Category Archives: creativity

A New Short Story!


by Lillian Csernica on March 15, 2023

I am delighted to announce the appearance of my new short story To Reach For The Stars in JEWELS OF DARKOVER, the latest anthology set in the Darkover universe. The anthology is now available for pre-order in both ebook. The trade paperback edition will become available on the release date, May 2, 2023.

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This is the story of an elaborate jewel heist that may have consequences for not just the galaxy but all life in the universe. It’s such a thrill to create my own heist story. I grew up watching movies such as The Italian Job, Diamonds Are Forever, The Bank Job, Thief, and of course The Pink Panther and its sequels.

Appearing in this anthology marks a new milestone in my writing career. Way back when I was in high school, I read BRISINGAMEN by Diana L. Paxson. “The gift of an ancient necklace, the legendary Brisingamen, gives Karen Ingold the extraordinary powers of the goddess Freyia and leads her into a perilous confrontation with the evil Loki.” I’d already been a big fan of sword & sorcery, so this blew my mind. This novel introduced me to the genre now known as urban fantasy. I wrote a fan letter to Diana Paxson. Much to my astonishment and joy, she replied with a kind and gracious note on stationery that featured a pen and ink drawing of Hildisvini, Frejya’s boar or “battle swine.”

Years later, after I’d begun to publish my own fantasy stories, I had the honor and the pleasure of appearing alongside Diana Paxson on panels at SF/F conventions.

Now, almost forty years after reading BRISINGAMEN, I’m proud to say my story To Reach For The Stars appears on the same Table of Contents with Fire Seed by Diana L. Paxson.

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Filed under Conventions, creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, legend, perspective, science fiction, Self-image, sword and sorcery, Writing

Staying The Course


by Lillian Csernica on February 14, 2023

Hello, folks. I hope you are all safe and well. I’ve been doing my best to keep on keeping on.

One of the biggest challenges a writer can face is the problem of chronic pain. Back in the days when I was younger and stronger, I was in a car accident that damaged my left knee. I can still walk, thank God, but time has taken its toll. My right knee has been taking up the slack ever since the accident. The result is Degenerative Joint Disorder in both knees.

Chronic pain is exhausting. It sucks away all energy and the power to concentrate. It makes sleep difficult and medication necessary. I know that my writing is different now than it was when I first began selling my work and seeing it published. That is so frustrating. If not for the pain, maybe I could write more and write better. Maybe I could endure the endless labor of online self-promotion more successfully. I am a mother of two boys, so what little time and energy I have to write is precious to me. Chronic pain robs me of that.

And yet…. The need to write continues. The desire to publish continues. Compulsive behavior? Maybe, but for me it’s a good thing. On the bad days when I just don’t have it in me to do the work, I ask myself, “How bad do you want this?” Days go by so fast now, running into months and years. There is no “later.” There is no “tomorrow.” If I don’t get something done right now, today, when will I get it done? It’s so hard. When I can’t stand up, when I can’t walk across the room, it seems impossible.

That’s when doing it matters the most.

Yes, there are times when I cut myself some slack and accomplish whatever I can actually manage to do that day. There are times when I look at my To Do list and just start laughing. As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I interpret that statement not as knowing what you can’t do, but knowing how much or how little you can do on that particular day. It’s the habit of making the effort that matters. If I don’t bother to make the effort, it gets easier and easier to just leave the work for some other day.

Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” That sums it up. The labor of writing feels dreadful, but the satisfaction of knowing you did the work is immense. My favorite unit of writing is a twenty minute free write. Keep that pen moving. Just get the words down. The great part about free writes is the way I can just keep plowing forward, and not stop to think until the timer goes off. Then I get to bask in the pleasure of having written.

In the past week I sent three short stories out to market. Write, edit, submit. Rinse and repeat. Yes, my body aches and my mind get worn out, but I won’t give up. Each moment of success adds to all the ones that have come before it.

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Filed under creativity, Depression, doctors, editing, Family, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, publication, Self-image, Small business, therapy, Writing

#nanoprep What If? What Next?


by Lillian Csernica on October 7, 2022

When I set out to write The Wheel of Misfortune (Best Indie Speculative Fiction, Volume One), I asked myself what if one of the spirits of Japanese folklore who punish the wicked came after Dr. Harrington? How could the hero of my Kyoto Steampunk series possibly be wicked? This was a great opportunity to explore the early days of Dr. Harrington’s career as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. A serious error in judgment comes back to haunt Dr. Harrington ten years later in the form of the wanyudo, the Soul Eater.

