Category Archives: creativity

#atozchallenge: N is for Netsuke


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2018

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In the Tokugawa period, yokai became very popular in ink paintings, woodblock prints, and carvings, especially the small and useful carvings known as netsuke. They were the must-have fashion accessory, so to speak.

A netsuke will play an important role in one of Dr. Harrington’s upcoming adventures. Given that he keeps attracting the attention of the gods and monsters of Japan, it seems reasonable to expect the netsuke to be carved in the shape of something supernatural.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

From the seventeenth through mid-nineteenth centuries, Japanese citizens of all classes wore the kimono—a simple T-shaped robe constructed with minimal cutting and tailoring—wrapped around the body and held in place with an obi sash. In order to carry small items such as tobacco, medicine, and seals, ingeniously constructed sagemono (a collective term for “hanging things”) were suspended on cords that hung from the obi sash (29.100.841). Stacked, nested containers, known as inrô, were specifically designed to hold medicine or seals (10.211.2081). Netsuke served as anchors or counterweights for inrô and sagemono (14.40.843a,b). A single cord was threaded through a cord channel on one side of the suspended container, through two holes (himotoshi) in the netsuke, then through the other side of the container, and knotted on the underside of the container (JP1954). A decorative bead, or ojime, slid along the cord between the netsuke and sagemono, allowing the user to open and close the container (14.40.878a,b).

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Drawing of a man wearing an inro suspended with the help of a netsuke and held together with an ojime. (Wikipedia.com)

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Netsuke are made from a dazzling variety of materials.

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A skeleton beating on a fish drum. Made from narwhal tusk. (pinterest.com)

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Two of the most commonly used materials for netsuke were ivory and wood, with boxwood favored for its fine grain and durability. About 80 percent of surviving antique netsuke were carved in various types of native Japanese wood—cypress, cherry, black persimmon, yew, camphor, zelkova, and camellia. Elephant tusk ivory was one of the most popular materials for netsuke carvers for centuries (10.211.1444). With the enactment of international trade restrictions on elephant ivory in 1989, however, netsuke carvers turned to other sources, including fossilized mammoth and walrus tusks. Extant eighteenth- and nineteenth-century netsuke made of or inlaid with coral, shells, metals, ebony, porcelain (91.1.213), cloisonné,mother-of-pearl, and various nuts attest to the skilled carvers’ ingenuity in conveying the plasticity of these materials, despite their hardness and resistance to wear (10.211.780).

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A fox spirit pretending to be a priest. Made of wood. (pinterest.com)

 

The nure-onna, a monster with the head of a woman and the body of a snake. This one has a monkey on her back.

35mm original

Pumpkin, 19th Century, Hirado ware. Porcelain with blue glaze.

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#atozchallenge: M is for Madelaine


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2018

Madelaine Victoria Harrington is Dr. Harrington’s nine year old daughter. She is his only child and his first priority in life. The fever that renders her critically ill is the crisis that sets in motion the first story, In the Midnight Hour (Twelve Hours Later).

Madelaine is a genius. She gets on well with everyone, making friends quickly among the Japanese staff at Dr. Harrington’s Kyoto residence. Madelaine is keen to understand the mechanics of everything, including the social etiquette so important to Victorian England. Her open mind and intense curiosity serve her well in learning about Japan.

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She picks up languages quickly, which is essential when she begins studying the mythology and folklore of Japan. Her studies go a long way toward helping Dr. Harrington deal with the challenges he faces in each story.

Madelaine does a number of things that just happen while I’m writing. I had no idea she and the Abbot would develop such a close friendship. The Abbot loves children and Madelaine loves intelligent conversation, so they suit each other. There’s more to it, though. They both have a unique understanding of the supernatural. The respect goes both ways.

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Then there’s the clockwork dragon in Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later). I knew Madelaine was up to something, but I didn’t find out until her mother Constance discovered the secret project. I did have to work out the interior mechanics of the dragon. Fortunately, my husband is an engineer.

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#atozchallenge: I is for Ink


by Lillian Csernica on April 10, 2018

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Ink, like tea and rice, is an essential part of Japanese culture.

In Pictures from the Water Trade, John David Morely writes a chapter devoted to shodo, or the art of calligraphy. The passion and the poetry of his writing make his account of his lessons in calligraphy a rare adventure. Of all the books I’ve read on a foreigner’s experiences in Japan, and I’m well into double digits, this book remains a favorite.

