Category Archives: fantasy

Writing various forms of fantasy, the whys, hows, and “Now what?”s.

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #31


by Lillian Csernica on May 31, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

You must learn to broaden your horizons day by day.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART III

Kathleen regained consciousness. She kept her eyes shut and her breathing regular. Thousands of voices made a steady clamor somewhere just on the other side of a door or wall. She lay on a couch that held the lingering odors of sweaty bodies, stale pizza, and something sugary. Concrete. Paper. Old draperies.

“I know you’re awake.” A woman’s voice, both dainty and authoritative. “Sit up. There’s much to discuss.”

Kathleen opened her eyes to see an excellent copy of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella. Posters on the walls ran heavily to superhero themes, classic Kirby art along with movie posters from the Marvel universe. She sat up slowly. All those voices…. She groaned.

“A comic con? Really?”

“This is where we blend in best.” The woman frowned. “Well, here and Burning Man.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“We don’t have time for the basics. What name did the man give you?”

“Leaf. Leaves that Fall At Twilight.”

“In what language?”

“Japanese.”

“Of course. I’ll give you another name for him: otaku. Are you familiar with that word?”

Kathleen nodded. It meant the crazier kind of fan boy, the one with obsessions and a poor sense of personal hygiene. “I take it that’s not his real name?”

“No. Human vocal chords can’t duplicate our language. The result would approximate a whale singing light opera on meth.”

The very idea made Kathleen’s brain hurt.

“On behalf of the members of my crew,” Barbarella said, “I apologize for Leaf’s disruption of your life. He means well, but he takes his hobbies too seriously.”

“‘Hobbies’? What part of his ‘hobbies’ am I?”

“He’s on our cultural analysis staff. He loves Earth storytelling, the classics and the trash and everything in between.”

“So he really did want to carry me off to some enchanted kingdom.”

“I think the word he used was ‘Wakanda.'”

Despite her consternation, Kathleen burst out laughing. “If there’s one place I’d want to go, that would be it.” She sighed. “Where is Leaf now?”

“In detention aboard our ship. He faces disciplinary action for using a breath weapon.”

“He didn’t hurt me.”

“Do you know what day it is?”

“If it isn’t Saturday, then no, I don’t.”

“It’s Sunday afternoon.”

“I’ve been out that long? Why?”

The faux Barbarella stared at Kathleen. She threw both hands upward and took a seat on the couch, facing Kathleen.

“You might as well hear all of it. Leaf carried you through the transport rift. He’d used a personal code to deliver him directly to his quarters. He might have kept you hidden long enough to make returning you to Earth too costly.”

“But?”

“When he applied the breath weapon, he lingered too long, allowing some of it to escape into the atmosphere. Our sensors alerted us immediately.”

“All this trouble because he wouldn’t stop kissing me in time?”

Barbarella nodded.

Kathleen felt a slight pang on Leaf’s behalf. It had been an amazing kiss. “What’s going to happen to him?”

“That will depend on how much damage control I can do before we return to our galaxy. The use of the breath weapon for the purposes of abduction violates at least three treaties.”

Kathleen could see where this was going. “Can you lock him into one biological shape?”

Barbarella looked at her in surprise. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Do it. Lock him into the Winter Soldier shape he was in when he appeared to me. Then leave him here on Earth.”

“What justice would that serve?”

“Exile. For a crime of the magnitude you’re describing, somebody will demand exile, permanent detention, or death.”

“What’s in this for you?”

Kathleen waved at one poster of Captain America: Winter Soldier. “Do you really have to ask? Leave him with me. He’ll be happy, you’ll be rid of a loose cannon, and I can keep an eye on him.”

“This would take time. The bio-ban alone–”

“Ever heard of marooning? That’s what you’ll do. He broke the rules. You abandoned him thousands of light years from home on a planet without the technological level that would enable him to escape. Your hands are clean.”

Barbarella gave her a grudging smile. “I’m almost sorry you won’t be coming back with us.”

