Monthly Archives: January 2014

Outpouring: Typhoon Yolanda Relief Anthology


by Lillian Csernica on January 30, 2014

I’m very pleased to announce that my story, “Storm Warning,” is now available as part of a very important, very meaningful project:

My story is one among a total of 40 donated to this anthology in support of all the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, aka Haiyan.  In the description at Amazon.com, Editor Dean Francis Alfar expresses his purpose in creating Outpouring:

On November 7, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall, hit the Visayas region of the Philippines, devastating the provinces of Samar and Leyte. The storm claimed over 6,000 lives and leveled entire towns and cities. A few days after the storm, writer Dean Francis Alfar issued a call asking other writers to contribute stories for an anthology, the proceeds of which will go to the Philippine Red Cross. “Here then is the final result, an anthology of different stories by authors you’d never expect to share a same table of contents,” says Alfar. “A number are by well-established writers, bristling with previous publications. A few are first publications. What these stories have in common, besides being well-written and engaging, is that they all present because of the kindness of spirit of their authors. In the midst of catastrophe, I knew that my country did not stand alone.”

Please consider buying a copy of the anthology.  Disasters have been causing devastation and loss with increasing frequency.  Here in the mountains where I live, we suffered flooding one winter back when my son Michael was still a baby.  We tried to get to Santa Cruz, but the road was washed out.  A Red Cross shelter set up inside the local Catholic church became our emergency haven for the next two nights.  The R.N. on duty specialized in pediatrics, so my special needs baby had excellent care.  God bless the Red Cross and all the help they provide.  I’m proud and honored to be part of this project, grateful for an opportunity to do my part to help raise the funds that will bring comfort, safety, food and medical care to other families just as the Red Cross helped mine.

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Filed under charity, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, love, Special needs, Writing

Going to Extremes


by Lillian Csernica on January 27, 2014

Been busy editing Sword Master, Flower Maiden.  I’m at that stage where I can see what doesn’t need to be there, or what is out of character, so I’m using a lot of red ink.  This is a good thing.

I’ve been preoccupied lately with watching the reality TV show “Bridezillas.”  For those of you who are not familiar with this example of cable TV’s bread and circuses mentality, let me explain.  Couples who have done a really bad job of planning for their weddings somehow sign up for the show.  Those cases deemed to be the most entertaining and drama-laden are then filmed anywhere from three weeks to one week before the actual wedding date.  Each episode follows two brides.  Skillful editing, lots of little interviews with the key players, and a relentless pursuit of each bride result in cliffhanger endings that make you want to find out what happens next.  Each episode features some truly astounding displays of smug narcissism, deliberate emotional manipulation, outright bitchiness, and plenty of ultimatums.  It gets to the point where you can’t even hear the fights going on because the producers have to bleep out all the swear words.

Why in the name of all that’s sane and righteous would I want to watch this kind of emotional mud-wrestling while I’m writing a romance novel?  Watching this show helps me refine my ear for stupid, semiliterate dialogue.  I can observe people so dysfunctional they have allowed the Bridezilla to reach a marriageable age in a state of immaturity and domination that could have been cured early on with a firm and uncompromising application of the word “NO!”  The show features women so wrapped up in themselves they cannot possibly be aware of how stupid, how greedy, or how unattractive they really are.  They throw tantrums over people not giving them exactly what they want when they themselves haven’t figured out the details, much less communicated them to the right vendors.  No accountability, no responsibility, just redirection of the blame on whoever’s within reach.

It’s sickening, the way these women talk about how the world really does revolve around them.  They come right out and admit their nasty little strategies for wounding other people if that’s what it takes to get their way.  That helps a lot if I have a rival for the hero’s affection in a romance storyline.  As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.  I’ve known some really selfish bitch goddesses in my time, but these harpies are in a class by themselves.  Sure, I could come up with characters this vicious and materialistic, but seeing the real thing adds whole new dimensions!

