Monthly Archives: October 2013

Halloween Hijinks


by Lillian Csernica on October 31, 2013

Daily Prompt: Trick or Treat

by michelle w. on October 31, 2013

If bloggers had their own Halloween and could go from blog to blog collecting “treats,” what would your blog hand out?

Only the best for you folks!  Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts is my favorite.

This is my first Halloween in this house, and the first time in twenty years that I’ve lived in a neighborhood where the demographics make lots of trick-or-treaters a probability.  So far there have been little tiny kids, six teenage girls all dressed as superheroines (YAY!), various ninjas, and four boys dressed in shabby black carrying pillow cases, God bless their traditional little hearts.  There’s a party at the town’s fire station which is manned by volunteer firemen, so I imagine lots of people are there.  The air is filled with the sound of children shrieking and parents calling to them, the smell of pumpkins burning thanks to the real candles lighting up the jack-o-lanterns, and the dogs barking because they’re just going nuts.

When I get around to writing my memoirs, Halloween will get its own chapter, if not its own volume.  The year Mom told me I was too old to trick-or-treat anymore (I was twelve).  The last year I went trick-or-treating for myself (I was twenty-two).  The year at church when we threw the “Come as your patron saint/favorite saint” party so our kids would get to dress up and party and eat candy while not being out in the midst of all the blood-soaked hooligans.  Then there was the year John first started going out.  Chris went with him.  From then on, it’s been my job, until this year.  My boy is now of an age to go out without his mother tagging along.  Michael stayed in, listening to Rock of the ”80s and all the strange stuff happening at our front door.

Just had a little Harlequin boy come barreling down my driveway howling, “I want candy!  I want candy!”  You have to love such wild-eyed glee.  Nice kid, too.  Good manners.

One mother held a toddler in a teddy bear suit on her hip.  When I offered him the bowl, he went straight for the Hershey’s Chocolate miniature.  His mother busted up laughing.

Haven’t seen anything too slinky on the girls so far, but then it is a night in the lonesome October here in the mountains.  You wear layers by day and by night or you’re sorry.

Tomorrow I leave for Convolution at the Hyatt in Burlingame.  I’m moderating the “Writing Magic Systems for Fantasy” panel, along with the panel on “Wonder Woman and Batgirl: Why aren’t we seeing more superheroine movies?”  If you’re there, please find me and say hello.

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Filed under Conventions, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Special needs, Writing

Social Media First Aid Kits


by Lillian Csernica on October 28, 2013

I was just over on Facebook grumbling about my total lack of nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic.  Today I simply Can NOT make myself work on my Japanese historical romance novel. I’m down to editing the last forty pages of this draft.  This is the home stretch!  What’s the problem?  One friend popped up with permission to go to something mindless.  Housework.  I hate housework.  I’m so bored I can’t help but process my fictional problems and I often do come up with solutions.  Then another friend sent me the list you see below, ways for folks with ADHD to cope with their concentration difficulties.  Whether or not you have ADHD, I think these strategies can come in very handy when you need help to focus.

1. Make a list. To get a great start on your work, nothing helps you organize and prioritize your tasks like writing them down. But don’t try to do too much. If you have a long list, pick out the items that must be done today and work from that shorter list. Also, writing your list on a whiteboard makes it easy to change things if priorities shift.

2. Use the Buddy System. Make friends with a well-organized manager or co-worker who can guide you through projects from beginning to end by helping you stay organized and focused and giving you feedback and support.

3. Just say no to multitasking. Juggling is for circus performers. The rest of us do our best work by focusing on one task at a time. Break down big jobs into small, manageable steps and focus on them one at a time too.

4. Beat the clock. Does it feel like time is your enemy? If you’re prone to run late or forget meetings or deadlines, set your smartphone or computer to remind you automatically. And if you’re spending too much time working on daily tasks, do the same thing you’d do if you were spending too much money every day: put yourself on a budget. Give yourself a limited amount of time for each job on your list.

