Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hopes & Dreams: My Writing and My Sons celebrates 1000 Ausome Things #AutismPositivity2013″


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2013

My seventeen year old son Michael was a micro-premie, born at 23 weeks.  Due to severe complications, he has cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, a Baclofen pump, Harrington rods in his spine, and he is confined to either his wheelchair or the hospital bed in his room.  John, who is fourteen, has the diagnoses of speech delay and autism.  I mention Michael because I want to show you the context in which my family lives.  Our motto is “Never a dull moment.”  Every day is a new day, with its own challenges and its own rewards.

I’d been living in crisis mode with Michael for two years when John came along.  Three years later, after John’s speech therapist recommended neurological evaluation, we learned that John is on the spectrum.  I’ll be honest with you.  I was heartbroken.  I love Michael dearly, but I was hoping that with John we’d have a healthy, normal child.  John’s diagnoses meant more support through the IEP process.  They also meant even more battles with the insurance company over appointments with specialists.

Today John reads to Michael, sings the lyrics to his favorite songs, recites dialogue from his favorite movies, and talks to me about genies and superheroes and how he wants to go to Tokyo and Las Vegas (places I’ve been on business trips).  John learned to draw by watching “Blue’s Clues” and “VeggieTales.”  Last summer, John appeared onstage in a production of “Peter Pan.”  It was a theatrical summer camp, with four different casts.  John played both a pirate and an Indian.  John’s teachers, therapists, aides, Grandma, Aunt, and of course my husband and I came to see him.  We made sure he had somebody in the audience for every performance.  When it came time for the curtain call on the final performance, I made sure John had a bouquet of flowers just like the stars of the show had received.

John is my joy.  He’s smart, funny, creative, stubborn and every inch a teenager now.  I thank God and all the professionals along the way who have contributed to John’s growth and development.  What had broken my heart has now reassembled the pieces into a better, stronger pattern, giving me hope and courage for both my boys.

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Filed under Depression, Family, Special needs

Z is for Zygoma


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2013

Most of the people you meet will have a zygoma. You have one. I have one. Supermodels are often known for their zygomatic arches. I have read one description of the zygoma as being slanted like the blades of a scissors.

Do you, at this point, have any idea what a zygoma is? If you’re not in some field related to medicine, it’s a safe bet that you don’t.

The zygoma is the cheekbone.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “What could the zygoma possibly have to do with writing technique?” I’m glad you asked that. The answer is simple.

  1. Do not use technical jargon unless you can create a context that communicates the meaning to the reader.
  2. You can explain the term in dialogue, but please don’t make it one character lecturing another. Dramatize!

It’s important to write vivid and realistic detail. If your characters have advanced degrees or they’re specialists in their fields, they will probably be using some technical jargon in their interior narrative, their dialogue, or any writing they do in the course of the story (journal, letters, memos, etc.). Context is everything.

Let’s make up a word: rumtinkflan.

Noun: My mechanic told me that it takes three weeks to get a rumtinkflan. There’s only one factory in Austria that still makes them.

Verb: If you try to rumtinkflan me again, I will take that serving fork and show you the color of your liver!

Adjective: The roses really are quite rumtinkflan this year, don’t you think?

Adverb: “Please, Jonathan, you can’t leave now!” she cried rumtinkflanly.

Yes, this is very silly. Does it make the point? I hope so. Put the technical jargon, foreign word, medical term, or invented jibberish into a context that gives the reader some clues about form and function.

This brings me to the end of the A to Z Challenge! Thank you all for joining me on this, my first blogging challenge! Please stay tuned for the Challenge Reflections post, where I shall give my post-game thoughts and analysis.

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Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Writing

Y is for Your Truth


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2013

Speak your truth. Tell us what you see, where you see it, how it feels, the sound of it, the taste in your mouth as you contemplate it. Your truth. Your take on that strange shifting prismatic place we call Reality.

Another way to say this is “Call ’em as you see ’em.” I warn you, this is dangerous. Are you willing to be that little kid who was silly enough to see what was right in front of him and said so, announcing, “The emperor has no clothes!” People don’t like it when you won’t abide by the established, agreed-upon, and above all NICE version of reality.

Your truth. Your voice. Your vision. Your style. Do you want to sound like all the other writers chasing the latest trend in publishing? Or do you want to speak the truth that burns inside you, that makes you restless and dissatisfied and compelled to write it down in whatever shape best suits it?

Speak your truth. Be authentic. Point out that mole on the emperor’s left butt cheek. Tell people what that birthmark looks like. Your words. Your ideas. Your style.

Your truth will set you free.

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X is for X Marks the Spot


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2013

You might not know it, but you’ve got a big X on your forehead. Might be black, might be red. It’s the X you see on treasure maps that marks the spot where the treasure is buried.

Flannery O’Connor said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Our memories are treasure, sometimes buried, sometimes not. As writers we have to dig into those memories, along with all the other thoughts, images, opinions, likes and dislikes and whatever else we’ve buried under that metaphorical X. We’ve all heard the rule about “Write what you know.” Let’s rewrite that: “Use what you’ve experienced!”

