Category Archives: bad movies

#atozchallenge Reflections


by Lillian Csernica on May 6, 2019

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Greetings! After all the labors of April, we have come to the post-game analysis. I’m going with the official suggested list of questions because they’re mighty fine for providing insights.

  1. What did you love about the challenge this year? I had a good time drawing on the less familiar moments of my writing life. I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of things. Finding a subject for each day’s letter made me sift through all that for material that was both entertaining and edifying.
  2. What would you change about it? Maybe plan a brainstorming event a month ahead that would get me off the starting block with my posts. That way I could stay a week or so ahead and not fall into the last minute pressure cooker.
  3. What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge? When it was time to write something for the letter U, I got stuck. I looked up words, pondered angles, and started to overthink the post. Then I realized I could write about one of my greatest sources of inspiration: my mother. That’s when I decided to tell the story of the best Halloween costume Mom ever created, starring her Utility Belt.
  4. What is the best comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment? “Vintage also comes with a connotation of good, as in the good old days, not the parts nobody wants to remember or return to. In wines, it refers to aging in carefully controlled conditions so as to add both character and subtlety to the final product.” — Pat MacEwen, in response to V is for Vintage
  5. Will you do the challenge again? Can’t wait! Every year is an adventure. My previous themes have included Chocolate, Bad Sword & Sorcery Movies, Art Nouveau jewelry, and my Kyoto Steampunk universe!
  6. Was it well organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?) Yes indeed! A particular shout-out to J Lenni Dorner.
  7. How did you and your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? In opening up my own mind to areas of my life I don’t normally mention in my blog posts, I think I’ve given myself permission to write with a deeper level of meaning. Both the positive experiences and the negative ones provide useful perspective.  Did you find new blogs out there to enjoy? Yes I did! 
  8. Were you on the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it better this time without the daily lists?) I was on the Master List, yes. The daily lists are helpful to me. Last year I’d go to the Facebook page and browse the links. That made it easier for me to roam around. I regret not getting as much roaming time in this year.
  9. Any suggestions for our future? Keep up the good work! This is easily one of the highlights of my blog year.
  10. Any notes to the co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics? A thousand thank-yous to all the folks who make the A to Z Blog Challenge happen. I’ve made some great online friends by participating and I’ve discovered some brilliant people.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Art Nouveau, bad movies, Blog challenges, chocolate, Conventions, Family, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing

#atozchallenge B is for Boat


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2019

Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information to last him the rest of his days.”

Today I am going to tell you a story about a boat. In the twelve hours I was aboard that boat, so many moments happened, each one raw material for a story all by itself.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a fishing trip. He and some of his coworkers had pooled their money to rent a boat for the day, complete with captain, which would take them out to fish for rock cod off the Four Mile Banks near Laguna Beach, CA. My father loved fishing. I was still a bit of a tomboy at that age, so I was quite excited to be in on the adventure.

A fishing trip means you get up while it’s still dark out, drive down to the marina, find the right dock, and go aboard. I was the only kid on board. I learned later that my father’s co-workers weren’t exactly thrilled to have me along for the trip. Back then adults still believed in behaving themselves in front of children. Me being there meant they couldn’t drink and gossip and carry on the way they’d been planning. I still wonder if my father knew that, or if he knew and just didn’t care.

There we were, heading out of the marina, the sky still black and dotted with stars. I didn’t have much experience with boats, so this was a rare thrill for me. I sat on the rail, holding on to the strip of wood on the side of the main cabin that stuck out like a smaller rail. I watched the bow wave, marveling at the reflection of all the lights on the dark water. One good whitecap could have jolted me loose and thrown me over the side. I don’t know why the adults let me sit out there all alone in such a precarious position. Daddy was a twenty year Navy man. Maybe he thought I had enough Navy in my blood to give me good instincts aboard ship. If my mother had ever found out about this moment in my seagoing adventures, the closest I would have gotten to another boat would have been floaty toys in the bathtub.

