Category Archives: creativity

#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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#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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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!

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Resting In Peace


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2019

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On Friday we held the memorial service for my mother at Pacific Gardens Chapel. More than a dozen people attended. Given the perils of weekend traffic during a Santa Cruz summer,  I was grateful to see so  many friends of our family make the effort to honor Mom’s memory.  This was in addition to the presence of my brother, whom I have not seen since my wedding 31 years ago this month.

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More family and friends sent flowers, among them white roses with blue hydrangea, a basket of roses the red of garnets, and one of those big sprays of spider mums and daisies and greenery. The flowers made the chapel even more beautiful, all of it centering on a photo of Mom taken from the days when she worked in music videos and as an extra in movies and TV. That photo, a cheerful headshot, let us mourners remember my mother as the person she was, the lively personality inside that body so weakened by illness.

My brother spoke about Mom making the most of every little thing they had when my brother was growing up. My husband talked about how many ways Mom expressed her creativity, through art and acting and singing and even stand-up comedy. I gave Mom credit for teaching me one of life’s most important lessons: Try everything! I’ve done my best to teach my boys do that so they don’t miss out on something they never knew they’d enjoy.

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These last few months of Mom’s life have been so hard. Now she’s in a better place, free of the body that kept breaking down and causing her so much pain. Mom can rest in peace, knowing how much we all loved her.

Yesterday I sat in my favorite coffeehouse and wrote for close to an hour. Then I switched notebooks and went on writing about something else entirely. I haven’t done that much writing in a single sitting in far too long.

It’s time for me to get some rest too, then go on living the life my mother encouraged me to live.

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BayCon 2019 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2019

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It’s that time of year again! As Memorial Day Weekend approaches, I’m packing up my copies of my latest anthology appearances, my panel notes, and my younger son with an eye to having a wonderful time at this year’s BayCon!

Here’s a list of my panel appearances. Hope to see you there!

Keeping our children involved.

25 May 2019, Saturday 10:00 – 11:30, Connect 3 (San Mateo Marriott)

How do we ENHANCE their education?

Dr. Wanda Kurtcu (Retired Educator) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Juliette Wade, Sarah Williams (Merrie Pryanksters)

 

How diverse is diversity?

25 May 2019, Saturday 14:30 – 16:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

As recent events show, this is still a needed discussion. What does diversity and equity look like? How can groups, organizations and communites promote “diversity”, especially when they are not organically positioned to be diverse? What things can be done to attract a more diverse community in whatever you do? (G. Castro)

Gregg Castro (Salinan T’rowt’raahl) (M), Dr. yvonne white (Hayward High School), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Jean Battiato

 

Why do writers kill characters?

25 May 2019, Saturday 16:00 – 17:30, Connect 5 (San Mateo Marriott)

Does it matter if it’s a main character or a secondary, supporting character?

Fred Wiehe (M), Ms. Jennifer L. Carson (Freelance), Rebecca Inch-Partridge, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

 

Altered Beast

26 May 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 11:30, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature

Kevin Andrew Murphy (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen

 

Spontaneous Story

26 May 2019, Sunday 11:30 – 13:00, Connect 3 (San Mateo Marriott)

Panelists developing a story developed by multiple choice suggestions from audience members.

Jeff Warwick (M), David Brin, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Mark Gelineau (Gelineau and King), Mrs. Sandra Saidak (Silicon Valley Authors)

 

The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

27 May 2019, Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

Dorothy Parker wrote “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” Being willing to do exactly that is what will bring the deepest meaning to our writing. How do we bring ourselves to be that honest and vulnerable in our stories?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), Ms. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Book View Cafe)

 

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#atozchallenge W is for Water


by Lillian Csernica on April 26, 2019

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I have a strange relationship with water.

When I was in first grade, if I came near a body of water larger than a puddle, I would fall in. Kiddie pools. Duck ponds. A bucket of water beside a neighbor’s half-washed car.

This is one big reason I learned to swim quite early in life.

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Fast forward to my senior year in high school. Anywhere I went, from a friend’s house to a public restaurant, if there was a vessel of water (vase, drinking glass, finger bowl)within ten feet of me, somebody would find a way to knock it over and I’d get soaked.

I never did the spilling. I did not touch the water until the water touched me. My family thought I was cursed. Seemed like a pretty feeble curse to me, but it just kept happening, too often to be mere coincidence.

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Mind you, all of that had to do with fresh water. I had no trouble at all at the beach, aside from being convinced there was a monster way down deep in the dark water that was just waiting to grab me and drag me under.

The technical term for this is thalassaphobia. I built an entire story around this condition by giving it to the main character in Dark Water.

At one point I wanted to become a marine biologist. Few things made me happier than starting my school day down at the beach with my science teacher, measuring the waves or looking for specimens in the wetlands. Unfortunately, at some point in any career involving on biology, one must dissect a cat. For me, that would be unbearable.