We’re all specialists in our own ways. Me, I know more about the history of Japan than my Japanese teacher does simply because of all the research I’ve done for my current novel. My best friend has advanced degrees in Marine Biology and Physical Anthropology. Those come in very handy when she’s writing science fiction. A formal academic degree isn’t essential. Hobbies and passions and family traditions can provide the basis for in-depth knowledge that adds those special details.

Try this. Sit down and write a list of all the subjects you know something about. Put down everything, from the complex process of bioengineering to the mucky details of unclogging the garbage disposal. It’s ALL valuable, because it’s all raw material for writing. You may well discover knowledge you didn’t know you had. I call that buried treasure!

Dig in. Dig deep. Gold and jewels await!

Buried Treasure: illustration of William "...

Buried Treasure: illustration of William “Captain” Kidd overseeing a treasure burial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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W is for Whorf’s Hypothesis


English: Graphical representation of Flower & ...

English: Graphical representation of Flower & Hayes’ (1981) model of the cognitive processes involved in writing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013

Taken from Wikipedia.org:

“The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view, or otherwise influences their cognitive processes. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined as having two versions: (i) the strong version that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories and (ii) the weak version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour.”

Creation of new languages is often found in science fiction and fantasy. Prison authorities have recently discovered that inmates have resurrected Elizabethan thieves’ cant for use as a code when arranging drug deals.  A number of studies have shown twins developing their own private language.  This phenomenon is known as cryptophasia.  Also worth noting is idioglossia, a private language developed and spoken by one individual.

Consider the possibilities of using Whorf‘s Hypothesis when creating your characters and the language(s) they speak. If language shapes thought and that thought shapes behavior, the introduction of a foreign language or loan-words could potentially alter the cognitive functioning of the indigenous population. Imagine this knowledge in the hands of a linguist who has a reason for tampering with the local population’s ideas about and behavior toward the visiting anthropologists, or perhaps one person in particular. I see the potential for all kinds of trouble, don’t you?  Trouble means conflict, and conflict means stories worth telling.

For more insight into the plot and characterization possibilities, please read  How Language Shapes Thought by Lera Boroditsky.

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V is for Vigilance


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013

Many people do not understand those of us who choose to make our living through some form of art. Such people measure our success by how much money we do or do not make. They’ve got it backward. Sure, monetary success is great, but those of us who have suffered through the creative process and really understand the toll it takes know how to see things the right way around.

We don’t get paid for our art. We pay for the privilege of creating it.

Dancers sweat. Actors may start out as part of the stage crew while they work their way up to starring roles. Sculptors and potters and people who work in “found art” do exactly that: physical labor, over and over again, until what they’re creating matches the vision in their minds.

What about writers? We pay attention. Think about that. John Philpot Curran said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I say eternal vigilance is also the price of inspiration. Writers keep their eyes and ears open and their notebooks handy. We write down whatever image, scrap of conversation, or burst of intuitive plotting that pops into mind. Then we begin the complex process of growing a complete story or novel from those little seeds.

People talk about the writer’s Muse. She demands payment in attention, observation, vigilance. The Muse doesn’t just drop an idea on our desks all gift-wrapped and pretty. She often points the way toward someone or something that could be useful to us. She’s like a consultant, and consultants don’t come cheap.

Keep alert for all the beauties and dangers and oddities and funny moments and sorrows of the world. Paying attention is the start of how we writers pay our dues.

Be vigilant!

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U is for Unpredictable


by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2013

A long time ago when Tangent still published a print edition, I wrote a column reviewing short horror fiction. My number one complaint? Predictable plotlines. That’s a major weakness in any story regardless of genre. Editors and publishers (and reviewers!) want to see fresh, new, unpredictable storytelling.

How do you learn the art of writing unpredictable plot twists? Reading widely in your field certainly helps. Knowing what the competition has already done will help you stretch beyond that. Look at Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files. In book after book, Butcher just keeps raising the stakes. You have no idea how Harry Dresden is going to cope with the latest set or impossible odds and grueling emotional stakes. Jim Butcher delivers every time.

 PLOT: Brainstorm all the possible ways your protagonist could try to solve the problem situation. No matter how obvious, how logical, how predictable. Dump all of that out of your head onto paper. With that list in front of you, you’ll begin to get ideas for more creative and unpredictable solutions.

 CHARACTER: Many writers start with a character in mind. Here are two ways to proceed.

  1. Give that character some kind of physical or mental trait that is unpredictable. Be careful with this one. Check your chosen “symptoms” against known medical conditions. You might create a character that seems unique when in fact you’ve reproduced the traits associated with autism, especially Asperger’s Syndrome. (Every Aspie is unique, but that might not be what’s best for your story!)
  2. Take something away. During bad weather an airplane pilot goes deaf and can’t hear the instructions from the air traffic control tower. A master chef suffers some trauma that takes away his senses of taste and smell. A professional photographer gets hit in the back of the head in just the right spot to make him or her “face blind.” What do these people do now?