“You’ll do it?”

“Understand, if he manages to cross the line again, both of you will pay for it.”

“I’ll take that risk.”

#

The following Thursday Kathleen came home from work to find Leaf sitting on her couch, remote in hand, surrounded by DVD cases and videogames and piles of books. On the coffee table sat a big salad bowl full of popcorn. Three empty pizza boxes stood in a neat pile by the front door. By the sound of the ’70s music, Leaf was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.

“Hi, honey,” she called. “I’m home.”

Leaf hit Pause, sprang off the couch, and swept her up into a pepperoni-flavored kiss.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #29


by Lillian Csernica on May 29, 2018

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Today’s fortune cookie says:

The love of your life is stepping onto your planet this summer.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART I

Kathleen sat cross-legged on the shabby old blanket in the middle of an empty meadow near a farm that boarded horses. It was a twenty minute drive from her apartment, just far enough to feel like she’d gotten away. Overhead the June sky was midnight blue, speckled with thousands of stars. If she squinted, Kathleen could just make out hints of red or blue, stars that were really suns with cool names like Red Giant or Blue Dwarf.

She sighed and took another sip from her bottle of Blue Moon. She’d drunk half the six-pack. The remains of a sausage calzone sat on a paper plate beside the cooler. This late a slight chill gave the night air an an edge. Her jeans and Blue Moon Brewing Company sweatshirt kept her comfortable. Her long black hair often hung in a simple English braid down her back, but tonight she let it fall loose. Sometimes the braid gave her a headache. Sometimes it was just life.

The emptiness inside continued to nag at her. Thirty loomed, the days passing like seconds on some giant Doomsday Clock. Thirty years old. No husband, no steady boyfriend, no roommates, not that many friends. Dad had walked out when she was three. Mom died of cancer five years ago next month. Her strongest relationships were online. It was like that old saying about grandchildren. You could play with them all day, then give them back when you were done.

Her coworkers at Greenhaven Labs were nice enough people. They invited her to the parties that marked the various rites of passage for people who had found love and paired up, or in the case of Tim, Wei Ming, and Sanjay, created the menage that suited their needs. Sometimes Kathleen worried about being out of touch with her own needs. She didn’t seem to mind being alone, regardless of the onslaught of advertising that tried to inspire the insecurities that in turn created needs met by the products being sold.

The truth was, she just hadn’t met anybody who made her feel that way, whatever that way actually felt like. Sure, there were actors who caught her eye, like the guy who played Captain America. Too bad his character had commitment issues due to the whole unnatural lifespan thing. The Winter SoldierShe usually was pretty hot too, but even reformed psychopaths seemed a little too out there. Kathleen grinned. She’d had these conversations online. Everybody said she was too careful, too cautious, too practical.

Twenty feet in front of her, the air rippled like a heat shimmer then split open down the middle. Out stepped a figure that wavered for a moment, then resolved into tall, long-legged, broad-shouldered. A gloved hand reached up to pull off the helmet. Waves of dark brown hair spilled down across those broad shoulders. The face that regarded Kathleen was such a happy combination of Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan she was immediately suspicious.

“Good evening, Kathleen O’Bannon.” Rich baritone music, like hot fudge poured over brown velvet.

“Good evening. Who are you?”

“To translate my name into modern American English, it loses some of its meaning.”

“What Earth language works best, then?”

“Japanese.”

Another coincidence.

“You lucky devil. I’m one of the few gaijin you might run into at this time of night who can speak Japanese.” Kathleen stood up, wobbling only a little. “Hajimemashite. Anata no onamae wa?”

Watashi no namae wa Yugure-ji no Ochiba.”

Kathleen’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Leaves that fall…at sunset?”

“Dusk. Or twilight.”

“Good name. What do people call you? Leaf? Fall?”

“Leaf would be acceptable, if that is what you would prefer.”

“Leaf it is.” Kathleen nodded. “I’m guessing you’ve come a long way?”

“Indeed. I have traveled thousands of light years, past the brilliant embers of dying suns, to find you.”