5. Interrupt those interruptions. Interruptions will happen, but you can reduce or eliminate many of them. Ask to work in a quiet space where noise and conversations won’t distract. And instead of frequently checking your email and voicemail, set aside one or two times each day to respond.

6. Write it down. If you’ll need to remember it later, give your memory a break: write down everything you can, from verbal instructions to meeting notes, deadlines, details, whatever you may find yourself struggling to remember. Even better, review your notes with the person you were listening to make sure they are correct and complete.

7. Take a break. Simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation can work wonders for your concentration. And if you sit all day, getting up once an hour for a brief walk or visit with a colleague may improve your alertness and focus.

8. Can’t sit still? Then don’t! In times when you can’t leave your seat, there are simple ways to help relieve restlessness that won’t disturb people around you. Try chewing gum, sipping water, flexing muscles, clicking a pen, fingering your hair, your imagination will find something that works for you.

9. Treat yourself. A little reward goes a long way with ADHD. Set goals and reward yourself for reaching them. Remember, rewards don’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Completing a project might mean treating yourself to something as simple as a favorite dessert, or an afternoon of “me time” at home to read that great novel you haven’t had time for.

10. Pick the best and forget the rest. Just as ADHD symptoms vary from person to person, so do solutions. You are the best judge of what your own challenges are and which techniques work best for you. Try a variety of the approaches we’ve shown you. Be mindful of what helps and what doesn’t, learn from your experiences, and above all have confidence that your efforts will improve your abilities to cope with ADHD on the job and in every facet of your life.

 

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Nightmare Season


by Lillian Csernica on October 26th, 2013

I had a nightmare last night.  Not just an anxiety dream.  A full bore, nasty gory endless and very detailed nightmare.  The kind where you just can’t get away, can’t wake up.  I haven’t had one of those for a long time.  Why now?

Halloween is right around the corner.  The stores are full of cute ‘n’ spooky knickknacks, bags of trick-or-treat candy, bowls for giving and bags for gathering.

Some stores feature the really gross Halloween items.  Evil, gory masks.  Brains and bones and fake blood.  All the movie monsters, both classic and contemporary.  Costumes that really make you wonder about the mind that thought them up, mass produced them, and sent them out for sale.

These days kids go trick-or-treating by daylight.  The little ones are home before dark.  After dark the teenagers roam the streets.  It does me good to see them with their slapped together costumes and their pillow cases for treat bags.  I’m an old-fashioned girl, and that’s how we did things when I was little.  Forty years ago, when I joined in on the mad candy raids, these were the rules of the game:

 

1.  Only go to houses with their lights on, or with lit pumpkins outside.  The scaredy cats would only go to the houses of people they knew, but that could limit your haul by a lot.

2.  Don’t cross the streets without a grown-up.  If you did, you’d better be holding hands with somebody in your group.

3.  Go in groups.  Never go trick-or-treating alone.  When that front door opened, you just never knew what might be waiting on the other side.

4.  The classic hours of trick-or-treating were twilight ( 5 p.m., more or less) until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.  By then people turned their porch lights off and left the candy bowls out on the front steps with that silly “Take One” sign that we all ignored.

5.  When you got home, before you did anything else, Mom went through the candy to check for needles, razor blades, and anything that was unwrapped.  If a piece of candy was even remotely suspect, it got thrown away.  (My mother was perfectly up front about which pieces of candy she snitched for herself.  I was OK with that.  I already knew about sales tax, so I figured this was some kind of Candy Tax.)  Then you plopped down on the living room floor, dumped out your candy, and began the real challenge of the evening.  First came the Sorting, where you set aside your favorites and whatever candy you hated.  (Black licorice was my enemy.)  Then came the Trading, where kids got their training in the fine art of negotiation.  The older you got, the better you were at bargaining, but some of the little kids caught on quick.

