Monthly Archives: March 2013

A is for Adverb

by Lillian Csernica on March 31, 2013

Hello! Welcome to my first go at the A to Z Challenge. A big thank-you to Arlee Bird, our founding father!

A is for ADVERB

The adverb is your enemy. Why? The only reason for using an adverb is to shore up a weak verb. Weak verbs mean weak storytelling. Weak storytelling means readers, editors, agents and publishers will drop your story and move on to something stronger.

Kill your adverbs. Put some muscle in your verbs. Stronger stories stand a better chance of being accepted by those same editors, agents and publishers.

Write the strongest stories you can write. Sell as many of those stories as you can possibly sell.

That’s what it’s all about!


Filed under Fiction, Writing

Top Ten Ways to Keep Your Writing Fun and Fresh

by Lillian Csernica on March 31, 2013

You know how it is.  You’ve been wrestling with that short story.  You’ve been slogging through that novel re-write.  Your brain is fried, your motivation is gone, and you just can’t face all the mental arm-twisting it will take to make you do today’s writing.  There’s got to be an easier way!

There is.  Let’s have some fun!

1. Blog contest!  As you can see from the lovely graphic on the right, I have joined the A to Z April Challenge.  Daily bursts of writing based on that day’s letter of the alphabet!

2. Fortune cookies!  Go out and buy yourself a box of fortune cookies.  You can get them at the grocery store.  Go home, crack one open, read that fortune, and WRITE!  Make the fortune your first sentence, make it your punchline, make it the banner that hangs over the head table at the bridal reception.  Just go for it!

3. Read the back of cereal boxes.  (Hey, you were at the grocery story anyway for those fortune cookies, right?)  There’s an old joke about an aspiring writer who asked a seasoned pro where he got his ideas.  The pro said he got them off the backs of cereal boxes.  Think about it!  Lucky CharmsCount ChoculaFrosted Flakes.  Shredded Mini-Wheats.  Gotta be something there you can use!

4. License plates.  We all drive a lot, right?  Pay attention to the license plates around you, especially those goofy vanity plates.  Anybody with DRTHMOM has got to be the basis for a great story character.

5.  If all else fails, go dictionary diving.  This works best with an actual old school dictionary.  Close your eyes, flip open the book, then jab your finger down on the page.  That’s your word.  Write it at the top of a fresh sheet of paper/document and make some verbal magic!

6.  Five Random Objects.  Get a pillow case, then roam around your living space and grab five objects that are as different from each other as you can manage.  Shake up the case, close your eyes, and pull out the object.  Start writing!  (This works even better if somebody else picks out the five objects.)

7.  Toy Face-Off.  Take two small toys (action figures, wind-up toys, Lego people, etc.) and then set yourself a time limit.  Five minutes, maybe ten.  Brainstorm all possible scenarios between those two toys.  Cell mates?  Blind date?  Surrogate mother?  Rival overlords of intergalactic crime syndicates?  Get as crazy as you can.

8.  Collect take-out menus, the more exotic the better.  Indian, Cambodian, Thai, French, Basque, Vietnamese.  Close your eyes, shuffle the menus, pull one out, flip it open, and point that finger.  Whatever it is, go with it!

9.  Give a voice to something that cannot speak, that was never meant to, that never will.  One of the greatest titles of all time (IMHO) is Harlan Ellison‘s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.  Pick an object, an animal, a cloud, a mail box, a hub cap.  What does the world look like from its perspective?  What are its hopes and dreams?

10.  Eavesdrop.  People are always talking, especially now that the cell phone is apparently a life support device.  Just listen!  All you want are bits and pieces.  A catchy phrase here, a plaintive question there, a really acidic remark or a dose of pure whining.  Grab it, grab a few, scribble them down and then go make something out of them.

Remember:  The only rule is, THERE ARE NO RULES.  Have fun!  Combine these ideas!  Throw them all out and make up your own!  Whatever it is that gets your motor running and lifts you out of that dry well, DO IT!


Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Writing

Successful Author Presence—Do You Have It?

by Lillian Csernica on March 29, 2013

This is from Kristen Lamb’s Blog, We Are Not Alone.  She is the author of the book We Are Not Alone.

If you want to be a successful author, read what Ms. Lamb has to say.

Successful Author Presence—Do You Have It?.

