Monthly Archives: July 2013

How-NOT-To Write Books

by Lillian Csernica on July 22, 2013

I’m going for the alternate prompt today.  Let’s talk about some how-to books that will waste your money, waste your time, and maybe even leave you confused.

The Intransitive Vampire — This is a grammar book.  I’m all for using correct grammar.  What I couldn’t stand about this particular book was the cutesy writing style.  It was nudge nudge wink wink in line after line, making me feel like the author was standing behind the text holding up a big cue card that read, “See how clever I am?”  I bought a copy once, and I’ve been given copies twice.  All three copies are now somewhere else.  If you’re going to write a how-to manual, wouldn’t it make sense to write it in a style that does not aggravate the reader, one that makes the information and technique the main focus?

How to Write a Movie in 21 DaysYes, I did in fact spend a chunk of time writing screenplays in collaboration with a a real live working actor/stuntman who needed someone to create vehicles for him.  I say that just to establish the fact that I understand the mindset you have to acquire to get into the screenplay groove.  21 Days will not help you.  Once again, we have some basic information buried under a lot of marshmallow fluff.  There are much better books on the art of the screenplay.  There is also a lot of software out there to help screenwriters plug characters and action into templates.  (If you want to get a fascinating look into the nitty gritty of Hollywood, read Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind.)

Books such as The Artist’s Way or The Writer’s Book of Days — Here we come to the “Your mileage may vary” type of how-to manual.  Both of these books use words like “spiritual” and “holistic” in their blurbs.  Me, I’m a nuts and bolts writer.  Classic plot structure, rounded characters, and an ending that does not disappoint.  Between the novels and the short stories in the Work-In-Progress files, I’ve got a lot more work than I have time to do.  Sure, writing can be a voyage of self-discovery.  That’s fine.  If you want to make writing your career, you need word quotas and timetables and deadlines and networking and social media.  All of that is hard work.  The more artsy books on writing are fine for those who want to go that route.  I’m just saying they’re not my cup of tea.

If you want to see a list of how-to books I heartily endorse, read this.



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

My Program Bio

by Lillian Csernica on July 21, 2013

At age 5, Lillian Csernica discovered the Little Golden Books fairy tales. From there she moved on to the works of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Tanith Lee, and Terry Pratchett. Her very first short story sale, “Fallen Idol,” appeared in After Hours and was later reprinted in DAW’S YEAR’S BEST HORROR STORIES XX. Ms. Csernica has gone on to publish stories in YBHS XXI, 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Insatiable, Tales of Old, and Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2. Her Christmas ghost story “The Family Spirit” appeared in Weird Tales #322 and “Maeve” appeared in #333. Ms. Csernica has also published an historical romance novel, SHIP OF DREAMS.

Ms. Csernica has also written nonfiction in the field of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She has been a columnist for Speculations, writing “The Fright Factory” and “The Writer’s Spellbook.” Her controversial column of literary criticism and short fiction reviews, “The Penny Dreadful Reader,” ran in the print edition of Tangent, earning praise from such leading lights of the field as editor Ellen Datlow. Now Ms. Csernica reviews short horror fiction for Tangent Online.

Born in San Diego, Ms. Csernica is a genuine California native. She currently resides in the Santa Cruz mountains with her husband, two sons, and three cats.

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Confessions of a Genre Slave

by Lillian Csernica on July 20, 2013

Day Two: Make ten writing-related confessions.

 One — I’m a bit intimidated by Scrivener.  I’m sure I’ll be fine once I get used to using it.

 Two — Computers are fabulous, but I still love my spiral notebook and my medium point black ink cheap ballpoint pen.

 Three — For Mother’s Day one year, my husband and the boys gave me an ergonomic pen suited to my fingers and grip.  It’s made from zebra wood and it takes commonly sold ink refills.  This has been the Pen of Choice for the autograph sessions I’ve done.

 Four — A number of my romance novel ideas have arisen from the crushes I develop on actors or other celebrities.  I came down with a bad case of Fan Girl Fascination when I first saw Tom Hiddleston play Loki in “The Avengers.”  (Note:  My husband is over six feet tall with bright blue eyes and long dark hair.)

 Five — Sometimes when I’m writing a first draft, I’ll go veering off down some other line of thinking even though I know where I want that scene or chapter to go.  It’s one thing to let the characters go where they will when a hot idea strikes.  Losing control of the narrative means extra editing, which means time lost.

 Six — I get really embarrassed when I meet somebody I know who has read my romance novel.  The first person to do this was the nice little old lady who is mother to the choir director at my church.  Oh man, the idea of her reading all those loves scenes!  I blushed so hard it hurt.