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The captain took a liking to me. I think that had to do with me catching the first fish. It was a young shark about as long as my arm with eyes the color of pale jade. The captain declared me to be lucky, then asked me if I wanted to keep it or let it go. This was not an “eating fish,” as my father called them, so it seemed only right to let the shark go. From then on wherever I cast or dropped my line, I caught the most fish. Daddy found this hugely entertaining. Later on he told me my good luck did not endear me to his coworkers, who had placed bets on who would catch the most and the biggest fish. Apparently my catches counted toward Daddy’s total.

Then came the moment that was the polar opposite of all the joy I felt sailing along in the dark. Rock cod are considered good eating by humans and other fish. As we reeled in our catch, those other fish showed up and tried to steal them off our lines. At first I couldn’t understand why the rock cod were coming up with big red holes in their sides. Daddy told me to go up on the flying bridge and look out over the water.

Circling the boat were two thresher sharks. These are really not much trouble, but this happened right around the time when Jaws had hit the theaters. There I was, out in a relatively small boat, miles offshore, being circled by the two biggest sharks I’d ever seen in person. Scared the living daylights out of me, much to the amusement of the adults.

Why am I telling you this story? There’s a lot more to this day. I haven’t even mentioned the poker game. (The adults wouldn’t let me play. A) I was too young, and B) I was already too lucky!) Mine your life for these moments. You were there! You know the details that will bring those moments to life.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, bad movies, Blog challenges, Family, Humor, Lillian Csernica, memoirs, parenting, travel, Writing

5 Ways I Make Depression Help Me


by Lillian Csernica on June 12, 2018

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I am currently suffering a depressive episode. All the problems in my life are magnified. I can’t sleep. When I do, I have nightmares. I have no energy, but life goes on as usual with all the typical daily chaos. Same stress, different day. I just can’t deal with it.

On the subject of tackling some dull, boring, and otherwise loathsome task, some years ago a therapist suggested that I attempt to do said task on a day when I was already swamped with all the bad juju of depression. As she put it, “Why ruin a good day?” That’s a very good point.

With that in mind, I decided that when depression shows up to ruin my day, I’m going to punish depression by using that day to catch up on every task I really hate to do.

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Housework

Changing the bedding — Doing this makes my lower back ache, my sprained knee hurt, and can often result in pulled muscles and the occasional pinched nerve.

Doing the laundry — A necessary evil, one that requires me to haul baskets of dirty and then clean laundry up and down my stairway. Then comes the tedious chore of folding it all and putting it all away.

Scrubbing floors — Bad for my knees, bad for my back, and really bad for my temper.

Clutter busting — I’m not good at throwing things away. Trash, sure. Actual garbage, no problem. When it comes to anything with a sentimental attachment, that gets harder. I’m told that a key piece of the problem with hoarding is that it’s grounded in loss. I’ve had some drastic losses in my life. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m not good at purging my possessions.

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Writing

Just slam it out. Set the timer, keep the pen moving. This is my No Mercy approach to bypassing the Internal Editor. There are days when depression adds a whole other layer of torment to the usual insecurities of writing. Imagine Imposter Syndrome on steroids.

Get messy. Get wild. Tear it all up and start over. This is more fun. The Frat Party/Rock Star/Road Trip method. Trash that metaphorical hotel room. Write all the forbidden thoughts. Screw structure and pace. Let’s write so hard we blow out some windows!

Go Hide Somewhere So I Don’t Happen to Somebody

Coffeehouse — My local Peet’s has become my current Happy Place. I’m in there two or three times a week. The baristas know me. The regulars know me. I’ve met some fascinating people there. I’m out in public, so the pressures and triggers here at home can’t get to me.

Library — Guaranteed peace and quiet, as long as I’m there before school lets out. I love the smell of books. I love the comfort of knowing all those books were written by people who have dealt with the same struggles I’m experiencing.