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The Abbot of Kiyomizudera creates ofuda to protect Dr. Harrington from the dangers he faces. Ofuda are Sanskrit sutras written on parchment using a calligraphy brush and traditional ink. The preparation of the ink alone is fascinating.

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From Wikipedia:

In ink wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind inkstick over an inkstone to obtain black ink, but prepared liquid inks (墨汁 in Japanese, bokuju) are also available. Most inksticks are made of soot from pine or oil combined with animal glue. An artist puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared liquid inks vary in viscosity, solubility, concentration, etc., but are in general more suitable for practicing Chinese calligraphy than executing paintings.[4] Inksticks themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.

On Putting on Airs (Thirty Days Later), the Abbot provides Dr. Harrington with an ofuda to put on his front gate. Nothing supernatural with malignant intent can enter through that gateway. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), a yokai of considerably greater power and menace is hunting Dr. Harrington through Kyoto’s nighttime streets. This requires an ofuda to be carried by Dr. Harrington at all times!

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#atozchallenge: H is for Hokusai and Hiroshige


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2018

 

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“The Lantern Ghost”

HOKUSAI KATSUSHIKA

There is so much to know about Hokusai, about the various periods of his work and the wide scope of subject matter. Best known for his iconic drawing of The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, Hokusai’s work encompassed both the natural and the supernatural. He even drew shunga, or erotic art, most notably The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.

Fun fact: Shunga was enjoyed by both men and women of all classes. Superstitions and customs surrounding shunga suggest as much; in the same way that it was considered a lucky charm against death for a samurai to carry shunga, it was considered a protection against fire in merchant warehouses and the home. (Wikipedia)

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“The Maple Trees”

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE

From Wikipedia:

Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese: 歌川 広重), also Andō Hiroshige (Japanese: 安藤 広重; 1797 – 12 October 1858), was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, considered the last great master of that tradition.

Hiroshige is best known for his landscapes, such as the series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō; and for his depictions of birds and flowers. The subjects of his work were atypical of the ukiyo-e genre, whose typical focus was on beautiful women, popular actors, and other scenes of the urban pleasure districts of Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868). The popular Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series by Hokusai was a strong influence on Hiroshige’s choice of subject, though Hiroshige’s approach was more poetic and ambient than Hokusai’s bolder, more formal prints.

These two masters of their arts provide me with considerable inspiration. The landscapes of Japan and the eerie images of yokai fire my imagination and take me away to that place where my stories are born.

When I make appearances at conventions, I bring along bookmarks I make by hand which include the URL for this blog. Thanks to the folks at Dover Publications, I’m able to create bookmarks for the Kyoto Steampunk series featuring the works of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and a few of their contemporaries. Be sure to get yours!

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Experience the Wonders of Clockwork Alchemy!


by Lillian Csernica on March 23, 2018

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Join us at the Hyatt Burlingame for a weekend of science, fiction, science fiction, cosplay, music, airship races and more!

Here’s the list of Programming events where you can find me:

Friday, 3 to 4 p.m. Creating Magic Systems for Fantasy

Saturday, 5 to 6 p.m. Steam-y Storytelling: Five Pros Improvise!

Sunday, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. How Steam Changed Japan

Sunday, 2 p.m. Reading “The Wheel of Misfortune”

You can also find me at my table in Author’s Alley where I will have copies of the Clockwork Alchemy anthologies for sale.

My dear son John is coming along, outfitted in his steampunk best. If you see us out there in the halls or event rooms, be sure to say hello!

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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: Media Training with Sally G. Cronin


From Lillian: Sally G. Cronin is a wonderful writer and a role model for all of us who want to be successful in the Digital Age. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your expertise!

 

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via Smorgasbord Media Training for Authors FREE Pdf

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99 Cent Sale! The Fright Factory!


by Lillian Csernica on February 1, 2018

Welcome to Women in Horror Month!

To celebrate, I am offering The Fright Factory for just 99 cents.

Learn the fine art of suspense, how to make monsters, and more! The techniques I explain are the very ones that helped me write and sell the stories available here:

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It’s a great way to celebrate

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The Three Ways to Tell A Story


by Lillian Csernica on January 29, 2018

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Lots of people are writing these days. Lots of people have stories to tell, whether fictional or autobiographical or somewhere in between. Sometimes the story is so clear and strong it almost writes itself.

Then there are the many other times when writers have to figure out what to do with their ideas, characters, plot twists, etc. What is the BEST way to tell the story? Outline first, or just dive in? Build the plot, or hang out with the characters?