These days kids go trick-or-treating in malls.  Shopping malls!  Brightly lit, full of people, all the doors wide open.  I ask you, what kind of Halloween is that?  Down in Santa Cruz on the wharf whole families show up for the trick-or-treat event between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.  I love it down there.  It’s like a big informal parade.  Up one side of the wharf where all the shops and restaurants are.  Hang out at the far end for a drink or fried clams or watching the sea lions.  Check out everybody else’s costumes, which often means whole families dressed up according to a theme.  And then, as the sun is going down over the Pacific, it’s time to head into Santa Cruz for the block parties and the church trunk-or-treats and the neighborhoods where they give out the really good candy.  This sacred knowledge is passed from one age group to the next, from older brother and sister to younger brother and sister.  Rites of passage.  Rights of passage.  Bribery for information.  Some of the best moments of childhood.

Now it’s forty years later.  My sons are fourteen and seventeen.  I’ll probably take the fourteen year old out to the wharf at the very least.  I carry a bag for my older son because he’s in a wheelchair and the wind blows really cold down by the beach.  When we come home on Halloween night, I’ll take Michael’s bag to him and set it on his chest.  If the weight is heavy enough to make him happy with his share, he’ll give me that grin that makes my life worth living.

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All Be-Twittered


by Lillian Csernica on October 24, 2013

Yes, that’s right, I have taken another stride toward keeping up with the Cyber-Joneses.  I am now on Twitter, @LillianCsernica.

Please help me out here.  There’s a lot to know and a lot to learn.  I’m proud of having gotten my profile colors sorted out all by myself.  That might not seem like much, but I’m working hard to be self-reliant in the online realms.  My husband is a software engineer and for years now I’ve just automatically gone to him for explanations and adjustments.  If I want to exercise proper creative control over my writing out here in the blogosphere, I’d better get my skills up to speed.

I welcome any and all tips on Twitter etiquette, Dos and Don’ts, interesting lists, writing resources, special needs topics and people, etc.

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Conventions: Business and Pleasure


by Lillian Csernica on October 22, 2013

Hi there!  I just got back from a total of five days away from home.  Much to my delight, I had the pleasure of being one of the pro guests at Conjecture/ConChord.  Many thanks to Allison Lonsdale who took on not just Programming but Publicity and Publications as well.  She did a marvelous job.

Let’s talk about conventions.  Networking online is very important in the Digital Age, but there’s still nothing better for cementing relationships (business or personal) than just hanging out together shooting the breeze.  My sister-in-law gave me a t-shirt that reads “I’m raising a child with Autism.  What’s your superpower?”  I wore this t-shirt on Saturday with the specific intention of letting other people know that autism is part of my life and I’m willing to talk about it.  Among folks in sf/f fandom there are people on the spectrum, Aspies in particular.  Sure enough, I got into at least three different conversations with people.  The great thing about wearing the t-shirt was the way it helped us all hop over all the complicated social interaction involved in meeting people for the first time.  Granted, cons tend to encourage a less formal atmosphere, but it’s still not easy to start talking about being on the spectrum or having children who are on there somewhere.

Please go visit Lesson Plan For Life: How a Man on the Spectrum Learns to Live.  The young man who writes this blog is lively and dynamic and determined.

The business aspect of conventions is important too.  Shameless self-promotion is even more important today than it was when I started going to cons back in ’93.  There’s so much competition, there are so many blogs and websites and e-zines.  You have got to get yourself out there, shake some hands, pass out bookmarks or magnets or whatever freebies work for you, and establish yourself as a person behind your name, behind your “brand.”  I was happy to have copies of Mystic Signals and Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2 with me.  Nothing proves you’re a pro like having publications in front of you.  Here’s a tip:  if your work appears in electronic format, get a good cover image, make a color copy, and laminate it.  Now you have something you can carry around to con after con.  It’s even more valuable if your name appears on the cover!

