my Mylar balloon adventures, I’ve ranted about a particular leader and gave the Acme a shoutout because they had most of the items I needed. My heart goes out to people facing eviction and job losses due to the Coronavirus. I’m wondering if reopening businesses slowly with social distancing and masking might provide a hedge against sickness and poverty. At some point, the economy has to resume. A time comes when to say when.

It’s taking longer to write these days; for example, three days to write this blog. I’ll need to revisit the fine details in my WIP. My protag should have trouble finding meat, cleaning products, and toilet paper at least once or twice. However, she needn’t worry about learning Zoom since she doesn’t belong to any clubs. Besides, during a zombie apocalypse, she’ll be lucky to get any electricity, let alone the Internet. My protag may continue to buy balloons since they’re still finding their way to my cart. Dat’s wight, wabbits, the balloons are still calling to me.

These days, going to the supermarket gives a lot of people anxiety. However, the thought of having stuff delivered causes me angst. I know someone who scheduled a delivery that hasn’t materialized. That person’s running out of food. Others reported that they only got half of the items. Attempting to order groceries online necessitates a lot of uninterrupted time on the computer, a big no-no for someone with severe dry eye disease. I take my dry eye seriously, as the blurred vision can cause an issue with driving.

The time came when to say when as far as angst goes. My balloons and I agreed on a plan. I can go to the supermarket and run other essential errands if I arm myself with a sanitizer, a mask, and gloves. Per my balloons’ orders—yep, they’re da boss—I check my temperature before going on an errand. New Mylar purchases get handled with gloves and set aside for three days before they go on a balloon tree. I’ve been generous with disinfectant, and I work out with HASfit videos. According to my balloons, exercise is good for the immune system. Before refills, my balloons ask me to wash my hands long enough to sing a balloon lyric.

The hardest thing for me is missing out on family gatherings, writers’ events, volunteering at Ben Wilson Senior Center (yes, the folks there love my balloons), and lunch with my close friends. I sincerely regret not retiring sooner because I would have had that much more time with my peeps. However, I did make a few writing events on Zoom. So far, I’ve been maintaining my health, and I’m grateful for that. I hope all of you are staying well and keeping safe. How are you dealing with the pandemic? Any regrets? How has it affected your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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.

Have Mummy Will Travel

grist for Barbara Custer's tales

Have Mummy Will Travel

While my Mylar balloons guarded my house, I spent the weekend at Mohegan Sun Casino in CT. When I left, I anticipated shopping and light gambling with the slot machines. Ah, but my mummy buddy had a different type of gambling in mind. Dat’s wight, wabbits, I’m talking about the mummy from Atlantic City.

In June, I explored Virginia Beach, including the House of Mirrors, and I saw the mummy’s image etched on the glass. But given the excitement of the two book releases and many balloon chases, I’d plumb forgotten about it. The mummy didn’t. There’s burial ground about three miles from the casino, and the dead don’t rest easy.

Mohegan Sun, built by the Mohegan tribe, has much beauty. At the Casino of the Sky, you can look up and swear that you were in an open building with blue sky overhead. The architects planned it that well. A long hallway leads to the shops, restaurants, and the Casino of the Earth, where a waterfall was built. Near the waterfall, a mountain lion poses on a vast rocky post. If you go to my Facebook page, you’ll see all the pictures of the waterfall, lion, and hallway that depicts Indian drawings and tools. In the corridor, at the last panel, stood a canoe. At its base lay something covered by a red blanket. I’ve posted a photo, and if you look closely, you can make out fingers poking from underneath the blanket. A fellow traveler explained that the red blanket thing was a papoose, a type of bag for carrying children.

Now I did some research and learned that the Egyptians aren’t the only people known for mummification. What’s more, most papooses have an opening for the child’s face. Not this one. It was definitely worthy of a photograph. All the same, I got to thinking about the AC mummy and found an alternate route to the shops and Casino of the Earth.

Between the Virginia House of Mirrors and the hallway sighting, the gambling has begun. I had written “Reunion with the Unspeakable,” a short story about mummies on a previous blog. According to my Mylar balloons, I’ll need to write a book with a mummy character down the road.