My room — Aside from the clutter problem (see above), my room is the place where I can go, shut the door, lock the door, and hide. I have a hook on the outside of my door on which I hang signs alerting the rest of the household to my state of mind. Sleeping. Working. Not Now.

OK. Maybe it’s not hiding so much as taking refuge when I just can’t fake being cheerful anymore.

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socioecohistory.wordpress.com

If the depression is still gaining the upper hand and I’m good for absolutely nothing productive, then I give it up and resort to palliative care:

Watch Action Movies With Lots of Explosions

Deadpool 1 and 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2

True Lies

The Replacement Killers

XXX (The Vin Diesel movie)

 

If you also experience depression, be it that passing sorrow people call “the blues” or full blown Major Depressive Disorder, then I offer you a high five in solidarity. The Big Black Dog is a voracious monster and wants to eat us alive. We can’t let that happen. Talk to somebody. If you write in a notebook, that somebody can be totally imaginary. Use your words. The more you can get out of your own head, escape those quicksand thoughts, the more you can put the Big Black Dog on a leash.

You are not alone. I’m here. I hear you. I see you. We have to stick together on this.

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Filed under bad movies, chocolate, classics, creativity, Depression, Family, Fiction, frustration, housework, Lillian Csernica, neurodiversity, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #22


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach.

Just get them to fly in formation.

 

And now, a little something from the True Story Archives.

Way back when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher liked the way I gave my presentations. He had a talk with the coach of the speech and debate team. When my sophomore year started, I joined the team. This proved to be one of the smartest and most beneficial decisions of my life.

Public speaking is the number one phobia for three out of four people. Worse than spiders, worse that going to the dentist, people live in fear of getting up in front of an audience for the purpose of giving a speech. I understand this. When I first started putting together expository speeches and practicing in front of my coach and teammates, the absolute terror of doing a bad job and being laughed at for it was crippling. Knowing that everybody else who was in training shared my fear didn’t make it any easier.

If there’s one thing I can do well, it’s talk. Thanks to my coach training me and my mother, who listened to me practice over and over and over again as I memorized the ten minute speeches I gave, I got past the anxiety in my determination to remember how to use cross-focus, the precise gestures, and the right variations in tone and pitch. Giving a speech is a performance. Maybe I wasn’t doing Shakespeare, but that’s only because I didn’t spend much time in the Dramatic Interpretation event. (I did break Varsity there, but after that I concentrated on my stronger events.)

In my first year of competing at speech tournaments, I went down in flames a number of times. The competition was better, more polished, smoother in their delivery. OK. I just had to work harder. What I also had to do was find my best event. That’s when I discovered Impromptu speaking.

At the junior varsity level, we had five minutes to prepare, then five minutes total for our speech. At varsity level, we had only two minutes to prep. Talk about a strain on the nerves! What we had to base our speeches on varied widely. Most often we were given slips of paper with three famous quotations. We chose one and built our speech around it. At some tournaments, we were given fortune cookies, paper bags that held some random object such as a calculator, or even plastic Easter eggs with the Surprise Topic inside. The event required mental agility, flexibility, a vast pool of random knowledge, and a mastery of the different presentation structures one could use.

The first time I competed in Impromptu, I think I had a full blown anxiety attack. There I was, about to receive my slip of paper with the three subjects on it. With sweaty palms and my heart pounding, I almost had an asthma attack. And then I saw the two words that told me I was home free:

Horror movies.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, my grandfather helped build the set for the laboratory in the original Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff. I’m a big fan of classic horror movies. The judge for this round was an older gentleman. When I started mentioning names such as Elsa Lanchester from Bride of Frankenstein and Lon Chaney from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, apparently I won the judge’s respect as well as his vote. His comments on the voting card I received after the tournament reflected his approval of someone my age (fifteen at the time), knowing those names.

Once I learned to get my butterflies flying in formation and overcame my fear of public speaking, I acquired a skill that has helped me in every aspect of my life.