Water plays an important role in a number of my stories:

Ship of Dreams — the Caribbean

The Kyoto Steampunk stories — Japan is a volcanic archipelago

Cold Comfort — the seashore

Storm Warning — the Gateway Islands

Family Tides — the Gateway Islands

The Path of the Sun — the shore at sunset

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For my birthday one year my mother paid an astrologer to cast my natal chart. Turns out my Moon is in Pisces. I don’t pay much attention to astrology except when I’m creating characters. I did find this particular piece of information interesting. It seems people who have their Moon in Pisces are often creative, artistic, and might also have an addictive personality. Makes me wonder to what extent this might be true, and whether or not it has affected my writing.

 

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#atozchallenge M is for Mentor


by Lillian Csernica on April 15, 2019

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One of the best things a writer can do is find a mentor.

Writing is a lonely business. We have to isolate ourselves, otherwise we’d never get any writing done. When it’s time to emerge from that productive isolation, it helps to have a supportive community of other writers. What helps even more is having a someone who’s been there and done that, who is doing it right now, and can offer support and advice about the process.

Joining a writers group can be one way of building a community and perhaps even finding a mentor. I discuss the pros and cons of writers groups here.

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What can a writing mentor do for you?

Writing advice — The best way to find good guidance on how to improve your writing is to ask someone who has achieved at least some publishing success. Call me old-fashioned, but I respect the gatekeepers. Editors and publishers with established track records of professional success. Writers who have had fiction accepted by them have proven their level of skill. Both the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Romance Writers of America have mentor programs. If you’re writing in these genres, give them a look.

Professional etiquette — This can encompass everything from how to approach publishers and agents to coping with the perils of volunteering for a writers workshop. The experience and perspective of a good mentor can alert you to pitfalls and make sure you present your best polished professional demeanor.

Marketing tips — Writers who have a sales record will most likely acquire some familiarity with the tastes of the editors to whom they send their fiction. This familiarity arises in part from the submission process, but it can also be informed by face time at conventions. Getting the inside scoop on marketing trends is a wonderful thing.

Coping with rejection — There are three basic stages: form rejection, checklist rejection, personalized rejection. Given the speed of submission managers and email replies, the odds have gone up somewhat in terms of getting actual comments on submissions. That being said, it still takes experience to read such comments and understand their meaning. I was overjoyed the first time I got a rejection from Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine that included a comment about looking forward to seeing more stories from me.

Coping with success — This can be worse than rejection. Why? Because while success breeds success, it also breeds anxiety and pressure to perform. Not every idea will turn into a winner. It becomes a numbers game, which means a lot of hard work. In retail, I learned the 80 20 Rule, aka the Pareto Principle, which says 80% of your results will come from 20% of your activities. Having a mentor will help you learn how to spend your available writing time wisely.

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I is for Instinct


by Lillian Csernica on April 10, 2019

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Today let’s talk about our creative instincts.

A lot of the creative process takes place on the intuitive level. I sit there in the creative trance, groping for the right word, waiting for my mind to zoom through all the possibilities until the word that feels right arrives. That one I grab and write down. There are times when I have to go look something up, especially if I want the foreign language equivalent of that right word.

Sometimes we come to a fork in the road. Which project do I pursue now? There are several business factors that will influence that decision such as contractual obligations, marketing, and agent advice. Many times it will all boil down to that intuitive push.

I once stood at that creative crossroads, torn between a medieval romance and a contemporary romantic suspense. I chose the latter, which prompted me to track down a martial arts star purely for the purpose of finding out where to get some of his promotional photos. (I like to work from photos of real people who resemble my heroes and heroines.) That led to a phone conversation that resulted in two screenplays.

It’s essential to feed the mind a strong and varied diet. If you’re going to have a compost heap in your imagination, you have to build it up, aerate it, turn it over, and let the natural processes achieve the decomposition. Only then will you get the transformed substance that will help you grow those prize roses or melons.

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My latest short story release is The Badger Epidemic in Next Stop on the #13. The key elements in the story are badgers, cholera, and steam trains. What could badgers and cholera have in common that could possibly bring them together in the context of Japan’s Industrial Revolution? Steam trains and telegraph lines.

Because I read so much, because I feed my mind so much history and folklore and strange news items, all of those ideas came together in a single short story.
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#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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A to Z Blog Challenge 2019 Theme Reveal!


by Lillian Csernica on March 21, 2019

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Hi there. Yes, I’m a trifle behind schedule on this. Tomorrow I run off to Clockwork Alchemy for the weekend. Con prep is such an adventure!

 

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.

Being a writer is not just about mastering the techniques of fiction. Nobody understands writers the way other writers do. That’s because you have to live inside a creative mind that constantly notices odd details and can’t stop thinking about certain exciting problems. Writers are not like everybody else.

Join me and take a look at a level of living that goes so much farther than just “behind the scenes.” You’ll get a glimpse into my creative process. More than that, you might help me figure out some of the mysteries about how my mind works!

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