Monthly Archives: July 2014

Dare to Rip Out the Seams


by Lillian Csernica on July 26, 2014

 

I’m about fifty pages away from completing this edit of my historical Japanese romance novel.  I say “this edit,” because once I’m done I’ll be printing out the ms and letting it sit for about a week and then going through it again with the red pen.  If my beta readers will do me the kindness, I’ll have them go over the ms and tell me if I’ve improved the weak spots.  Then I will go through the ms and get a sense of whether or not the drastic changes I made to this draft really work.

New writers tend to get scared by the editing process.  It’s almost as if they’re afraid they’ve got only so  many words inside them and they just can’t make any more.  Nonsense.  There are always more words where the first batch came from.  Yes, sometimes it’s hard to coax the “better” words out.  When I wrote my very first novel, I hit a patch about three-fourths of the way through the process where my writing was terrible.  I knew it was terrible.  I had no idea how to find my way onward to improve the plot thread.  That lasted for about three weeks.  Then something made the light go on in my Idea Factory and the book started to work again.  The important point here is that during those three weeks of hell, I just kept writing.

That’s one way to cope with a problem in the narrative.  Another method is to just go wild and brainstorm possibilities.  Thunder and lightning!  Dramatic reversals!  Oh my God, I never saw THAT coming!  I mean it.  Go nuts.  Get past the insecurity and the anxiety and the frustration and the fatigue and just rip it all apart.

My best friend has been telling me that I’ve been missing an opportunity with a character that has worked her way up to joining the Main Cast.  I should really find a way to work her into the climax, because given how she’s managed to take up her share of story time, she really should be part of the grand finale.  I didn’t want to hear this.  The ms was already too long.  I was tired.  I did not want to push myself to do the work that would result in doing justice to this character and her contribution to the plot.

Bitch, moan, whine, complain.

This is the moment that separates the wannabes from the serious writers.  Was I going to let myself get away with a half-assed job?  The character wasn’t all that important.  There were at least two spots where one of the bad guys could easily have killed her.  She’s my heroine’s key antagonist, so fine, let the bad guys turn her into koi chow!

OR

Was I going to do right by all the time I’ve already invested in this project?  Was I going to show respect for the time and effort my beta readers had donated?  Was I going to do my absolute best to tell the best story I possibly could?  There were no trumpets.  There wasn’t a big thunderstorm with lightning.  I just got to thinking about how and where I could fit this character into the grand finale.  And sure enough, I found the exact place.  And then I found the exact place where I could do the set-up that would put her in that perfect position.  I now have the potential for genuine edge of the seat suspense as this character does her damnedest to kill my heroine when my heroine is just about to reach what she’s been after through the whole story.

This change, the tweaking of a few lines of dialogue here, the addition of maybe two scenes there, will make a serious difference in the overall quality of my story.

If you want to be a serious writer, resign yourself right now to the long haul.  Good work takes time.  Great work takes even longer.  Hang in there, believe in yourself, believe in your story.  And if you get stuck, remember Chandler’s Law: When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.

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Filed under Depression, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, Japan, love, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

How to Mine Your Life for Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 23, 2014

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.

— Flannery O’Connor

You don’t have to be writing a memoir to take a look at your own life and see what might be useful in your stories.  We’re supposed to write what we know, right?  Who could possibly tell the stories we’ve lived through better than we can?  Let me offer a few highlights from my own adventures.

1.  I’ve been dead.  Yes, that’s right, D-E-A-D.  On August 29, 1987 I died in a car accident on Interstate 5 heading north.  I was driving my boss’ station wagon from Long Beach, CA to Black Point in Novato, CA, former site of the Northern Renaissance Faire.  The two right tires blew within seconds of each other.  The car went out of control and rolled two and half times, coming to rest on the roof.  My body was found on I-5 South, across a forty-five foot culvert.  Who found me?  A LVN and an Air Force Paramedic.  What they were doing driving south on I-5 in the middle of the night, I have no idea.  They called it in and tried to get an Air Ambulance, but the nearest ones were still too far away.  An ambulance from Bakersfield, CA came out, the paramedics scraped me up off the highway, and took me to Kaiser in Bakersfield.  I regained consciousness three days later in the ICU.  Do I remember being dead?  Yes I do.

