Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cast Party

by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2013

writingsbyKristol — Day 9 Challenge: The Cons of Writing

Kristol’s comments make perfect sense to me.  It’s almost comforting to know that writers face so many of the same challenges, from the personal as well as the professional point of view.  I take no pleasure in knowing my fellow writers are suffering frustration and setbacks, yet I do take comfort in knowing that there are times when even the writers I most admire have struggled and may continue to struggle.  It’s not easy making a living as a writer no matter what type of writing you do, all the more so in a country where roughly 15% of the population of 315 million people read on a regular basis.  That means only 4,725,000 people read regularly, an amount just under the total population of the state of Wisconsin.  I don’t know about you, but those numbers scare me.

The View Outside — Day 9 Challenge: Discussion of a Current Writing Project

It always interests me to hear about another writer’s process, the choices made, the comparisons between plot and character options.  This particular post is well worth reading for all of that.  Also, the blog design is easy on the eyes, which is a mercy!

Hunting Down Writing — Day 6 Challenge: Websites for Writers/Sharing Posts from Other Writers

A really wonderful list of resources well worth the time and effort to pursue.  Hunter rocks!

Inside the Secret World of Allison Bruning — Day 5 Challenge: Top Three Blog Posts

These blog posts were of particular interest to me because I love history and historical writing, both fiction and nonfiction.  Also, Ms. Bruning provides information on Daniel Boone, who is an ancestor of mine on my mother’s side.  It’s always fun to find out you have famous relatives!

Hunting Down Writing — Day 1 Challenge: Should Writers Blog About Writing?

Another excellent and thought-provoking post by our Challenge Hostess.  The opportunity cost as well as the cost/benefit analysis of blogging vs. actual writing should be taken seriously by every writer.  These are the times that try people’s souls, because we’re told we need a social media platform but the maintenance of it takes us away from the very writing we’re trying to create and promote.

And there you have it!  Another blog challenge completed!  Many thanks to Hunter Emkay for the really useful and informative prompts.


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Monday Matters: International Tiger Day, July 29, 2013

The tiger, especially the white tiger, is my favorite animal. Studies show that in 12 years all tigers will be extinct. We can’t let this happen!

Janice Hall Heck

Simon’s Cat reminds us that today is International Tiger Day!
International Tiger Day-July 29, 2013

Did you know Tiger Day is held annually on July 29 to give worldwide attention to the preservation of tigers?

It was founded at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010. At that time wild tigers were dangerously close to extinction. In the last 100 years there has been a 97% reduction in their numbers.
Today has been established to raise awareness of their vulnerable position and to celebrate these amazing animals.  You can find out more at
Thanks, Simon’s Cat for this information.
The Last Meow
Hey, Don’t forget about us. When is our day? Huh? C’mon. A tiger’s a tiger, and a cat’s a cat. We need our special day, too.
What? You mean there is a National Cat Day? Well, now we’re talking.
National Cat Day Oct 29
Two National Cat Days?  Wow. June 4th AND October 29th?
And World Cat…

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Japan, the Heart of My Romance Novel

by Lillian Csernica on July 28, 2013

Yama-Shinden, Satsuma, Kyushu, Japan.  1865

This is the setting for my current novel Sword Master, Flower Maiden.  My fictional setting, Yama-Shinden, means “mountain village.”  Satsuma is the domain on Kyushu where Yama-Shinden is located.  (In the Japan of today Satsuma is in the Kagoshima Prefecture.)

From Wikipedia:

“Satsuma was one of the main provinces that rose in opposition to the Tokugawa Shogunate in the mid 19th century. Because of this, the oligarchy that came into power after the “Meiji Restoration” of 1868 had a strong representation from the Satsuma province, with leaders such as Ōkubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori taking up key government positions.”

(Note: “The Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise drew heavily on the life of Saigo Takamori.)

Saigo Takamori (upper right) directing his tro...

Saigo Takamori (upper right) directing his troops at the Battle of Shiroyama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chose Satsuma as the setting for my novel on the recommendation of my writing teacher who speaks Japanese and has spent considerable time in the Tokushima Prefecture.  We agreed that Kyoto, my original choice, put the story too close to the Shogun’s main seat of power in Edo, today’s Tokyo.  The presence of the Oniwabanshu, the Shogun’s guards/spies/secret police, would be much more likely.  That meant a much higher risk of my heroine Yuriko being discovered, captured, and executed, along with my hero Tendo-san and anyone else who had helped them.  Shifting the whole story a thousand miles south to Satsuma took care of that problem.  I’m sure the Shogun still had informants down in Satsuma and Choshu, especially since they were two of the clans who were the loudest in support of the restoration of the Emperor.  Still, even with the convenience of the Tokaido Road, it would have taken weeks if not months for a messenger to travel from Satsuma all the way to Edo.