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #11


by Lillian Csernica on May 11, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

The prospect of a thrilling time awaits you.

THE JOKE’S ON YOU

Tom stared up at the purple roller coaster. Against the night sky, it was alive with rows of blinking white lights. The lime green cars held ten riders. As they climbed the hills and roared down into the curving twists, the cars whirled round and round. The riders exiting the latest car grabbed the rails along the walkway as they made their way out. More than one looked pale and sick.

“Nope. Not for love or money.”

“Oh come on.” Natalie slurped up more of her giant pink slushie. “I went on those boring boats.”

“It was a flume ride!”

“Boring. Twenty minutes of waiting for what? Floating along in the dark and then whoosh!” She plucked at her damp blouse. “I’m still wet, and now I’m cold!”

“That hell wagon is guaranteed to make me heave up everything I’ve eaten for the past five years.”

“Buzz kill.” Natalie scowled. She reached up to brush his thick brown curls out of his eyes. “What happened to you, Tom? You used to be the craziest guy in college. Everybody waited for you to show up on Fail Army.” She used the hood of her jacket to rub more water out of her long blonde hair. “Nobody could believe how lucky you were.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it.” Tom grinned. “I respect the Laws of Physics.”

Natalie pouted. “We’re supposed to be having fun.”

Not for the first time, Tom measured Natalie’s stunning face and figure against the fact that he’d stepped in puddles deeper than her personality.

“Most people wouldn’t consider ‘putting our lives in danger’ the usual definition of fun.”

“When did you get so boring?”

Tom wondered that himself. He’d graduated with a B.S. in IT. Hired on with a good software company. Found an apartment near work and settled into a steady routine of work, computer games, tabletop RPGs on the weekends, and the occasional camping trip. A good life, but truth be told, he did miss some of the wild times.

“Tell you what. The park closes in half an hour. You were talking about the Scare Shack. Give me a pass on Barney’s Barf-o-Matic here and I’ll go with you through the haunted house.”

Natalie gave him a brilliant smile and hugged his arm. “You’ll keep me safe, right?”

“Right. I’ll stuff the monsters back into their coffins.”

The Scare Shack looked like a cross between a Gothic cathedral with too many gargoyles and the college dorm of every serial killer in Hollywood. Inside, the walls painted black, flickering strobe lights, ultraviolet lights making monster face graffiti blaze out of the darkness. Tom put Natalie in front of him and kept his hands on her shoulders. As long as she could see them coming, the scares would stay funny and safe. He had no intention of letting anybody sneak up on her.

They followed the green-painted path through the usual set pieces. The graveyard, with its zombies and vampires. The saw mill, with the blood and gore and body parts. Tom blinked. The strobes were giving him a headache. Sudden darkness eclipsed even the day-glow paint on the walls and floor.

“Tom? Tom!”

“I’m right here, Nat.” He tightened his grip on her shoulders. “No worries, honey.”

“What’s happening?”

“Just keep moving forward. This is all part of the show.”

The floor sloped downward. Natalie lost her balance, flailed out, and fell forward, pulling out of Tom’s grip.

“Tom!” Her screamed faded as she rolled away into the smothering dark.

“Nat! Natalie!” Tom lunged forward. His foot came down on a flat surface. The floor was even again. A trapdoor? “Hey! Hey! Turn the lights on right now!”

He turned sideways, reaching out both hands, trying to find the wall. The darkness was so absolute he couldn’t even see the standard red EXIT signs. Time to get out and find somebody official. Several long, thin strands fell from the ceiling, spilling down around his neck. Wet and slimy, they stank of old metal. Copper. Tom seized handfuls and flung them away.

“That’s it! I’m calling the cops!”

He pulled his phone out of his pocket. The slime on his hands made him fumble and drop his phone. He sank down on his knees and patted the ground around him. Tiny scratchings and scrabblings swarmed around him. Furry bodies ran over his hands. Things dropped on to his back and scuttled down his arms.