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How to Make Writing Progress Every Day

by Lillian Csernica on March 28, 2013

As the mother of two special needs teenage boys, there are many days when I am just not in the mood to write.  I’m too tired, I’m too stressed, I’ve had to be out at appointments or making phone calls or sorting out scheduling problems with the nurses and aides.  All I want to do is flop down on the couch with a bag of microwave popcorn and let my higher brain functions take a vacation while I watch some trashy action movie on Netflix.

That doesn’t get the day’s writing done.

How do I get myself to churn out the day’s writing regardless of mental fatigue, emotional turbulence, and family demands?  I keep two lists:  Process Goals and Productivity Goals.

Process Goal: This is an activity that will contribute to the overall completion of a particular writing project.  I have a new short story underway.  I brainstorm more plot complications to see if I can raise the stakes and make the story more exciting with greater suspense.

Productivity Goal:  This is the write-the-actual-words goal.  A thousand a day?  Two thousand?  If I want to get a five thousand word short story written in first draft form in one week’s time, then I have to hit my target of a thousand words per day.  If I write more, great!

There is always something I can accomplish, no matter what my frame of mind might be.  If I want to be successful as a writer, both on the personal and the professional levels, then I have to get the story or novel written, clean it up, and get it out to market.  If I keep my sights set on today, I won’t feel so overwhelmed.  Today plus today plus today adds up.  A thousand words per day five days a week for twenty weeks or five months equals one hundred thousand words, which is a four hundred page novel.

Keeping those lists of Process goals and Productivity goals is my way of making sure that no matter what kind of mood I’m in, there will be something I can muster up the motivation to accomplish.  Once I’ve overcome the inertia of not being “in the mood,” I can build some momentum and get the work done.


Filed under Family, fantasy, Fiction, Writing

Stress: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore!

by Lillian Csernica on March 26, 2013

It’s been a long day, the kind of day I want people to witness when they make ignorant, offensive remarks about my life.

I am not feeling well right now.  Never mind the details.  It’s enough to keep me from leaving the house.

John played a Narrator in his class’ Reader’s Theater production this morning.  He really wanted me to be there.  Fortunately, Chris decided to go in my place.  Chris doesn’t get to be part of school day events very often. so it was a nice surprise for John.  I was happy John’s teacher got to have some face-time with Chris.  I was hoping for a smooth afternoon since John was in a good state of mind after the performance.  Nope.  He was uncooperative and defiant and things wound up escalating into a full meltdown, teenage version.  By the time I worked up the strength to come downstairs and get in the middle of it, there was no way I could interrupt the cycle John goes through.  His aide couldn’t prevent it, and the confrontational style of other people in the house didn’t help matters.

On top of all of that, there was Michael‘s day.  It started off with a really unpleasant diaper situation.  Once that was cleaned up, it was time to get Michael ready for his MetroParacruz ride to the dentist.  (MP is a minivan service for the special needs and senior citizen population in our area.)  Due to my being out of action, my sister rode with Michael and then later, after John’s performance, Chris went to the appointment to add any required parental authorization.  Michael has what’s referred to as secretion management problems, which means he drools a lot.  That results in serious plaque build up on his teeth, which can cause various dental problems.  So every three months he has to get his teeth cleaned.  The problem is, in order for the dental hygienist to do a thorough job, Michael has to be put under anesthetic.   Michael needs more teeth pulled because more are coming in and the narrowness of his jaw due to hydrocephaly means there’s no room.  Convincing the insurance company to give us the anesthesiologist for oral surgery is very very difficult.

And this evening Michael is showing flu-like symptoms including vomiting, which is extremely dangerous for him because it can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

This is why I have all three kinds of insomnia.  I’m too stressed out to go to sleep for fear of what medical crisis might arise when I’m not awake to cope with it.   After about five years of experimentation, my current doctor and I have finally arrived at a combination of meds that helps me sleep without turning me into a zombie.  Sleep is good.  Sleep is essential.  Do not underestimate the importance of sleep.  Lack of sleep screws up your brain chemistry and that does bad things to the rest of you.

Having said all this, let me close by offering my prayers and support for all special needs families everywhere.  I know many of you have a lot harder than I do.

