Category Archives: family tradition

#atozchallenge: O is for Olivia Danforth


by Lillian Csernica on April 17, 2018

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Olivia Elspeth Danforth was born in London, England in 1840. Her father ran a tobacco shop. Thanks to a small inheritance, she had enough money to get an education. She worked hard and did not expect to marry at all, much less well. Olivia chose nursing because her mother said she had a talent for keeping her brothers and sisters healthy despite the diseases of the day.

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She graduated from The Nightingale Home and Training School for Nurses in 1870.

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Through Lady Dorothy Monroe, sister to Constance Harrington and patron of The Nightingale Home, Nurse Danforth found a position at Dr. Harrington’s newly opened practice.

Nurse Danforth acted as part-time nanny for Madelaine after she was born in 1871.

Constance thinks the world of Olivia Danforth, who has become as much a member of the family as one can who is not related by blood. Nurse Danforth knows this is a better life than she’d hoped for and counts her blessings every day. While her demeanor may be stern, she is fiercely loyal to the family. Nurse Danforth literally follows Dr. Harrington to the ends of the earth so she can remain close to Madelaine.

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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: L is for Loyalty


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2018

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Living as a member of the British expatriate community within the city of Kyoto, Dr. Harrington faces many challenges. I deliberately put him into situations that force him to make difficult choices. Again and again, he has to decide where his loyalty lies.

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Queen Victoria — Dr. Harrington must fulfill his duties and keep the Abbot in good health. Any lapse on his part will reflect badly on queen and country.

The Abbot — The image above shows Seihan Mori, the current Abbot of Kiyomizudera, using a calligraphy brush to make the kanji for the New Year. This kanji means “north.”

Dr. Harrington has been given the honor of ensuring the Abbot’s health. The Abbot is eighty-five. In A Demon in the Noonday Sun ( Twelve Hours Later), Dr. Harrington supervises the Abbot’s first use of his new steampunk wheelchair. While the Abbot is in fine health for a man of his age, he’s still fragile. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot himself sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that results in the Undersecretary forbidding the doctor to do anything of the kind.

 

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Sir George William Buchanan

His immediate superior, Alexander Thompson, Undersecretary for Technological Exchange — The image above is my model for Dr. Harrington’s boss. Thompson is utterly correct in everything he does, an ideal civil servant. That means there’s no way Dr. Harrington can explain the supernatural creatures that drag him away from the straight and narrow path Thompson expects him to walk.

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Constance and Madelaine — The safety and well-being of his wife and daughter are constantly at the forefront of Dr. Harrington’s thoughts. He accepted the posting to Kyoto in order to improve Madelaine’s prospects for a husband once the family returns to England.

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The burakumin — In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that opens his eyes to the existence of the lowest Japanese social class, one that still experiences discrimination even today. Dr. Harrington’s efforts to act on the Abbot’s instructions jeopardize everything he’s come to Japan to achieve.

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Being true to himself — William Harrington is a physician, a husband, a father, and a loyal subject of Queen Victoria. He has taken the Hippocratic Oath. He’s an honorable man of great integrity. Even so, he does have his weaknesses. Finding the right adversaries to test Dr. Harrington’s mettle among the gods and monsters of Japan is one of my greatest pleasures in writing the Kyoto Steampunk stories.

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge: J is for Julie Rose


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2018

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One day, during the time I was writing The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), I saw an ad for this coffee mug. Just on a whim, I posted the image and said the first person who bought me this mug would win a cameo appearance in my latest Kyoto Steampunk story.

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Within ten minutes, I got a reply from a very nice lady. She’d ordered the mug, emailed me the confirmation, and we had a deal! I ran around Pinterest looking for the right dress for her. After she chose the one she liked best, I set to work building her into the story. She became Julie Rose, daughter of another British expatriate family who lives in Kyoto. She makes an excellent companion for Madelaine, someone with whom she can practice Constance‘s lessons on etiquette and deportment.