From Wikipedia:


The Shimazu family controlled Satsuma province for roughly four centuries prior to the beginning of the Edo period. Despite being chastised by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in his 1587 Kyūshū Campaign, and forced back to Satsuma, they remained one of the most powerful clans in the archipelago. During the decisive battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the Shimazu fought on the losing side. Satsuma was one of the most powerful feudal domains in Tokugawa Japan. It was controlled throughout the Edo period by the tozama daimyō of the Shimazu clan.


Map showing southern Kyushu and Ryukyu islands, 1781

In 1609, the Shimazu requested permission from the shogunate to invade the Ryūkyū Kingdom which lay to its south. After a brief invasion which met little resistance, Satsuma seized a number of the Ryukyu Islands, annexing them to the han, and claimed the Ryūkyū Kingdom as a vassal state. For the remainder of the Edo period, Satsuma exacted tribute from Ryukyu, influenced their politics, and dominated their trading policies. As strict maritime prohibitions were imposed upon much of Japan beginning in the 1630s, Satsuma’s ability to enjoy a trade in Chinese goods, and information, via Ryukyu, provided it a distinct and important, if not entirely unique, role in the overall economy and politics of the Tokugawa state. The degree of economic benefits enjoyed by Satsuma, and the degree of their oppression of Ryukyu, are subjects debated by scholars, but the political prestige and influence gained through this relationship is not questioned. The Shimazu continually made efforts to emphasize their unique position as the only feudal domain to claim an entire foreign kingdom as its vassal, and engineered repeated increases to their own official Court rank, in the name of maintaining their power and prestige in the eyes of Ryukyu.”

This is really important to my plot because once Yuriko escapes Nakazawa, the corrupt samurai, she has to get to a place where the Japanese are accustomed to dealing with foreigners.  That makes it much more probable that she’ll find a diplomat who speaks Japanese and English, someone who can help her tell the British officials that she was born in England, traveled to Japan, and then her father abandoned her to Nakazawa.  This is Yuriko’s plan as the story opens.  Then she meets Tendo-san….

Kagoshima Prefecture today

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Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, history, Japan, romance, Writing

Inspirations and Incantations

by Lillian Csernica on July 26, 2013

Luck plays a big role in the life of a writer.  Will today be the day?

Will we get the Idea of a Lifetime that will one day make us rich and famous?

Will we manage to talk a friend or family member into minding the kids so we can have an hour or two to do nothing but WRITE?

Will we reach the finish line  and know that the project we’ve been laboring over is in fact DONE?

Will we get that e-mail that says, “Yes!  We want your story!  And we’ll pay you a pile of money for it!”?

And so we writers tend to bear in mind the whims of Lady Luck.  We all know what it’s like when she has PMS, and we go in fear of it.

Now me, I tend to go in for more talismans than rituals.  (Although I have to say I love that scene in “Shakespeare in Love” where Jacob Fiennes rushes to his desk, grabs his quill, twirls it between his hands, spins around three times, then sits down to write.)  I keep one of those desk-bucket items close to hand, filled with all of my special/favorite writing instruments.  I keep on my desk or on nearby bookshelves items that have come to me from people connected to my writing through links often known only to me:

A genuine Pokemon in its little tiny plastic display case, brought to me from Japan by a musician friend who went there on tour with his band.

The Nessy with a necktie that comes in three sections so it looks like it’s rising from whatever surface you put it on.

The black and green handmade duct tape rose I begged from Sarah Goodman in the SFWA Suite at the Nebula Awards.

A Post-It Note directly above my monitor that says, “Why aren’t you writing?”

These are just a few of the tokens, mementos, good luck charms, and cultural artifacts that surround me in an atmosphere of friendship, in-jokes, and creativity.  There is one ritual I do carry out, and that occurs whenever I check my e-mail and see a reply from an editor or magazine.  At this point it’s become automatic.  I cross the fore- and middle fingers of both hands and start chanting, “Please, God, please, God!  Let it be a sale!”  Lady Luck has her place in the universe, but I prefer to go straight to the source of all blessings.

What do you do to coax success out of the swirling mass of random factors that is the creative life?  I’d love to know!


