Monthly Archives: February 2016

Yet More Good News!


by Lillian Csernica on February 28, 2016

 

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A brand new release from Thinking Ink Press!  Included are my stories “Putting on Airs” and “Blown Sky High.”  I am proud and honored to share the Table of Contents with such masters of fiction as Harry Turtledove, David L. Drake, and Katherine L. Morse.

If you enjoyed my stories “In the Midnight Hour” and “A Demon in the Noonday Sun” which appeared in Twelve Hours Later, then you’re sure to have a good time reading the further adventures of Dr. William Harrington and his mechanical genius daughter, Madelaine.  The creatures of Japanese myth and folklore have more dangerous business with the Harrington family!

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Filed under classics, Conventions, cosplay, creativity, editing, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, legend, Lillian Csernica, research, steampunk, travel, Writing

The Family Spirit — Back in Print!


by Lillian Csernica on February 26, 2017

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Thanks to the wonderful folks at Digital Fiction Publishing, my ghost story The Family Spirit is back in print.  This story originally appeared in Weird Tales.  If you know what it’s like to endure the company of the really strange members of your family during the holidays, then you will feel for Ben Harper as he meets his girlfriend’s family for the first time.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

Ben sat in the armchair, rattling the ice in his scotch. Five of Janice’s weird relatives sat around him, smiling and watching him like they were waiting for him to do his trick. It was Christmas Eve. His folks were on the far side of the country, busy with his sister’s latest crisis. That left him without any real plans, so he’d accepted Janice’s invitation to spend the holiday with her family. Now he wondered which was worse, the silent tension of old grudges between people he knew and supposedly loved, or the crawling anxiety of finding himself trapped with a boring version of the Addams Family.

Of all the short stories I’ve written, this is one of my three favorites.  I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.  Enjoy!

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Guest Blog: Speakeasy: Roaring Twenties America in a Shot


 

Give in to the feeling - Blog Tour

 

Speakeasy: Roaring Twenties America in a Shot

 

My novelette Give in to the Feeling entirely takes place inside a speakeasy. A friend who read it told me it was a brave choice. To me, it was just what made the most sense. But I’ll admit I do have a fascination with speakeasies, and not only because of the romantic (and largely undeserved) air that surrounds them – their secrecy, the mystery, the exciting jazz music, the daring young women. Speakeasies were microcosms where the larger change in American society showed itself at its fullest. All the daring, the good, the bad and the very ugly were going on in speakeasies, and if romanticism was actually miles away, history was truly happening in these places.

 

Speakeasies aren’t a product of the 1920s

 

It may come as a surprise, but it is still debated whether Prohibition worked or didn’t work. In general, there is agreement on the fact that it did work in smaller, rural towns and communities and was a complete failure in big, especially very big cities (I won’t name names, but New York City and Chicago might ring a bell).

I’m talking National Prohibition, which went into effect in 1920 and was repealed in 1933. The history of the United States is in fact dotted with many prohibition laws, which were most of times regional, and in some cases aimed at a particular group or situation. One of the first prohibition laws was designed to prohibit the selling of alcohol to Indian trappers, back in the second half of the 1700s. But all through the 1800s several individual states enacted prohibition or temperance laws.

 

You could say there had been speakeasies since there have been prohibition laws, so they could be found in the 1800s already, mostly rooms in private houses or back rooms inside otherwise legitimate shops.

But the truly famous incarnation of the speakeasy was during National Prohibition, and with good reasons. The smaller, poor version common in the 1800s kept existing and was still very common, but in the 1920s a new kind of speakeasy arose, one that was the expression of the time and showed off everything that was new and daring.

 

Women: flappers enter the male space

 

1920 didn’t just mark the beginning of Prohibition, it was also the year American women won the right to vote. The decade that followed saw the rise of a completely new breed of woman, young, daring, very focused, one who knew her value and was determined to make everybody aware of it.

 

It would be quite naïve and very superficial to say that in the Twenties women suddenly gained their freedom. It wasn’t at all sudden, and it wasn’t as fast as one may think or as complete as we like to think. The change in the minds and hearts of both women and men had started generations before. The roles between men and women, for example, had been slowly changing following the desire to take control of their life, children and motherhood being of crucial importance.

The 1920s brought about exceptional advance in contraception methods and the fact that these methods became more available made them more acceptable. The change that this caused was huge and touched on many level of American society, not just women.

