Monthly Archives: October 2014

Facing the Abyss (NaNoWriMo Prep)

by Lillian Csernica on October 29, 2014

I will never go bungee-jumping.  Not for love or money.  I watch videos of people doing that and I think, “Oh my God, are you insane?”  It’s one thing to be an adrenalin junkie, but it’s another thing to jump off a bridge when all you’ve put your faith in is a glorified rubber band.

Nov. 1 is fast approaching.  I’m standing on the bridge right now, staring down into the abyss that is the emptiness I must fill up during the NaNoWriMo challenge.  Do I have a safety line?  I believe I do, in the form of my plot outline.  I know my beginning, my middle, and my ending.  I also know from past experience that these will change as the story takes shape, as the characters insist on making their own choices, and as I get more research done.  That’s fine.  I am a Planner.  I do not start a novel with the same wild-eyed glee I might feel when I hammer out a hot short story idea.  I keep a running list of all my alternative choices, ideas, possibilities.  Now and then that makes me crazy, but sooner or later I get it all sorted out.  I think of this pile of alternatives as paying somebody to inflate one of those big airbags the stuntmen drop into when they’re doing some stunt from extreme heights.  I’ve got a good, sturdy, glorified rubber band in the form of my plot outline, but I also believe in taking out a life insurance policy.

I’ve had days where the story has fallen apart on me.  The characters deflate, the plot hits a massive snag, my research is struggling with my imagination, and the words are not coming out the right way.  That stage is almost unbearable.  All I can do is soldier onward and keep trying until something pops back into place or I shake the kaleidoscope and a better pattern emerges.  This is what separates the serious writers from the dilettantes.  Can you hang in there when writing isn’t any fun anymore?  Can you keep going when you really do have to sit down at the keyboard and open a vein?  Fortunately, the NaNoWriMo community is really marvelous at cheering on all the participants.  I have three writing buddies, and I hope to have more.

What doesn’t help is having Major Depressive Disorder on top of a writer’s usual set of woes.  I anticipate some days when I’m going to get discouraged.  On the other hand, having lived in the Pit with the Black Dog gnawing on my guts for months or even years at a time, I can say the boing-boing of bungee jumping doesn’t seem all that intimidating.  At least you get yanked back up again.  I suppose a better parallel for that would be Bi-Polar Disorder, but you’re supposed to write what you know, and I know about depression.


I’m feeling that same flutter just under my ribs, that anxiety-induced rush of adrenalin that happened the first time I stood at the end of the high dive.  The board never looks at all high from the water, but once you’re all the way up there looking down, it’s a much different view.  You might think this is no big deal for me, given that I just completed a 90,000 word novel.  It took me eight years to write that novel, from the very first idea to the moment I decided it was time to send the manuscript to my agent.  Now I’m going to try to write a bit more than half that amount in just thirty days.  Part of me is screaming, “Oh my God, are you insane?  You’re really going to jump off that bridge?  What if the outline falls apart?  What if the rubber band breaks?”

Yes, I’m scared.  On the other hand, all the really good stories start with “What if?”


Filed under Depression, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, love, romance, Self-image, Writing

Never A Dull Moment

by Lillian Csernica on October 26, 2014


 Monday — Did one last copy edit on Sword Master, Flower Maiden before I emailed the manuscript to my agent.  Does the story work?  Will she like it?  The waiting begins.



Tuesday —  Chris and I took John to see his neurologist for a checkup.  We discussed John’s medications and the difficulties he’s having with his schoolwork.  The doctor was not happy to hear about the communication trouble we’ve been having with the various people who help John at school.  The doctor’s orders: “Less homework, more social interaction.”


Wednesday — John’s triennial IEP.  He’ll be sixteen at the end of next month, so that means this was the last triennial he would have before he graduates.  That being the case, the school officials did all the appropriate assessments to compare those results with the assessments done when John was thirteen.  This meeting took three and a half hours.  Chris and I brought a letter from the neurologist giving his orders.  I had copies of emails I’d exchanged with John’s caseworker/teacher.  I asked for John’s one to one aide to be present.  I went in there with a list of questions and concerns and I walked out with every single one of them answered and addressed.  That was essential.  We’re facing John’s “transition,” which means we have to start looking at how he will function in the community once he graduates from high school.  This is stirring up all kinds of conflicting emotions inside me.  It’s not easy to focus and make long term decisions.

Thursday — I had an appointment with my new therapist.  Good timing on that one, right?



Friday — Another appointment, this one with my psychiatrist.  He thinks I’m doing pretty well handling the daily ups and downs around here, to say nothing of the big stuff like the IEP.