Tom crawled forward, banging his knees in his haste. His hands came down on smooth, cold bodies wriggling away. Jerking back, he fell face forward. Reflex made him tuck his shoulder under so he rolled onto his back.

“Turn on the lights!” His voice turned shrill. “Get me out of here!”

Above him, two eyes opened, eyes as wide as his arms were long. The pupils blazed an ugly orange.

“Thomas Caldwell Morton.”

The voice rolled out over him like notes from and old pipe organ. The bones inside him vibrated with the sound. Tom clapped his hands over his ears, pulling his knees up to his chest, curling into a tight ball.

The lights came on, blinding him.

“Surprise!”

Tom opened his eyes. He lay on the green pathway. Voices up ahead. Laughter. Flashes of light. Tom raised his head. Natalie stood there, surrounded by a butcher, a zombie, a vampire, a girl with several fake stab wounds. Tom shook his head and got to his feet.

“Oh Tom, wait til you see what the night vision camera got! You were so funny!”

Natalie ran forward, arms out for a hug. Tom dodged her like a bullfighter escaping the horns. He spotted his phone and snatched it up. Natalie stared at him, her smile fading.

“Tom?”

He turned to see the Scare Shack workers still standing there. “Get out. Anybody I catch gets one hell of a beating!”

They all bolted out the EXIT door.

“Tom? Come on, it was just a joke!”

The whine in Natalie’s voice sliced into Tom’s last nerve. She reached for him again. He slapped her hands aside. He looked up to see the orange lights rigged into the framework above him. Planned. Someone had planned it all. He glared into Natalie’s wide eyes.

“Did you do this? Did you?”

“You needed to loosen up! You were turning into a corporate zombie!”

“You bitch.” He dialed 911. When the operator answered, he put the phone on speaker mode. “I need help. There’s a girl here who’s freaking out. We’re in the Scare Shack.”

Natalie backed up, knocking over a pile of severed heads. Tom caught her by the arm and dragged her back up the pathway to the graveyard. He kicked open the lid of the coffin, yanked out the zombie mannequin, and pushed Natalie forward. She tripped on the edge of the coffin and toppled over, falling face first into the coffin.

“Tom! Stop it! What’s wrong with you?”

Tom shut the lid of the coffin and sat on top of it. Natalie screamed, kicking her heels against the lid. A joke. Really. And she’d recorded it.

“Natalie? Where’s the camera?”

“In the office! Let me out! I’ll show you!”

“Have your little friends already put it on YouTube? Have they shown everybody?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know who’s still here!”

Tom stood up. Before Natalie could get the lid open, he yanked down two of the mourning angel grave markers. They were heavy enough to keep the lid shut. He ran to the office. Sure enough, somebody’s ghostbuster night vision camera had been wired into the security system. Tom disconnected it and stuffed the camera into one of the park’s souvenir bags. He hurried back to the graveyard and put the angels back in place.

The sirens pulled up outside. Two paramedics rushed in, carrying their bags. The older one looked around.

“Where is she?”

The lid of the coffin flew open. Natalie sat up, covered in cobwebs and fake spiders. She fought the sticky strands, screaming and crying.

“He did it!” she cried. “He shut me in this coffin! He’s crazy!”

Tom shook his head. “She’s a Walking Dead fan. Wanted to be a zombie. I don’t know what she’s on.”

The lead paramedic stepped toward the coffin, holding out his hand. “Miss, please calm down. We’re here to help you.”

Natalie scrambled out of the coffin. She snatched up a white wooden cross marking a grave and held up the pointy end. “I’m not the crazy one! Tom’s nuts! It was all just a joke!”

Half an hour later, after listening to Natalie rave on about the “joke” she played on Tom, with the help of all the missing staff, the police relieved the paramedics of custody, cuffed Natalie, and put her in the back of the squad car. Tom walked out to the parking lot, carrying the bag with the camera in it.