Some people think plotting your story before writing it takes all the spontaneity and adventure out of the process. I disagree. I need at least some idea of where I want to go, if only for that day’s writing. I need a target to focus my aim and build momentum. There’s still a whole lot of adventure to be had just getting from one end to the other in a single scene.

When I began writing fiction, the how-to book that gave me the best advice suggested completing a first draft, then literally cutting apart and pasting together chunks of text. That seems ridiculous now in the age of Scrivener and Evernote. I’m a hands-on kind of person. Crafting provides me with much-needed occupational therapy. This tendency has led me to rely on scene cards for building plots for my longer projects.

Time This can be the century, the year, the season, the hour, whatever you need.

Place Where does this scene occur? You can be as general as galaxy or as specific as a patch of sand on the beach.

Point Of View (POV) Which character’s head is the reader inside? Change of time and/or place requires a scene break. The same is true for a change of POV.

Goal What does the POV want to accomplish during this scene? This can also be whatever the POV wants to avoid doing.

Opposition What prevents the POV from achieving the scene goal? Another character? A natural disaster?

Inciting Incident This is also referred to as the Problem Situation, the change in the POV’s life that sets the story in motion.

Resolution How does the scene end? Is the goal achieved?

Disaster This is one word for the end of scene hook, the twist that raises the stakes and heightens tension and suspense. This is what will keep your reader turning pages.

I find using 4 x 6 notecards gives me the most flexibility when it comes to lining up scenes in different ways. Wondering where to put that exposition? Trying to figure out where a flashback won’t ruin your pace? Scene cards are your friend. Scrivener provides something similar, but I can tolerate only so much screen time. Notecards don’t put you at risk for the dangers of digital eyestrain.

It’s OK if you can’t fill in all the info on every card right away. Story ideas evolve. That’s part of the fun, and another big advantage of scene cards. You can create several variations on the same scene card. Play around with the possibilities. Be sure to keep the cards you don’t use. You never know when those ideas might come in handy!

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Filed under creativity, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, legend, research, steampunk, Writing

#nanoprep Where Do I Start?


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2022

#NaNoWriMo2022 is coming. 50,000 words in just thirty days. I am an eight year veteran of NaNoWriMo, and I still find the prospect of writing 1,667 words a day quite intimidating. I have number of works-in-progress underway, but this year I choose to start a new novel project. Where do I start?

For me it’s all about the characters. I have written plot-driven stories. (As a matter of fact, I found out just yesterday my latest plot-driven short story has been accepted by an anthology!) When I start a story, I tend to start in the middle of an argument between one main character and the antagonist or a minor character who gets chewed up and spat out. Open with conflict. Show the reader why the main character’s life has just been drastically complicated by the problem situation.

“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘DON’T THINK!’” Ray Bradbury

They key to writing from the heart of your character is to know what that character wants. Sometimes it’s more useful to know what the character does not want. People tend to make more of an effort to avoid something that will cause them pain, whether physical or emotional.

What’s ironic about this is how struggle makes a good story. The survival instinct might compel your main character to avoid what hurts. That’s sensible, but it makes boring reading. Throw your characters into the deep end and make them figure out how to swim. Characters have to learn something in the course of their character arcs. They have to change. If the main character is still the same person at the end of the story, that can be done to good effect, but most readers want to see that character fight hard, fight smart, risk everything, and win. That creates a satisfying reading experience.

Think of your character as a piece of iron hot from the forge. You put that red hot iron on the anvil and you beat on it until it takes on the shape of the tool you need. A wrought iron candle holder. A horseshoe. A sword. Beat on that character. Raise the stakes. Make it hurt. Heat and pressure will turn a lump of molten metal into a work of art.

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Filed under creativity, editing, Fiction, Goals, memoirs, publication, research, romance, science fiction, steampunk, Writing

BayCon 2022 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on June 15, 2022

I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing in person at BayCon 2022! It’s been a long three years. I can’t wait to participate in these panels. BayCon has some really exciting programming this year!

