Interview with Barbara Custer
Author of When Blood Reigns
Author of When Blood Reigns
Genres: Adult, Horror, Science Fiction
Marked for death, Alexis accompanies her lover, Yeron, and four survivors of a zombie invasion on a search for the renegades who created a chemical that induces a zombie-like state. On the way, ravenous flesh-eaters attack Alexis’s team; one survivor turns on her. She realizes too late that the renegades have been tracking her every move. When officials capture her, she becomes deathly ill. Can DNA splicing save her? Will Yeron’s attempts at rescue jeopardize all their lives?
Bonus Excerpt after interview
Barbara Custer – questions / answers for When Blood Reigns.
Please tell us a little something about you.
I’ve enjoyed horror and science fiction since I was in high school back in the 1970s. My favorite was Dark Shadows, the Hammer films, and years later, Stephen King. I dabbled in writing in my early twenties but didn’t begin writing in earnest until the 1990s. By then, I’d fallen in love with Stephen King’s books, and I fantasized about writing similar tales. So I began writing horror fiction straight away, and later, when my work got into the small press magazines, an editor encouraged me to submit science fiction. Most of what I write today is a cross-genre – horror and science fiction, for example, Steel Rose and now, When Blood Reigns. Night to Dawn published some of my tales before the former editor retired. I’ve been editing the magazine for the last twelve years, and I’m publishing books through the NTD imprint. When I’m not working on my projects, I enjoy a great fright flick. Sometimes I’ll try a new recipe—it never gets too warm for baking. And of course, there’s my balloon collection. Sometimes you’ll find me at the stores, chasing and being chased by Mylar balloons.
What motivated you to become a published author?
Because finances had prohibited my schooling in the early years, my writing lay dormant until I went back to college in the late 80s. My mother died in 1990, and my instructor encouraged me to try creative writing as a way to handle my grief. I sent in my first team with the horror / SF genre, and I’ve found writing very helpful in enabling me to process my grief.
What is the most difficult part of writing for you?
Writing those “slow” but oh, so important scenes are the worst for me. I’m a pantser at heart, and I’ve never been able to follow an outline. I gave it the college try, but the best I can manage a general sense of the plotline with a satisfying ending. For example, I wrote a scene where two men are caught dragging a woman to a zombie pit. I loved writing the drama of the rescue that followed. But then it occurred to me: what led up to her being kidnapped? Was she lured or seized against her will? Where? This is where I’ve got to try and tame the pantser in me, and write a convincing scene of what happened before the her abduction.
Pick a character from your book and describe one of his/her strengths and one of his/her weaknesses?
Let’s go with Alexis. She’s makes a true blue friend and fellow soldier—so often she’ll run into danger to save her teammates. And when Yeron is badly injured, she crawls through an underground hallway to find help, despite multiple cuts and wounds. When her travels take her to a Kryszka compound, she befriends the governor and other people there. At times, though, she lets her emotions get the better of her, and she’ll act impulsively, which almost costs her life.
What is your favorite part of your book?
I can’t say that When Blood Reigns has any one favorite part, but I get a lot of chuckles reading through the scenes that involve Johnny. Some of the things he said and did – the humor – cut through the tension between everyone holed up at the safe house. There’s also one scene I like because it speaks well of protag Alexis – when she crawls through the Kryszka’s compound hallway searching for help for her beloved Yeron despite her own serious injuries.
If you could spend a week anywhere, where would you go and what would you do during that week?
Let’s start with activities. Day 1. Go to an outlet mall. Day 2. Go for a ride on a hot air balloon. Day 3. Get a treatment at the hotel spa. I’d dedicate days 4 and 5 to rest, but on those respective evenings, I’d like to take a tour through a deserted town and look for ghosts. Day 6. Back to the spa. Day 7. Take a leisurely train (or plane) ride home. Where would I like to go? Any place or time that enables me to do these activities in a warm, dry climate.
What genre do you like to read and who are some of your favorite authors?
I favor the horror and science fiction genre. Some of my favorite authors include Jonathan Maberry and Stephen King. However, I will read other genres from time to time because I feel it’s a great way to study character behavior under different circumstances. Being familiar with different genres may enrich the characters in the genre you write.
If you could have any wish granted, what would it be?
I’d like medical science to come up with a cure for Parkinson’s, the disease that took Mike, as I’d hate to see this happen to others. I don’t want just a cure but a way to reverse the damage left by the disease. It’s a gigantic ask, but…
What are you currently working on and when can we expect your next book?
I’m working on a sequel to When Blood Reigns, but I’m still in first draft – writing goes slowly when you work a day job. So the plotline is under wraps. You can expect more zombies, renegade alien soldiers, and this time out, an introduction to new characters.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Read as many books as you can, both your genre and others to get a feel for characters and what makes them act out. Assume that your first draft will become history when revising begins. And before you send any book out for submission or self-publication, hire a good editor.