2.  When I was in kindergarten, I was chosen to play Santa Claus because I was already taller than everybody else in my class with the exception of the teacher.  This was my first appearance on stage, and I liked it.  Costumes, theatrics, the performing arts, and Christmas have all played central roles in many of my more noteworthy adventures.  I trace it all back to cross-dressing as Kris Kringle when I was just six years old.

3.  I was in high school when my best friend Andrew decided somebody deserved his wrath in the form of toilet-papering his or her house.  I’d never done this particular prank before, so I was all for it.  That was my first mistake.  Neither of us had a car, so we contrived an elaborate plan that involved the two of us going to the movies and getting a ride from my mother.  We were within walking distance of our target.  How we got our hands on all the toilet paper we needed I can’t quite recall.  I remember walking out of a grocery store with my arms full of the big multi-roll packages.  I trusted Andrew to get us to our target.  That was my second mistake.  We had a high old time, festooning the trees and pitching rolls over the rooftop and draping the car in the driveway with much hygenic bunting.  The occasional car would drive by, forcing us to dive behind the nearest hedge or bush or bumper.  Now if we’d been really evil, we would have gone looking for the garden hose and soaked it all.  That makes toilet paper almost impossible to clean up.  We congratulated ourselves on a job well done and took off to meet our ride at the movie theater.  The next day at school, the story about the toilet papering was the hot topic of the day.  Everyone wanted to know who did it.  Everyone also wanted to know why that particular house was chosen.  Nobody who went to our school lived there.  Andrew had missed his target by a good two blocks.

4. From age sixteen to eighteen, I studied Turkish-Moroccan bellydancing.  My teacher was a wonderful lady from Saragossa, Spain.  As I improved and occasionally taught a class for her, my teacher would take me with her on what were then called “belly grams.”  These were singing telegrams, except of course they were delivered by belly dancers.  One night near Christmas my teacher called me up out of the blue and asked if I could come with her on  a party call.  (Nobody with any sense ever goes on these jobs alone.)  It was one of my father’s visitation weekends, so I was at his house, but it didn’t take long to get into my costume and jewelry.  My teacher had been hired for a bachelor party in an extremely high class neighborhood.  One piece of art on the walls there would have put me through college.  There were about ten men there in the game room, which featured a wet bar, a pool table, and one of those cone-shaped gas fireplaces in the corner.  It’s not easy to work a room when the best you can do is work your way around the pool table, but we had a good time.  The guest of honor and his friends were good tippers, I’ll say that for them.  At one point I was shimmying past a fellow who’d been holding a cold beer.  He chose that moment to tuck some folded money down the back of my coin belt.  I all but shot straight up to the ceiling!  When our time was up, my teacher and I made a graceful exit.  We heard later there were two more acts after us.  Those guys really were generous.  At home again, I was taking off my costume and money was spilling out all over the place.  I do not want to tell you where I found the ten dollar bill!

5. The week I spent in Yokohama, Japan for the 2007 World Science Fiction Convention has supplied me with so many stories I could write a book with a story for every chapter.  There was the wonderful security guard who helped me and my best friend find the post office where the international ATMs were kept.  The reception held by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan was the most fabulous event I’ve ever attended, complete with the U.S. Ambassador from the Ministry of Trade and the Mayor of Yokohama.  I met my friend Massimo there, the gentleman from Torino, Italy who edits ALIA and translates Japanese into Italian.  I had a conversation in Japanese with a cat, who answered me.  When we were trying to find the Yokohama Hard Rock Cafe, a nice young man offered to show us where it was once his mother came back.  Sure enough, they led us all the way through the very extensive shopping mall to the very doorstep of the Cafe.  I love Japan.  I can’t wait to go back and see what further adventures await me.

So you see?  What might seem like a trivial incident to you can become the basis for a story.  I could take the Santa Claus moment and make it the reason my heroine feels safer when she’s inside a costume.  The toilet paper incident could become a case of mistaken identity that snowballs into a horrible climax of payback.  The bellydancing lends itself to all kinds of stories.  Humor, romance, espionage, woman in danger, cultural exchange!  All of those could also arise from my adventures in Japan.