Though women were the most affected, of course. They could now decide when to have children. Being a mother was now a choice. Which meant that being just a woman was equally a choice, a woman that could decide how to look, a woman that appropriated, first and foremost, the right to be sensual and desirable.

On the other hand, men accepted this new kind of woman, who became not just a lover and a mother for them, but a companion, someone who could share their lives, even before they built a family.

 

Sharing, this is the crucial change. Men and women did things together, went places together, they shared the same experience.

This was probably nowhere as apparent as in the speakeasy. Women didn’t frequent saloons before Prohibition, that was a male’s space. But now the new woman who was a companion did frequent speakeasies with their men, she drank and she smoked, like men did. She danced and she showed off, she made herself up to look more attractive, she showed naked arms and legs.

True, there were still lines they wouldn’t cross (women were still expected to be chaperoned, for example, and not to sit at the bar) but the speakeasy made utterly obvious that women had won a new space that wasn’t theirs before and they were going to use it.

 

Jazz: the devil music grabs America by its throat.

 

Nobody knows when jazz was born, although there is general consensus that it was born in the South, in and around New Orleans. By the 1920s, jazz was already quite popular in the South, and it was still a black music. Almost only African Americans played it, and because they were mostly not allowed to play in reputable places, they had to make do with less savoury establishments: brothels, dens, game houses. So people started make the connection that jazz was the music of vice and deviance, that it was brutal and animalistic.

 

When jazzmen went North at the time of the Great Migration, they kept playing in this kind of establishments, in the black belts of big cities. Many of them found work in speakeasies, which were spreading and becoming ever more numerous and needed entertainment.

People came to get drunk, but also to dance and soon jazz was the music you wanted to dance to.

It was still disreputable, because it was played mostly in outlaw bars, where young people of all races were giving themselves to the syncopated music that (it was said) killed all inhibitions. It was still played mostly by African Americans, so there was much debate whether the music was worth calling art (at first) and whether African Americans truly invented it (later on).

But it infiltrated every crack of life. Young people loved it, it was liberating and new and daring. The music industry, that was just rising, loved it because it was the rage of the day. White musicians loved it because it was so new and different.

Jazz influenced the 1920s to a point that that time was called Jazz Age. It penetrated every aspect of life.

In the speakeasy, it happened every night.

 

Integration: black-and-tan fantasy

 

Black-and-tans – bars and ballrooms that could be patronised by both Blacks and Whites – and slamming had existed before Prohibition, but in the Twenties it became a true fashion.

There was a general feeling that new, interesting things where happening in the black belts of big city. Where else was the best jazz performed, after all? Where else was it possible to dance the newest, craziest dances?

Black jazz bands generally performed in the segregated parts of town. Some managed to perform outside of it, but they were exceptions. So people, especially young people in search of strong emotions, flocked to the black belts of every big city. Here, speakeasies adjusted to it and many offered the possibility to both Whites and Blacks to patronised.

But we shouldn’t think the same that happens to day happened back then. The places where Blacks and White could actually mingle were very rare. Mostly, black-and-tans offered a level of interaction that was very stylised and closely controlled. One of the most famous black-and-tans of the time, for example, NYC Cotton Club, was a place where artists and stuff were black, but where black patronage was actually discouraged. There were black-and-tans where Black and Whites could dance on the same floor, but with a rope separating black couples form white couples. There were places where there were two different dance floors. Places that allowed mix couples to dance (but not to sit at the same table) and places that didn’t. And yes, there were even places where people could actually intermingle. I won’t go so far as to say that black-and-tans were integrated places, but they did become more common and they did allow more interaction.

 

This was particularly true for jazzmen. Black jazzmen were very seldom allowed to play outside of Black Belts, but they were the true masters of the art. So white jazzmen often traveled to the black belts to listen to black jazzmen and learn from them, they sometimes even play together.

So, in the smoky atmosphere of speakeasies, integration was timidly taking its first steps.

 

All of these changes weren’t just happening in the twilight of speakeasies. Change was happening in the society at large. Was it disquieting? It sure was. Was it upsetting that in these illegal places this kind of behaviour was common and sometime unchecked? Yes it was. But it was happening. But if in everyday life people may have pretend not to see, in speakeasies it was so plain it couldn’t be denied.

