Category Archives: classics

#atozchallenge N is for Now!


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2019

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“Now!” is a powerful statement. Immediacy is what brings fiction to life on the page and in the mind of the reader. You don’t have to write in the present tense, but you do have to keep the writing stripped down, streamlined, and precise.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about strong plotting came from Weird Tales then-editor Darrell Schweitzer. He stressed the importance of asking, “Why now?” Why is the problem situation the main character faces happening at that time and in that place?

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In Maeve, John Fenton has car trouble on a lonely road in the Irish countryside and takes shelter in a pub before a big storm hits. Only by being in that particular pub on the right kind of stormy night does John have the opportunity to meet the local legend known as Maeve.

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In The Family Spirit, it’s Christmas Eve and Ben is meeting Janice’s family for the first time. He has no idea just how many of the family he’s going to meet, and what kind of distance some of those distant relatives have traveled to be there.

Knowing the answer to “Why now?” will get your story off to a much stronger start!

 

 

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Christmas, classics, Family, fantasy, Fiction, home town, publication, Writing

#atozblogchallenge L is for Location


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2019

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One of the key ideas in retail success is “Location, location, location.” Put your business in the right place, where the right customer base will find you, and you stand a much better chance of making a profit.

When writing stories, your setting is a vital element. I see a lot of stories with complex worldbuilding, but the setting is more like stage scenery or a rack of props. Where you locate your story, or which locations appear in your story, can be just as powerful a story element as plot or character.

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Consider some famous settings:

Mars — The Martian

A train — Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train

A bus — Speed

A deserted islandRobinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies

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These settings have crucial aspects in common:

  • The physical location is very limiting, requiring quick thinking and immediate adaptation.
  • The main character is trapped in that setting. There is no easy way out.
  • The stakes are life or death.

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When I write historical fiction, location encompasses not just the physical setting but the time period as well:

Fallen Idol starts out in a mall food court, an ordinary, modern, nonthreatening setting. The main character, a photographer, notices a girl with elaborate and dramatic makeup. The rest of her skin is completely covered up by layers of clothing. The photographer follows this girl to a creepy abandoned factory, full of strange foreign folk art, where the rest of the story, rooted in a famous historical conflict, takes place.

Saving Grace is set in a chateau on a pilgrimage route in 14th Century France. The main character fled Russia during the Tatar invasion. She is a vampire. That makes daily living hard enough. She is also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this time most of the Western world was controlled by the Pope of Rome. That puts my heroine in constant danger of arrest as a heretic and schismatic. That meant being burned at the stake.

The Kyoto Steampunk stories take place in Kyoto 1880. Dropping a Victorian physician into an Oriental environment where he can’t speak the language and knows nothing about the social protocol makes every problem I give him twice as difficult.

Make the most of your fictional location. It can make a huge difference!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Horror, publication, research, science fiction, steampunk, travel, Writing

#atozchallenge H is for Haste


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2017

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In the UK they have a saying. “More haste, less speed.” Sounds paradoxical, right? The meaning is simple. The faster you rush through a task, the better the chances of making mistakes. You will then have to go back and correct the mistakes, slowing down your overall progress.

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Way back at the beginning of my efforts to write stories for publication, I was so excited I would blaze through my drafts. I really didn’t have a solid grasp of proper story structure, and it showed. Oh boy, how it showed. I was also impatient to fire those stories off in the mail, hoping for my first acceptance letter. What I got was a lot of form rejection letters.

Don’t be in such a hurry. Take the time to learn your craft.

Here comes another paradox: Go ahead and power through that first draft. Don’t think too hard, don’t worry too much. Just get the story down on paper. The creative rush that makes you want to write a story is one of the best parts of this business.

Now that you have something written down, you’ve got something that can be pondered, expanded, rewritten, and cut back.

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Back in the beginning of my career, I wanted to dive right into writing a novel. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to build a plot by reading how-to manuals and piecing together my ideas. What I quickly learned was how big and how daunting the work of writing a novel really is. It takes a lot longer than people realize, even when you know what you’re doing.

Fortunately, I made a good decision and let all the research I’d done implode into a short story. That story became Fallen Idol, which I sold to William Raley at After Hours Magazine. That story was later accepted by Karl Edward Wagner for The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI.

You want to be a writer? Write. You want to be a published writer? Learn how to tell a story. Respect the art you want to create. Respect the craft that has been practiced, explored, and improved upon by great minds for centuries.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, artists, Blog challenges, classics, creativity, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, Writing

#atozblogchallege A is for Angle


by Lillian Csernica on April 1, 2019

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Welcome to my sixth year of participation in the A to Z Blog Challenge!