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Whose Story Is It, Anyway?


by Lillian Csernica on March 24, 2013

Back in high school, I was on the Speech and Debate Team. We had an opportunity to compete in the Mock Trial. That’s exactly what it was, a mock trial held in a real courtroom before a judge. The teams who participated in the competition were given packets that included information on the plaintiff, the defendant, the scene of the event under dispute, statements from both plaintiff and defendant and the police officers called to the scene. Mind you, those people were all made up, strictly fictional. The only real people were those of us competing, the judges, our coaches and the lawyers who volunteered to help us understand courtroom procedure and etiquette, such as how and when to make an objection.

I learned a very important lesson from the lawyer who helped train my team: “There are always two sides to every story.”

When I set out to write a story, I have to know whose story it is. From what point of view (POV) should I tell the story? In romance novels, it’s customary to write from both the hero’s and the heroine‘s POVs so the reader can enjoy the full development of the emotional connection between them. It’s also possible to have multiple POVs beyond just the main characters. In my current novel, I pop in on the bad guy every now and then and let the reader see how his evil plans are progressing as he continues to search for the heroine so he can capture her and give her to a powerful ally. That led me to start adding in scenes where the major rival of the bad guy hears about his search, so the rival decides to send his spies out and see if the rival can take advantage of the situation to thwart the bad guy. That makes four POVs! A multiple POV novel is a lot like a cake. You have to know how to add in the ingredients at the right time and in the right amounts. Then you turn up the heat! If all goes well, you get a very satisfying treat.

Layer cake

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? There’s another question that brings it all down to the bottom line: “Who has the most to lose?”

I once wrote a short story from the POV of the heroine. I was sure she was the one who would lose everything if the bad guys won. As I developed the plot and its complications, I realized the hero was the one in a much worse position because he would very likely end up dead. What did that mean in terms of POV? It meant I had to rewrite the story from word one according to the hero’s POV. The story is now much more intense and dramatic.

Everyone involved in the main event of the story, major characters, minor characters, spear carriers and passers-by in the background, all have a story to tell. They each have their own POV. They each have something to gain and something to lose. I try to keep this in mind when I’m out where I can eavesdrop on other people. (Yes, it’s a terrible habit. Call it an occupational hazard.) Everybody has a story, probably several. I never know where I’m going to find that sudden spark that fires up the engines in my Idea Factory.

Idea Factory

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Technical Difficulties


by Lillian Csernica on March 23, 2013

My software engineer husband is in the process of switching over my domain name to make this blog the center of my Internet universe.  This involves some reshuffling of providers and servers and other bits and pieces, so I want to let everybody know that any e-mail sent to me in the next two or three days might vanish into some server side pocket.  If you think it’s something I’m likely to reply to and you don’t hear from me, please resend.

Thank you for your patience.  We apologize for any inconvenience.  We will remain open during construction!  Caution Girl

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No Pain, No Gain

by Lillian Csernica on March 21, 2013

For a long time I had a wrong equation in my head.  I thought my time was very limited.  I’m so busy with all the tasks involved in taking care of both my sons that it’s very difficult to find the time to write.  Writing a novel is a serious commitment.  I’ve heard it compared to marriage.  Once you set out to write a novel, you’d better go into it realizing you’re going to be living with this project day in and day out for months, possibly years.  I’m here to tell you that’s absolutely true.  What’s painful is watching the days slip by one by one without any writing getting done.  Days filled up with doctor appointments or IEP meetings or meetings with the caseworker or filling prescriptions or all the ordinary household errands that can add up into hours away from my keyboard and my writing.  See, the equation I had made was very simple.  I could be a mother or I could be a writer.  I couldn’t do both, at least not at the same time.  If I was spending time on mothering, that meant I couldn’t spend it on writing.  If I was busy writing, that meant time taken away from my sons.  Either way, what came out on the other side of the equals sign was guilt and frustration.  No matter what I did, how hard I tried, I couldn’t win.

This was not good for my mental or physical health.  In fact, it was very very bad for me.  In addition to all the other difficult factors in my life, I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder.  Now let me be clear: I am low serotonin.  I’ve had a problem in my brain chemistry since long before my sons came along, so I don’t want anybody to think I’m drawing any kind of link between the boys and their problems and me being depressed.  I could go down the whole list of my symptoms of clinical depression and how I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  Yes, I was in pain.  A lot of pain, and that pain kept sucking up all the energy I had for any creative efforts.