Kathleen blinked. Which old movies had this guy been watching? “Let me guess. Mars needs women.”

“Mars?” Those dark brown waves rippled as he shook his head. “Mars needs water. Those canals dried up a long time ago.”

“So where are you from?”

“A planet as yet unidentified by your scientists. I assure you, the climate is enjoyable and the atmosphere compatible with your biological requirements.”

“That’s wonderful news. Why would I want to run off with a total stranger who is also an alien capable of reading my mind and shapeshifting into a form he knows would be highly attractive to me?”

“Doesn’t that question answer itself? I can anticipate your wants and needs far better and more quickly than any male of this planet.”

Kathleen snorted. “Some days I think that wouldn’t be too difficult.”

Leaf took two more steps closer and pulled off his other glove, stuffing both into his belt. “Kathleen, there is a yearning inside you. None of the ways your companions have met their needs appeals to you. You think you are lonely, needy, ambivalent, insecure. You think the problem lies within you.”

“And? Am I right or wrong?”

“You have made a wrong equation based on initial assumptions that don’t apply. There is nothing wrong with you. If anything, you are overqualified for life on this planet.”

Kathleen blinked. “Overqualified?”

“The problem is simple. You are bored, Kathleen. You have yet to find a challenge worthy of your intellectual gifts. The same is true of a life partner who could hold your interest for more than a week or two.”

Kathleen swayed, then dropped back down onto the blanket. Boredom. Not ADHD. Not ASD. No learning disability. Those were all worthy explanations for her inability to get excited about what life in 21st Century North America had to offer. She leaned back to look up at the stars.

“That’s right,” Leaf said. “Above us, just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, awaits what writers of escapist fiction might call my chariot or my white charger.” He walked to the edge of the blanket, then sank down on his knees. “I’m here to carry you off to the life you’ve always dreamed of.”

Caution sent up a flare inside Kathleen’s brain. “Why me? What do you get out of this?”

Leaf smiled. Up close that was enough to carbonate Kathleen’s dormant hormones.

“I’m looking for a simple country girl with wholesome, old-fashioned values. A fair maiden untainted by the wiles of a corrupt world.”

“You must get cable on your planet. I  can guess which shows you’ve been watching.”

“I accessed your queues. I wanted to be able to talk to you about your interests.”

This was way too good to be true. “Really? You’ve watched every single episode of Once Upon A Time? Who is my favorite character?”

“Not, as so many would think, Captain Hook. Your favorite is the Mad Hatter.”

“And Supernatural? Do I like Dean or Sam better?”

“Neither. You like Castiel.”

“That was too easy. What do I watch when I’m so stressed out I want to punch a wall?”

“Haunted asylum movies.”

“Why?”

“Because they follow a pattern. The same pattern. That lets you yell at them and throw popcorn or M&Ms at your plasma screen. Which is a dangerous idea, by the way. The salt on the popcorn or the fats in the chocolate could cause considerable damage.”

“Most people would just say I might break the screen.”

“That wouldn’t start a fire.”

Kathleen shook her head. “Do you always look like this? Or are you really some kind of space squid, like the aliens in Galaxy Quest?”

Leaf laughed out loud. “I can be whatever I want to be. Or, more to the point, whatever you want me to be.”

“My lifespan is maybe one hundred years. Is that a problem?”

“Not with our medical technology. You can live far longer than that if you choose to.”

“Do I have to decide right now?”

“I realize you feel some obligation to your family and your employers. Can those be resolved by email?”

Kathleen mulled it over. No houseplants. No pet. No subscriptions to cancel. That was really depressing, but it was also a plus.

“And if it doesn’t work out? What happens then?”

“I realize you are of a scientific turn of mind, but I feel I must ask you to have a little faith.”

“No probes? No weird crop circles?”

“No bizarre alien breeding program. No Man With A Cigarette.”

An X Files reference! Gorgeous, a sense of humor, and similar interests. Kathleen would be a fool to miss the opportunity. She got to her feet.

