Monthly Archives: August 2016

When You Have Too Much Privacy


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“All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts.”

Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Today was one of those days when I had to get out of the house to get out of my own head. I packed up my notebooks, a short story in progress, a fistful of pens, and I took refuge in the local library.

(It’s a sad state of affairs when the local coffeehouse holds more peace and quiet than the library does.)

I wanted something to read, something that wouldn’t tax my weary attention span, yet something that would nourish my writing mind and maybe even get me fired up again.

I roamed the Mystery aisles, where I found The Simple Art of Murder. The Preface is in fact the eponymous essay written by Chandler that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. If you have anything to do with the writing life, you’ll enjoy reading that essay.

The above quotation, taken from the essay, struck me as being a profound truth. Chandler said it in the context of explaining why “escapist literature” has just as much right to exist as what critics consider the more high brow type of literature. My preferred leisure time reading is a good mystery. Getting caught up in the puzzle and the characters takes me away from the stress of my every day life and whatever burdens are weighing on my mind.

Being trapped in “the deadly rhythms” of my private thoughts can trigger my depression or be a symptom of it. Writing in my personal journal isn’t much help then. This is when I need to plunge into the mind of a character. Sinking down to the bone deep level of want and need in someone I’ve created lets me engage in what I think of as primal scream therapy on paper.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how you cannot wait until you’re “in the mood” to write. That’s true. Take the mood you’re in and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Anger. Hate. Grief. Frustration. Despair. Negative emotions tend to be the ones we hold back, so they’ve already built up considerable pressure inside us. Cut the brake lines and ride that emotion down the mountain to whatever head-on collision awaits. It will be messy, but it will also be worth it.

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Filed under classics, creativity, Depression, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, therapy, Writing

Can It Get Any Sillier Than This?


By Lillian Csernica on August 26, 2016

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Have you ever had one of those days where the raw, undiluted silliness of people was simply beyond belief?

For me, today was that day.

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Finding two hard-boiled eggs.

I had an early doctor appointment this morning, so early I was out of the house and in my car by 7:15 a.m. I stopped at the grocery store for an iced coffee. In the deli I can usually find ready-to-eat hard-boiled eggs. Not today.

At that hour I was one of maybe three customers in the entire store.  I asked one of the folks behind the deli counter if they had any more hard-boiled eggs. She came out and looked around in the deli cases, finding none.

Then another clerk hailed me. She wore the tool belt that had sheaths for her box cutters.  That meant she worked on the loading dock in the back opening deliveries.  (I have no idea what she was doing hanging out by the deli counter.)  She told me there was one other place to look for the eggs. This was way across the store. She led me over there, found nothing, and expressed her deep regret.

All I can figure is I was a customer and these people were going to make sure their manager saw them providing good customer service. Two hard-boiled eggs were not that big a deal to me. Seeing these clerks turn my breakfast into The Quest for The Eggs was really funny.

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Sittin’ at the car wash

In my front yard we have an oak tree so big and so old several of its limbs are supported by a network of thin cables. The oak tree drips what I assume is sap, leaving sticky trails down the windshields and sides of our vehicles. Living out in nature means a fine dusting of pollen all over everything. Then there are the power lines, which provide wonderful perches for the blue jays, sparrows, robins, and crows. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? The Bird Brigade sits on the power lines and poops all over our vehicles.

I picked up John after school today and ran some errands, which included going to the car wash. You pay your money, get a receipt with a code on it, then drive around to the entrance of the car wash. The average wash takes about ten minutes start to finish. There were four cars ahead of us. Matters were moving along at the usual rate when the next car into the wash unit suddenly backed up. I watched this person pull forward and back up three separate times. What madness was this?

Then I understood. This person had never been through this car wash before. What he or she thought was an alarm was merely the signal to stop the car so the wash could begin.

At this point there were two other cars ahead of me and three more behind me. Why were we all just sitting there watching this poor fool pulling forward and back, risking damage to the car and the wash unit, to say nothing of the next car in line?

I sent John to tell the attendant at the cash register what was going on.

That got sorted out with no injuries to people or machinery, thank God. John and I took our turn. My car now looks all shiny and pretty.  I bought John an ice cream sundae as a reward for his patience.  The poor guy had been stuck in the car over an hour thanks to a bunch of adults who couldn’t get out of their own way!