How I Learned To Be A Writer

This year I’m going to share with you 26 separate moments from my writing life, moments that taught me something worth remembering. Moments that helped shape my writing style. Moments that taught me how to endure the bad days and celebrate the triumphs.

A is for Angle

 

“Angle” is a term used by journalists when referring to the focus of the article they’re writing. It means which aspect of the subject matter they intend to emphasize as a means of making the article more relevant and interesting to the readers.

The concept of angle is quite useful to fiction writers. As the indie publishing market has exploded and competition for readership continues to increase, it’s becoming more and more essential to find a fresh approach, some new aspect of the stories we want to tell.

In my Kyoto Steampunk series, I chose to leave Victorian England behind and take my protagonist Dr. William Harrington to Kyoto, Japan. Once the Shogunate fell and the Meiji Emperor opened Japan to the West, Japan experienced its own Industrial Revolution, making it an excellent setting for steampunk stories.

Dr. Harrington’s adventures are a mixture of historical science fiction and Japanese fantasy. When I go to conventions to promote the anthologies where my Kyoto Steampunk stories appear, people are often surprised to hear I’ve chosen Japan for my setting. This fresh angle has resulted in a total of seven short stories so far, along with the novel that is my current work in progress.

Find that fresh angle! It will help you on your road to success.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, Conventions, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing

Can You Spot the Monster?


by Lillian Csernica on March 9, 2019

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France, 1300s. A chateau in the Alps. A Russian noblewoman sheltering there and earning her keep as governess to the daughter of the family. Katarina is the keeper of a terrible secret, one she must keep at all costs or face the loss of Yvette, the daughter Katarina herself will never have. Living under the watchful eye of Yvette’s father Sieur Etienne is difficult enough. Then a German scholar arrives, asking too many questions about matters that should be none of his concern.

Who is the real monster in this story? Who is most deserving of the ultimate punishment? Read it and make up your own mind!

 

I am overjoyed to see my story Saving Grace appear alongside some of the greatest masters of horror and dark fantasy:

Alexandra Elizabeth Honigsberg

F. Marion Crawford

E.F. Benson

Mary E. Braddon

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Darrell Schweitzer

Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem

If you enjoy weird fiction, fantasy with an edge to it, and stories that will keep you up at night, you will love all the treasures brought together in this collection.

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How To Edit My NaNoWriMo Roughdraft?


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2019

2069836It’s time to clean up the NaNoWriMo novel. I have several intense scenes, some good action, and two or three potential plotlines. How do I clean this up? Where do I start?

First, I have to finish typing in all the handwritten material created during my coffeehouse marathons. That allows me a certain amount of editing, but mostly I just want to get all of the manuscript on disk. It’s comforting, really. I hadn’t realized just how much I did write and from so many different characters’ points of view.

Second, I need to figure out who the hero of my story is. Since this is meant to be a Kyoto Steampunk novel, the obvious choice would be Dr. William Harrington, main character of all but two of the seven short stories in the series. Who changes the most over the course of the story? Is it Dr. Harrington, or is it his daughter Madelaine?

(Yes, I did say seven. The latest Kyoto Steampunk short story, The Badger Epidemic, will appear in Next Stop on the #13, available at Clockwork Alchemy 2019!)

page_1_thumb_largeAt the Night of Writing Dangerously, we all received tote bags which included a copy of Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody. This book is God’s gift to the novel writer, thanks to Ms. Brody’s skill at breaking down and explaining in detail the fifteen story beats that are essential to a strong, successful story. Given what Ms. Brody demonstrates, I know I face crucial questions in sifting through my roughdraft to find the moments that match some or all of those fifteen story beats.

Having done a bit of flailing around while I did my best to achieve my daily word quota, I’ve written a lot of material that could take the story in at least half a dozen directions. Lining up the scenes I’ve written in something approximating chronological order should point the way toward further complications and rising action. While I often work from plot outlines, this time I’ve been extrapolating from the events occurring in the Kyoto steampunk short stories. The consequences of some of those events are now catching up with Dr. Harrington, Madelaine, Constance, and Nurse Danforth.

The novel length has allowed me to introduce new characters, three human and three non-human. The humans are members of the British expatriate society in Kyoto, all of whom have some degree of power to affect the course of Dr. Harrington’s stay. Of the three non-human characters, two are earthly gods while the third is a monster of uncertain provenance. There are few things I enjoy more than squeezing poor Dr. Harrington between the pressures of Victorian social etiquette and the unfamiliar rules that govern the gods and monsters of Japan.

Third? I don’t know what will happen next. I’m just as excited to find out as I hope my readers will be!