 Seven — I don’t understand literary fiction.  Oh sure, I’ve read Edna O’Brien‘s short stories and some of Joyce Carol Oates‘ work and Flannery O’Connor is great.  Maybe it’s just that I don’t really enjoy reading about “ordinary” people with “ordinary” problems.  The only Updike book I’ve ever enjoyed was The Witches of Eastwick, and that had magic in it.

 Eight — When I was in junior high I wrote short stories about a gang of spies who were a lot like the “Mission: Impossible” team on the original TV show.  Now there was a good example of why we should write what we know.  I had no idea what I was talking about and it showed.  Oh well.  Gotta start somewhere, right?

 Nine — When I was in high school I had no respect for romance novels.  My best friend and I would go to bookstores and stand there reading to each other from the books with the most lurid covers.  True, some of those novels were not great.  I was just showing my ignorance because I had no concept of the time, labor, and research that go into a good love story.

 Ten — I’m really sad that good handwriting is becoming a thing of the past.  Between texting and e-mail, nobody writes actually letters to each other.  I got a postcard from a friend the other day, and it was twice as delightful because it was “handmade” in the sense that her hand using a pen wrote the words on the back of the card.  Of course, you can get handwriting fonts these days, but that’s just faking it.

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My Novel, in 250 Words or Less.

by Lillian Csernica on July 19, 2013

Day One:  Introduce your latest writing project with an elevator pitch or maximum 250 words.

Sword Master, Flower Maiden is set in Japan, 1865, a time when clans supporting the Emperor battle samurai loyal to the Shogunate.  Yuriko is an English girl raised in Satsuma by the corrupt samurai Nakazawa who won her from her drunken diplomat father thanks to some crooked gambling.  Nakazawa has trained Yuriko, now age sixteen, in all the arts of the oiran, the highest rank of courtesan, so he can give her to Lord Mochinobori in exchange for political favors.  Lord Mochinobori is notorious for his cruelty and perversity.  Risking execution simply for being a foreigner, Yuriko escapes Nakazawa’s household.  Hunger and exhaustion cut short her flight.  Yuriko collapses on the bank of a river.  Tendo Kazuhiro is a ronin exiled from his clan who makes his living as the protector of the village of Yama-Shinden.  While he’s out on patrol, he discovers Yuriko lying unconscious.   Mindful of how much danger she represents, yet fascinated by her exotic beauty, Tendo carries Yuriko back to the hunter’s shack where he lives.  Once Tendo understands Nakazawa’s plan for Yuriko, Tendo sends word to Kobayashi, the head of Tendo’s clan.  Only Kobayashi is powerful enough to stop Nakazawa.  Drawn together by their differences and similarities, Tendo and Yuriko fall in love.   Now Tendo and Yuriko must make the journey to Kobayashi’s household before Nakazawa’s spies kill Tendo and drag Yuriko back to the horrible slavery.


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When Meltdown Meets Meltdown

by Lillian Csernica on July 17, 2013

Most of the time I count myself very fortunate, because while Michael has serious medical problems, he’s still cognitively intact.  He knows we love him and he has a good quality of life.  John is on the spectrum, but he’s doing very well and he has outgrown a number of the more publicly embarrassing demonstrative behaviors.

And then there was today.

The local library offers a “Teen Tech” class on Wednesdays, taught by a wonderful man from the Digital Idea Factory.  John loves to creates storyboards, so he was having a grand time learning to use the digital camera and the MovieMaker software as well.  I had a nice chat with the librarian supervising the class, which may result in me giving talks at the library.

When the class ended, I was ready to move on to the next item on the To Do list.  John was not.  John wanted to stay at the library until it closed and use one of the computers to listen to his favorite music videos.  Having already spent an hour and a half on the class, we did need to move on with the afternoon.  Unfortunately, John is now in the habit of going to the library for the express purpose of using the computer to listen to these videos.  Why?  Because we limit his electronic activity time at home.  Too much of it and he gets rather wound up and contrary.

I’ll just cut to the chase here:  John dug his heels in and refused to leave until he’d used the computer.  I had to start going down the list of privileges he’d lose if he didn’t do as he was told.  When he was still four or five years old, I could just pick him up and haul him away.  Now that he’s six feet tall and build like a wrestler, I might as well be trying to push over a bronze statue anchored in cement.  He lost his temper, I lost my temper.  I don’t know how I finally got him in the car, but I did and we came straight home.

That confrontation left me in such a state of aggravation and exasperation I had to isolate myself for a while until I could get a grip.  Later I found out that John had given my sister a similar bad time about doing his outdoor chores earlier in the day.  My sister’s solution was brilliant:  she turned the garden hose on him.  That left John gasping and spluttering and so startled that it snapped him out of the contrary holding pattern.

