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

Amazon KDP Versus Lulu

Thing is, once I’m done laying out the magazine, the time comes to order proof and contributor copies. This time out, I’m packing at home and then mail all the issues because several times, Amazon has marked certain items “undeliverable” and then refunded me the money. This necessitated going through the ordering process again. I suspect that some drivers get sick along the way, so whatever’s in the truck goes back to the facility. What’s more, the USPS is under new management, which means streamlining costs and eliminating overtime, causing the delay in shipping. I think I really needed that balloon!

I needed a Mylar balloon, at least in principle. I just ordered a print run for Night to Dawn 38, not from Lulu like I’ve done since 2008, but from Amazon KDP. Lulu reports longer shipping times, and I expect some of this with KDP because many postal workers have gotten sick; ergo, fewer people are available to do the job. What’s more, certain countries put a ban on international shipping. In theory, COVID shouldn’t affect NTD’s process unless I get sick. Thankfully, with practical coaching from my Mylar balloons, I’m staying healthy.

I was pleased with the proof, but that’s not the only reason I went with KDP. Lulu has changed its website. The first proof looked good, but after I made some minor changes, an issue came up with the print extending full bleed to the edges of the page. Several tries and swear words later, I found Lulu’s new templates and margin requirements. This will necessitate redoing the layout. I have in mind to rework the file after I mailed all the contributors their issues.

The KDP proof looks good. I don’t have double columns like I did with Lulu, and the cover looks different. When I went through my changes with KDP initially, they wanted an author name on the cover, so I tucked in “Presented by Barbara Custer” in small letters. Copies for the print run will cost a little over $2.00 each—not bad. The reduced price per issue will make up for the increased cost in postage. If things go smoothly with shipping, I will start sending issues through the distributor again.

I never thought I’d see the day I’d choose KDP over Lulu for the Night to Dawn 38. But Night to Dawn 38 is now available through Amazon. So today, I went out and got the Mylar balloon posted below.

featuring Barbara Custer's Night to Dawn 38

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
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