Saturday — My mother and I took John down to the community center where he was part of a “Zombie Flash Mob.”  He’d been attending the dance classes for three weekends, so he was looking forward to it.  We got him dressed up in some old clothes that we slashed up and stained red here and there.  The Mob organizers had makeup artists on hand, so John got quite the makeover.  When he looked in the mirror, he must have jumped a foot!  While we waited for Zero Hour, John and I joined the folks who were making masks.  John made one that looked like “Raven” from the Teen Titans.  I used green paint, green glitter, and pipe cleaners in red, brown, green and yellow to create Medusa!

Sunday — Here I am, folding clean laundry, putting up the last-minute Halloween decorations, and trying to catch up on everything else I had to push back this week.  My mother is downstairs with John working on her Halloween costume.  She’s going as a tree.  That’s right, a tree.  Complete with bark, leaves, a bird’s nest, and a squirrel.  Mom will be entering a costume contest.  Both Mom and my father contributed to my competitive streak.  In my family we’re quite fond of trophies.  😀  Another thing we’re quite fond of is naps.

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When the Story Shapes Itself

by Lillian Csernica  on October 23, 2014

My NanoWriMo prep is well underway.  The plot outline is rough, but I wrote one.  I have my list of major and minor characters.  Today I brainstormed all the probable settings where significant action would occur.  That’s when it hit me.

I have to get Tendo and Yuriko all the way from the Ryukyu Islands off the southwest coast of Kyushu, the southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, across Shikoku, and on to Honshu, the main island where Kyoto is located.  How much of the trip do they make by land?  How much do they make by water?  How many horses will the party need?  Will they take ferries, boats, or ships?

I have to figure all of that out before Nov. 1.  Welcome to writing historical fiction.

This does bring me a certain amount of relief, because I now know what Tendo and Yuriko are going to be doing for the first several chapters of the book.  Oh sure, I could just open in Kyoto with Tendo in his new position as a member of the Imperial diplomatic corps.  Trouble is, I’d still need to fill in the gap regarding how things went while he worked at the Satsuma Embassy on the Ryukyus, and that would be told in flashback.  BO-RING.  I think it would be much better to show the still newly married Tendo and Yuriko having to cope with yet another drastic change to their lives.  How are they dealing with married life?  Neither of them has had a serious relationship before this, and now all of a sudden they’re married and yet still on the run from their enemies.



I’ve decided to give Tendo and Yuriko one of the minor but important characters from the first book.  They will be taking Matamori along with them to Kyoto.  I don’t want to get into the entire plot of Sword Master, Flower Maiden right now, so let me just say Matamori is the Captain of the Guard for Kobayashi, the samurai lord whom Tendo’s father serves.  Kobayashi is the one ally strong enough to really protect Tendo and Yuriko from the evil schemes of Nakazawa, the bad guy.  Kobayashi wouldn’t send Matamori with Tendo and Yuriko if he didn’t believe their very lives were in danger.  I did not make this decision consciously.  Once I understood the length and difficulty of the trip to Kyoto, I knew I had to dramatize it.  Matamori showed up in my mind’s eye, riding along beside Tendo on horseback.

The story is already showing me how it needs to be told.

The trip to Kyoto will put Tendo and Yuriko under pressure.  This is a big promotion for Tendo, so he has to live up to it.  First he has to reach Kyoto alive.  Yuriko is still making the adjustment from first rate courtesan-in-training to the proper wife of a samurai civil servant.  Yes, they love each other with all their hearts, but will that be enough to keep them together?  A road trip of any sort means obstacles, delays, goods inns, bad inns, potential ambush, and several long boring hours just getting from one place to another.  This is the great part about mixing both travel by land and travel by water.  I wonder if Tendo gets seasick?  That would be embarrassing.

So much to research.  So much to discover.  A whole new adventure about to begin!


Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, love, marriage, romance, Writing

Crossing the “Finish it!” Line

by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2014

Today is a glorious day for me.  Today I sent my novel manuscript to my agent.

It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the exhilaration of this singular experience.  Sword Master, Flower Maiden is 90, 000 words long.   All those words have been written, rewritten, cut and reorganized and cut and polished and cut a bit more.  I think I have an inkling of how a gem cutter must feel when the diamond comes out just right.  Patient application of both art and craft has brought out the special quality in the heart of the stone.

I want to go out and party.  I want to eat ice cream.  I want to drive down the coast hanging my head out the window while the breeze whips my long hair into impossible knots.

This is what happens when I finally reach that point where I can say, “Yes, the book is done!”  My agent may disagree, and that’s OK.  She showed me how to make Ship of Dreams a stronger and better story.  I have faith in her knowledge and her instincts.  Until she gets back to me, I can do the happy dance that goes along with this stage of writing and publishing a novel.