There is plenty of advice out there on what to do and how to do it. It all boils down to these three approaches.

The way the writer wants to tell it.

When I first wrote The Heart of a Diamond (Literal Illusion, Digital Fiction Publishing), I told it from the POV of Princess Tavia. At the time I thought she was the character who had the most to lose. As the story progressed, I discovered the hero really did have a lot more to lose. So I rewrote the entire story from Prince Khestri’s POV. Same events. Most of the same dialogue. The ending turned out to be the same Big Picture event with the adjustment of some key details. It’s a much better story with richer magical elements, greater tension, and a more effective climax.

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Classic story structure.

These days many writers identify themselves as being plotters or pantsers. Always being one to defy easy categorization, I’m what they call a “plantser.” I will rough out some general notes about the part of the story I either know the most about, feel most strongly about, or both. Then I’ll plunge in. I confess I am a big fan of classic story structure, mapped out most clearly in Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. If you haven’t read The Hero With A Thousand Faces, rush right out and get yourself a copy.

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How the main characters changes in the course of trying to achieve the story goal is the essence of the story and its meaning. It’s been my experience that following the tenets of classic story structure ensures high stakes, rising action, and the suspense that makes a good story worth reading.

The way the story itself wants to be told.

Most writers have at least one anecdote about how one or more characters took off in another direction, dragging the story into unsuspected twists and turns. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Other times it can be terribly confusing. This is where all the advice about having an “Anything goes!” attitude toward the first draft makes life easier. No limits. Play around. Listen to your characters talking to you and talking to each other. We might know what we want to say, but the story may be bigger than that small piece of meaning.

Just the other day I pulled an old short story out of  my files. I had sold it and even made some money from it. Still intrigued by the central idea, I started to tinker with it. One thing led to another, the characters mutated on me, and now it looks like the original story turned itself inside out and the three main characters all changed gender and nationality and the stakes are a whole lot higher. Wow!

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How to Make Room for Fresh Ideas


by Lillian Csernica on January 4, 2018

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Courtesy of Debby Young

A New Year. A fresh start. We’ve got the laptop or writing journal ready, we’ve got our favorite source of caffeine to hand, and we’re ready to write.

Hello, blank page. The cursor blinks at us like a tapping foot, impatiently awaiting some outpouring of brilliant ideas. That’s when the trouble starts.

  • Anxiety
  • Self-doubt
  • Imposter Syndrome
  • The Inner Editor
  • All those other racing thoughts about everything else we should be doing right then.

Did you know that such thoughts can have their starting point outside our minds just as easily as inside? One of the principles of feng shui says clutter inhibits the free flow of energy. Stagnant energy interferes with a lot of activities, especially communication. What is writing if not communication?

I don’t have many writing rituals, but I do need clear space to spread out my notes, manuscript, laptop, pens, and whatever else I need for that writing session. This is why I go to the library a lot. There I can find nice long tables with plenty of space.

Want to do more and better writing this year? Clear out your space. We must make room in our lives for the fresh, new ideas by removing the physical items that jam up our minds with old negative energy and thought patterns. Open up your writing space, clear out the clutter that is damming up the free flow of energy, and you will see immediate results.

In the spirit of solidarity, I will show you exactly what I have to deal with, and how urgent the need really is.

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Books Yes, I have too many books. More precisely, I have too many books for the amount of space in my office. This has resulted in cardboard boxes of books taking up floor space. Not good. I have to prioritize the books according to what I need for my current novel, what I need for reference, and what I need for recharging my word batteries by reading for pleasure.

Notebooks Piles of notebooks sit here and there in my office. Some are writing journals in that I’ve written scenes, outlines, and notes in them. Others are the more classic writer’s journal full of ideas, character sketches, lists, and critique notes. What I have to do here is go through and see which whole notebooks are worth keeping and which ones need to have a few key pages torn out and filed where they belong.

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Stuff I’ve let a fair amount of miscellaneous stuff collect in my office for one simple reason. I have a bad habit of not putting things away. Clothes, reusable shopping bags, jewelry making supplies, and my amazing collection of tote bags filled with who knows what. Time to take a bite out of that mess by devoting 15 or 30 minutes at a go until all of it has been cleared up and cleaned out!

For more specific suggestions on how to do this, I recommend reading:

9 Clutter Clearing Tips for Good Feng Shui

Four Life Changing New Year’s Lessons for Writers

How to Kick Your Clutter Habit and Live in a Clean House Once and For All

How to De-Clutter Your Mind and Become a More Productive Writer

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