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How Not to Build a Gingerbread House


by Lillian Csernica on December 19, 2018

 

 

Hi there. Right now I’m spread thinner than Nutella on the last three pieces of shortbread. Mom will be out of the hospital the day after Christmas. Tomorrow I have three appointments, then my younger son takes his first test for a new belt rank in tae kwon do. And then there’s all the Christmas prep to keep doing.

I need a laugh, and by some strange bit of good fortune I happened across something I wrote years ago at this same time of year. For your Yuletide entertainment, I present it to you now.

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thismommycooks.com

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

Never ever attempt to make a gingerbread house with somebody who’s never seen one before and yet, thanks to his control freak tendencies, immediately mutates into an expert on the art.

It’s difficult to sustain an intelligent argument about the precise technique of using industrial strength icing to glue peppermint candies, gummi bears, M&Ms, and gumdrops to the various flat and angled surfaces of a gingerbread house. Believe me, we tried. Too much icing. Not enough icing. The grouping of the gumdrops on the roof lacked the right balance of colors. The little candy canes lining the walk to the front door weren’t maintaining their lines with military precision. And the windows. This is where things almost got violent. Making window panes out of pretzel sticks might seem like no big deal, but when you’re dealing with a man who thinks we should have been using a carpenter’s balance, you’ve entered into a whole new realm of the bizarre.

Then came the argument over building the chimney out of Pez candies, licorice bricks, Jolly Rancher cinnamon bites, or graham crackers iced in proper brick and mortar formations. I’m not much for drinking, even during the holidays, but by the time I was about halfway through this delightful holiday pastime, I was ready to forget the eggnog and go straight for the brandy.

At last our masterpiece was complete. It resembled nothing so much as a perfect 3D schematic of what would happen if the two of us EVER tried to share the same living quarters. The yard was a wreck, green icing spilling onto the graham cracker walkway like rank weeds erupting through broken concrete. The cast off wrappings of Hershey’s Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Lifesavers lay strewn across the porch, revealing us for the white trash we really were. The snowman in the front yard listed like the drunken uncle at the wedding reception. It was a mercy that we never had to bother with the inside of the house. I shudder to think what horrors would have been dissolving in there. Gummi coke bottles piled in the corners…silver foil gum wrappers wadded up in the little black licorice fireplace…cotton candy webs hanging from the corners of the ceilings…. It would be just too heartbreaking.

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I can’t recall now what became of that gingerbread house. I know it sat on my kitchen table for some weeks during that holiday season. And as for the man himself, my partner in committing this crime of both taste and art? No, it was not in fact my husband. This was another man, whose story must wait for another time.  This fellow is no longer among the living, so that time will probably be Halloween.

 

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Filed under chocolate, Christmas, classics, creativity, Family, family tradition, fantasy, Food, frustration, Halloween, Humor, Lillian Csernica, perspective, therapy

Coming Soon: Citadels of Darkover!


by Lillian Csernica on October 30, 2018

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I am honored and delighted to announce that my story The Katana Matrix will appear in the upcoming Darkover anthology Citadels of Darkover due out in May. Many thanks to editor Deborah Ross.

In The Katana Matrix, Nakatomi Madoka discovers the Comyn lord who hired her to rescue his cousin from bandits is after something else.. If Madoka can’t stop the rogue Comyn and keep what he wants out of his hands, he could destroy Darkover.

The stories you can look forward to reading include:

DANCING LESSONS
By Evey Brett
SACRIFICE
By Steven Harper
BANSHEE CRY
By Marella Sands
THE KATANA MATRIX
By Lillian Csernica
SIEGE
By Diana L. Paxson
SEA-CASTLE
By Leslie Fish
FIRE STORM
By Jane M. H. Bigelow
THE DRAGON HUNTER
By Robin Rowland
FISH NOR FOWL
By Rebecca Fox
DARK AS DAWN
By Robin Wayne Bailey
CITADEL OF FEAR
By Barb Caffrey
THE JUDGMENT OF WIDOWS
By Shariann Lewitt

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To appear on the same Table of Contents with Diana L. Paxson is a dream come true. When I was in high school, I read Diana’s novel Brisingamen, a contemporary fantasy novel centering around Freya’s magical necklace. I was blown away by the story, the historical detail, and the excellent prose. Back then we sent fan letters the old fashioned way by snail mail. Much to my surprise, Diana replied! Using a notecard with a drawing of Gullinbursti, Diana thanked me most graciously.

Right now I’m looking forward to the cover reveal for Citadels of Darkover. The cover art for the previous anthologies in the series has been great, so this one should be wonderful as well!

