The Great Pumpkin Revisited

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

Last year I gave a little history on the pumpkin and why it was so crucial to Halloween. This year I’m focusing on the Great Pumpkin that Peanuts character Linus reveres. To make things clear: 95% of me doesn’t believe the Great Pumpkin exists, but five percent suspects there might be an acorn of truth behind it, for the pumpkin fever is on me. But my version of the Great Pumpkin doesn’t fly around a pumpkin patch the way Linus’s version does. Instead, my Great Pumpkin flies into supermarkets in the form of a Mylar pumpkin. I have two small pumpkin balloons, but to get the Great Pumpkin, I’ve got to pay my dues.

Last October, I made pumpkin muffins, cooked pasta with pumpkin sauce, and drank pumpkin coffee every day. What’s more, I visited Wawa for pumpkin shakes. I kept this up for a while, but about halfway through October, I complained about having to eat so much pumpkin. My whining didn’t sit well with the Great Pumpkin, and while I had a lot of balloons, none of them qualified as the Great Pumpkin. For him to come, you’ve got to be sincere.

This year, it’s going to be pumpkin cupcakes and cookies, along with pumpkin flavoring in the coffee. I’ve started the ball rolling with pumpkin lattes at Starbucks, and I will frequent the Wawa as well. Since I’m newly retired from the day job, I’ve got no excuse, and I will stow my complaints.

The following blogs will feature my adventure at Atlantic City; a discussion with issues I’ve had writing, a short story. So while you’ll enjoy, I’ll head to the Mylar balloon aisle at all the supermarkets and keep my eyes open for the Great Pumpkin.

I will be sending a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.


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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.

Traveling, Balloons, and Geographical Therapy

featuring walking skeletons, zombies and a new twist on vampiresYesterday, I headed to Reading Terminal Market and bought delicious cheeses, baked goods, and a gift for someone. The ride was my Mylar balloons’ idea.

The discussion began with my forthcoming trip to Atlantic City, where I’ll indulge in geographical therapy to spur the writing muse. Since I’m taking a Greyhound bus, I decided to confirm the trip. It took me three tries to find the confirmation number.

That was when a balloon’s cheery voice popped up. “Are you having a problem?”

“No!” I snapped. “I just needed the confirmation number. I’m good to go.”

“Uh, huh.” The butterfly balloons bobbed. “When was the last time you rode a Greyhound bus?”

“I’ve taken them many times when my mom and I used to travel back in, um, 1975.”

“1975, huh?” The balloons congregated around me. “That’s over 40 years ago. Shouldn’t you read their FAQ? They may have changed their guidelines?”

“Right.” So I studied the FAQ and learned about the tagging and baggage restriction, something not mentioned in 1975. “Guess I’d better bird-dog the station.”

“Dat’s wight, wabbit.” The balloons patted me on the head. “While you’re at it, how about walking through the Reading Terminal Market and Di Bruno Brothers? You plan to do some running around at the shore. See how that would work with your neuropathy.”

“Aw, shucks, why’d you have to mention that?” I groaned, knowing better than to argue. “Why don’t I just take a day trip to Atlantic City?”

“That won’t be necessary, but when you do go, take a cab to the hotel instead of walking. Betcha there will be cabs lined up, offering rides.”

With the balloons’ suggestions duly noted, I headed downtown. The ride to the bus station went without a hitch. Because the humidity had made yesterday a low spoon day, I needed to sit between every store I visited and I was pretty sore by the time I finished. Nevertheless, I got gf treats at the Flying Monkey Bakery. At the Pennsylvania General Store, they’ve got holiday ornaments, Philadelphia souvenirs, and other goodies. Reading Terminal Market has great cheese shops, but because I’d gotten there early, they were closed. If I don’t get my cheese, I’m gonna be an unhappy camper, I thought, so I headed off to Di Bruno Brothers. There I got my cheeses and prosciutto. After that, I went home to rest.

I got three takeaways from this: first, you can find anything you want at the Reading Terminal Market and Di Bruno Brothers, and yes, most of the shops cater to food allergies. If you leave hungry, you’ve done something wrong.

Second, bird-dog a place you’d like to visit if you’re not familiar with the area. This can apply to your writing if you want to create a realistic setting. I may bird-dog some places while I’m at the shore for my work in progress.

Finally, if you have neuropathy or any kind of health issue, travel light and consider the benches your best friends. I’ve decided to forego my laptop and opted for a journal and pens I can stow in my suitcase. Geographical therapy aside, it will be interesting to see how writing by hand affects my creativity.