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Recommended Reading

by Lillian Csernica on July 25, 2013

Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister is the wonderful story of how movie critic Violet Epps encounters the mistress of rapier wit, Dorothy Parker herself, who haunts the Algonquin Hotel.  This is a ghost story and a love story and and a tribute to one of literature’s most talented and tragic figures.  Ellen Meister has done her research well and works it into the story with great skill and respect.  If you’re a fan of Dorothy Parker, you must read this book.  By doing so, you’ll become a fan of Ellen Meister, because she is an excellent storyteller who creates characters with strong hearts and hidden depths.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters combines science fiction, police procedural, and the right dash of noir.  Det. Hank Palace is dedicated to his job, committed to solving crimes in a world that has largely given up on caring about anything but immediate gratification.  The comet is coming, the great big flaming ball of death and destruction that will smash into the earth and set off a chain of cataclysms that will destroy most if not all life on the planet.  The story opens with a suicide, a very common event in Palace’s world.  His instincts tell him the details are wrong, leading him into an investigation that will satisfy mystery lovers and dystopian futurists alike.

I want to say that this type of book is not my first choice for reading material.  I got it as part of the SFWA tote/Bag o’ Books I received when I attended the Nebula Awards this year.  I mention this to underline the fact that I am so very happy I did get this book, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.  Mr. Winters has created a very realistic society full of people struggling to find a reason for functioning from one day to the next when there’s only six months of the future left.  Each character’s mindset, motivations, and reactions to Palace’s devotion to duty make for an impressive, memorable, and thoroughly enjoyable story.

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Grammarly: Perfect English, Fast and User-Friendly

by Lillian Csernica on July 25, 2013

From Wikipedia:

Grammarly is a writing-enhancement platform developed by Grammarly, Inc., and launched in 2009. Grammarly’s proofreading and plagiarism-detection capabilities check for a writer’s adherence to more than 250 grammar rules.

During its text review, Grammarly presents potential errors one at a time, with commonly confused words or faulty sentences highlighted in light red and a text box below offering an explanation that provides good and bad examples and suggests corrections. Grammarly also provides citations when it detects plagiarism. Users can click on a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” icon to let Grammarly know if the result was helpful.

Other features of Grammarly include:

  • A grammar checker that can analyze general, business, academic, technical, creative and casual writings.
  • A contextual spell checker that determines the appropriate spelling of a word as it is used in a sentence; thus, it finds misspelled words and also identifies correctly spelled yet incorrectly used words.
  • Grammarly Plug-in for Microsoft Office, which adds Grammarly to Microsoft Word and Outlook.
  • A thesaurus that suggests synonyms or words with similar meanings.
  • Grammarly Answers, in which users can ask questions and post “error cards” from their scanned writings.
  • Grammarly Handbook, which covers grammar, writing style and word choice.

My Experience with Grammarly:

I have the free one month trial version of Grammarly.  I uploaded a short story to the text editor, waited maybe two minutes, and received an analysis of my story.  Much to my surprise, what I thought was a clean manuscript scored only 86 out of 100.  I read through the item by item explanation of the errors that were tagged by the program.  Grammarly gives you a choice of Ignoring the error or correcting it.  I read through the analysis the first time just to see what it said.  On the second pass I Ignored the deliberate errors that appeared in character dialog.  That resulted in an adjusted score of 96 out of 100.  There were indeed two grammar errors in the narrative that I had missed.  Once those were corrected, that left me with a score of 98 out of 100 due to stylistic disagreement on my part with the placement of two commas.

What I found most valuable about Grammarly’s analysis was the explanation that came with each error it tagged.  I run OpenOffice, and the grammar checker only tags the error, it doesn’t tell me why it’s wrong.  Understanding why a standard of perfect grammar rejects the choices I make helps me reconsider those choices in the overall context of what I want the sentence and the paragraph to say.  Fine-tuning the reader’s perception of my text on the page is a lot like fine-tuning the notes written on a musical score.  For the educated reader or musician, a wrong note is a wrong note.  I was aghast to discover one error.  I know better than to commit that one, and it got right past me.  Grammarly pointed it out, so now it’s fixed.

Monthly — $29.95

Quarterly — $59.95

Annual — $139.95

Is Grammarly worth it?  I think so! 

Grammarly Wins Webby Award!


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Generating Titles

When I was talking about my writing flaws, I mentioned my difficulty with titles. This blog post is really helpful.

The View Outside

As I said a couple of days ago, I love finding names for my characters, but, what I love even more is finding Title Ideas 🙂 A good title idea can prompt a story in itself, and often does for me. An interesting title will intrigue a reader, I know it does me. One of my 2 favourite examples from successful books are:

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nightime

Both, fantastic examples of how a title can sell a book. Imagine if Mark Haddon had just called it “The Dog” *yawns*

I’m sitting here at the moment, in front of my sons birthday cards. It was his birthday on Wednesday. I found one of his cards very inspiring.


Bam! “Dressing Like Dad” what a great title for a story. I’m conjuring up the scenes in my head as I type…

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The Top Five Writing Blogs I Read

by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2013


Kristen Lamb’s Blog — Sharp, personable, meaningful, and informative.  Deserves the title Social Media Maven.

terribleminds: Chuck Wendig — Raunchy, hilarious, heartfelt, and streetwise.