These brides seem to care nothing about the sanctity of marriage, or just the honorable and loving way to treat the man to whom they’re about to make a commitment.  It’s all about their “vision,” which really means it’s all about the bling.  It’s all about them, what they want, when they want it, and everybody involved had damn well better wait on them hand and foot.

It’s not like I don’t know how to start a fight between two people who are supposed to be in love.  I have been married for twenty-five years.  “Bridezilla” is useful for seeing just how far some people will go to get what they need.  The key word there is “need.”  Some of the grooms must think it would be better to be saddled with a high maintenance beauty pageant reject than risk going it alone.  Some soon-to-be mothers-in-law will go a long way to see to it their beloved sons are not involved in what they see as a train wreck of a marriage.  What’s hilarious is watching the bridesmaids and groomsmen stand by knowing what a disaster is in the making, but not slapping some sense into either the bride or the groom.  That’s their idea of being “supportive.”  I don’t understand why anyone would allow a Bridezilla to treat them so badly and not pack it in and walk away right then.  Bridezillas live for conquest, power, and domination.  Every time they win, it just reinforces their bad behavior.  Now and then somebody does draw the line, and then all hell breaks loose.

Another horrifying aspect is the way so many of these Bridezillas are in a hurry to have a baby.  It’s often a cultural thing, but still.  Pregnancy will allow them to once again be the center of attention, to justify outrageous demands and the avoidance of anything they don’t want to do.  Do they have it in them to actually nurture a child, or will they treat the poor baby as one more fashion accessory?  “Bridezilla” has done two “Where are they now?” episodes to find out which couples stayed married and which have split up.  Now that’s fascinating, getting to find out the rest of the story.

The hero and heroine of a romance novel are by nature mostly perfect, physically if not emotionally.  The plot complications test their mettle and reveal the traits that make each of them worth loving.  It says a lot about today’s readers that while once the ending was a guaranteed Happily Ever After, now editors and publishers are accepting Happy For Now.  To me that’s so sad, because it recognizes the realistic possibility that things won’t work out.  Worse, the reality that one or both of the people involved hang on to the option of walking away the minute they’re not getting what they want anymore.  Marriages should not be considered disposable, not in fiction (at least in a romance novel), and not in real life.  Maybe that’s one reason I write romance.  To keep the flame alive, to confirm and support the belief in the possibility of Happily Ever After.  It takes work and dedication and patience and the willingness to compromise.  I like to dress that up in historical costumes and cultures, but the bottom line is the same.

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Filed under Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Humor, love, marriage, reality TV, romance, Self-image, Writing

White Knuckle Wednesday


by Lillian Csernica on January 23, 2014

Oh wow.  Today was everything I was afraid it would be and more.

Got the boys off to school.  Sat down for a breather, had a cat promptly occupy my lap, and I dozed off.  Next thing I knew, my sister was calling me.  Instant fight or flight panic as I realized the Hour had come and I was still in my jammies.  I roared upstairs and hurled myself into my clothing, got my shoes on, got my hair out of my face, and grabbed my purse and my tote bag (my mobile office).  What I did NOT do was take my morning medication.  I simply forgot.  This is not the emergency it might sound, but it’s certainly not a good thing.

My sister was already in the back seat when I got out to Mom’s car even though I had offered to let her have shotgun.  I thought that might have some helpful effect on her car sickness.  Nope.  She’d rather sit in the back by herself than ride up front with Mom.  See, Mom has this habit of jabbing her passenger in the ribs with her elbow when she’s shifting gear.  I bruise like a grape and my left arm was already in pain thanks to that flu shot.  I could be paranoid and suspect my sister of dark motives, but it’s far more likely that this was just a case of every woman for herself.  We’d just strapped ourselves into Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, so all we could do was cross our fingers and pray.

I grabbed some breakfast on the road and to my amazement got to eat in in peace, as none of us were talking.  It couldn’t last, and it didn’t.  There was a brush fire on southbound Hwy 17 that had backed up traffic so thoroughly that the support teams for the first emergency vehicles were having a hell of a time making it all the way to the actual site of the fire.  I’m willing to bet the fire started because somebody pitched a cigarette butt out the window.  I wish that was a flogging offense!  The air was bad, between the smoke and the exhaust fumes.  Good thing I’ve been diligent about my maintenance inhaler.