Because I lived through all the above events, I know how it felt to wear the costumes, to live in fear of the police showing up, to trust my teacher to keep me safe in what could have become a dangerous situation.  Japan was wonderful, but there were moments when I was lost, and no one around me understood a word I said.  I walked into one restaurant and the waiter said, “No English.”  I knew he meant more than just the language.  That brings to mind the weekend bus tour I took to Paris when I spent the summer living in Holland.  The tour guide we picked up in Paris didn’t like Americans.  The Dutch ladies on the bus closed ranks around me and made it clear the tour guide had better mind her manners.  The negative experiences might have more power than the positive ones.  That’s up to each of us to decide.

We cannot approach our lives with a poverty mentality.  Every day we’ve been alive has been full of sound and color and emotion and meaning.  Look for the moments that stand out, for the memories still charged with emotion and intensity.  Take that raw material and reshape it into the inciting incident, the problem situation, the change in the status quo that launches your main character on his or her struggle to solve the problem.  Use those moments for complications, for crises, for climaxes.  You will be surprised to learn how much you really do know.

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Filed under cats, Christmas, Conventions, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Food, Goals, Humor, Japan, love, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

Six Female Characters You Really Need to Stop Writing


Everybody please read this. Thank you, Gertrude, for your excellent insights.

Bitter Gertrude

Please read Kate Beaton's entire comic here: http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311   It's GLORIOUS. Please read Kate Beaton’s entire comic. It’s GLORIOUS. http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the stereotypical “Strong Female Character,” based on the CRAZY idea that we need to start thinking of female characters as . . . characters, period. In that spirit, I offer the following six female characters we really need to stop writing.

1. “The Girl.” A big group of people in a narrative that could easily be non-gendered, and yet there’s only one girl along for the ride. It’s Our Hero, Handsome Scoundrel, Crazypants, Toughest Guy, and The Girl, who has no personality apart from BOOBS. She’s probably sleeping with Our Hero, or he wants to sleep with her, and/or she provides a reason for Our Hero and Handsome Scoundrel to have dramatic tension.

"But honey, I really need your opinion on the appetizers for the cat's birthday party! It's only a month away!" “But honey, I really need your opinion on the appetizers for the cat’s birthday party! It’s only a month away!”

2. “The…

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Story Cubes: An Unlimited Resource


by  Lillian Csernica on July 14, 2014

waddleeahchaa.com

 

It’s not easy buying gifts for my son Michael.  He’s 18 now, and while his body is medically fragile to due cerebral palsy and seizure disorder, his cognitive skills are just fine.  Michael can use only his right hand and arm, so that tends to limit our options.  Some of his favorite toys are the ones where you push a button and something lights up and/or music starts to play.  The trouble is we can’t just keep shopping for him in the Preschool aisle.

One Christmas I found Story Cubes.  They are a dream come true on so many levels.  Nine six-sided white dice.  Every side of each die has a pictogram such as a clock or a globe or a parachute in solid black lines.  There are ten million different combinations of pictograms, and that’s just with the basic set.  Now you can get additional dice such as the Clues, Enchanted, or Prehistoria sets.

Michael has told us he wants to be a storyteller when he grows up.  He wants to write books like I do.  He already has the beginning of a YA science fiction series in the works.  This is Michael’s favorite way to play Story Cubes:

I put one die in his right hand.

He pulls his hand back to his shoulder and opens his fingers, dropping the die.

I tell him which pictogram is face-up.

We talk about possible meanings for that pictogram and Michael gives his “Yes” sign for the one he likes the best.

When Michael plays Story Cubes with one of his nurses, she will ask Michael a question and then he’ll roll the die for the answer.  That’s how they build their stories.

I keep track of the story in Michael’s personal journal, adding the particular pictogram next to its section of the story.

I took the Story Cubes and Michael’s journal with me to one of his triennal IEP meetings.  Everyone on the team, from Michael’s teacher to his occupational therapist to his speech therapist, got very excited about Story Cubes and their potential for helping special needs students.  I bought another set and gave it to the Speech Therapist so she could take it with her to the other schools where she worked.  The more teachers and therapists and parents and students who know about Story Cubes, the better!