Hunting Down Writing — Full of resources, such as this excellent challenge.

Broadside — Witty, thought-provoking, a valuable perspective on whatever topic she chooses.

Leanne Shirtliffe — Ironic Mom — Just too damn funny.  Whether or not you’re a mother, you will enjoy the author of “Don’t Lick the Minivan.”

Click those links!  You’ll be glad you did!

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The Chinks in My Armor


by Lillian Csernica on July 23, 2013



Once again, I think I’ll go for the alternate prompt:


Confessing My Writing Flaws and How I Tackle Them!


messy-desk.jpgI am not good at titles.  Sometimes I get lucky and they spring to mind.  Other times I have to work at it, trying to pull a central concrete image out of the story.  I think titles have a significant impact on a reader/editor’s first impression of the story, so a strong title is very important.  Brainstorming, reading from books of famous quotations, pinpointing a key line of dialogue and asking my primary beta reader for input are methods by which I try to find the ideal title.


paperstack4I can fall down the rabbit hole of research and stay down there.  It depends on where I am in the project.  If I have a specific piece of information targeted, then I’m in and out.  If I’m going for the ambiance of a period, the general mood of the women’s quarters, or how daily life really smelled in the lives of the stable staff, that’s going to take longer.


Idea FactoryI am surrounded by notebooks and printed pages and research texts and handwritten memos and who knows what other related miscellanea.  I have Scrivener.  I will be using it to convert SHIP OF DREAMS into an e-book.  I may well plug the ongoing adventure of SWORD MASTER, FLOWER MAIDEN into Scrivener as well.  I have to do something to ride herd on the organic chaos that is my creative process.


100_0020I don’t do nearly as much of the physical side of writing as I hear prescribed all the time.  My diet is poor.  I don’t get anywhere near enough regular exercise.  I usually manage one dose of sunlight per day.  I have a terrible sweet tooth, which is aggravated by depression.  My sleep patterns are erratic.  My stress levels are turning my trapezius muscles into steel cables.  God knows what my blood pressure and cholesterol are like.  It’s time to take this aging body in for blood work and annual exams and the mammogram and all the other poking and prodding that will result in the doctor telling me to get off my ass, go outside, and walk for at least 30 minutes a day.


blue-boy.jpgI’m way behind the learning curve when it comes to self-publishing, e-publishing, all the software and technology and who to know and where to go.  My husband is a software engineer, but I’d rather handle educating myself with the help of my agent and other industry experts.  I want to learn how to do the file conversions and make my books and stories come out the way I want them to be.  This might be a bigger challenge than I realize, but so be it.


4_DreamPro_by_Ron1649.pngSometimes the depression gets me and I think it’s all just so much recycled fairy tales crossed with all the bad horror movies I’ve seen.  I’m just grinding it all up and spewing it out through one of those disgusting sausage-making devices.  It’s already been consumed and digested and excreted by better writers and readers than me.  Why should I presume to think I can do any better than all the other people out there scrambling to see their names in lights?  (Or whatever the Internet equivalent is.)


Sully and BooToday the light fell harshly on my mirror, to paraphrase “The Bolt Behind the Blue” by Dorothy Parker.  I saw the beginnings of crow’s-feet.  Time is passing and I’m not where I wanted to be in my career at this age.  I feel compelled to make up for lost time and keep ahead of the panic that threatens to eat me alive.  Will it all amount to nothing in the end?  Will history measure me as nothing more than a wannabe that made a little progress before the demands of real life crushed her?



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Ritz-Carlton is partnering up with Italian jeweller Damian to serve you some tea in Hong Kong


You want to know what romance writers really fantasize about?  THIS!

The Metro Perspective


Traveling to Hong Kong this Summer? You don’t want to miss this exquisite high tea (that’s afternoon tea for most people) event in collaboration with Italian jewelry brand, Damiani, at The Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong. The Lounge and Bar at the hotel will be offering a special afternoon tea inspired by the jewellery brand’s latest collection of unique and precious jewels named Belle Epoque.

ImageWith edible chocolate pendants styled after rubies and vintage necklaces and rose gold and yellow diamond inspired pastries, the afternoon tea will include:

–       Five-textured limoni tea cake
–       Golden Sicilian pistachio and raspberry croissant
–       Tomato jelly martini
–       “Illy” tarte with ivory chocolate cream

The tea will be available from September 1 to 30 from 3pm-6pm each day. The Damiani afternoon tea is priced at HK$388 for one or HK$618 for two. (Note, you can still go there for regular afternoon tea, The…

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