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Discover Your Process

1 Jul 2022, Friday 14:30 – 16:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

You have ideas. You want to get them out of your mind and into the physical world. How do you do that? Join the panel as they discuss how they came to understand their creative processes.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Steven Barnes, M. Todd Gallowglas (Gallowglas Army) (M), Scott Bradley

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Autism/Gender States

1 Jul 2022, Friday 16:00 – 17:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

New work suggests there’s a correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transgender/Nonbinary flavors of gender. But correlation is not causation. So is a link? And it now looks like female autistics are massively underdiagnosed, so what does that mean for nonbinary folks who may need help with ‘subclinical’ ASD issues? What about ADHD? Is there another link there that’s been overlooked?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen (M), John Blaker

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Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader

2 Jul 2022, Saturday 10:00 – 11:30, Connect 5 (San Mateo Marriott)

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

Rebecca Inch-Partridge (M), Emerian Rich (Self and HorrorAddicts), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

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Experiencing pestilence, war, and other significant trauma affects our lives in multiple ways.

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 10:00 – 11:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

How does it affect what we write? Can harnessing personal sorrow and stress help us write closer to our main characters?

Matt Maxwell (Highway 62 Press), Laurel Anne Hill (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Scott Bradley

Handicapped Parking

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 11:30 – 13:00, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

From the invalid chair to the mobile exoskeleton, people have needed mobility devices to replace abilities lost to birth defects, disease, accidents and war.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Gideon Marcus (Galactic Journey), Colin Fisk

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

4 Jul 2022, Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

Exotic locales challenge writers to get readers up to speed while keeping the story going. What weird settings have our panelists used and how did they solve the problem—well enough for the editor to buy, anyway.

Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), C. Sanford Lowe (C Sanford Lowe) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

Come find me at BayCon and get a sticker for your badge!

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Filed under autism, Conventions, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, publication, research, science fiction, Special needs, steampunk, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

All Things Small and Thirsty


by Lillian Csernica on June 11, 2022

I live in northern California. We’re ten days away from the Summer Solstice. Temperatures are going up. Today the sun blazed down on us and the mercury rose into the ’90s. As human beings we can drink and drink and cope with the risk of dehydration. Animals and birds may not be so lucky. This is all the more true for those poor creatures displaced by wildfires. This is true for all creatures great and small who have to cope with the consequences of climate change.

What to do? The problem is huge, but the solution is simple. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” Here’s what I did.

These are water bowls for pets, available at Dollar Tree. I put two out by the driveway for the birds and squirrels I see out there.

Out back the big flat rock makes and excellent bird table. Same pet dish, different color. I was delighted to observe a squirrel drinking out of this dish.

I get wild turkeys coming through the yard now and then. Seeing one turkey on its own is a bit unusual. Finding food and water the turkey could eat without a lot of effort on a really hot day was a mercy the poor creature needed.

This is my favorite squirrel. We spend some quality time together every day in the late afternoon when I sit on my back step and toss unshelled peanuts to this delightful critter and three or four friends. The squirrel will come down the tree and sit about six feet from the step where I sit. I count “One, two, three!” and toss a peanut. The squirrel snatches it up, nibbles it to bits, and then sits up with its paws ready for the next one. By that time of day the sun has gone behind the ridge, the cool breeze has come, and all is right in my world.

Please, consider putting out water for the animals and birds in your area. If we all do something, no matter how small, to help take care of each other, we can make a difference and help our world heal.

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Gathering My Thoughts


by Lillian Csernica on May 17, 2022

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I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.

Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.

I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!

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Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, publication, research, steampunk, therapy, Writing

Z is for Zzzzzz


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2022

Hi, folks.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these adventures from my strange and busy life.

I want to thank everybody who has been kind enough to drop by, to leave a comment, to post a link that took me to some great blogs. I had to miss out on the Challenge for a couple of years. I am so glad to be back. The A to Z Blog Challenge rocks!

I write these posts late at night. Now I’m going to put on my fuzzy pajamas, curl up under the covers, and get some sleep.

Be well!

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V is for Verisimilitude


by Lillian Csernica on April 26, 2022

“Aside from being fun to say, verisimilitude (pronounced ‘VAIR-ih-sih-MILL-ih-tude’) simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality.’ A work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems realistic.” — literaryterms.net

And now for another story from the days when I worked the Northern Renaissance Faire. My husband and I both worked for the fencing booth which was done up like a pirate ship privateer vessel. The booth was quite popular. At any given time we’d have at least six students out “on deck” receiving their half hour fencing lessons from members of our crew. Out front there was a seating area with hay bales where guests could sit in the shade of our “sails” and watch competition-level fencers have bouts on the stage/strip. A crow’s nest rose high above the audience where one of the hawkers or even the Captain himself might stand.