We’ve written a number of stories together.  My personal favorite is the one about the professional gambler whose plane had to make an emergency landing because of lightning.  An unknown benefactor saw to it the gambler made it to the tournament where he was scheduled to play.  That man turned out to be a sheep rancher from Australia who was very rich, but on the shady side.  With a little work, I think it might make for a very entertaining suspense story.

As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for something to stimulate my imagination on those days when my brain feels like a dried up cornstalk.  Story Cubes are wonderful for turning the work of writing back into play.  I highly recommend them for solo play, or maybe even one meeting of your writer’s group.

 

 

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Filed under autism, Awards, birthday, Christmas, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, science fiction, Special needs, Writing

Passion vs. Marketing


by Lillian Csernica on July 10, 2014

When I started writing I’d go nuts with a new idea.  I’d sit there with my pen and notebook or I’d be at the keyboard just going at it like lightning.  Some ideas were big enough to carry me along for days.  The characters just kept talking or fighting or having adventures.  The worlds kept opening up to me, demanding a record of all their details.  I’d end up with some really hot stuff, but a lot of it was middle, sometimes an ending.  I had to go back and figure out the whole story so I could fit this smokin’ hot piece of writing into it.

These days I’m a little more cautious.  I watch the sound and fury inside my head and think about it for a while.  Novel or short story?  One book or three?  One genre?  More than one?  I tend to evaluate my ideas in terms of marketability.  While this is a practical approach, it also takes some of the fun out of that first rush of inspiration.  I do think about the nuts and bolts such as plot and character.  Those can also be approached from a marketing standpoint first.  A lot of editors want to see POC characters, LGBT characters, and stories that speak to what happens in their lives.

If somebody asked me, “So where is the best place to start?” I’d have to say, “What do you want?  Where are you in your writing, and where do you want to go?”  When you have a new character that you’re all excited about, run with it.  Interview him or her.  Let that character talk to you and tell you the kind of stories your best friend might tell you at 3 a.m. after a long night and some hard times.  It doesn’t matter how much or how little of this material you use.

IT’S ALL WRITING, and WRITING IS GOOD.

Then there’s the other approach.  You’re watching the market listings.  You see a new anthology that wants stories about capturing endangered alien species for the Intergalactic Breeding Program.  It just so happens you wrote a paper on the rare Checkerboard Chameleon that is rumored to live out in the wilds of Madagascar.  Looks like you’ve got what you need to start building a submission for that market.

Hold it.

Step back for a minute.

Yes, you have serious knowledge about a rare species and its habitat.  Have you been to Madagascar yourself?  If you have, fabulous.  If you haven’t, you can probably work around that.  Do you have field experience going out and capturing live specimens?  If not, you’re probably going to want to talk to somebody who’s done it and knows the pitfalls.  Then you have to write the story, and rewrite it, and maybe have your expert look it over.  When the story is done, you send it off to the market and cross your fingers.  Your personal credentials will help, but the bottom line is the story.

All of this takes TIME.

What happens if that market rejects the story?  Here you have this custom-built piece of fiction that represents a whole lot of time and energy.  Are there any other markets out there where this story might stand a good chance of being accepted?

Now we have come full circle.  That is the magic question you want to ask yourself BEFORE you sink all that time and energy into writing the story.

If the answer is yes, there are at least five or six other markets where your story fits the guidelines, then go for it.  Be realistic.  Don’t stretch the boundaries of likelihood just because you’re all hot and bothered about this one story idea.

If the answer is no, fall back and rethink your approach.  There may be other markets where your expertise will give your odds a boost, and the story you come up with will have broader marketability potential.  Maximize your investment of time, energy, research, and submission duration.

Passion, inspiration, drive, are all important to the creative process.  Marketing strategy is crucial for business success.  Knowing how to walk the line between them takes experience.  The more you write, the more you submit your stories, the more you learn about yourself, your work, and the business of writing.

May your burning desire to write remain an eternal flame.