“All right. Let’s go be a leaf on the wind.”

Leaf grinned. “Ooh, shiny!

END

PART I

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randalrauser.com

 

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #30


by Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Keep your feet on the ground

though friends flatter you.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART II

The night breeze grew stronger, blowing Kathleen’s hair back and clearing her head. She found herself halfway to that weird heat shimmer. She slowed. Leaf moved on, taking three more strides with those long legs before he looked back.

“Kathleen?”

“Yeah, sorry. I just remembered my New Year’s Resolution. I don’t make life-changing decisions when I’ve been drinking.”

“You are nowhere near the legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream. The food you consumed and the amount of time that has passed are both providing assistance.”

“That’s another problem.” Kathleen backed up two steps and crossed her legs. Why had she walked so far from the car? Stupid stupid stupid. “I need a bathroom.”

“People who camp in this area observe the custom of digging a hole in the ground.”

“Well! Too bad I left my shovel at home.” Like she had any intention of squatting with a total stranger nearby. “Wait a minute. How do you know that?”

“Simple observation.”

“How long have you been watching this area?”

For the first time that Hollywood-handsome face looked shy, uncertain. “It was a routine sweep. Then, one night, I saw you. Sitting on your blanket, drinking something hot, eating chocolate cookies and looking at the stars.”

“When was this?”

“Two months ago. It’s so dull, watching the readouts. The lower life forms go about their eating and mating and territorial battles. And the occasional humans wander through.”

“Like me. All by myself, watching for shooting stars.”

“I–” Leaf held out his hand. “I shared that lonely vigil, that quiet time where the only thoughts you want to hear are your own.”

Kathleen heard real truth, real pain, in that lovely voice. She pulled herself together.

“It’s late. I’m exhausted. I need a bathroom, and I’m not leaving this planet without packing at least one bag.”

“May I walk you to your vehicle? A woman alone at this hour is easy prey.”

That turn of phrase very nearly made the bladder emergency a harsh truth. Kathleen took three quick steps backward and bent to snatch up one of the empty beer bottles. She also grabbed her purse, hiking it up onto her shoulder.

“That’s very thoughtful.” She closed that hand around her phone, ready to hit the emergency call option. “Why don’t you hang back a bit and keep me in sight? That way you can yell a warning if you see anybody lurking.”

It was time to get out of here. Time to go home, lock all the doors and windows, and shut down all her wifi devices. Time to have a real life lock down until she was sure these beer-fueled fantasies had passed out of her body. Maybe she’d wake up with nothing more than a headache and a funny story to tell.

“It would be best if you allow me to take you home. We can retrieve your car later.”

With that, Leaf stepped up to Kathleen, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her. The sudden rush of sensations left her off balance for a second. Leaf breathed in, sucking the air out of Kathleen’s lungs, then breathed out, blowing his breath into her. A warm fog of drowsiness enveloped her. She sank into the peaceful tide of unconsciousness.

END

PART II

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #26


by Lillian Csernica on May 26, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Follow your instincts when making decisions.

 

 

One of my all-time favorite songs. It speaks to me on a very deep level of the trouble I’ve always had when trying to sort out matters of the heart.

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BayCon 2018: Where to Find Me


by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2018

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Friday 1:30 p.m. The Perfect Poison

Is it possible to create a poison that will kill only the target, no matter who else is exposed? Genetic engineering and personalized medicine may well collide in a perfect storm of individually targeted weapons rather than cures. What genetic markers would be most useful? What if you can target families or ethnic groups?

Saturday 1:00 p.m. Getting the Point

Understanding the pros and cons of the various points of view available to the storyteller.

Sunday 1:00 p.m. It Began with a Monster

200 years ago, Mary Shelley published the singular novel that set the stage for modern genre literature: Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. In the two centuries since the full-novel’s publication, Shelley’s Frankenstein has flourished as a touchstone for authors and filmmakers across the spectrum, carving out a mythos and a creative playing field to rival the legends of antiquity.