This is really upsetting.  As a discipline issue it’s very draining.  What’s more, once John starts high school in the fall, he’s going to find out the hard way that you just don’t tell off your teachers like that.  He might still be designated special education, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences.  I want what’s best for John, but I would also enjoy what’s best for me, and this level of stress is not healthy for either of us.  Looks like I’ll be giving the adaptive skills trainer another call.


Filed under Family, Fiction, Humor, Special needs, Writing

Location, Location, Location

by Lillian Csernica on July 16, 2013

English: The Hill House Inn, Happisburgh 16th ...

English: The Hill House Inn, Happisburgh 16th Century coaching in where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the book “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” in 1903. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My recent trip to the Winchester Mystery House got me to thinking about the importance of setting.  Having been a slush pile reader as well as a reviewer, I’ve read stories where the potential in the setting could have been put to much better use.  I’ve also seen the setting dominate the action to the exclusion of a genuine plot.  Unique locations can add considerable depth and atmosphere to a story, enhancing character and complicating the plot.

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich   The key setting in this installment of the Stephanie Plum series is the New Jersey pine barrens, complete with the Jersey Devil and a few other quite colorful characters.  The plot twists and the comedy in the story could not happen the same way without being set in this lonely, spooky, and above all muddy location.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey   The highly structured environment of a mental ward provides the critical setting for the clash of wills between Murphy and Big Nurse.

The Sonchai Jitpleecheep series by Jim Burdett   The mysteries Det. Jitpleecheep must solve could only happen in Bangkok, that city of exotic splendor where to foreigners it seems like anything goes.  Bangkok, with its particular style of Buddhism, its pollution and corruption and amazing beauty, is a character in and of itself.

The works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle   Here again we have a city that becomes a character in the stories set inside its alleyways and majestic buildings.  Sir Arthur knew London so well, right down to the very timetables of the trains, that the city comes alive and is by turns both ally and enemy to Sherlock Holmes.

Stories that take place aboard the RMS Titanic.   So much fiction and nonfiction has been written about the many tragedies surrounding the Titanic, its construction, its maiden voyage, and its disastrous end.  Even though we know the ending, the Titanic continues to figure in the minds of storytellers.

The setting of a story can be so much more than just the backdrop, just the furniture on the stage where the characters act out their scenes.  The setting can have its own vitality, temper, gifts, and demands.  Such marvelous dramatic potential cannot be allowed to go to waste.

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The Silver Marriage Medal

by Lillian Csernica on July 12, 2013

Busy week here.  Wednesday was my 25th Wedding Anniversary.  It’s staggering to think that much time has passed, more than half of my life.

Chris took the day off work and we spent it doing all kinds of things.  The Winchester Mystery House is every bit as grand and strange as the ads claim.  I don’t think it’s haunted, but I admit I wouldn’t want to go wandering around the place at night.  And I won’t take the basement tour, not even in broad daylight.  Hey, I write horror.  I’d scare myself silly and I know it.

In commemoration of this marital milestone, Chris gave me a sterling silver Celtic knotwork cuff bracelet.  My wedding rings are Celtic knotwork, and on my other ring finger I wear a Celtic knotwork dragon.  The first gift Chris ever gave me was sterling silver Celtic knotwork jewelry.  (Yes, it’s easy for me to accessorize!)

The big surprise was the place where Chris had made our dinner reservations.  He wouldn’t tell me the location, but I did insist on knowing how to dress.  As we pulled up to the parking structure beside the building where the restaurant sits on the top floor, I saw a sign I haven’t seen in twenty-five years.  Chris had brought us to the very fancy restaurant where we went on our first date.  Now that’s style.

I was really impressed.  Chris worked so hard to make the day so special.


Filed under Family, fantasy, Horror, Uncategorized, Writing

Better or Worse?

by Lillian Csernica on June 7, 2013

The one doctor I truly like to go see is the eye doctor.  So far, in my life, the eye doctor is the only doctor whose care has not involved some kind of physical pain.  I’m not counting headaches from eye strain or outdated prescriptions on my glasses.  Eye doctors have such cool diagnostic equipment.  There’s the test like a videogame where the lights flash and you hit the button.  That checks your peripheral vision.  Seeing a color reproduction of my retina freaked me out the first time, but after the initial shock it was fascinating.  I’m not all that fond of the glaucoma test where they hit you with a little blast of air straight at your naked eye.  Unfortunately, I’m at high risk for glaucoma so this test is just part of the package for me.