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Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Small business, Writing

What to Do When Your Brain Dries Up


by Lillian Csernica on July 5, 2014

Ever had that feeling that your brain is so much dead coral inside your skull?  The official name for this condition is mental fatigue.  Studying for finals, doing your taxes, and writing or editing a novel can all cause this condition.  How can you irrigate your creative centers and get the flow going again?

1. Get up and move around.

 

 

Stretch, take a quick walk, jog around the back yard, or just take some deep breaths and shake out your arms and legs.  Get that circulation moving again.  If you have a cat or a dog, take fifteen minutes and get the pet toys out.

 

2. Have a snack.

 

 

Something high in vitamins and minerals is good for the brain.  Fish, cruciferous vegetables, and whole grains are healthy choices.  Keeping the blood sugar stable is important, so you want to avoid sugary snacks.

 

3. Do something totally different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I need some hands-on occupational therapy, I make jewelry.  Choosing the colors, picking out the beads, and working with the wire and pliers draw on other parts of my brain.  The writing part gets a rest, and I end up with a new pair of earrings.  Win/win, right?

 

4. Play.

 

 

Another stress reliever that works for me is coloring.  Get out that big box of Crayolas and a coloring book.  You can get coloring books for little kids, or you can get some amazing art books.  Shoot marbles.  Play jacks.  Keep some Legos handy (if you don’t already have some for your kids).

 

5. Give yourself an attitude adjustment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big part of brain drain can be how we approach a project.  If you think it’s going to be really hard and a total pain to do it, then it will be.  If you get yourself cranked up to a high pitch of enthusiasm, it might still be a complex project, but you’ll approach it with a lighter heart and a more open mind.

 

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The Fright Factory


by Lillian Csernica on July 4th, 2014

 

http://www.amazon.com/Fright-Factory-Build-Better-Horror-ebook/dp/B00LG69C5G/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1404502000&sr=8-5&keywords=The+Fright+Factory

Cover by Zone1Design.com

 

Today is a great day for celebrating!  Here in America it’s Independence Day, celebrating 238 years of being an independent nation separate from Great Britain.  Here in my corner of America, I’m celebrating the release of my second nonfiction ebook, The Fright Factory!

Many thanks to Bridget McKenna at Zone1Design.com for once again coming up with the images, fonts and excellent advice that turned my manuscript into such a sharp-looking ebook.  Bridget did the design work for me on The Writer’s Spellbook.  When my next project is ready to become an ebook, I’ll be going straight to Bridget with that one.

The first story I ever sold was a horror story.  “Fallen Idol” appeared in After Hours, edited by William Raley.  Much to my delight, the story was later accepted for The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI, edited by the great Karl Edward Wagner.

ist2_7018281-blood-drippingTime now for today’s CONTEST QUESTION!

Which author is considered the greatest ghost story writer of all time?

The PRIZE: A Free Copy of The Fright Factory!

 

d6c27-blood-quill-pen

 

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Filed under Awards, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, Writing

Do You Want to Be a Winner?


by Lillian Csernica on July 3, 2014

 

frightfactory

The adventure continues here at Hopes & Dreams as we celebrate the release of The Fright Factory.

Time to win your very own FREE COPY!

Can you answer today’s CONTEST QUESTION?

In the original movie “Poltergeist,” were the skeletons in the swimming pool real or just props?

This should be an easy one!  Come on, horror fans!

 

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The Winning Continues!


by Lillian Csernica on July 1, 2014

frightfactory

Still looking for answers to yesterday’s Contest Question.  That prize is still available, so go ahead and post your answer in the Comments!

Today’s question concerns that master of cinematic suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.  His movie, “Psycho,” is considered by many to be one of the scariest horror movies ever mad.  Based on the book by horror master Robert Bloch, “Psycho” has become a classic.  In my opinion, it’s the best of the many stories and movies based on the life of Ed Gein.

 

 

Now for today’s Contest Question!

What did Hitchcock’s special effects crew use for blood?

How much of it did they have to use?

Why did Hitchcock tell them to stop using it?

Get all three answers right and you WIN!

Today’s PRIZE:  In my next short story I will name a character after YOU!

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Filed under Awards, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, Writing