Sunday 5:30 p.m. Religion in Fantasy & Science Fiction

Where are the Gods and churches and when they exist, what purpose do they serve?

Monday 1:00 p.m. Creative Writing for Kids

Come and learn the six basic elements of a good story. Plenty of fun examples and some exercises to help new writers experience professional writing techniques.

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #16


by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.

VICTORY IS SWEET

Regina sat in the highest room atop the marble tower on the Isle of the Turquoise Clouds. In honor of the coming moment, she wore midnight blue velvet, her river of black hair swept up and held in place with clusters of diamonds. On the desk before her lay two pieces of parchment. On one, a list topped by the word Temptation. On the other, a similar list topped by the word Opportunity. She contemplated the words written beneath Temptation, inked in the blood of a rare night bird. Words of power. Words of warning. Dangerous words. As such, all the more attractive.

Beneath Opportunity lay words written in ink made of water from the Sacred Spring of Seven Rainbows mixed with the crushed petals of the Sunrise Lotus, which blossomed only on the morning of the first day of the New Year. Fortune favored the prepared mind. Regina had made her preparations with the greatest care. The decision that lay before her could alter destinies beyond the scope of her imagination, perhaps even beyond the reach of her dreams.

The first full moon of Spring hung round and bright. The night-blooming flowers raised their faces in its silvery light, loosing their fragrances upon the evening breeze. The constellations graced the heavens with their sparkling patterns. Regina read the lists again, then bent her head. A nod, a bow, a gesture of surrender to the ineffable powers of Chance and Fate.

The hourglass ran empty. The moment of decision had arrived.

At the base of the tower, the ship’s bell rang three times. Regina rose from the desk, taking one list with her. She walked to the ivory lattice gates that opened onto a shaft running the length of the tower. Summoning a turquoise cloud, Regina descended to the ground floor. She raised one hand and the heavy oaken door swung inward.

Before her stood a creature that came up to her shoulder. It wore a white shirt, blue lederhosen, black shoes with shiny buckles, and one of those ridiculous Robin Hood-style hats that failed to hide the creature’s pointed ears. On one small hand rested an oblong box wrapped in scarlet silk. On the other hand rested another oblong box wrapped in silk the blue of a perfect summer sky.

“The red,” Regina said.

“You are certain?” The creature’s high, reedy voice sounded like crickets. “The penalty is the loss of our deliveries for the remainder of your lifetime.”

“Do not presume to instruct me. The next decision I make could cause you considerable pain.”

The creature bowed. “As you wish.”

Regina took the scarlet box and unwrapped the silk. To choose Temptation was to risk everything she’d learned, everything she’d built. To choose Opportunity meant running the same risk, but the reward was tremendous.

The silk fell away, baring a box made of sturdy brown paper. She opened the end flaps. A tube of mirror-bright silver slid out onto her palm. Inside lay twenty-four discs of the finest baked confection known to any living being.

“Well chosen,” the creature said. “Few can penetrate the logic of the double-bluff.” It stepped back and made Regina another bow. “Until next year.”

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #9


by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Kindness only comes in whole.

 

Broken Promises, Broken Lives

Mary Anne yawned. She glanced at the alarm clock beside her bed. Three a.m. No wonder she was sleepy. She plugged her cell phone into the charger and tied back her long brown hair in a ponytail. Sleeping in her blue sweats seemed like an even better idea. The wind had risen, blowing the willow branches against her bedroom window. She knew she should have taken the first floor apartment. Too many bad memories. She couldn’t step out on a balcony without thinking of Esmeralda.

Mary Anne picked up her phone again. It had been a year already. She swiped through her photos until she found the last photo taken of Esmeralda when she was still happy, standing on the rooftop of that youth hostel in Yokohama. Cherry blossom season. Esmeralda loved flowers. The hotel held a party that night on the rooftop. The breeze blew cherry blossom petals along the streets. As night fell, neon came on all over the city. So amazing.

