The Perils of Writing Short Fiction


by Lillian Csernica on February 21, 2017

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Opportunity cost. Cost/benefit analysis. Return on investment.

I remember these terms from my Economics and Accounting classes. Little did I know I would one day be applying them to which writing projects I chose to pursue.

So far, the Flower Maiden Saga has inspired me to write three consecutive novels. The farther I go in editing and polishing Book One for the big agent pitch, the more of the causes and consequences of the main storyline I see. The core plots for Books Four and Five have already presented themselves.

This is wonderful. I’m excited about all of it. The thing is, my first love is writing short stories. Reading short stories in Asimov’s and Weird Tales and my English Lit. classes made me want to become a writer. The first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up a copy of The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI and saw my name on the table of contents right there with Ramsey Campbell and Ed Gorman, I very nearly exploded with happiness.

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Short stories are great, but novels are where the money is. I’ve heard that many times. Novels take a while to write and a while to polish and package for publication. Not so with short stories. Short stories will get your name out there and keep it out there.

These are the five main perils of writing short fiction:

  1. Why waste a good idea on a short story? These days it’s all about writing novels. Give the readers what they want, over and over again. Build that brand. Make more money. Fine. If that’s what you want, go for it. Bear in mind there is much to be said for the art and craft of the short story. Hemingway’s “The Killers” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” remain vivid in my mind thirty-five years after I read them in high school.
  2. Short stories are often just one shots. That one shot might be brilliant, but then you have to go write another story. Is that one brilliant story continuing to earn royalties or selling well as a Kindle Single? I visit various writers’ groups online, and I find the emphasis on money to be disheartening. Short stories can be built into a novel. One of my favorite fantasy novels, A Bait of Dreams by Jo Clayton, started out as three short stories that appeared in Asimov’s.
  3. It can be difficult to pack a complex story idea into a limited word count. On the other hand, doing so can result in a stronger story. When I wrote “Fallen Idol,” my first short story sale, I got so caught up in all the research and characters and how-to books’ advice I thought I could rise to the challenge of writing a real novel. Fortunately, I had an attack of reality. All the research and ideas imploded, resulting in a much stronger short story.
  4. Unless you’re selling to the top professional markets, short fiction doesn’t pay much. If you’re sending out enough stories to generate an acceptable amount of sales, way to go! That’s not easy to do, even for the Big Names. I will say that anthologies that pay up front then give you a cut of the royalties can provide some worthwhile income.
  5. Here’s the Peril that cuts to the heart of what it means to be a writer. Are you going to write about what you want to write about, or are you going to write what you think will sell to the markets where you want your work to appear? The Digital Age has opened up a whole lot of  markets. They may not pay much. They may not pay at all. Still, you can get your words out there. Targeting a particular market is a perfectly reasonable career strategy. My first sale to Weird Tales was another day for joyful explosion.

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It comes down to those basic questions we all ask our main characters:

What do you want?

How badly do you want it?

What are you willing to give up in order to get it?

When you’ve answered these three questions, you will be on your way to navigating through the perilous process of telling the stories only you can tell.

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(Knee) Joint Ventures


by Lillian Csernica on February 13, 2017

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Finally scheduled the physical therapy for my sprained knee. Here is yet another excellent example of “Be careful what you wish for.”

Those of you who have had physical therapy will know what happens first, especially with a joint problem. The physical therapist (PT) works the joint to see where the mobility issues are and just how serious your discomfort levels may be. In short, you spend the first fifteen minutes being tortured while your PT gets the lay of the land, so to speak.

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My PT explained and demonstrated the exercises she wanted me to do in order to help heal the ligaments and get the knee cap realigned. No problem there. One exercise involves a rolling pin. That one I really must use in a story somewhere.

Now for the weird part. A nice young man wheeled in a machine on par with a fast food cash register that included an ultrasound gadget and one for infra red light. Ultrasound can break up scar tissue. I had no idea. The infra red light promotes healing. Don’t you just love science?

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For me, they brought out the electrodes. One pair above my knee, one pair just below. This is where my anxiety spiked. I know what those kind of electrodes do, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. As much as the tech assured me this procedure was designed to reduce my pain level, I wasn’t buying it. Sure enough, Step One would be “adjusting the level to suit my needs.”

Translation: Finding out how much I could take before my muscles spasmed and I started swearing.

Ever seen Showdown in Little Tokyo? Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Tia Carrere. WARNING: Our Heroes do start swearing.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

It got even weirder when my PT wrapped my knee in an ice pack. So first it feels like I’ve got all these little needles jabbing me, then the ice pack helped numb the area. Even so, when the tech tinkered with the voltage I freaked out, laughing like a maniac. It TICKLED. Sounds funny? It wasn’t. I kept doubling up, working my non-existent six-pack, laughing until I thought I’d have an asthma attack.