We reached our first destination, my therapist, successfully.  Mom and my sister elected to just wait in the parking lot until I was done.  That was good for another anxiety attack.  The two of them alone in a small car with nothing to do but ignore each other for a solid hour?  I anticipated icy silence, and that would have been the happy option.  When I came out, the car was still there, all the windows were intact, and no emergency vehicles were present.  Amazing.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, my luck ended.

Off we went, with Mom promptly freaking out over whether or not she was in the correct lane for the freeway she wanted.  We managed that without collateral pile-ups.  She was positive it would take us an hour to get from where we were to the actual Departures point at the airport.  This was nonsense, but then again, Mom tends to operate in a Time Vortex all her own.  The last time she took my sister to the airport, my sister ended up being three hours early.  Today I had suggested a brief side trip to Barnes & Noble so I could grab the latest Jack Reacher novel with what was left on a Christmas gift card.  This was met with polite but pointed silence from both the front seat and the back.  When I find myself in circumstances of extreme stress, bookstores are my Happy Place.  No Happy Place for me today.

We delivered my sister to her airline’s Departure desk well within the check-in window.  That’s the good news.  Now for the bad news.  There I was, alone in the car with Mom, and we now had to turn around and go south over Hwy 17 knowing the brush fire back up was very likely still clogging the major artery of traffic through the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Mom just had a lot of expensive transmission work done on her car.  I have a bad feeling that today’s ride put a real dent in that maintenance.  This is how we spent a good twenty minutes:

Take foot off brake.

Roll backward.

Stomp on brake.

Work clutch.

Shift gears.

Take foot off brake.

Start to roll backward.

Accelerate.

Move forward maybe three to five feet.

Hit the brake again.

It’s not easy to get whiplash when you’re traveling at less than a mile an hour, but I tell you, more than once I was sure I’d slipped a disk.  That’s a backhanded compliment to Mom’s driving skills, given that I have a titanium brace screwed to some of my cervical vertebrae.

As if all this wasn’t enough fun, my mother’s new cell phone went off.  It sat a few inches in front of me in a niche in the dashboard.  Damn thing went off like a klaxon, and it was the same color too!  Mom ignored it.  I don’t know why.  It’s not like we were going to get ticketed for being on the phone while driving.  Five minutes later it rang again, making me jump in my seat at a really bad moment.  Mom checked it and put it back.  Then it rang AGAIN!  It was my sister, calling from the airport.  Oh no.  That spelled disaster.

Turns out my sister was worried that John’s aide wouldn’t remember to pick him up at noon since the school is on half days for Finals Week.  I was already so stressed out that sent me over the edge.  I couldn’t reach John’s aide because of course she was on the road right then driving John home.  So I freaked out and Mom freaked out and the damn traffic wouldn’t clear up and my lungs hurt and I really really REALLY wanted out of that car!

When we finally rolled up to my house, everything was fine.  Michael was home with his nurse, John was home with his aide, and there had been NO reason for the hysteria.  I staggered upstairs, dropped my bags, and promptly fell into the Nap Zone.

Yesterday I did not need to be a psychic to know today would be a little slice of hell.  Was I right or was I right?

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Filed under Depression, Family, Humor, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

And Now, Three Generations in One Small Car


by Lillian Csernica on January 22, 2014

In my last episode, I described the adventure of my husband, my two teenage sons, and myself on the road to get our flu shots.  There was ice cream involved, true, but it wasn’t exactly a trip to Disneyland.

Now it seems cruel Destiny has something even more challenging lined up for me.

Tomorrow, bright and early, I must climb aboard my mother’s small purple vehicle while my sister occupies the back seat and my mother does the driving.  This is not a happy thought.  I will be on my way to my weekly therapy appointment, and by the time I get there, oh my God will I need it.

(Ha ha. I wish!)