That night Esmeralda and Mary Anne had stayed up late, talking about the future. They’d been to a temple the day before and chose fortune sticks. The numbers on the sticks matched scrolls that described the kind of luck they could expect to have in the areas of health, money, relationships, scholarship, and spiritual matters. At the party they found a fellow guest who spoke English, Japanese, Italian and French. Massimo translated the fortune scrolls. It was all just one more item on the tourist attraction list until Massimo frowned.

“Esmeralda, in every column it says you must finish what you start. Any project, any job, any course of study, you must work hard and finish it as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” Esmeralda asked.

“I don’t know quite what it means. Something along the lines of Carpe Diem, seize the day.” Massimo gave her back the scroll and rubbed his hands together in a nervous gesture. “Many cultures have such sayings.”

Mary Anne nodded. “YOLO, right?” She laughed. “That’s why we’re here!”

She wanted to laugh it off and get back to the party. It wasn’t like she and Esmeralda were Buddhists and actually went to that temple. They were college students on vacation.

After the party, Esmeralda sat up late on the rooftop, watching the endless traffic and the rainbow of neon signs. It was three a.m. Mary Anne had enough plum wine to leave her sleepy and content. Esmeralda’s voice woke her from a doze.

“You understand, don’t you, Annie? I just want to be sure Teresa is OK.”

Teresa was Esmeralda’s little sister, all of fourteen, just starting high school. So pretty, but not all that smart.

“No problem, Esme.”

“You promise? Make sure she studies hard, and stays away from the bad boys.”

“Promise.”

Now Mary Anne put her phone back on the charger. Life was so unfair. A week after they came home from Japan, Esmeralda fell down some stairs. She couldn’t use her left arm properly and had missed her grip on the handrail. Tests and more tests. Six months later Esmeralda was dead. Some horrible neurological condition that happened to only one in one million people.

The willow branches rattled against the window again. Mary Anne frowned. She couldn’t recall that much noise even during some of the winter storms.  She threw back the covers and padded across the carpet to the window. She pulled open the curtains.

Esmeralda stood there, her heavy black braid a mess, her hospital gown hanging off one shoulder, her face twisted like a stroke patient. Beneath her feet, nothing but three floors of empty air.

“You broke your promise!”

“What? No!”

“Teresa is lost. You did not protect her.”

Mary Anne shook her head. Late night. Too much Internet. That blue glow from her phone messing with her brain.

“You promised me, Mary Anne. To make her study. To keep away the bad boys.”

“Teresa is fine! Her quinceanera is next month!”

The horrible thing outside the window shook its head. “No quinceanera for Teresa. No college. No future. You promised!”

“Go away!” Mary Anne grabbed at the curtains, trying to close them. The wind blew harder, rattling the panes.

“Tonight Manuel ruined Teresa. Your fault. All your fault! You promised!”

Mary Anne ran back to bed and dove under the covers. A nightmare. Just a nightmare. She’d done everything she could to help Teresa study hard. Even found her a math tutor. So Teresa went to a few parties. She always went in a group with three or four other girls. School events. Church events. Adults keeping an eye on the kids.

The covers flew back. Esmeralda stood there, tears running down her cheeks.

“Manuel is good for nothing but making babies!” Esmeralda let out a tormented wail. “You kept only half of your promise!”

Mary Anne rolled out the other side of the bed. She hit the floor on hands and knees and scrambled toward the door. Up on her feet, she ran for the front door and flung it open, racing down the balcony to the stairway.

Esmeralda appeared, hanging in space above the stairwell, hair streaming, mouth open wide in an endless scream.

Mary Anne jerked away, missing her grip on the railing. She tumbled down the concrete stairs. The last thing she felt was Esmeralda’s tears raining down on her face.

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scaryforkids.com

 

 

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Reflection–How the #AtoZChallenge Took Me Deeper Into My Fictional World


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

This year I dedicated my A to Z posts to exploring the world of my Kyoto Steampunk series. I made some valuable discoveries as I worked my way through the alphabet, some creative, some more on the practical side.