5150. A seventy-two hour psychiatric hold in the county behavioral health unit. No makeup, no nail polish, no fancy shampoo, and no cell phone. If Natalie wasn’t already nuts, she would be by the time they let her out.

Tom smiled.

END

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Filed under bad movies, Blog challenges, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, hospital, Lillian Csernica, Writing

#blogchallenge Fortune Cookie Says:


by Lillian Csernica on May 6, 2018

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Hellokids.com

Today’s fortune says:

Love in its essence is spiritual fire.

 

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Olivia sat in the passenger’s seat of the dull gray sedan where it blended into the concrete shadows. Dan sat in the driver’s seat, chewing on an unlit cigar.

“You sure about this?” he asked.

“Positive. Raymond has had more than enough warnings.”

They both looked up at the fourth floor window of the Marquis Hotel. Not the best in the city, but closer to the top than the bottom. Olivia’s full lips curved in a bitter smile. That was Ray all over. Shadows passed by the window, one with broad shoulders, one with curves that startled Dan even through the filmy curtains.

Three police cars pulled up, crowding the valet stand. An unmarked blue sedan arrived from the opposite direction. Two men in overcoats and fedoras climbed out and checked their shoulder holsters.

“Anonymous tip?” Dan asked.

“Not hardly.” Olivia huffed. “Lt. Henderson deserves a good collar. Besides, he likes me.”

“I’ll bet he does.”

The uniforms hurried off to their assigned positions. Lt. Henderson spared one glance across the street. He looked into the concrete shadows, straight through the windshield into Olivia’s eyes. They exchanged a single nod.

Five minutes later, all hell broke loose on the other side of that fourth floor window. The curtains flew apart as Raymond scrabbled at the window catch. Rough hands caught his wrists and twisted his arms up behind his back, dragging him away from the window.

Quite a parade came out through the front door. Two uniforms had Raymond, who wore nothing but his wife beater, boxers, and mismatched socks. The bottle blonde with him had been allowed to throw a flamingo pink lounging robe over the lacy bits of nothing she wore underneath. Stuffed into two separate police cars, the happy couple looked anything but.

Lt. Henderson stepped out of the hotel onto the pavement. Again he looked into Olivia’s eyes. This time his nod came with a smile. A good collar. Prostitution, drugs, and money from somewhere that would lead to further charges.

Dan lit his cigar. “I don’t know why Ray kept chasing those stupid tarts. You’re smart, you’re gorgeous, and you even got an education.”

Olivia gave him a light kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, baby brother. A Roman senator named Seneca once said, ‘Love in its essence is a spiritual fire.” She sighed. “Somebody’s mother once said smart boys don’t play with matches.”

End

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Let Me Entertain You


by Lillian Csernica on February 28, 2018

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April is coming. That means the A to Z Blog Challenge.

Those of you who joined me last year may recall my theme was Art Nouveau jewelry. We had a good time with that, I think. Lots of people said nice things. I began my life of Pinterest joy and now I’m up to a dozen different boards.

So here’s my question to you: What do you want to see this year?

I’ve covered writing terms, sword&sorcery movies, all things made of chocolate, and yes, the art nouveau bling.

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I could go with a steampunk theme and tell you strange tidbits of technological history and the men and women behind them.

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There’s a world of info about Japan I could share.

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We could go for classic monster movies, the Golden Age of Universal and the everlasting talents of Karloff and Cheney and Rains.

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Give me your ideas! Tell me what you want to see me tackle. I live to amuse you, so bring it on!

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Reblog: Self Care Isn’t Selfish


This isn’t just an Instagram aesthetic. It’s actually really good advice for us. If you’re unfamiliar with self-care, it is the simple act of caring for ourselves. We deserve it, not because it makes us better for others or for our lecturers or for our flatmates, but because it makes us healthier for ourselves. […]

via Self-Care isn’t Selfish — the married millenials

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!

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Filed under bad movies, creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, science fiction, Writing

How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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