My mother’s driving is a white knuckle event, and my sister gets car sick.  My sister is flying down to SoCal for a few days, so Mom will be taking her to the airport.  That in itself is a scary prospect.

But wait!  There’s more!  There’s always more.  I don’t know if Mom will be taking my sister to the airport WHILE I’m engaged in repairing whatever damage the drive does to my psyche, OR if I get my CBT fix and THEN I have to live through navigating the San Jose Airport with Mom and my sister while we’re on a tight schedule.  Think “National Lampoon’s Vacation” meets “Outrageous Fortune.”  (If you haven’t seen “Outrageous Fortune” starring Bette Midler and Shelly Long, you don’t know what you’re missing.)

So stay tuned!  Tomorrow, assuming I make it back alive, I will tell the harrowing tale of this potentially disastrous conjunction of passive aggression, longstanding emotional baggage, and sheer terror as we deal with Highway 17 during the end of rush hour.  I’m gonna get my snark on, I can promise you that!

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Filed under Depression, Family, Goals, Horror, Humor, Self-image, Writing

A Family Outing


by Lillian Csernica on January 18, 2014

Interstellar Day Care

It will tell you something about my family that today was the first time all four of us have gone out together since Thanksgiving 2012.

It will tell you even more about us when I say this was no pleasure cruise.  We went out so all four of us could get our flu shots.  Yes, it’s a bit late, but it’s done.

Right now two of our R.N.s are down with whatever exact malady they each have.  My sister is about to leave the house for a few days.  It’s Finals Week, which means Michael and John both get out at noon.

My schedule is about to get blown to pieces and there will be very few people here to help me sweep them up again.

So there we were at Walgreen’s, negotiating the insurance coverage, filling out the paperwork, and being stared at by all the “normal” people.  We were a strange sight, as we usually are.  Michael was in his wheelchair.  His nurse was keeping him entertained.  John kept trying to wander off because he was bored and wanted to look around.  Chris filled in the paperwork, something he should have let me do since I’m the one who does it every year before school starts.  And there I was, listening to the sugary pop playing over the P.A. system and telling Michael’s nurse the pharmacy should have had a disco ball.  At the very least, the floor should have been lighting up.  Of course, that’s a bad idea if any of their patients might be prone to photic seizures.

I don’t like needles.  I’m not that fond of sewing and I loathe blood tests.  Lucky for this pharmacist, he was good at giving injections.  We had our very own R.N. with us.  That’s what I call a serious backup plan.  Fortunately all went well.  Only now has my arm started to ache to the point where I took some pain pills.  John is fine, Michael hasn’t complained, and Chris has been replacing a toilet today so mere muscular pain is not going to be his top priority.

After getting the shots, we hiked over to the local ice cream parlor.  Ice cream does make everything better, don’t you agree?  Chris and I took turns feeding Michael tastes of mint chocolate chip and dark chocolate ice cream.  It was a lovely sunny day, unseasonably warm.  Too bad this glorious weather spells drought conditions.  When the ice cream was gone we hiked back to the van, loaded up, and came home again. 

It would be nice to go on a picnic, or to the beach, or some other happy, festive, non-medical occasion.  Sigh.  Maybe next time.

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Filed under autism, chocolate, Depression, Family, Goals, Humor, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

My Latest Release!


by Lillian Csernica on January 15, 2014

So you want to write a fantasy novel?  A trilogy?  A series to rival the Wheel of Time books?

Or maybe you’re into gaming and you want to put together the magical elements in a fresh, powerful way that will keep your players guessing?

It’s all here.  Who, what, and where.  How much, how many, how often.

While this ebook focuses on creating magic systems, it will also help you understand many of the elements that go into strong worldbuilding.  A good foundation in your fictional world will open the doorways of inspiration to more and more plot twists, mythical creatures, cliffhangers and fabulous treasure!

spellbook

Here it is, my brand new how-to ebook, available at Amazon!

I’d like to thank Bridget McKenna at Zone 1 Design.com for the cover, formatting, and interior book design.  Her sharp eye for color and style plus her strong experience working with the elements of ebook design made the whole adventure highly educational and a real pleasure.