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Take a step sideways. A short story is by its nature limited in length. Every detail needs to be an essential detail. Once you get into a series of short stories, you have to keep developing those details, adding depth, bringing new information. Fujita-san is a regular character in the series, but the reader has so far never seen him outside of his function as Dr. Harrington’s translator. Devoting a post to Fujita-san’s background and qualifications made me think through aspects of his character that no story had yet required. That will greatly enrich Fujita-san’s next appearance.

Be sure to link your posts to other related posts. As the A to Z Challenge progressed, each additional blog post I wrote became an active link that expanded on references made in previous posts, and vice versa. It made for extra work, but it also gave me a wonderful sense of providing a more three dimensional experience. People who read the posts could chase the links back and forth, gathering lots of information and insights into how and why I’m writing the Kyoto Steampunk series.

Avoid the obvious, but keep in mind what’s popular. Some of the more difficult letters required brainstorming before I chose the topic I thought most useful and most entertaining. There were more Japanese words I might have used, but less is more in that regard. The Kyoto Steampunk series is about a British expatriate family living in Kyoto during Japan’s Industrial Revolution, facing difficulties both social and supernatural. I didn’t want to narrow the focus to Japan itself.

Reveal your process. This is where I really had the most fun. I’m always interested to learn how other creative people go about making their art. To be able to talk about how I made certain choices and why this or that story element is important to me gave me plenty of satisfaction. Just telling the story about how the character of Julie Rose came to be made a lot of people laugh!

Stay at least five days ahead. Absolutely essential. Some people manage to get all of their posts written before the challenge even starts. I stand in awe of such organization. Me, I need some pressure to do my best work. I also need breathing room. Staying five days ahead lets me stay relaxed while enjoying the daily challenge of each letter. It also means I have more time to go visit the people who visit me, along with roaming around chasing links to new blogs.

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thepandorasociety.com

 

And now, my favorite blogs from the 2018 A to Z Challenge!

The Old Shelter

Sarah Zama is an amazing writer, author of Give In To The Feeling. Last year she wrote about noir films, one of my favorite subjects. This year her posts about the Weimar Republic opened my eyes to a cultural revolution that was just a name in the history books.

Diary of a Dublin Housewife

Bernie Violet is a hoot. Her posts are written like bullet lists, providing bare dialogue back and forth between Bernie and one of her family or friends. You can hear the lovely Irish lilt that is authentic, not just some writer trying to fabricate a dialect. What’s more, Bernie’s sense of humor never fails to make me laugh.

Sharon E. Cathcart

Winner of much deserved awards, Sharon is a wonderful woman who devotes a lot of time to volunteering at animal shelters. Her latest novel Bayou Fire is well worth a read.

Sally’s Smorgasbord

For variety, entertainment, enlightenment, and laughter, you can’t do better. The sense of community there is strong and supportive. Go and sample some of the delights of this smorgasbord. You’ll be glad you did!

Atherton’s Magic Vapor

A time travel story with each letter of the alphabet being an entry in the mission guidebook. This is an exciting adventure with a unique style and some splendid graphics. I’ll have to read it again, now that I’ve gotten a better grip on the story!

Iain Kelly Fiction Writing

Every letter of the alphabet takes you to a new location. Every location is the setting for short piece of fiction that is rich and compelling. Some of the stories made me cry, partly from sorrow and partly from just how touching they were. Iain Kelly’s writing style is strong, admirable, and a pleasure to read.

Book Jotter

Paula Bardell-Hedley is a reviewer from Wales who keeps up with an impressive amount of reading. I’m impressed by the organization of her blog and the sheer volume of information she provides. Stop by and discover a treasure house for book lovers!

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #7


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

fortune-cookie

christthetao.blogspot.com

Today’s fortune says:

A surprise gift from another will make a lasting impression.

