Category Archives: creativity

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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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, creativity, dreams, Goals, memoirs, Writing

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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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, creativity, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, homework, Humor, memoirs, research, Writing

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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G is for Grandma


FAMILY GARDENS, FAMILY TREES

“To be one woman, truly, wholly, is to be all women. Tend one garden and you will birth worlds.”

–Kate Braverman

Springtime with its new growth of plants and flowers always makes me think of my maternal grandmother’s flower garden. They say inherited traits skip a generation. That means we’re more like our grandparents than our parents. This is certainly true of me and both of my grandmothers.

My maternal grandmother lived large in a time when that just wasn’t done. Her role model was her own mother, my great-grandmother. Back in the ’30s Nana had gotten a divorce then opened her own modeling agency, two actions way beyond the social norm for women of her time. Nana raised my grandmother in that environment of independence and determination. Grandma became a fashion model. The natural companion for a model is a photographer, right? My grandfather was a professional photographer who later earned a Masters in Cinematography from USC and worked for Universal Studios. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma which show her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.

Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and social events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Grandma’s column appeared regularly in the paper, but one day she got her photo in a Mexican newspaper as well. On a trip to Enseñada Grandma donned the traditional traje de luces of the bullfighter, complete with hat and cloak, and fought a bull right there in the bullring. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the Grandma who went through the world with high spirits and a fearless heart.

When I think of Grandma’s house, I think of the garden out in the backyard. It might have been the Hall of Flowers at the county fair or the sales floor of an upscale nursery. When I was three years old, we lived with Grandma for a short time. At that age I got into everything, and that included the garden. The roses looked good enough to eat, in sugary pinks, deep golden yellows, and reds even darker than Grandma’s lipstick. Their scents mingled with the delicate fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine and the down-home sweetness of the honeysuckle vines. On hot summer days I liked to sit out there and just breathe.

A lot more grew in Grandma’s garden than just flowers. The towering tree with drooping branches blossomed with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. New and strange, it made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. The raspberry bramble was a dangerous place for little hands and little tummies. The best berries were always deep in the bramble where the birds couldn’t eat them. I had to stick my hand way in there past all the thorns and spiderwebs and bugs. One day my cousin Kevin ate a bunch of berries before they were ripe. His stomach ache taught me the importance of patience, and of letting him go first!

The garden remains a symbol for all of Grandma’s quirks and strengths. What my childhood self remembers the woman I am now can interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. Some places in her house and in her life little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.

My father’s mother had a much different style. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She lived through the Depression and both World Wars. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (a ponytail halfway down his back). At eighty-four this Grandma was still going strong and objected strongly to the law taking away her driver’s license.

Grandma lived at the same address throughout my entire life, a trailer park in Ohio. When I think of her garden, I think of the little field beside her trailer, a shaggy patch of weeds and blackberry vines, dandelions and wildflowers, lizards and birds and bumblebees as big as my little kid thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understands the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that was my Grandma.

As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From my mother’s mother come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From my father’s mother come my cooking skills, my love of board games, and my contentment with less than perfect housekeeping.

From both my grandmothers I’ve inherited the need to locate and preserve photos of every generation of the family back as far as I can find. I want my two sons to at least see the relatives they won’t have the opportunity to meet. These photos have become a garden of memories, one that will show my boys and their children the rootstock that we come from, the sturdy vines and delicate blossoms, the everyday ferns and the hothouse roses. I hope that all the babies yet to come will one day know they are the latest buds to blossom in a garden tended with love.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, creativity, Family, family tradition, Food, history, love, marriage, memoirs, mother, nature, parenting, publication, Small business, travel, Writing

Smashwords: Authors Give Back!


by Lillian Csernica on March 22, 2020

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Wash hands. Stay home. Keep busy. Stay healthy. If you need something to take your mind off too much reality, have I got an offer for you!

I am participating in the big Smashwords event, Authors Give Back.

Have you ever wanted to write a scary story? Learn how to make a monster?

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Get your copy now! Discount code KH94T

 

star-line-divider-vector-design-footer-modern-border-star-line-divider-vector-design-footer-modern-border-104457293Worldbuilding is essential for crafting a strong fantasy story, whether it’s writing a novel or creating a RPG. This tool kit can be yours!

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Make those dreams come true! Discount code XT43T

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Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, publication, research, romance, science fiction, steampunk, sword and sorcery, Writing

#nanoprep Why Writing Buddies Are So Important


by Lillian Csernica on September 25, 2019

 

Writing is lonely work. We sit there and spend a big chunk of time with no company other than our imaginary friends. National Novel Writing Month is 30 solid days of writing, roughly 7 pages a day, all the way to 200 pages or 50,000 words.

That’s a long haul, even longer when you’re all by yourself.