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I’m sure Julie Rose will be making more appearances as the series continues. My sincere thanks to the dear lady kind enough to provide me with this delightful coffee mug!

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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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#atozchallenge G is for Garden Party


by Lillian Csernica on April 7, 2018

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One of the key elements of the Kyoto Steampunk series is writing each story from a different character’s point of view. Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later) features a garden party presided over by Constance. This was an excellent opportunity to let the reader into her mind and see just how Constance is coping with the challenge of navigating through Kyoto’s expatriate society along with all the Japanese diplomats Dr. Harrington encounters.

A Victorian garden party is a lavish affair, held outdoors in a fine English garden full of stately oaks, manicured hedges, and an abundance of flowers. In 1880, did Kyoto provide the necessary landscape? Traditional trees in a Japanese garden included pine, bamboo, and plum. Because they do so well in winter, they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience.

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Springtime flowers in Kyoto include irises, azalea, hydrangea, plum blossoms, and waterlilies. Best of all are the roses. If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, be sure to see the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

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Blown Sky High is an important story in the series. It’s more lighthearted, and it takes a look at the expectations placed upon “the fairer sex.” When events at the party take a sudden unexpected turn, Constance must look to Madelaine and her bluestocking habits to save the day. To learn more about Victorian women who redefined their roles in society, please read this excellent article.

 

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#AtoZChallenge: D is for Danger


by Lillian Csernica on April 4, 2018

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Many dangers lie in wait for Dr. Harrington, his wife Constance, and their daughter Madelaine when they move their entire household to Kyoto, Japan. While it is a great honor for Dr. Harrington to be chosen by Queen Victoria and the Emperor Meiji, it is a challenge that will demand all the strength, skills and social graces possessed by each family member.

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Nurse Danforth rises to the challenge of saving Madelaine’s life by confronting Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.

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Madelaine, just nine years old and already a mechanical genius, must survive a life-threatening fever. Then comes the challenge of convincing Dr. Harrington the gods and monsters of Japanese mythology and folklore are real and must be taken seriously. When Madelaine is targeted by one especially clever monster, she must draw on her skills both mechanical and folkloric to protect her family.

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Constance exists in a state of endless bewilderment as she fights a daily battle to bring all the graces of Victorian England to the strange and incomprehensible world of Japan during the Meiji Restoration. This might not sound as dangerous as the threats faced by Dr. Harrington and Madelaine, but success as a hostess in support of her husband’s social position was a Victorian woman’s reason for living.

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Dr. Harrington takes on the lion’s share of danger. Amatsu Mikaboshi‘s determination to restore the balance of honor lost in his confrontation with Nurse Danforth puts Dr. Harrington in the perilous position of protecting the Abbot. Dr. Harrington also faces political and ethical pressures when he follows the Abbot of Kiyomizudera’s advice and does what must be done to escape the wrath of the wanyudo.

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Memory Eternal


by Lillian Csernica on February 21, 2018

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I know what it’s like to bury a child.

I lost my son James at 18 weeks when I ruptured early.

The first time I ever identified myself as a mother was when I signed the paperwork for my baby’s funeral arrangements. I’d never seen a coffin that small. Up to that point in my life, I’d never had reason to think about one or realize such a thing existed.

The day of the funeral, I stood there and had to see my baby wrapped in what would have been his first blanket, lying there in his little white satin-lined coffin. I had to stand there and watch while the priests chanted the funeral service and that little white coffin was lowered into that hole in the ground and I had to deal with knowing I’d never see my little boy grow up.

To the parents of all the children who have died in school shootings, I say I cannot imagine how much greater is the pain you’re being forced to suffer now. I never had the chance to get to know James, to see him smile or hear him laugh. You knew your sons and daughters. You watched them grow into fine young men and women with hopes and dreams for their futures.

Futures cut short by a tragedy that should not have been allowed to occur.