My PT said to the tech, “I think she’ll be low level.” Gosh, ya think so?

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The tech adjusted the voltage, then set the timer for about ten minutes. My PT told me to yell if I needed anything.  Then the tech offered me this silly piece of comfort:

“Now remember, this machine cannot hurt you.”

Really? Tickle torture, muscle spasms, and making it hard to breathe? All that didn’t count as “hurting” me?

I survived the ten minutes without too much discomfort. To be fair, for the rest of the evening my knee did feel better. My PT said she expects to see improvement in six weeks, so I’ve got six more sessions. I confess I’m hoping I can do without the electrodes VERY soon!

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Good Things Happen to Those Who Hustle—Getting PAID to Write


There are a lot of other venues that need writers so when we free up what we think of when we hear “writer” that is going to give us a major advantage.

Source: Good Things Happen to Those Who Hustle—Getting PAID to Write

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My children have autism: I need therapy more than they do.


Once again Faithmummy has put into words some of the aspects of being a special needs parent which are the hardest to describe. Well done.

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I remember the very first day I admitted to myself that my children were struggling. They were both 18 months old and neither of them were walking. One never gave eye contact not did he interact much and he had no language. The other could not crawl or roll or even pull herself up. Both relied on routine for everything!


I remember one Friday late afternoon making a call to my health visitor and leaving a tearful message on his answer phone.
Looking back that afternoon epitomises the entire point of this blog. Here was I in tears worried about my children while they were happy sitting on the couch watching TV.

They were happy…it was me who was sad.


As time went on and appointments started piling up for them both it became quickly apparent that I needed to do every bit as much as my children. Occupational therapists…

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Here Comes the Rain Again….


by Lillian Csernica on February 9, 2017

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I live in Santa Cruz County. Right now we’re getting hammered by another storm system. A creek runs along one property line of our land. To say that it’s “swollen” is right up there with saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground.

At the moment, the creek is sporting various clumps of tree debris, PVC piping from the neighbor’s irrigation system, and other bits and pieces washed away from yards farther up the creek. A bright yellow ball is bobbing in one of the little whirlpools off to one side of the main current.

California Storms

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Driving is a chancy business right now. In my particular neighborhood there are a number of places where hydroplaning is a real possibility if you don’t keep your speed down. Fishtailing, spinning out, and taking out the neighbor’s trash bins are not happy options.

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Spring promises to be glorious. The ornamental plum trees in my front yard are already showing buds that will soon become blossoms burst out all over the tree limbs like pink popcorn.

Acacia bushes line many of the roads around here. Their lovely yellow flowers spell doom for people with allergies.

The daffodils and pink ladies are already beginning to show. It’s nice to see the green and brown and gray of the mountains enlivened with colors.

School has been closed for two days, which has caused some logistical juggling around here. Word is school will be open, but I won’t believe that until the school bus for Michael shows up. I just heard something crack and splash out back.

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The picnic table in the lower back yard was under water two days ago, which was more than a little alarming. I can’t help thinking about Sir Terry Pratchett’s marvelous Discworld book, SNUFF. Commander Vimes takes on the task of steering a hijacked riverboat ahead of a giant wave roaring down the river known as Old Treachery. The phenomenon called a “dam slam” results in a logjam of debris sweeping away everything before it.

I’m really hoping we don’t get to see one of those live and in person!

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Caring for the Caregiver: Preventing Burnout


This advice is always worth repeating. It really is OK to put your own needs first when that means keeping yourself healthy and stable!

All About Autism

I often write posts that are focused on the best ways to provide care for children and adults with disabilities. But what about the caregivers themselves? There are many of us out there, whether we are a parent, a family member, a teacher, a direct service professional, or a medical professional. caregiverOf course, although we bring an abundance of love and care with us to this “job,” I think few would disagree that being a caregiver is also a challenging job. Each of us has experienced “burnout,” a time when the emotions associated with caregiving surface and cause a person to become overwhelmed, or worse.

I believe it’s important to remember that, good or bad, these feelings are not only allowed but valid and important. We all experience them at some time. I recently learned that moms of children with autism had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol…

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Day 14: How’s the Weight Loss Program Working?


by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2017

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Answer: Fourteen pounds in fourteen days. Yes, that’s right. I’ve lost on average one pound every day since I began the program.

This is not a testimonial or an infomercial. This is a celebration of overcoming a problem I’ve had since I was ten years old.