I have written four novels during my years participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you more than once my Writing Buddies were the reason I made it all the way to the daily quota. I know how hard this is. Nobody understands a writer as well as other writers do.

On the NaNoWriMo site you can have official Writing Buddies. This is a great way to make new friends, meet new writers, and expand your network or, if you prefer, your tribe. It’s a wonderful feeling to log on, update my word total and seeing messages from my Writing Buddies in my NaNo mail. I cheer them on, they cheer me on, and we all race together toward the finish line.

A key element of #nanoprep is finding yourself some Writing Buddies. Here’s why:

Accountability — Stern word, right? It’s been proven that we will work harder to live up to other people’s expectations than we will just for our own good. When I know my Writing Buddies are waiting to see me post my daily word count, I can push past the excuses and avoidance behavior and the other self-defeating behaviors. That’s because having Writing Buddies creates a strong sense of community.

Comfort — Knowing that we are not alone does a lot to improve morale and keep us going in stressful circumstances. During NaNoWriMo I encourage the participants in my region to remember we’re all here to lift each other up and keep our writing spirits strong. During NaNoWriMo we strive to achieve our own goals, challenging ourselves to stretch a little bit farther each day.

Feedback — Comments from our fellow writers don’t have to come in the form of a critique. Some days we might get stuck. Other days we might get overrun by a herd of plot bunnies. In the forums on the NaNoWriMo site, writers of like mind and similar genres can look for the help they need. We can reach out to our Writing Buddies for comments and support.

Play — Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days sounds like hard work. It most certainly is. It can also be a whole lot of fun. Go to the Kick-Off Party. Go to the write-ins. Go to the Thank God It’s Over Party. Being part of an online community is great. Meeting fellow writers brought together by the courage to take on NaNoWriMo is even better. The joy of shared laughter will do a lot to recharge your writing batteries.

When all else fails, remember, caffeine is always there for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under creativity, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, romance, science fiction, steampunk, worry, Writing

#nanoprep How to Choose Your Project


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2019

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I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.

National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.

Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.

For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been  total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.

Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?

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I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.

I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.

And so the new stories begin to grow!

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Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.

What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, research, steampunk, Writing

How Do You #nanoprep?


by Lillian Csernica on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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November is coming. That means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo!

This year is the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo. Twenty years of hot ideas, hard work, and tanker trucks full of coffee! If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a novel, or you really need group support to get you through that first draft, then NaNoWriMo is waiting for you.

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“Where do I start?” That is the question I hear most often from people who really want to write but don’t know what to do first. The answer is simple: Find what gets you most excited about your project. Is it the main character? Is it the dialogue? Is it the glorious victory of the Good Guys stomping the Bad Guys into the dirt? Whatever gets you all fired up, that’s the key to Writing Every Single Day.

Here’s how I do my #nanoprep:

Pick an idea. For me this means choosing a genre, a time period, and the major location.

  •  Write down a bunch of details about my main character.
  • Do the same for my villain.
  • Brainstorm a rough plot outline.
  • Keep making notes as the ideas start crossbreeding with every new detail I imagine. I try to keep organized from the very beginning. Index cards, Scrivener, a spiral notebook, whatever works. The important thing is to get all those details recorded hot and fresh without thinking too much.

If you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, you need to create a lot of the basic information about plot, character, and setting. I liken this part of the writing process to the way a sculptor begins a new piece. First you have to get your hands on some clay, right? Once you have the clay, then you can start shaping it into a story. Brainstorming all those details is how writers create the clay from which we shape our stories.

If you’re starting with a work-in-progress, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. I suggest you come up with a specific goal you want to achieve during NaNoWriMo. Some examples:

  • Finish your draft
  • Flesh out the relationship(s) between the main character and the sidekick, the love interest, the mentor, or the villain. Depending on the type of story you’re after, you can have the main character working on a better understanding of that person’s own mind and motivations. Do be careful to dramatize what happens. Pages of interior monologue are fine when you’re working out the details of an idea. Too much of that can kill your pace and leave your reader hungry for real action.
  • Familiarize yourself with your setting and test the dramatic possibilities of some key locations. If you’re using a well-known setting such as Paris or London, make sure you get the details right.

Remember, no first draft comes out letter perfect. The first draft is where you get to play around, chase ideas up blind allies, start a character off with one motivation and see where that takes you. This is where you get to find out which ideas fit together and which ones tend to muddle up the story.

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Give yourself permission to write badly at first. That doesn’t mean your writing will be bad. It just means you take the pressure off of yourself so you can just enjoy the act of writing. All that really matters during NaNoWriMo is that you WRITE. Just do it. Just get the daily word quota out of your head and onto the paper, screen, bedroom wall, whatever. Just WRITE.

Watch for more tips on getting ready for National Novel Writing Month!

nanowrimo

 

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, research, science fiction, steampunk, Writing