I know the agony I’ve had to live with, the tears I’ve shed every time I’ve visited my baby’s grave. I am so terribly sorry that all of you have been forced to experience the torment of such grief.

I promise you, I will do more than send you my thoughts and prayers. I will VOTE. I will MARCH. I will make phone calls and I will sign petitions. I will join the crowds chanting, “NEVER AGAIN!” until my throat is raw and my shirt is soaked with tears.

We must see to it that other children do not die. That other parents do not suffer the grief that you and I must endure. The children of this nation are our children. We must see to it they are safe.

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Family Gardens, Family Trees


by Lillian Csernica on Februart 12, 2018

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“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.

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My maternal grandmother was a woman who 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 that were way beyond the social norm for women of her time. My grandmother was raised 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 with his own studio and darkroom. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma, showing her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.

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Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Not only did her column appear in the paper, but her photo as well, and under amazing circumstances. Once, 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 in front of God and everybody. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the wild woman Grandma really was.

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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. I was just old enough to start getting 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.

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There was a lot more to Grandma’s garden than just flowers. A tall tree with drooping branches would blossom with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. It was new and strange and made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. There was the raspberry bramble, 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, which meant 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 the berries before they were ripe. His stomachache taught me the value of patience, and of letting him go first!

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The garden remains a symbol for all those traits I saw in Grandma. What the child I was saw and remembered the woman I am can now interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. There were places in her house and in her life that little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.

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Then there’s my father’s mother. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She survived the Depression and both World Wars. She lived at the same address all the years I knew her. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (At one point he had a ponytail halfway down his back).

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Grandma lived in 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 the tip of my thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understood the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that’s my Grandma.

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As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From Grandma Lownesberry come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From Grandma Chamberlain 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 root stock 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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Moments from the Women’s March


by Lillian Csernica on January 23, 2018

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Joining the march. Stepping into the flow, holding my sign up high, seeing the people lining the route with their phones out, taking photos and making videos. Recording a piece of history. Thirty thousand people, according to the Santa Cruz Police Department.

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A boy not more than ten years old marching ahead of me, holding up a cardboard sign that read, “I’d rather be home building LEGOs, but I have to build #TheResistance.

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Two older women carried a banner with #MeToo on it. As we passed by, the two women offered people Sharpies so they could sign the banner. Only recently did I realize that I had faced sexual harassment several times in the workplace. I signed that banner!

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A man carried a large piece of cardboard. On it had been painted the figure of a judge, complete with white wig and holding the Scales. The empty oval where the face should be allowed anyone to stand behind the cardboard and have a photo taken, proclaiming her or him “A Future Supreme Court Justice.” How cool is that?

Chanting “Hey, hey! Oh no! Donald Trump has got to GO!”

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Our destination was the Louden Nelson Community Center. Inside on the stage stood the American Shrine. You can see from the photo that it was just breathtaking.

While I was inside the Center, I crossed paths with a woman and her son, who had Downs Syndrome. The mother asked if she could take a photo of me holding my sign. Sure thing! Then she asked if I would mind taking a photo of her and her son holding my sign. I tell you, that nearly brought me to tears.

Later, as I walked a few blocks back  to where I’d parked my car, drivers saw my sign. Horns honked and I saw some thumbs-up as people applauded equal rights for people with special needs.

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On my way home, I stopped at Peet’s for a Green Tea Mojito, one of the few guilty pleasures I can get away with on my weight loss program. I had my Women’s March T shirt on, which got me into conversations with at least three people.

My favorite barista was on duty. She wanted to see my sign, so I got it out of the trunk and brought it inside to show her. She said she didn’t know many people with special needs, so equal rights for them wasn’t something she’d thought about. She was glad to see the sign and know about the issue. Accessibility and health care are SO important these days, now more than ever.

I need more exercise. Thanks to the Women’s March 2018, I exercised my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. When it’s time for the elections this year, I will once again make my voice heard by voting.

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