Meeting other writers at cons can begin the daisy chain that leads you to an opportunity, be it a market or an editor or an agent.  The wider your network of contacts, the likelier you are to hear about such an opportunity in time to act on it.  I really hate hearing about a great anthology only to find out the window of opportunity will close before I can get a story ready for submission.  The more people who know you personally and whom you know, the stronger the connection and the likelier you are to think of each other when these opportunities arise.

Let’s not overlook the Fun Factor.  Writing is a hard, lonely, often frustrating business.  Nobody understands writers like other writers. Howard Tayler, creator of Schlock Mercenary, was the Artist GoH.  My husband is a long-time reader, so I seized the opportunity to get Chris a sketch card and one of the Tagon’s Toughs coins.   On Sunday afternoon as Conjecture/ConChord was winding down, I found myself on the patio outside the Con suite, eating too much Halloween candy and chatting away with some new friends I’d made.  Who should come out and join the group but Larry Niven himself?  Yow!  We had some fun talking about the time I met Dr. Jerry Pournelle.  Earlier in the day My partner in crime Pat MacEwen and I crossed paths with GoH Esther Friesner in the Dealers’ Room.  Esther and I share an interest in Japan, so she was telling me about her adventures in Tokyo.  If it sounds like I’m name dropping, I am and I’m not.  Conventions create the circumstances that allow you to hang out with your idols, whether or not you’re also a professional writer.  If that isn’t Fun, I don’t know what is.

So here I am, home again.  I’m fired up to finish the edit on the Japanese novel, to keep converting my published work to electronic formats, and to write new material Pat and I thought up during the ten hour drive down to San Diego and the ten hour drive home again.  The adventure continues!

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The Stress Meter Blew Up


by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2013

Yes, that’s right, the Stress Meter blew up yesterday and I’m still picking pieces of shrapnel out of my psyche.

Here’s my Deal With It list:

John is having trouble adjusting to the amount of homework high school is piling on him.  This has been resulting in discipline problems, noncompliant behavior, shouting matches, and punishments (loss of privileges).

Michael is having more seizures more frequently.  Last weekend he had a tonic clonic seizure, which is the worst one short of staticus epilepticus.  He’s tired all the time, his cognitive functioning is down, and he’s getting combative more often.

John’s aides are having problems keeping organized regarding his homework, projects, etc.  His school aide does not communicate with us very well.

I’m starting to have anxiety attacks again.  So far it’s been one a day, but if matters don’t lighten up around here, I may have to speak to the doctor about my medication.

Last but far from least, I had to fire one of Michael’s three nurses.  Understand that given the nursing shortage, we’re going to have a hell of a time replacing her, so I did not fire this woman on a whim.  Truth be told, my husband never should have hired her in the first place.  I trusted his judgment when I should have gone over the woman’s resume with a microscope.  I’m so happy she’s gone.  That lightens my load right there.  When the two other nurses start coming to me with their concerns about the third one, that’s a serious warning that must be taken seriously.  So she’s gone.  Hallelujah.

Did I mention my workload?  I’ve got the novel edit, I’ve got my first ebook project to edit, I’m waiting on the second half of the book doctor job I’m doing, and I just finished reviewing eighteen short stories in one issue of a major spec fic ‘zine.  Still waiting are a novella and four short stories in a brand new ‘zine.  Then there’s the little matter of all the short stories I’d like to complete, the new ones I’d like to write, and the ones that are out to market coming in and out.

I lost two sales due to the markets closing their doors.  That really sucked.  The editors were sorry, I was sorry, everybody was sorry.

This coming weekend I’m blowing this popsicle stand and heading south for San Diego.  The folks at Conjecture/ConChord have been kind enough to invite me to be a pro guest.  I’m taking along the Halloween party gear with plans to whoop it up.  While I’m gone, everything here is Somebody Else’s Problem.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

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The Best Storytelling Tips You’ll EVER Receive


adoptingjames

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As I’m working on my extended edition of The Man in the Box, I find myself going back to this list. It’s a list of Pixar’s 22 tips on how to tell a great story. I almost don’t want to share this because I’m greedy like that, but then I got to thinking: great stories inspire greater stories. So, here’s to our stories becoming even greater!