And then a very wise LCSW I know gave me the new equation that set me free: “If your pain is stopping you from writing, maybe you need to make room in your writing for your pain.”

Wow.  Scary thought!  Writers are often told, “Write what you know!”  I write fantasy, horror, historical romance, some science fiction.  I write ESCAPIST literature.  I write to get away from the pain I live with, just like I read to get away from the pain I live with.  Makes sense, right?  So why in the name of all that’s logical would I want to start writing about my pain?  If I combine a quick list of What I Know with a quick list of What Really Hurts  this is what I’d get:

1) Every day both of my sons struggle through their hours at school.

2) From 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. my house is full of noise and people and more activity than I can tolerate, even though I’m grateful for Michael‘s R.N.s and John’s aides.

3) My father died a month before Michael was born, and a year after I had a miscarriage and lost my first son James, so Daddy never got to see any of his grandsons.

4) I’ve reached the age where I don’t go to weddings and baby showers anymore.  I treasure my friends’ birthdays because I’ve already been to too many funerals.

5) I think about all the other things I could be doing, traveling and teaching and going on writers’ retreats and meeting all kinds of fascinating people.  Having conversations that don’t center around medications and diagnoses and problems with the Special Education Department and how many diapers my 16 year old son has had changed that day.

Henry James said fiction is about “The human heart in conflict with itself.”  As a writer it is my business to create people on paper and give them both internal and external conflicts.  The idea of giving my fictional people my own pain to cope with in the course of the story is a frightening and intimidating thought.  Dorothy Parker said, “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.”  I’ve begun a story about a woman living with the agonies of PTSD in the wake of losing her first baby to miscarriage.  I’ve been crying when I’ve been writing it and I’ve been crying when I’ve read parts of it to my writing class.  It hurts like hell, but it’s real and it’s believable and it’s some of the most honest writing I’ve ever done.  I want to keep improving my work, to polish my writing style and create better plots and make my characters live and breathe.  If tapping into the vast reservoir of pain inside me can help me do that, then it’s time to commit the emotional alchemy that will turn this poisonous lead into curative gold.

Other writers have been where I’m going.  Historian and author Anita Brookner said, “You never know what you will learn until you start writing.  Then you discover truths you never knew existed. ”  According to Francis Bacon, my bags are already packed:  “Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”


Filed under Family, Fiction, Special needs, Writing

A Share of the Loot

by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2013

Special occasions at my house are unusual, to say the least.  Most holidays involve a family dinner of some sort.  This is problematical.  Michael can’t eat by mouth.  He has a G tube and a Mic-Key button, which means he eats through a tube that goes into his stomach.  He’s on a liquid diet of KetoCal, which keeps him in a state of ketosis.  It’s our hope that this will prove effective with seizure control.  It did for a while at first, but Michael’s medical complications make complete control of his seizure disorder unlikely.  If you’re new to the world of seizure disorder and the possible treatments, I highly recommend the book Michael’s neurologist had me read:

Then there’s John.  Like many boys and girls on the spectrum, John has very specific preferences regarding what he will and will not eat.  I’m pretty sure it’s a matter of texture.  He likes what he likes, but thanks to persistent effort and the family stubborn streak, my sister has helped us get John to eat a more balanced diet.  He’s allergic to peanuts, but the school is so careful that hasn’t been a problem yet.  He would live on McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and all the fries he could get his hands on, but we manage to keep that down to about once a week.  Since I’m mentioning helpful reference books, let me recommend one that did a lot for my understanding of how John experiences the world:—Sync-Child-Recognizing/dp/0399531653/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363663417&sr=8-1&keywords=the+out-of-sync+child

Now as you can see, both of my boys have a peculiar relationship with food.  On holidays Michael looks forward to a taste of gravy or stuffing, perhaps a lick of whipped cream or frosting, and in particular something spicy.  Holiday foods are typically special, once a year foods, so that means John doesn’t recognize them and wants nothing to do with them.  Recently we’ve been able to coax him into eating turkey at Thanksgiving and the pork roast at Christmas.  He loves potatoes in almost any form, and he’s pretty tolerant of vegetables in general.