I'd like to thank Barbara for her time in answering these questions. As promised, here is the bonus excerpt to When Blood Reins follows:
Under a sky dark as tar, Shively and his gang left through the rear exit of Jackson Hospital. The power blackout cloaked the surrounding streets in shadow. Shively and Tyrone led them through an alley parallel to Jonasville Street, where the hospital was. Alexis stayed close to Yeron, teeth gritted, with Johnny to her left, and behind Shively. Mark followed close behind her. Despite Johnny’s and the others’ assurances that they could control Mark, she found herself shivering. She felt his intent stare on her, the way she had ten years ago right before he threw her on the couch.
"Brrrrrrr.” She rubbed her arms, moving closer to Yeron.
The warm May air carried a stench like that of rotting tomatoes. At the end of the block, the full moon splashed silver over the buildings and bushes. Yesterday they had slaughtered an army of emaciated, wasted people who smelled like they were many days dead, monsters that had trashed Jackson Hospital’s research floor. They knew more lay in wait; the offensive odor betrayed their secrecy.
Unease festered in Alexis’s stomach. A creepy feeling nagged at her, like someone had eyes on her, biding his time, planning a surprise attack.
She glanced toward Yeron. The soldier in him had replaced the lover: squared shoulders, head erect, jaw muscles tight, and mouth closed. His ruby eyes shifted right and left. With the invisible eyes on her came an overwhelming sadness. Don’t be ridiculous, she scolded herself. It’s not like he’s snubbing you at some party. He’s watching out for trouble and you should, too, so pay attention.
Still, the feeling of being watched lingered.
Aw oooooooooo! AWOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Alexis let out a yelp, and this time, she did latch onto Yeron’s elbow as if they were dancing at a party. The howling continued, loud and plaintive.
“Listen to that.” She nudged his shoulder. “Those woods are crawling with dead and their stink’s drawing the dogs.”
“The dogs smell Kryszka renegades.” Johnny’s voice faltered. His wide blue eyes remained fixed on their surroundings. “I don’t like this.”
“Whether you like it or not, deal,” Shively told them.
“That’s right.” Mark’s voice raked her with freezing contempt. “We’ve had enough of your whining.”
Alexis stiffened, then set her lips in a grim line. Damn, I’m not spending the next several weeks listening to Mark’s shit.
With her telekinesis at the ready, she whirled upon Mark and unleashed a surge of psychic energy. Mark stumbled, fell against a brick wall, and then landed in a heap. He doubled over, one hand rubbing his right arm.
“Cut the shit, asshole,” she warned him.
“Whoa!” Johnny brayed nervous laughter. “She socked it to you.”
“Bitch nearly broke my arm.” Mark scowled, struggling to his feet.
“Next time, she might hurt you bad.” Tyrone’s solemn face shone with sweat. “If I were you, I’d shut it.”
Mark’s mouth worked like a guppy’s, and in the moonlight, his face reddened. Tyrone held his finger to his lips. Mark kept quiet.
The howling continued, sending liquid fear racing through Alexis’s veins.
“Of course, the dogs will howl,” Yeron said. “This street smells gamey.”
“The animals sense danger, too.” Alexis hugged her tunic around her shoulders. She had Yeron to thank for looting the plasma guns and uniform after his compound exploded. “Weekly World Reporter had a big article on dogs and how they smell scent.”
Yeron did not comment. He continued staring ahead, his face impassive.
“I’d like to give those creatures a nice, long, dirt nap.” Johnny scowled. “Too bad Weekly World didn’t give us an easy way to make it happen.”
“Do not worry, honey.” Yeron smiled and stroked her hair. “I will not let you face those creatures alone.”
“Be quiet, all of you!” Shively darted a withering glance over his shoulder. “There’s something weird ahead.”
Shively reached into his backpack for his binoculars and flashlight. Alexis and the others stopped and kept quiet. All eyes were on Shively. There was no sound coming from the houses; most of them were cloaked in shadow. No streetlights, thanks to the power outage. The dogs continued howling, long, melancholy wails. No other sounds could be heard except for the crickets. The air thickened with its rancid odor. Alexis slid her fingers around her plasma gun. Knees bent, she braced herself for an exchange of gunfire.
“Where at?” she asked.
“The back alley.” Shively pointed and moved to his left.
Alexis and the others hustled after him. An acrid smell wafted from a garage near a doctor’s office. The buzzing came next. The garage appeared intact, but the low beam from Shively’s flashlight washed over a corpse. Swarms of flies buzzed around its skeletal legs and the two blood-spattered bushes that concealed the rest of the body
Barbara lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she works full time as a respiratory therapist. When she’s not working with her patients, she’s enjoying a fright flick or working on horror and science fiction tales. She’s published Night to Dawn magazine since 2004.
Other books by Barbara include Twilight Healer, City of Brotherly Death, Infinite Sight, and Steel Rose; also novellas Close Liaisons and Life Raft: Earth. She enjoys bringing her medical background to the printed page, and then blending it with supernatural horror. She maintains a presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and The Writers Coffeehouse forum. Look for the photos with the Mylar balloons, and you’ll find her.