 

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Filed under autism, bad movies, classics, Family, frustration, Humor, Lillian Csernica, neurodiversity, parenting, Special needs

How to Escape Giving Negative Critiques


by Lillian Csernica on August 23, 2016

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Whether or not you’re involved in a writing group, there comes a time when one of your fellow writers will ask you to read his or her manuscript. If this person has already done you the favor of reading one of yours, you are more or less honor bound to return the kindness.

If you and your colleague are at a comparable level in your writing skills, this could turn out to be a very pleasant and profitable exchange of ideas and perspectives.  This is the best case scenario, and the reason why I urge anyone seriously considering joining a writer’s group to bear in mind these potential issues.

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Sooner or later, the moment will come when you are faced with the terrible prospect of reading a manuscript that is so bad that every page is absolute torture.  No amount of cheery and euphemistic commentary can conceal the fact that this particular stack of paper besmirched with little black ink marks is really, really bad.  Your eyes ache, your fingers are cramped from making copy editing marks, and you’re left with the unhappy knowledge that reading this mess has taken up hours of your life that you will never get back again.

What can we do to protect our sanity, our writing time, and the integrity of our relationships with colleagues while still sparing ourselves the ordeal of forcing ourselves to endure really bad writing?

Honesty  There are some types of fiction that do not appeal to me, so I rarely read them. Regency romance. Westerns. Space opera. Really gruesome horror. Since I don’t read much in these genres, I’m not a very good judge of what works and what doesn’t according to the usual reader expectations. Therefore I can step aside with a clear conscience.

Time  Life gets more and more crowded every day. Finding the time to do our own writing and editing can be difficult enough. Making time for additional critiquing may not be possible. If one has a standing commitment to a regular writing group, that’s one thing. That commitment must be honored. Outside of that, however, a judicious application of the word NO might be essential.

Referral  If you know somebody in your circle of writing acquaintances who might be willing to take on the burden of this critique, present your appeal with full disclosure.  If your colleague agrees, make the connection between the owner of the manuscript and the willing victim, give them your blessing, and exit stage left.

What do you think? Am I being reasonable here? Or am I being to harsh in declaring some manuscripts way too much of a not very good thing?

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Filed under Conventions, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, homework, Lillian Csernica, publication, romance, science fiction, steampunk, Writing

A Personal Glimpse Inside Autism and ADHD


This weekend Withteeth and I went to a writing conference. I haven’t talked about my writing in a while, but it is still something I’m pursuing. However, conferences are incredibly difficult for me. As such, I wanted to write a bit about the struggles with anxiety and how to deal with it both for people […]

via How to Deal With Anxiety — hessianwithteeth

I’d like to express my gratitude to hessianwithteeth for giving us all these insights into such complex and demanding experiences.

It’s so wonderful that people with visible disabilities are gaining recognition and inclusiveness. Life can be even more difficult for people with conditions that can’t be seen from the outside. My own Major Depressive Disorder has been gaining the upper hand these past two weeks, making this issue all the more immediate and important to me.

Remember. You are not alone!

Lillian

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Filed under autism, Conventions, Depression, frustration, Goals, neurodiversity, publication, Self-image, special education, therapy, worry, Writing

5 Ways to Improve the Action in Your Story


by Lillian Csernica on August 13, 2016

Writers tend to be visually oriented. We see our stories playing out much like movies inside our minds. Whatever we can do to enhance the clarity of the images and information we want to convey to the reader will improve the strength of our stories. That clarity begins with making sure we can see exactly what’s going on.

Map out the key locations.  Start with just the distances between the major settings. If you want to get into topography, go for it. Bear in mind there’s a difference between miles on land and nautical miles.

Draw the important action. Draw one scene between two characters on a stage. You could also look down on the action, using an aerial view to keep track of items or characters outside of the protagonist’s sight lines. Split the page into four sections and take the comic book approach!

Storyboard the whole plot. Here’s yet another instance where the index card is the writer’s best friend. I recommend 4×6 size. A cork board, some push pins, and you’ve got your whole story laid out in front of you. On Pinterest you can find another definition of the novel storyboard which might also be quite helpful.