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Caregivers Who Don’t Care


EDIT: February 19, 2015

We’re down to two R.N.s again, and one is on vacation.  My sister has been working too hard and wound up with an injury.  We run on a pretty slim staff as it is.  When Chris and I have to spell each other taking care of Michael, it’s hard on everybody.  More stress in the house isn’t good for any of us, especially both Michael and John.

With that in mind, I’m re-running this blog post.

by Lillian Csernica on June 29, 2013

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I’m seeing a really alarming trend in the news lately.  There are more and more reports of teacher and aides abusing special needs children.   The very people we’re supposed to trust with the safety, care, and education of our learning disabled, medically fragile, and behaviorally challenged children are bullying them and physically abusing them.  This has raised awareness to the point where parents are calling for surveillance equipment in the classrooms to make sure more special needs students don’t suffer at the hands of people despicable enough to abuse their powers of authority.

My younger son John is autistic and has in-home aides who help him after school.  Such aides come to us from the care agency which is contracted with the state agency who pays for this service.  I’m here to tell you that some of the people sent to us by this agency shouldn’t be put in charge of blowing their own noses, much less taking care of a special needs child.  One particular aide John had was a sneaky wretch.  She was all smiles and shipshape manner in front of me, but I found out from one of the other mothers at the park where John played that this aide grabbed his arm and shook him, or she’d drag him around by the arm, and this was before John did anything that might merit strong action.

The day I fired this woman, she stood there in my living room ranting for ten minutes about how the situation was all my fault.  Not until I told her I was about to call the police would she shut up and get out.  I informed all of the mandated reporters I knew about this aide and made it clear to the agency how she had abused my son.

Caveat emptor, my fellow special needs parents.  Just because the state and county agencies say they’ll provide a one to one aide either in school, at home, or both, don’t take whoever they provide at face value.  You would not believe some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other parents about the kinds of people who go into home care, both as nurses and as aides.  Regarding aides, it’s often more or less unskilled labor provided by somebody old enough to make sure the child stays out of trouble and can call 911 if a medical crisis occurs.   That’s not good enough!

Many parents don’t know the right questions to ask, especially when they’re still coping with the shock that follows realizing their child may have special needs.  Many parents aren’t familiar with all of their rights in regard to what they can ask for, and how they can go about making sure the school district provides it.  When Michael reached an age where he could enter the school system, I really wish I’d had somebody there to tell me all the details and guide me through the decisions I had to make.  With these concerns in mind, I’d like to offer this list of helpful and informative links:

Coping with Learning Disabilities

The Assertive Patient

The rights Special Needs Parents have under the IDEA

Expected Standards for a Professional Health Care Worker

The qualifications Care Agencies require from potential in-home workers

As parents, we are the primary caregivers.  We must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  We must defend those who cannot defend themselves.

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How To Break Through to the Real Story


by Lillian Csernica on February 16, 2016

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Never throw anything away.

That’s one of the most important Rules for Living my mother ever taught me.

The minute you throw it away, you’re going to need it again.  Sometimes it can be relatively minor, like a phone number.  Sometimes it’s pretty major, like giving away all the baby toys and layette stuff then BOING!  There’s a new baby on the way.

When it comes to writing, we never know when that idea or that turn of phrase or that scene might come in handy after all.  As I’ve been editing Garden of Lies, the second novel in my Flower Maiden Saga, I save the chunks I cut out and put them in a separate file.  They may turn into the seeds of new ideas for the third novel.

Right now I’m experiencing a rather drastic epiphany in my writing process.  I have a story that fits the theme of an anthology taking submissions right now.  The story meets the essential requirements of the theme.  Unfortunately, it’s a story I wrote quite a while ago.  As my beta reader put it, it’s “from an earlier stage in my evolution as a writer.”  That means I’m a better writer now than I was back then.

I thought the plotline was pretty good.  I thought the characters had good motivations.  I thought the magic and the monster and the twist all worked.

I was wrong.  And I couldn’t see that.

I don’t know if it was just laziness on my part or what.  The more questions my beta reader asked, the more I tried to slap little patches on some of the problems, the more the story began to fall apart.  I’m in a hurry, because the submission deadline is closing in fast.  Thank Heaven my beta reader is very patient with my foibles as a writer.  She kept challenging me to think about what the story could be, and not just make do with what I’d already slapped together.