So now what?  What do I do now that I have Finished My Novel?  I start writing the next one.  “Wait!” you might say.  “Don’t you get a break?  Don’t you get to relax for a while?”  Sure.  Tonight I’ll eat ice cream and watch “Cupcake Wars” on Netflix.  Tomorrow I keep working on the plot outline for the sequel.  NaNoWriMo is just around the corner.  I want to be ready to take a flying leap into the adventure of cranking out 50,000 words in just 30 days.  Time to pull a kitchen sink and throw everything into the ms that seems like a good idea at the time.  I’ll sift it later and make those creative decisions that move my hero and heroine forward on both their personal character arcs and on the major story arc as a whole.

I did do something really cool to celebrate finishing this novel.  I bought myself a present.  Thanks to the nice folks at Teespring, I now have a black long-sleeved shirt with a message on the front that reads:


What’s your superpower?”

So here’s a high five to all my NaNoWriMo comrades, and to all my fellow novelists.  Let’s cheer each other on as we cross our individual finish lines.


Filed under Awards, Blog challenges, chocolate, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, love, marriage, romance, Writing

My Writing Music

by Lillian Csernica on October 17, 2014


Many writers play music while they’re working.  I’ve found some great instrumental music that gets my imagination going and keeps me in tune with the cultural flavor of my Japanese historical romance, Sword Master, Flower Maiden.  Here are three of my favorites from Kiyoshi Yoshida:

This is great action music, such as a chase on horseback down a beach:

I like this one for the quiet moments when my hero or heroine is reflecting on some Big Moment:

Here’s one for after my hero and heroine have fallen in love:


I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I do.  What music do you play while you’re writing?  I want to hear from all the NaNoWriMo folks out there!  What gets your creative juices flowing?


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October 17, 2014 · 1:29 pm

Confessions of a NaNoWriMo Virgin

by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2014


Yes, it’s true.  As chaotic as my life is, as crowded as my days are, I have indeed signed up for NaNoWriMo.

Why, you ask?  Why do I intend to put myself through the hardcore boot camp of daily word count production?  Two reasons.

ONE:  Today I finished editing Sword Master, Flower Maiden.  I still have to run it by my agent, but I think I am very close to declaring this book FINISHED!

TWO:  NaNoWriMo is a great way to jump start Book 2 in the trilogy, which I have given the working title Garden of Lies.

1700 words per day, every one of the 30 days in November.  That’s about seven pages per day.  When I’m in good form, I can write five pages in 90 minutes.  I’m going to be logging my daily word count on my profile at the NaNoWriMo site, so people can watch my book grow.  They cheer me on, I cheer them on, and we all create literature together.

Do I have the book all plotted out already?  No.  I have this messy pile of notebooks and loose papers and a pile of research about the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, where the book will take place.  Once I hear from my agent and know what to do about Book 1, then I’ll be ready to settle down with the pile of notes and research and see how much I’ve already got.  Having taken inventory and gotten organized, I will then dump it all into the appropriate sections of Scrivener.  Gotta set up my workspace for this new adventure.

I’m already getting excited.  I know how to write fast without thinking too much about it.  I know how to pick my subject and keep that pen moving until the timer goes off.  Will I use a timer?  Probably.  Will I use it every day?  Depends on how well the work is going.  If I hit a dry patch, I might need the timer do nag me into being productive.  Other days I may go wild and crank out all kinds of material.  Bradbury said, “Throw up in the morning, clean up at noon.”

How about you people out there?  Any NaNoWriMo veterans?  Any words of wisdom for this newbie?  I welcome whatever gems of knowledge you see fit to share.

Anybody want to be writing buddies?  I’m not entirely clear on that concept.  I don’t get out of the house without major logistical planning, but I’m sure I can provide some kind of support and maybe even advice.  I’ve written four complete novel mss.  This will be the first time I attempt to do so under such a compressed time frame.  We shall triumph together!



Filed under Awards, Blog challenges, charity, chocolate, Conventions, Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, Japan, love, marriage, romance, science fiction, Writing

Top Ten Writing Mistakes Editors See Every Day

An excellent article. It goes into more detail than most. I also recommend following this blog. Lots of great content!

Stephen Carver

Goya -The sleep of reason produces monsters (c1799) recut

In addition to writing and teaching, one of the things I do for a living is to evaluate manuscripts for their suitability for publication. I read fiction (and non-fiction) across several genres, and write comprehensive reports on the books. I try always to guide the author towards knocking his or her project into a shape that could be credibly presented to literary agents, publishers and general readers. You know how Newman and Mittelmark introduce How Not to Write a Novel by saying, ‘We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy,’ well they’re right; I am one of those editors.

However good the idea behind a novel, when the author is still learning the craft of writing – like any…

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Reasons For Writing Romance

My favorite color is lavender. Otherwise, I agree completely. 😀

Happy Authors Guild

So you think you want to write and you’re thinking Booker Prize rather than a RITA (awarded for excellence in romantic fiction), so why would you want to write romance? It’s pink on the colour spectrum, the candy floss of confectionary and Benidorm of holiday destinations. It receives little or no respect.