The eye exam is always entertaining.  It would help, I think, if I wasn’t able to memorize the whole eye chart on the first or second go.  From that point on it’s hard to tell if I can really see the letter or if I simply know what it is from seeing it when I could see the whole chart clearly.  When the eye doctor is looking to update the exact numbers on my vision, we play the “Better or Worse?” game where the doctor gives me two choices of lenses and I give the appropriate reply.  On and on it goes while the eye doctor gets a really precise calibration or whatever it is of the prescription appropriate for my glasses.  (I wore contact lenses a long time ago when you had to take them out every night and then once a week soak them in the solution that removed the protein deposits.  These days contacts are almost maintenance-free, but you just can’t get trifocal contact lenses.)

So why am I talking about eye exams and how much I enjoy my trips to the eye doctor?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer physical pain to emotional pain.  Why?  Because physical pain is so much easier to treat.

Last night was a bad night.  My depression paid me a visit and kept me up all night watching bad horror movies while I tried to drain the emotional abscess of the moment into my personal journal.  You might think staying up all night was a stupid thing to do, since sleep deprivation isn’t going to help matters.  That’s a valid point.  What you don’t know is my lifelong tendency toward nightmares.  Sure, I could take the insomnia meds and hide under the sheets and try not to cry myself to sleep.  What then?  My subconscious isn’t just going to change channels and start watching the emotional equivalent of “Sesame Street.”  I’m going to have anxiety dreams, anniversary dreams, and a high possibility of nightmares.  So I’d rather stay up all night watching make-believe nightmares with tacky special effects and cheap monster makeup and really awful writing because I can safely laugh them off.

When I read about writers who drank themselves to death or who were addicted to opium, laudanum, cocaine, heroine, etc. I feel a deep sympathy.  There’s no hell like being trapped inside your own head.  There’s no pain like realizing the person you really want to break up with is yourself.  And so we write.  We write for distraction, for validation, for exploration, for revenge.  We write because it’s the only way we can make it stop hurting, and sometimes all we do is make it hurt even worse.  We can’t just stop writing, because then the emotional poison has no outlet and the works get backed up and sooner or later our heads explode.  Cranial shrapnel can be lethal to bystanders, innocent or otherwise.

I’m going to go work on my novel now.  The Number Two Bad Guy is about to show up, and the next two or three chapters involve my heroine getting some serious payback on him.  Now that’s what I call therapeutic.


Filed under Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Writing

5 Signs You’re Writing Hard, But Not Smart (as an Indie author)

This is SO important. We can think we’re being really active, but is that activity moving us toward our writing goals?

Word Hunter

The secrets to writing hard and smart aren’t that mysterious, but the Indie life asks a lot of any writer, and it’s easy to fall into patterns of behaviour and familiarity that are not smart in the long run.

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Happy 4th of July!

by Lillian Csernica on July 4, 2013

Chris has taken Michael and John to watch the local fireworks display.  I think fireworks are wonderful, but here I am at home.  I’m not fond of crowds, traffic, or the sound of mortar fire, to say nothing of the availability or lack thereof re restrooms.  Mom took me to see fireworks every year when I was a kid, and I’ve seen Disneyland’s amazing displays, so I figure I’m good.


Now, in an effort to lighten up given the general trend of my latest posts, I am here to entertain you with some of my favorite jokes:

How do you know when a blonde has been using the computer?   There’s White-Out (correction fluid) on the monitor screen.

How do you know when another blonde has been using the same computer?    There’s ink on the White-Out.


The redhead sister says to the blonde sister: “Oh wow, I just slept with a Brazilian!”

The blonde sister says to the redhead sister:  “Oh my God!  You total slut!  How many is a brazillion?”


A priest, a rabbi, and an imam walk into a bar.  The bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”


What’s the mating call of the blonde?  “I am, like, SO drunk!”

What’s the mating call of the brunette?  “Has that stupid blonde left yet?”

What’s the mating call of the redhead?   “NEXT!”


A skeleton walks into a bar and asks for a beer and a mop.


A blonde goes to the doctor.  When the doctor asks her what’s wrong, she puts her pointer finger on her forehead and says, “It hurts here,” then pokes her thigh, “and here,” then her stomach, “and here,” then her other arm.  “And here!  Doctor, tell me, what’s wrong with me?”  The doctor says, “Your finger is broken.”


What do you call five blondes lined up shoulder to shoulder?  A wind tunnel!


If nothing else, I expect these jokes will cause some fireworks, especially among the blondes in the audience!  Let the record show that my best friend, Patricia H. MacEwen, is blonde.  My other best friend, Juliette Wade, is also blonde.  These are two of the smartest women you could ever hope to meet, so please understand the jokes are just friendly rivalry between this brunette and all the blondes out there who fit into bikinis so well!  😀



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