SETTING: Put that character into a situation so foreign to his or her native environment, educational background, moral paradigm, etc. that solving the problem situation is going to take a whole lot of luck and adaptation on the run.  S.M. Sterling does a brilliant job of this in Island in the Sea of Time, the first book of the Nantucket Series.  When a strange storm blows up off Nantucket, things go so wrong that when the weather clears, both the island and a Coast Guard windjammer are stranded in the Bronze Age.

You also have the option of combining two or even all three of these story elements. Just don’t go overboard.  There’s a fine line between the Unpredictable and the Unbelievable.

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Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Writing

T is for Ticking Clock


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2013

The ticking clock is the key to creating edge-of-your-seat tension and suspense. The classic example is the red LED readout on the bomb ticking down those final seconds. In the more general sense, if your protagonist does not accomplish a certain task by a certain deadline, something really horrible will happen. This usually involves some kind of loss, such as the bomb exploding in the hospital or the Bad Guy killing the protagonist’s love interest.

That sense of “Time is running out!” keeps your reader hooked on the story. It’s up to you to maintain that level of interest with strong characters involved in plausible conflict that escalates toward the climax of the story. To achieve the full effect, you need not just the ticking clock itself but all the obstacles that get in the way and cost your protagonist precious time. Keep those obstacles believable and use just enough to maintain the escalation of the tension. If you go on for too long with obstacle after obstacle, after a certain point the pace flatlines because reader begins to lose interest.

What are some memorable ticking clocks?

Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol“: If Scrooge doesn’t learn his lesson by the time the Ghost of Christmas Future is done with him, Scrooge won’t have any future at all.

The Bourne Legacy“: Aaron Cross races against time and everybody who’s trying to kill him in order to get what he needs to preserve the man he has become.

In the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, there are several novels featuring Granny Weatherwax. In what is perhaps her best adventure, Witches Abroad, Granny must face her ultimate adversary in a world of magical mirrors with Death himself on hand as time is running out.

Excitement. Challenges. High stakes. These are all parts of a good story. Add to them the pressure of the ticking clock and your readers will keep coming back for more.

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Bonus Post! S is for Supporting Small Business!


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2013

Please, folks, join me in helping out a really nice pair of people.  He’s a great cook as well as being a  marvelous fencer.  She’s a talented seamstress and the soul of hospitality.  All you need to do is go to this page and click on the VOTE button.  I know a lot of you enjoy good tea and the delights of cupcakes, scones, and other baked goodies.  You’ll be helping two hard workers keep progressing toward their dream business.

On behalf of myself and these two wonderful people, I thank you for your support.

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S is for Sabotage


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2013

From Wikipedia.org:

Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. As a rule, saboteurs try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.”

Psssst!  Here’s one of the dirty little secrets of being a writer. There are people who don’t want us to succeed. Among them we can count the least likely suspects, our very own selves. Now why on earth would we get in our own way? Simple. It’s really hard to go on writing book after book after book. A lot of perfectly reasonable obstacles can get in the way, especially if we have work, kids, school, or other serious commitments such as being the caregiver for another family member. On a day to day basis, the little tasks that demand our attention can also gang up on us.  When we allow these little tasks to get in the way of our writing, they become avoidance behaviors. We want to get today’s writing done, yet we rush off to fold laundry, answer the phone, groom the pet, trim our toenails, etc.  This is self-defeating behavior. Career-derailing behavior. Self-sabotage.

Now let’s look at the people in our lives who might have some motivation for spiking our writing ambitions.

  1. The “Good Intentions” crowd. These people think we’re chasing a hopeless dream, wasting productive time, setting ourselves up for the pain of rejection and disappointment. They think they know what’s better for us than we do. They don’t understand why we write and there’s not much point in trying to explain it to them.
  2. The Jealous Wannabes. We’ve all met them. They talk a lot about writing, but they don’t do much of it. Or they do write, but they refuse to listen to any input that suggests weaknesses in their writing style, plot structure, etc. They claim they know What It Means To Be A Writer no matter how unrealistic or self-defeating that idea might be.
  3. The Know-It-Alls. They hide behind a mask of information, but what they’re really doing is playing oneupsmanship games. No matter how much writing we do, the Know-It-Alls will quote some authority on how we should be doing either more or less at this or that pace. No matter how much success we achieve, the Know-It-Alls talk about the career patterns of Big Name writers. Notice the consistent behavior here. All Know-It-Alls do is talk, and that talk is designed to undermine our confidence, motivation, and momentum.
  4. The Dream Killers. These are hostile jerks who get their jollies from trashing somebody else’s hopes and dreams. They can put on the masks of the above three types, or they can be quite direct with their insults and mockery. Either way, they’re toxic and we need to avoid them.

How do we protect ourselves against such sabotage, especially when it comes from family or co-workers? Just smile. Smile, say thank you for their interest, and go on writing. Know these people for what they are.  Their efforts at sabotage are all about their problems and have nothing to do with us or our writing.

It’s hard, I know, but there’s nothing sweeter than announcing to these people the sale of a short story or a novel. Living well really is the best revenge.

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