The crow’s nest plays a key role in this story. Every morning our day began with Roll Call. Depending on how big a crowd had already gathered, the person up in the crow’s nest might be the First Mate or one of the other officers. Roll Call was a lot of fun. The audience got to see us all called on by our Faire names and replying in character. On this particular day the fellow calling roll was one of the hawkers, a man with a gift for jokes and word play. Somebody had the bright idea of turning the tables on him. The idea was passed around among the crew. Instead of the usual “Aye aye!” or “I be ‘ere, sir!’ or “Shut yer gob, ye sniveling mumblecrust!”, we replied with a bit more creativity and respect.

“Aye aye, Yer Vastness!”

“Right ‘ere, Your Garrulity!”

“Present, Yer Delightfulness!

“Right you are, Your Splendor!

The hawker up in the crow’s nest kept snorting and chuckling and trying to get a grip. We had a good two dozen people on crew, so Roll Call took a little time. y turn came.

“Mistress Andalyn Fortune!”

I took a deep breath, readied my best projection, and stepped forward.

“At your service, Your Verisimilitude!”

That one did it. The hawker burst out laughing, dropped his clip board, crossed hid arms on the railing of the crow’s nest, and rested his forehead on his arms.

It was fun playing a pirate. People expected you to steal the show.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, cosplay, creativity, Family, history, Humor, memoirs, pirates, tall ships, travel

U is for Useful


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2022

In Writing Open the Mind, author Andy Couturier describes how asymmetry can help the reader participate in our writing, creating a fresh and dynamic experience. “Since each combination of these dissimilar parts suggests its own meaning, its own interest and power, asymmetry in visual art or in writing encourages participation by the viewer or reader in the fertile process of creation. In a sense, writing asymmetrically is generous, because it gives the reader many different ways to understand, instead of insisting on one, that is only our own.”

I keep all the fortunes I get from fortune cookies. My friends and family know I do this, so they tend to give me theirs as well. Over the years I’ve collected at least two glass jars full of fortunes. I decided to experiment with “writing asymmetrically” by pulling out a dozen fortunes and setting them aside without reading them. I wrote out twelve questions, just going with whatever popped into mind, then printed out that page. I cut up the questions into twelve strips of paper and mixed them up, setting them aside face down in one pile beside the fortunes already waiting in the other pile. I chose a question and typed it in, then chose an answer and typed that below the question. The results can be used for writing prompts, scene dialogue, a personal journal entry, etc.

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Q: What makes life worth living?

A: A goal is a dream with a deadline.

(Sound advice. Failing to plan is planning to fail.)

Q: Who knows the secret of eternal youth?

A: You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.

(Why does this make me think of Las Vegas or Palm Springs?)

Q: What advice would you give to your granddaughter?

A: Look closely at your surroundings.

(Furniture? Objet d’art? Choosing the most worthy granddaughter?)

Q: How do you solve the problem of time travel?

A: Good fortune is always on your side.

(So you’ll have a good time wherever you go!)

Q: Where can you find true Paradise on earth?

A: You are always welcome in any gathering.

(Makes sense.)

Q: What did the monkey say to the banana?

A: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.

(I’m guessing the monkey dreams about really big bananas.)

Q: How do you bring a smile to the sourest face?

A: You must learn to broaden your horizons, day by day.

(Some people bring happiness by arriving, others by departing.)

Q: I’ve lost my car keys and I have no money. Now what?

A: You are a lover of words.

(Talk your way out of that one!)

Q: How does one restore lost innocence?

A: An unexpected payment is coming your way.

(If money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can’t restore lost innocence!)

Q: Why are word problems always so confusing?

A: Laughter shall fuel your spirit’s engine.

(My teacher tended to laugh at a lot of my answers, that’s for sure.)

Q: Why are we told there are always more fish in the sea?

A: Little brooks make great rivers.

(This pairing was an accident, I swear.)

Q: What do you get if you cross a rhino with a stapler?

A: Follow your instincts when making decisions.

(First, don’t cross a rhino. Second, don’t do it with a stapler!)

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