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I like eating vegetables. I like cooking. I can’t remember how I got into the rut of relying mostly on fast food or microwave dinners. When the kids were little I had to eat fast when I had a free moment, sure. The boys are legal adults now. It’s high time I abandoned the old instant gratification pattern for long term health and well-being.

All this without a specific exercise program. I’m still wearing the knee brace. There’s a communication problem between my doctor and the physical therapy people. I am in the middle, trying to get that sorted out. Until I know what I can and can’t do while my knee recuperates, I have to be careful.

Meanwhile, let me just say that I love Quest protein bars. So many flavors to choose from!

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A New Variation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?


by Lillian Csernica on January 26, 2017

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A strange thing happened today on the way to the grocery store.

As I was walking toward the entrance, I noticed a big brown SUV parked across the aisle. No big deal, right?  There are lots of SUVs around these days. What caught my eye was the driver’s side door hanging wide open. Then I realized I could hear the engine running. I took a closer look. There was no one inside the vehicle.

A security guard happened to be standing outside the store entrance. I hurried over to him and pointed out the SUV. The guard strolled over to the SUV just as a man walked up from behind it. They said something to each other that I couldn’t hear, then the one man climbed into the SUV while the security guard nodded and smiled.

When the guard came back, he told me the man said he’d just stopped for a minute so he could throw some trash in one of the Dumpsters. Really? The man parked that far away from the actual Dumpsters, then left the engine running and the driver’s side door open, in that part of downtown Santa Cruz?

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How did that security guard know for sure the man he was talking was in fact the owner of that vehicle?

I wonder what would have happened if I’d dialed 911 and reported a car abandoned with the engine running. How soon would a patrol car have responded? Would the same man have walked up and taken possession of the SUV?

I’m going to keep an eye on the police blotter section of the local newspapers and see if any Grand Theft Auto cases turn up that fit the time and location. What I saw could have been exactly what it looked and sounded like. Still, it bothers me.

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Five Reasons Why Today Is Wonderful


by Lillian Csernica on January 24, 2017

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One: The rain has stopped. The sun is out! The creek that runs along our property is back to a reasonable level. The wild stormy weekend made the creek rise several feet, biting off chunks of our back yard. All the trees  that fell, fell away from our house.

This is a huge relief.

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Two: Today I saw my cardiologist. Thanks to my brief period of radioactivity during my previous appointment, my doctor is now satisfied that no plaque is lurking in my veins waiting to cause me a serious problem. This means no angiogram!  Another serious relief.

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Three: I’ve been having problems with my CPAP equipment. I stopped by SleepQuest today for some troubleshooting. Turns out the 90 days have passed and my insurance covers a fresh set of equipment. The tech on duty (a delightful lady) set me up with everything I needed.

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Four: By this time hunger pangs set in. On my weight loss program I have to make sure I don’t let myself get too hungry. If my blood sugar drops, I tend to stand around staring at things and I can’t make decisions quickly. Given that my drive home meant going over Hwy 17, lunch became a serious priority. Trader Joe’s to the rescue! I spotted one and discovered a number of tasty items on my You Are Allowed To Eat Very Little Of This list.

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Five: I made it home before the after school rush, thank God. Between the clean up after the latest storm, the road crews filling in all the potholes, and everybody getting out into the sunshine, driving was hectic enough without all the grade school parents picking up their kids and all the teenagers with cars spilling out of the high school.

Here I sit, preparing to edit a fresh short story. The hardest part of this weight loss program is giving up chocolate during the first stage. I sincerely believe chocolate fuels the imagination. Oh well. I seem to be surviving without my usual Mocha Coconut Frappuccino from Starbucks. If I can write without caffeine, I shall be a new woman!

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On the Importance of Strong Female Characters


This is brilliant. And it’s all true. Whoopi Goldberg once said that seeing Nichelle Nichols playing Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek” made her realize she really could be anything she wanted to be.

Trust Me, I'm a Writer

sfc-heading-pic From the Women’s March; Seattle, WA; January 21, 2017

I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Seattle, a sister to the Women’s March on Washington DC. Before I lose you, I have no intention of talking politics in this post. What I am going to talk about is something I can’t believe is still controversial: the importance of strong female characters in fiction.

As I marched with 175,000 other humans (the estimate at the time of this writing), I noticed countless signs referencing some of my favorite female badasses from fiction. I took in multiple nods to space rebels, vampire slayers, and warrior princesses and knew—without a doubt—that every last person who argues that female heroes aren’t interesting or “won’t sell” is absolutely full of shit. I saw little girls in Wonder Woman costumes and Princess/General Leia t-shirts (I was wearing a General Leia shirt myself), and knew—without…

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