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Filed under classics, dreams, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Japan, publication, science fiction, sword and sorcery, Writing

How Writers Dress for Success


by Lillian Csernica on August 6, 2018

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On days when I’m not going to be leaving the house, I observe the time-honored tradition of working in my Bathrobe. By the end of the day I’ve usually accumulated an interesting variety of odds and ends in the pockets.

In my right pocket, where things most often end up, I have my comb, two small butterfly paper clips, an unopened alcohol wipe, and a green plastic fly.

In my left pocket, where I carry more important items, my SFWA secret decoder ring awaits being used on relevant emails.

My nightstand is littered with the bits and pieces I pull out of my pockets before I go to bed at night. I’ve learned to make a ritual of this. There’s nothing like a few harsh metallic noises coming from the washer or dryer to cause the Spousal Unit unwelcome distress.

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There are different schools of thought on how writers should suit up for their daily work count. Some dress as if they were going to the office, because that is what they are doing. Some dress in a manner that helps them connect with the material they’re working on. I find that idea entertaining. If I were to dress in a manner suitable for the heroine of my current novel, I’d be wearing a yukata and zori. For the short story in progress, Victorian attire of the 1880s. Of the two I’d choose the yukata for summer comfort and ease of movement. I’ve worn corsets, but I confess I’m not a big fan of steel boning.

Pro tip: Nothing says we have to look like the back of the book photo all the time.

Back to the Bathrobe. Built for comfort, if not for style. When I’m writing, I want no distractions. If my shoes annoy me, I take them off. If the clip in my hair isn’t comfortable, out it goes. I’ve never carried this idea to its ultimate extreme, largely because I do most of my writing either at my favorite coffeehouse out in public, or here at home on the living room couch. Neither is an appropriate context for creating while I’m in my birthday suit.

I find that I do my best work when I’m comfortable. This means more than just wearing slippers and sitting in a comfy chair, although those can be important elements. I can’t write when I’m hungry. I really can’t concentrate when my blood sugar is low. I need a certain amount of background noise to help me focus. I don’t mind being a little cold, but I can’t stand being too hot. Total silence makes me jumpy, because the selective hearing I’ve developed over 22 years of having a medically fragile son keeps me alert for the sounds I should be hearing.

All this explains why I hang out at my local Peet’s Coffee so much. It provides everything I need to do good work.

There’s one really great aspect of the Bathrobe. Remember when we were little kids and pinned towels around our necks for capes? Or we used those old sheets to make a pillow fort? We could be anybody in those capes. The pillow fort could be a crater on Mars or the penthouse in Tahiti. That’s what the Bathrobe does for me. Because there’s no pressure, there’s no appearance to maintain, I can relax and be whoever I need to be for that day’s writing. Let the record show I own three different bathrobes.

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In her article about Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman, Vanessa Friedman writes:

As Ms. Newman discovered, Virginia Woolf actually had a name for this awareness: “frock consciousness.” She used it to refer to the way she employed clothing to denote character, and changes in character, particularly as they applied to her book “Mrs. Dalloway.” But really, it’s a (not surprisingly) perfect turn of phrase that could apply to us all.

What do you wear when you write? Do you have a favorite set of writing clothes?

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Filed under classics, creativity, editing, Family, fantasy, Fiction, history, Humor, Lillian Csernica, marriage, research, romance, special education, Special needs, Writing

How History Books Will Make You a Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on June 27, 2018

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Why do I write about history?

History gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion.

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A good example is Scotland, which has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, notably the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those annoying facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

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I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I would find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. Today we see all that grandeur reduced to the common everyday business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are businesses available which produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese.

It was Eleanor who paid her son's ransom when he was captured

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chivalry was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved on more than one occasion. In our present time the High Court of Chivalry deals with matters of heraldry.

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Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. It’s possible that I’ve become a tad cynical regarding romance. When you’ve been married for thirty years, the starry-eyed honeymoon phase is a rather distant memory. That’s probably why I enjoy recreating it in my stories.

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Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, which also occur in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. 

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One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because the novel was set in Navarre. It took quite some doing, but I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. Compare that with the necessity in Egypt of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes. If not for that, many of the commoners and slaves in Egypt would have starved to death.

In Medieval Europe, bread, watered wine, ale, meats such as venison, game birds, and roast pork, and large wheels of cheese made up the main meal. You can find a number of cookbooks online that provide recipes from the Middle Ages. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the pleasure of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

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Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about the delights of dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the jeweled inlays of the Egyptian pectoral collars to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. Given that their total weight was more than 35 carats, it’s a wonder she didn’t end up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s!

History is full of fascinating details. There are so many ideas out there just waiting to inspire you. Read those history books, those biographies, those memoirs! You never know when you’re going to find the one detail that opens up a world of inspiration.

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