I initially chose to write romance for practical reasons – because there are publishers out there actively seeking authors such as Harlequin Mills and Boon. Their competition ‘So You Think You Can Write’ (SYTYCW) is currently under way. I am a big fan of this competition and have learned so much form both participating and observing. I can’t think of any other genre where editors offer so much help and support to new authors.

But the reason I continue to write romance is not purely for practicality. As I slowly learn the craft, I have found it to…

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World Mental Health Day

by Lillian Csernica on October 10, 2014


Hello.  My name is Lillian, and I have a mood disorder.  My precise diagnosis is Major Depressive Disorder.

What shall we talk about today?  How I got better?  Which meds I’m taking?  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?  The list of people to whom I feel grateful for my ongoing recovery?  Why my mental health is such a greater priority for me than my physical health?

Let’s examine that last one.  I hate exercise.  Sweating is something I try to avoid.  I am a writer, so I have a sedentary job.  I have a sweet tooth, which is the polite way of saying I’m addicted to sugar.  The result?  I am seriously overweight.  This affects my blood pressure, my heart, my pancreas, my joints, my lungs, and my mental health.  Lately more than ever I’ve been losing a daily struggle to get my butt out of my desk chair, go outside, and walk around for thirty minutes.  Rainy weather is coming, God willing, so I’d better get out there and enjoy Autumn while the leaves are still on the trees.

Mens sana in corpore sano, right?  Since I do have a psychiatric diagnosis, does that mean I have an unhealthy mind in an unhealthy body?  Ick.  Put it that way and it sounds both ominous and disgusting.  Suppose the day came when I managed to achieve a strong, healthy body at chart weight, all toned and nourished on a healthy diet.  Suppose I also managed to keep my depression at bay so it couldn’t sneak up on me in the quiet of the night and stir up distressing thoughts that compel me to find comfort in sugar.  Suppose I managed to achieve both of these arduous tasks at once.  Who would I be?

Somebody else.

Think about it.  It would take me at least a year of dedicated effort to make a significant impact in terms of weight loss.  There will be struggles.  There will be plateaus.  There will be backsliding, because my life is chaos and frustration and sorrow and anger day in and day out.  I’ll be trying to ride two bicycles at once, and I’ve never learned to ride even one successfully.

This is one big reason Getting Cured is so damn scary.  We know we won’t be the same people when we come out the other end of the Recovery Process.  That’s the whole point, isn’t it?  We’ll have learned the skills we need to work through the problems and triggers and temptations.  (Mind you, I’m talking only about depression.  I know very little about diagnoses involving organic conditions such as bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.)  Change is hard!  Change is uncomfortable.  Change takes strength that depression drains away.  We fight every day just to hold what little ground we’ve gained, right?  Making progress is like trying to climb up a sand dune.

How does that make you feel?

This is the classic question of the helping professions.  How does the prospect of becoming the person that I could be if I really could get out of my own way make me feel?  Tired.  Overwhelmed.  Discouraged.  Odds are good the me that I am now would hate the Perfect Me.  There is no real perfect, but you see my point.  I’m struggling against a perception gap here.  I can’t even accurately envision what the Perfect me would look like or how she would act.  I do know this.  My family wouldn’t like the Perfect Me either.

A family is an equation.  Here’s my basic equation: Daddy + Mommy + Son + Son = Family.   Then my sister came to live with us.  Daddy + Mommy + Auntie + Son + Son = Bigger Family.  If I was to more accurately define the elements of the equation, I’d get something on the other side of the equals sign that gave a truer picture of life at my house.  I’m going to keep it simple.

Exhausted Daddy + Depressed Mommy + Frustrated Auntie + Invalid Son + Autistic Son = Stressed Out, Complicated Family.


If you’re looking for some words of wisdom, for some cheerful, hopeful statement that will wrap up this post, I hate to disappoint you but I don’t have any.  That’s pretty much the point of this post on this day.  When you’re struggling with a mental illness, every moment of every day can become a battle.  You’re lucky if you can scrape together the energy, focus, and determination to get through that one moment, and the one that comes next.

Today, on World Mental Health Day, let’s all join hands.  Crazy or sane, we’re all in this together.  Let us remember that we are not alone.


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Electronic Autographs!

by Lillian Csernica on October 8, 2014



Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I am delighted to announce that I am now able to provide you with an ebook signature!

 If you will look to your right, you will see the line of blue text just above the cover for Ship of Dreams.  Click on the blue text and you will be taken to, where you can get my electronic signature for a variety of e-readers.  You can also send me a brief message, and I can send you one as well.



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