I hope you will find The Writer’s Spellbook useful and entertaining.  Now get out there and make some magic!

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Filed under Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, romance, Writing

Zena Shapter: She Deserves Your Attention


by Lillian Csernica on January 9, 2014

I review horror and dark fiction for Tangent Online.  Tangent’s annual Recommended Reading List just came out.  Due to an unfortunate matter of timing, one recommendation I really wanted to make did not get included on the list.  I can’t let this story or this writer go unrecognized, so here’s my Addendum to the Recommended Reading List:

“Darker” by Zena Shapter in Midnight Echo #10, November 2013. H* (LC)

For those of you unfamiliar with Tangent’s coding system, let me explain what this means.  H is the category, Horror.  The asterisk is the equivalent of a One Star rating.  I have a reputation as a demanding reviewer.  That’s perfectly true.  In all the time I’ve been reviewing for Tangent, I have given out less than five stars total.  I want to read good stories.  When I come across one that fills me with the kind of excitement and suspense and pure pleasure that made me want to become a writer, I want people to know about that story.

Go read “Darker.”  Go read more of Zena Shapter’s work.  Go like her page on Facebook.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Filed under Awards, fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Uncategorized, Writing

The Art of Being Random on Purpose


by Lillian Csernica on January 7, 2014

The writer’s group I’m in opted for the prompt “Random Thoughts.”  The prompts are optional.  This one struck no particular chord with me, so I was pretty sure I’d be giving it a miss.  Then I thought, wait a minute, don’t dodge it just because it takes some effort to rise to the challenge.  Define your terms your way.  Make your own rules for this game.  Above all, WRITE SOMETHING!

Being truly random is a difficult challenge when I’ve spent so much time training my mind to organize thoughts and ideas. As I tried to come up with a way to tackle this challenge, one of my more peculiar hobbies came in handy. I keep all the fortunes I get from fortune cookies. My friends and family know I do this, so they tend to give me theirs as well. Over the years I’ve collected at least two jars full of fortunes. I pulled out a handful of fortunes and plucked a dozen of them from the pile. These would be the answers to twelve questions. I wrote out the twelve questions, just going with whatever popped into mind. I cut up the questions into twelve strips of paper and mixed them up, setting them aside in one pile face down. The fortunes were already waiting in another pile. I sat down at my keyboard, grabbed a question and typed it in, then snatched up an answer and typed that below the question.  These are the results:

Q: What makes life worth living?

A: A goal is a dream with a deadline.

OK.  This one makes sense.

Q: Who knows the secret of eternal youth?

A: You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.

Uh oh.  Is that what Ponce de Leon did?

Q: What advice would you give to your granddaughter?

A: Look closely at your surroundings.

Now that’s some serious advice.  It’s the first rule my self-defense teacher taught us.

Q: How do you solve the problem of time travel?

A: Good fortune is always on your side.

You’d better hope so, just in case the Daleks are waiting!

Q: Where can you find true Paradise on earth?

A: You are always welcome in any gathering.

I can hear the “Cheers” theme song playing…..

Q: What did the monkey say to the banana?

A: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.

Does this qualify as inscrutable?

Q: How do you bring a smile to the sourest face?

A: You must learn to broaden your horizons, day by day.

Another one that makes sense.  The world is full of wonders!

Q: I’ve lost my car keys and I have no money. Now what?

A: You are a lover of words.

I interpret this as “Talk your way out of this one!”

Q: How does one restore lost innocence?

A: An unexpected payment is coming your way.

Hm.  Found money means you can cover your trail?

Q: Why are word problems always so confusing?

A: Laughter shall fuel your spirit’s engine.

Works for me.

Q: Why are we told there are always more fish in the sea?

A: Little brooks make great rivers.

The bigger the body of water, the better the selection of fish?

Q: What do you get if you cross a rhino with a stapler?

A: Follow your instincts when making decisions.

In other words, do you really think it’s a good idea to try crossing a rhino with a stapler?