Now we come to the heart of the matter.  For Christmas, it’s stocking stuffers.  Now that Easter is approaching, it’s the goodies we put into the Easter baskets.  What do you give to special needs children who have food sensitivities, restricted diets, sensory processing disorders, allergies, fine and gross motor issues, and Heaven knows what other difficulties?  Answer: You do your absolute best to get out there and find whatever they can have!  It’s easy enough for me to buy candy and little toys and gifts for John.  He can use both hands, he loves chocolate, and right now he’s big on superheroes.  What about Michael?  Again and again the family will ask me what Michael likes, what he wants, or, more and more often, they’ll send gift cards for Toys R Us or  That’s fine.  For Christmas this past year, Michael communicated his wish to go bowling, go to the movies, and take a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium again.  We’ve gone bowling, and now we’re waiting for the kind of movie that won’t be too overstimulating in the theater environment.

The real trick is finding the little things, the jelly beans and chocolate rabbits and a fluffy duck like one of those long-armed monkeys, the light-up squishy chick and the shiny green Easter grass that will end up all over the place.  Yes, I do my best to find things Michael can play with, things he’ll enjoy.  The most important point is to include some of those items he can’t eat, he can’t really do much with, just because those items are traditional and they are part of the goodies that all the normal kids get.

No matter what his disabilities might be, Michael deserves his share of the loot.  The surprise, the delight, the laughter, the shredding of giftwrap and the taste of the chocolate and the family fun of the board games he loves to play.  If Michael can’t get out there and experience the world, then I will do everything I can to bring the world to Michael, especially when it comes to special occasions.

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Filed under Family, Humor, Special needs

What Fuels My Writing

by Lillian Csernica on March 15, 2013

Now I could get all philosophical here and offer deep, profound insights on the psychodynamics behind why I write what I write.  Or, I could just be honest with you and lay it on the line.  I know exactly what fuels what I call my Idea Factory.  Two crucial elements, closely related and occasionally simultaneous.

I’m talking chocolate and sex.

Allow me to define my terms.  Chocolate is pretty straightforward.  My best friend, partner in crime, and sometime collaborator and I have done extensive research in this area.  She prefers Cadbury while I lean toward Ritter Sport, especially the dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts.  (WHOLE hazelnuts!!!)  We agree on Oreos, but we’ve sworn a pact that we will never again eat the Oreos that came out that one Easter with lavender filling.  I’m not making this up.  Lavender filling.  That was the night I grabbed the scene we were working on and insisted we use the good guy’s shotgun to blow the bad guy’s Corvette so full of holes he could use it to strain pasta.  Chocolate fuels writing.  It’s that simple.

Now about the sex.  Let me say right up front that I’ve been married for twenty-five years and I’m not going anywhere.  However, since I do write historical romance, I have a serious weakness for men who look good in costume.  This has been true ever since my first Renaissance Faire and later when I joined the SCA.  Oh my stars and garters.  The sight of a good-looking man from the Scots Camp or one of the colorful boys from the Landsknecht group or somebody more medieval with long hair and a wicked sparkle in his eye just sets my imagination afire.  Given that I’ve been married longer than some of this walking eye candy has been alive, I’m not about to commit any serious indiscretion.  (All right, fine, there have been a few minor indiscretions, but those were NOT with minors!)  Maybe I can’t have a dream date in real life, but I can do whatever I want to Mr. History on paper!

Am I being too honest here?  Five yard penalty, too much information?

This is how it works, folks.  I have to come up with the zip and sizzle to write four hundred page romance novels over and over again.  I’m a writer, so I can’t help being an observer.  The fact that I spent most of the ten years of my retail sales career in some kind of historical costuming did a lot to shape my tastes in men.  Did I mention that my husband is an epee fencer, and I met him while we were both working at the Renaissance Faire?  I love swords, so I very much appreciate a man who knows how to handle his weapon.

Sex and chocolate.  Chocolate and sex.  Serotonin, theobromide, dopamine, and all those other creative juices.  These are the necessary elements of my art and my craft.  There are some lovely young men out there who should be very happy that I’ve found a way to vent my passions in a manner both profitable and restrained.  In other words, writing my books keeps me off the streets where I might be whistling and yelling rowdy compliments at the lads in French, Spanish, Italian, Nederlands, and Japanese.

You don’t know what fun is until you’ve experienced the joys of being a multilingual hussy.

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