 

The Kindness of Cousins

Bennie stirred the potion with a copper rod. Three circles right, three circles left. If he’d added the ingredients in strict accord with the recipe, the copper rod would show it by remaining clean and shiny.  Taking a deep breath, Bennie lifted the rod out of the potion.

Verdigris.

Bennie flung the corroded rod into the corner where three other rods already lay. He didn’t want to dump out another three hours’ work. He didn’t want to start again. He did want to complete the potion and show Magister Verlaine proof that not all of the Magister’s harsh criticisms were valid.

Bennie grabbed an earthenware mug in the shape of a toadstool and poured himself a beer. He wasn’t the best at making potions, but he did brew a damn fine beer.

A flutter of wings drew his attention to the window. The shutters were open wide to keep the fresh air blowing in and dissipating the fumes from the potion. A red shouldered hawk hopped down from the windowsill and gave Bennie an expectant look. A small cloth pouch hung round the hawk’s neck on a cord.

“Oh, hello, Alistair.” Bennie picked up a dish of seed corn from the kitchen shelf. “Here you go.” He set the dish on the floor.

Alistair straightened up and bit through the cord around his feathered neck. The pouch fell to the floor and Alistair fell on the seed corn, pecking away. Bennie gathered up the pouch, wondering what Alma May had sent him this time. His cousin had already survived the rigors of Magister Verlaine’s teaching style. The pouch contained a small scroll and a single peridot as big as the tip of his thumb.

“Greetings, Benedict. I hear you’re mixing the Contrass Potion. Let me give you a short cut. Grab a fresh copper rod. Three turns left, drop the peridot in the potion, then three turns right. Check your rod, then hold this scroll in the fumes.”

With a profound sense of relief, Bennie drained his mug of beer and snatched up a fresh rod. Setting the mug aside, he took a deep breath, stirred three circles left, then dropped the peridot into the potion. Three circles right, and—

Lavender light burst upward from the potion, blinding Bennie and sending him staggering backward. He tripped over a stack of books and fell sprawling. The rod. The rod! Shaking off the slight spinning in his head, Bennie staggered up and yanked the copper rod from the potion. Clean. Shiny.  Perfect!

Bennie let out a shout of delight. He grabbed the scroll and held it over the potion. Alma May’s writing faded out. New writing scribbled itself across the scroll.

“Look in the mirror. What color do you see?”

Puzzled, Bennie hurried over to the round mirror hung over his sink. He hadn’t heard of the Contrass Potion affecting the silver backing of mirrors, but if it could corrode copper, it might blacken silver as well.

Bennie stared into the perfectly ordinary mirror. His face was now a lovely shade of lavender, made all the more bizarre by the scattering of green bumps. The scroll in his hand stung his fingers with a sudden mild burst of magic. He held it up to read the new message.

“Rule One: Never take short cuts. Rule Two: Never trust a sudden free offer of help. MV will accept the potion, but the price for your gullibility is seven days of wearing this face. Much love, your laughing cousin.”

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#atozchallenge: Z is for Zaibatsu


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2018

zaibatsu

bhoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu

Zaibatsu means “financial clique.” When the Tokugawa Shogunate was in its last days, a few far-sighted samurai families positioned themselves to take the best advantage of the changing political and financial landscape.

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erenow.com

With the help of key Western advisors such as Thomas Blake Glover, “the Scotsman who built Japan,” these families were the leaders in Japan’s Industrial Revolution. That some of these family names are familiar right now in the 21st Century is a testament to the success of their business strategies.

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The zaibatsu form the backdrop against which my Kyoto Steampunk series take place. Just as fairies don’t like cold iron, the yokai of Japan resent the presence of steel and concrete. So much of the natural splendor of Japan has been destroyed thanks to the greed of industrialists.

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tunza.eco-generation.org

Thank you for joining me during the A to Z Blog Challenge for 2018. I hope you’ve found every letter both informative and entertaining. There is so much to know about Japan, yokai, and all the historical factors at work during the Meiji Restoration. I can’t wait to write the next story!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, legend, Lillian Csernica, nature, steampunk, travel, Writing