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Filed under Blog challenges, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Humor, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

The Truth About New Year’s Resolutions


by Lillian Csernica on January 1, 2014

The tradition of making a New Year’s resolution seems quite virtuous, but the endless jokes about people breaking their resolutions almost immediately shows the tradition is more honored in the breach than in the observance. Why is that so? I believe the New Year’s resolution has become an ugly epilogue to the happy glitter of the holiday season. The process of making and keeping the New Year’s Resolution is the Puritanical demand for the paying of the check, the return to sobriety, responsibility, and practicality. We’ve had our fun, now we have to go back to the dreary grind of everyday living. That we have to do so in the middle of winter sets us up for a psychological climate that is hostile and antithetical to the way human nature tends to cope with a cold, dark, dismal environment.

I know from my own experience that the physical and mental effort involved in taking down the Christmas tree and putting away all the various lights, ornaments, gift wrapping supplies, etc. can leave me and other people in no state of mind to take on some new effort. People need a break. The pressure to create and abide by the almighty New Year’s Resolution starts the New Year off with a guilt trip, which nobody enjoys taking.

Nothing much happens between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. That post-holiday lull creates a psychological environment where one has to work uphill to battle the natural emotional letdown. That makes it twice as hard to maintain enthusiasm and motivation for a new goal, especially a goal centered on self-improvement which also carries a certain element of guilt.

January is a cold, dark, depressing month. It also rains a lot. Hard to stay motivated when all we really want to do is keep warm, stay in bed, and eat comfort food. People who have a normal, healthy outlook on life can find the prospect of upholding their New Year’s Resolution daunting. Those of us with SADD or other mood disorders may find life even harder to struggle through.

For many people, all their financial outlay during the holidays catches up with them, creating a situation of stress, tightening the belt, and potential anxiety. Resolutions regarding one’s spending habits, sticking to a budget, creating a savings plan, etc. might be not just appropriate but necessary. Such resolutions are also at risk for crumbling in the face of the physical and emotional climate.

One of the key principles of Positive Deviance says, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” With that principle in mind, I believe that making New Year’s Resolutions is a process that’s doomed to fail because it hinges on the state of being resolved to do something. That means it’s all centered in the mind, in thought, in the resolution itself, as opposed to being grounded in physical actions that produce immediate tangible results. Instead of dwelling on the idea that I’m going to write one thousand words every day and triggering all the excuses, avoidance behaviors, and other genuine commitments to get in the way, I can just go to my desk at the appointed time, sit down and write. This is where free writing with a pen and notebook comes in very handy. It’s a lot less intimidating than composing at a keyboard and therefore much easier to just start doing.

By simply taking action, I break through the resistance that builds up around the mental component, the resolution itself. There will be the inevitable struggles with competing commitments and outside interruptions, but I know I can get up and walk to my desk. I know I can sit down and pick up my pen. I know I can move my hand across the page. I know I can write for a given amount of time or a given amount of words. I can take those physical actions, and I can do them every day.

A long time ago, I read something in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg that has remained a shining jewel of truth in all conditions of my life. That jewel is a statement made by Ms. Goldberg’s master of Zen Buddhism. He said, “When in doubt, take positive action for the good.” Feeling dejected by the weather and the post-holiday blues? Write those thank-you notes for the gifts you received. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to make yourself and other people feel better. Showing appreciation is a vital part of healthy relationships. Letting the other person know that you see the effort he or she has made and you value that effort can make all the difference.

The New Year is a time for optimism, for a new outlook and a fresh start. Instead of some huge resolution that weighs like a millstone around our figurative necks, why don’t we just take it one day at a time, doing our best to “take positive action for the good”? There are opportunities everywhere, from the desperate needs of disaster victims to the neighbor who could really use some small act of kindness. By doing so, we can turn the purpose of the New Year’s Resolution, that of self-improvement, into a much broader approach where we do what we can to improve life for everyone around us.

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Filed under Depression, Family, Goals, Humor, Self-image, Writing