Stay tuned. 🙂

Battle of the Covers

psychological horror written by Gerald Browning

The cover war started during Smashwords’ July promo. Because Smashwords had changed its formatting guidelines, two of the books that had been out awhile didn’t meet specs. I noted that Gerald Browning’s Demon in my Head had drawn attention, so I reformatted his book and ran a Facebook promo on it. During the process, I got to thinking, this is a darned good read. How come it doesn’t get more sales? That was when someone gave a vague criticism of the cover.

Designing covers are not my strong suit. The cover design is more straightforward for the Night to Dawn magazine because its cover has more real estate than the trade paperback books. I decided to apply the following maxim: if one person tells me I’m a balloon, I will ignore them. If two people call me a balloon, I’ll listen. If three people call me a balloon, I’d better get a ribbon and float.

I posted the cover image on the Facebook page for The Writers Coffeehouse. Many of my writer buddies belong to this group. Whenever I can, I go to their monthly meetings in Willow Grove. These folks recognize a good or bad cover, and I received a lot of constructive criticism with suggestions on what I could do to improve the cover. It was time to grab that ribbon and float.

After fortifying myself with a Mylar balloon purchase, I approached Gerald with the suggestions about his cover. He’d heard similar sentiments from people who read his book and was glad to get a new cover. Next an email to Teresa Jay, the cover artist for his book. She started with several ideas, and two of them looked good. Enthused, I took them back to my Writer’s Coffeehouse and got more helpful suggestions. One included using a filter to get rid of the cartoonish look on one of the images. Where I live, filters are for coffeepots or air conditioners, and I mentioned the same to Teresa. Thankfully, she has a great sense of humor. After going back another time, this is the final new cover for Demon in my Head.

I got four takeaways from this: first, if you read eBooks, you can get a great deal at Smashwords during July. Sometimes, the books are free. Second, Demon in my Head is a darned good tale, and folks who like psychological horror and the occult would find this a must-read.

Third, I want to thank Teresa Jay for her patience and good humor with making the changes. She does the back cover for my Night to Dawn magazines, and wraparounds for some of the books. I’m glad to have her. Finally, to the folks at the Writers Coffeehouse, I owe you guys a lot of thanks and balloons. I’ve proud to be a member, and I look forward to going to future meetings. To aspiring writers, I strongly recommend you go to some meetings. Initially established by Jonathan Maberry and other literary greats, the Writers Coffeehouse I attend meets the last Sunday of each month at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble, from 12 to 2:00 p.m. Jonathan later established one at the Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. There are meetings in Rosemont, PA, and other locations too. In any case, it’s about writers helping writers.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

A Good Reason and the Real Reason

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Yesterday, I headed to the supermarket to take advantage of the sales. Well, that was a handy excuse. The real reason I went was because I’ve contemplated the colorful Mylar balloons on their display shelves. Perhaps someone might cite ill health or better opportunity as a reason to quit a job, but deep down, they were simply unhappy working at their company. In both cases, we have our good reasons and our real reasons.

This principle applies to writing, too, so I have a confession to make. A while back, I blogged about The Forgotten People, citing my reasons for rewriting and publishing the stories. My post didn’t ring true. The reasons I gave were valid—the stories feature timid, bullied people who didn’t fit into society. I started working on spinoffs of these tales after the Termite Invasion of 2017. Along the way, I stumbled and needed the help of a good editor.

My real motive kept me going through the tough edits: our unstable political climate.

In particular, healthcare. The two last stories in The Forgotten People anthology, “The Forgotten Ward,” and “Good Samaritan” take place in 2050. Medicaid no longer exists, and due to the high costs, hospitals will not treat you without insurance or cash card. When your insurance runs out, better hope you have money. You can’t barter with real estate or other valuables unless you can find a buyer fast. Without money, all treatment stops. The protagonists in these tales find a way to smuggle life-saving medicine to indigent patients, but they pay dearly for their efforts.

I got to thinking about Trump’s proposed 2019 cuts to Medicare, SNAP, and Medicaid. His pending changes include Medicare enrollees paying the same copay on every doctor visit, whether it be routine or a specialist. This could shortchange specialists who may in turn refuse to treat Medicare patients (shades of “Forgotten Ward”). If I met Mr. Trump, I’d ask, “Since when did age and money define someone’s right to life and medical care?”

Granted, I took plenty of artistic license. In “The Forgotten Ward,” the sickest patients are warehoused into a dirty ward where they’re left to die. In reality, if we continue on this slippery slope, the hospitals of the future may simply discharge patients who run out of funds. But there you have it, folks: my real reason for publishing this book.

My Mylar balloons, who have an opinion on everything, from politics to writing, suggested that focusing on the real reason for telling a story may result in better writing. Methinks they have it right; it did, after all, motivate me to complete the book. Your thoughts?

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