Is there anything you would add or take away to this list? What are the most challenging tips for you as a writer? And if you’re not a reader, do you see how well these can play out in stories you read/watch? Weigh in below.

PIXAR’S 22 TIPS FOR STORYTELLING

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer…

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How to Avoid Avoidance Behavior


by Lillian Csernica on October 3, 2013

There’s a paradox that every writer experiences from time to time.  You really want to get that daily word count written, but the minute you sit down to go at it, your mind starts fighting itself.  Oh wait, gotta get those notes.  Need more coffee.  Did that e-mail reply come in yet?  Time to rotate the loads of laundry.  And there’s always the eternal lure of Spider Solitaire or Bejeweled.  Why does that wall of resistance pop up between you and your work?

Speaking for myself, I find it’s a combination of fear, fatigue, and inertia.

FEAR:  Every day I face the blank screen.  Every day I have to summon up more words to build on all the others I wrote yesterday.  Can I do it?  Do I have the words?  Do I have the right words?  Am I ever going to get all the way through to the end of this project and maybe see the day when other people buy it and read it and say good things about it?  This is an anxiety spiral.  It feeds on itself, pumping more and more adrenalin into the system.  It’s hard to concentrate when your heart is racing and your fight or flight response is making you climb your own mental walls.  Solution?  Get outside.  Walk it off.  Be mindful of the present moment.

FATIGUE:  Do you get enough sleep?  I know I don’t.  Is it quality sleep?  Mine frequently isn’t.  Good sleep hygiene is essential to the proper functioning of brain chemistry.  Believe me when I tell you proper brain chemistry is a happy thing.  Sleep also gives the subconscious time to sort through ideas.  You might wake up with the wonderful gift of What Happens Next.

INERTIA:  Remember Sisyphus, from Greek mythology?  He was condemned to push that boulder up that incline until he finally got it to stay at the top.  Every time he almost made it, something would happen to send the boulder rolling back down to the bottom again.  Writing is a lot like that.  You push that boulder up that hill and get your daily quota written.  Yay!  You’ve done it!  Wait a minute…  Oh no….  NO!   There goes the boulder.  Tomorrow you have to push that same boulder up that same hill again.  Sooner or later you will get that particular novel or story finished and off to market.  Trouble is, there’s another boulder waiting for you at the bottom of a new hill.

How can we train ourselves to withstand the self-defeating lure of avoidance behaviors?  Motivation.  Strong motivation is a powerful weapon against avoidance and procrastination.  Don’t take my word for it.  The key to motivation can be found in

The Long Answer:

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.   — Woodrow Wilson
The Short Answer:
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.  —  Jack London
Motivation is a subject that deserves its own post, so let me get us back on track with curing avoidance behaviors.   I was in the audience for a panel discussion at a SF convention when a successful writer answered most of the questions that came up with one word: “Deadlines.”  That says a lot.  Accountability can force us to stop making the excuses that come so easily when we answer to no one but ourselves.  If there’s somebody else expecting us to deliver that thousand words, five thousand, one hundred thousand, that person will hold us accountable for our commitment.  Different switches get thrown inside our brains and suddenly we can shake off that lethargy and focus.

How can we manufacture such accountability, assuming we don’t already have editors tapping their fingers on contracts that bear both specific deadlines and our signatures?  People have diet buddies.  Exercise buddies.  Sponsors and tutors and study groups.  Find somebody you know who’s willing to trade accountability with you.  Agree on the amount of productivity.  Agree on the frequency of deadlines.  If possible, agree on some congenial meeting place like a bookstore or a coffeehouse.  Otherwise, meet up online via Skype or your webcam or whatever works.  If you know that by Thursday next your Writing Buddy is expecting to see the complete roughdraft of that new short story, you’ll be amazed at how your perspective and work ethic change.

 

Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.  —  Erma Bombeck

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