It’s not easy to admit all this.  I pride myself on writing good, solid stories.  Granted, I pulled this one out of the mending pile.  I knew it needed work.  Not until the second round of comments from my beta reader did I finally realize what the problem really was.  Yes, the main conflict of the story was worth keeping.  The rest of it had to be torn down to the foundations and rebuilt from there.

Imagine the difference between a nursery rhyme puppet show and real actors in a live performance of Shakespeare.

I’m not comparing my work to Shakespeare.  I am saying I now see how shallow the original version of the story had turned out.  If I wanted this story to really shine, I had to commit to tearing everything apart, rethinking all of it, and rebuilding it from scratch.

Stronger plot.  Fully fleshed characters.  Magic that made sense in both the big and the little details.  Anger and jealousy and hatred.  Love and loyalty and sacrifice.

Good enough isn’t good enough.  Sometimes it’s hard to see what more we could do to a story to improve it.  That’s what beta readers are for.  That’s where writing groups can be helpful.  (Please see all my caveats about writing groups.)  Once we have some thoughts from other people on what’s missing, what’s too much, and how well what we’ve got is working, then we can push harder and deeper for the real story that’s waiting to be told.

Writing is hard work.  As Westley says to Buttercup in The Princess Bride, “Anybody who says differently is selling something.”

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California Dreaming


by Lillian Csernica on February 13, 2016

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day in Santa Cruz.  The Titans of Mavericks surfing competition is underway up the coast a bit near Half Moon Bay.  I grew up loving the seashore, with a big brother who once tried to teach me how to surf.  When I woke up this morning I had no idea I’d soon be visiting the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum and seeing some of the most spectacular waves I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness.

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BeachWaterfall!

I live in the Pacific Coastal Redwoods, just twenty minutes away (in good traffic) from this surfer’s paradise.  California really is a great place to live.  Santa Cruz County has been really good for me and my family.

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Fated


Jasmine Walls is a genius. Amy Phillips kicks some serious artistic ass.  I was a gamer in the days when gem dice first became available. I can’t tell you how much I love this comic.

Jasmine Walls: Comic Writer and Artist

Written by Jasmine Walls, Illustrated by Amy Phillips

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4 Tips to Escape the Slush Pile


This is one of those posts we should print out and tape to the wall beside our writing spot. Much good advice and valuable perspective.

Memoirs of a Time Here-After

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to write a guest post at Write-On Sisters that I never got around to sharing here.

As a slush reader for a semi-pro SFF magazine, I read a lot of stories, and over the last year, I’ve begun to notice a pattern, not just in my own judgments of the stories I have read, but also from my fellow cohorts in the pile. Four reasons that most stories might be rejected out of hand. So I shared them in a post.

Here is an excerpt of that post:

The reasons why [a story might be rejected] are numerous: the author failed to check our magazine’s genres before submitting, I’ve read (and accepted) far too many stories with similar characters and theme (yes, zombies and vampires are still a hard sell), the story was not well-edited, etc.

While I don’t want to…

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A New Anthology Release!


by Lillian Csernica on February 4, 2016

I am delighted to announce that my story, “The Screaming Key,” is now available in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine.

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This story came about as a result of me spending my teenage years staying up late on the weekends watching horror movies on Channel 13. (I lived in Southern California then.)  More influences include all of the 19th Century ghost stories I love to read, especially the works of M.R. James.  I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Neil Gaiman for creating the Sandman graphic novels. They set my imagination on fire and went a long way toward planting the seeds of inspiration for “The Screaming Key.”

 

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Your Mission, Your Magic: Five Fun Ways to Discover (or Rediscover) Your Purpose


Too many distractions, too many demands, too many trivial little bites taken out of our attention spans. Here, then, are some hot tips on coming back to the place where we want to be.

Better For That

So, here’s the thing. You can either do something or nothing with your life and it may only make a big difference to a hundred people and one of them is you. Through work, luck and timing, you could also have a larger impact pursuing what you were born for and the satisfaction from doing meaningful things versus, say, watching endless hours of Game of Thrones or trolling Facebook is nothing to sneeze at.

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If you don’t know your mission already, it’s worth rooting around for because it’s why you’re here and will energize your days. Everything else is recess.

  1. Passion is purpose. It can be a person, place or a thing and is probably closer than you think so make a list of your natural gifts and talents and anything you love doing, any place you love being.
  2. Ponder your life challenges and add at least three to the…

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