Writing (and Editing) What You Know

I have two specialties in life: respiratory therapy and balloons, so my stories contain many references to them. Having married a history buff, I learned about the Depression and World War II. After growing up in an Italian family, I can make anginettipizzelles, stuffed olives, and other goodies. I’ve been to the Italian Market. So when Michael De Stefano sent me Waiting for Grandfather, I thought editing would be straightforward. Waiting for Grandfather is a tragic comedy featuring an Italian family preparing a surprise birthday party for their patriarch.

Ah, but most of the major characters think, dream, and play baseball. They can recite baseball scores from years ago by heart. Yours truly doesn’t know squat about baseball. The best thing to do is to consult someone who specializes in the subject. Instead, I went and consulted every article on Google to see how scores are written. I happen to be literal. If you try to teach me new equipment and mention a part called a balloon, I’d start thinking about my Mylar balloons, and that would end the lesson. So the baseball terminology made no sense either, and that’s not something Professor Google can explain.

My poverty in understanding resulted in some interesting edits on the baseball scenes. Thankfully, Michael had a sense of humor, and he rejected the baseball edits, easy enough to do with Word’s tracking feature. Going forward, if an author sends me a tale featuring a sports-loving character, Michael offered to help with what I didn’t know.

You’ve got to have a sense of humor to narrate the interactions between the Corelli family members. The father, who is a frustrated plumber, uses plumbing analogies when he describes ballplayers. The grand-uncles get into one scrape after another, and their oldest brother, Grandfather, has to bail them out. The story spans from the 30s through the modern day.   

I owe a lot of thanks to the folks at Small Publisher’s Talk, a group on Facebook, for their guidance in designing a cover. I had a rough time with the lettering for the cover until author John Green from the group came to my rescue. With that in mind, I’m delighted to present Waiting for Grandfather, now available on Amazon.

family comedy by Michael De Stefano

PWC2019 Days Two and Three.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

When I got on the train on Saturday, the conductor said hello. I smiled and shouted, “Choo choo!” The other passengers burst out laughing; then someone noted that new lines were being painted on the parking lots. I piped up with, “Yes, and they’re also painting Mylar balloons on these lines so that people can see to park between them.” If Mike were here, he’d smile and say, “That’s my Balloon Lady,” but you see, anticipating the second day of PWC2019 had put me in a jolly mood.

The jolliness prevailed because I started the day in Jonathan Maberry’s master class on action scenes. I once believed that martial arts would enable anyone to defend themselves. However, I learned differently in that class. Martial arts have too many rules, said Jonathan, and they don’t teach the physics involved in a fight. Your character can use common items for self-defense weapons, but there’s a way to turn to apply torque to make that weapon more effective. 

Saturday night, Jonathan was the keynote speaker, and he told everyone how he started out with teaching martial arts and writing nonfiction books. He then moved onto fiction, starting with Ghost Road Blues; he described how different writers have influenced him and his writing. In that speech and his Writer’s Business Plan class, he emphasized the importance of professionalism: don’t slam other writers, don’t put people on a pedestal, approach politics with caution on social media, and avoid negativity. As my mom used to say, if you don’t have anything kind to say about a person or organization, don’t say anything at all (at least on social media).  

Sunday morning, I got up, tired, but I greeted everyone with a smile and “Top of the balloon to you,” for I anticipated more good things. And I got them in Brian McKinley’s class. He provided a lot of great material on horror, specifically log lines, elevator pitches, and book blurbs. One formula given: protagonist must do something brave to achieve a goal, with high stakes. There should be a time limit given, for example, a ticking bomb. For a one-sentence plotline, the formula is: in a setting, a protagonist has a (problem) caused by (antagonist) and faces (conflict) as they try to achieve a goal.

I also got plenty of good material from Shirley Hailstock’s class. The most important takeaway: the protagonist must do all the work. I can’t have God working miracles or the cavalry rescuing her. She also gives a tool for managing the ending, something I have difficulty writing. Have the story come full circle. So I’m thinking that if my book starts with a monster wreaking terror, perhaps the book could end with the protag slaying the beast or watching it die.

I owe the Liars Club and the PWC board a 50- balloon thank you for the hard work that went into this writing conference. This had to be one of the best I’ve attended, and I hope to go to many more.

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