Illustrate the main character’s state of mind. Color can be very powerful on the intuitive level.  Put aside realism for the moment and have a go at the Impressionist school of art. Give the character’s dominant emotion a color. If emotions are clashing, assign a color to each and show that. Does the primary motivation suggest a particular color? Is there a Dark Secret lurking in the back of this character’s mind?

Color code the wardrobes for the major characters. This might sound silly, but if you have more than half a dozen characters to keep track of, you’ll be glad to have an easy way to keep this straight.  This is an even higher priority in historical fiction, where the clothing gets a lot more complicated, along with the fabrics, shades, and appropriate accessories.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t require Da Vinci level drawing skills. The whole purpose of the exercise is to get a clearer picture in our mind’s eye so we can choose the best words to describe the action. Have fun!

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How You Can Achieve World Peace


by Lillian Csernica on August 7, 2016

Lately I seem to be crossing paths with more Muslim people. Maybe there are more moving into my area. Maybe I’m just starting to notice Muslim folks more often. Women wearing the hijab are not all that common in my neck of the woods.

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In the coffeehouse where my writing group meets, I saw an interesting sight. An older man and woman who appeared to be Caucasian. The man wore the white skullcap and the woman wore the hijab. The woman’s headscarf was lovely and I commented on it. That got us into a conversation about a shop in Berkeley where I can find similar scarves. (Being Russian Orthodox, I cover my head when I’m in church.) We also discussed the latest trends toward longer skirts, which made both of us happy.

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The supermarket where I do my grocery shopping has a few new cashiers at the registers. One of them happens to be another woman who appears to be Caucasian, speaks with an American accent, and wears the hijab. She is a cheerful, talkative, charming person and I like her a lot. Our most recent conversation was about rock music. As I moved on out of the line, I said to her, “Salaam alaikum.” She gave me the sweetest smile and returned the greeting. We’re both People of the Book, so it’s all good.

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In a recent post I mentioned my family’s trip to the San Francisco Zoo. In one of the zoo’s restaurants, I met a Muslim family, mother, father, and two little boys. In the course of exchanging greetings, I said, “You folks are Muslim, yes?” The mother took a step back toward her children. The father’s expression turned wary. Little wonder. These are dangerous times.

I realized I’d made them anxious, so I smiled and wished them a Happy Eid Mubarak. The mother came forward with open arms to give me a big hug. The father thanked me, using a serious tone than conveyed gratitude for more than just my effort to be polite. When he said, “It means a lot,” I had to wonder what kind of hostility this family had faced in the past.  A kind greeting from a stranger recognizing one of the Muslim holy days brought that much relief and happiness. Such a little act, but for that family, it had great meaning.

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This is how we build world peace. We talk to each other. We get to know each other. We discover what we have in common. We respect each other.

Later today I’ll be buying groceries for the week. If I see the Muslim lady cashier, I’m going to ask her if we can have tea together sometime.

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Filed under charity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, family tradition, Goals, Lillian Csernica, love, parenting, perspective

Back By Popular Demand!


by Lillian Csernica on August 2, 2016

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School is still out. Summer school is over. That means Michael is home all day every day with the exception of adventures such as the San Francisco Zoo and his latest specialist checkup at Stanford. When we have enough staff, we have two eight hour nursing shifts, resulting in coverage from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

We do not have enough staff.

This week I get to cover the a.m. shift. 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eight hours of keeping a vigilant eye on Michael, changing diapers, giving medications, and in general keeping him entertained.

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At this time a year ago Michael was in the Oakland Children’s Hospital in serious danger of death from organ failure. All things considered, I should be overjoyed to have him home where the worst thing he’s suffering is boredom.

Taking the a.m. shifts with Michael is reminding me all too strongly of the terrors of watching over him in the hospital. It’s a strain both physically and emotionally. I love my boy and I will do right by him.

I must also be careful to do right by me.

This involves pushing onward with my efforts to edit Sword Master, Flower Maiden. Given that most mornings I don’t have two brain cells to rub together, this work demands rather more of an effort than usual.

I shall prevail! All prayers, good thoughts, and best wishes are most welcome!

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Filed under Depression, doctors, editing, Family, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, historical fiction, hospital, Lillian Csernica, mother, parenting, perspective, PICU, Special needs, worry, Writing