Category Archives: frustration

#nanoprep: Beware the Early Burnout!


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2018

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This is for all you Planners out there. The ones with the notebooks and the index cards and the color-coded little arrow Post-It notes. You know who you are. You can’t wait to plow through all those research books and make a gazillion notes. You love to chase down the other books on the bibliographies, hunting for the exact name of that one piece of clothing, or why on earth those people would be willing to eat that substance under those circumstances.

I share your addictions and I feel your pain.

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I think of myself as a plantser because in October I’m in Planner Mode. Research, outlines, scene cards, character sketches, maps, coinage, ad infinitum. When I was little, everybody stressed the importance of learning how to color inside the lines. So when I start a new novel project, I have what amounts to a compulsion to create those “lines,” the clearly marked spaces that I will fill in with backstory and location data and a list of crazy potential plot twists.

Then, come November itself, I go nuts, writing all out like a true Pantser. Each day I throw myself at that word quota and write like hell, living in fear of midnight. If everything goes well, all that material I absorbed during October will mingle and blend in the depths of my imagination. The words will come gushing out into the pen or the keyboard, and the story will take shape!

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What if all does NOT go well? What if all that research and all those notes and all the brainstorming uses up all the energy you had for doing the actual writing?

This is a very real danger. I’ve heard some writing teachers warn against talking too much about new ideas. All that wonderful pressure to get the story written can dissipate if you spend too much time talking and not enough writing.

The other danger is spending so much time and energy on your idea that when it comes time for the actual writing, you’re already bored. Over it. Burned out. That’s not a fun place to be when you’ve got 30 days and 50,000 words waiting on the horizon.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo is very important for all the obvious reasons. You need to have some idea of who you’re writing about, where the story happens, and what the stakes are. My advice is to do enough prepping so you can see the signposts but not every pothole along the way. Give your imagination enough room to consider the many different combinations of the ideas you’re mulling over.

Remember three essential guidelines:

  1. Write everything down. EVERYTHING. A piece of dialog. One character’s opinion. What kind of horse the bad guy’s sidekick dreams of owning.
  2. One day’s writing is not set in stone. You don’t like the way that scene came out? Do it again from another character’s point of view. You’re so frustrated you just want to burn down the whole super spy skyscraper? Do it! Let’s see how those fancypants S.H.I.E.L.D.–wannabes handle that scenario!
  3. Keep everything. Sure, you’ll make choices. That’s good. Just keep all the other stuff. You never know what might come in handy around Day 15 or Day 26. And who knows? All those bits and pieces might help you figure out the sequel!

 
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How To Prep for NaNoWriMo!


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2018

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Yes indeed, November is on the horizon. Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, it’s time to give at least some thought to how you’ll spend the 30 days of raw, unbridled, all out creativity that is NaNoWriMo!

This year my adventure takes on a new level of involvement. I am now one of two Municipal Leaders for Santa Cruz County. I’ve already been at work discussing write-in dates with the local librarians and making reservations at the restaurant where we traditionally hold our TGIO Party. And yes, there is also the Night of Writing Dangerously, NaNoWriMo‘s fantastic fundraiser!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three times now, and I have won every year. I admit I am a planner, but only up to a point. When it comes to making the daily word count, there’s a certain amount of leaping off the high dive and just going for it. You get some amazing stuff appearing on the page when you just go all out, especially during word sprints. Those are great fun, especially when you’re sprinting as part of a NaNo group.

These are a few ways to get a good grip on what you want to write about. They are handy to fall back on even if you start off strong then find yourself losing inspiration partway through.

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SCENE CARDS

First, write down every scene idea you have. Remember, when you change location, time, or point of view, you start a new scene. Even if you have just fragments of ideas about one incident here and one incident there, write them down. 

Second, get yourself some index cards. I prefer 4×6 so I have plenty of room to make notes. These are the important items to  list for each scene. Opinions about these items differ, so your mileage may vary. If you want to get fancy, you can even color code the cards by character, location, Part One, whatever works for you.

A basic scene card includes these elements:

POV.  Antagonist. Goal. Obstacle. Disaster. Decision.

If I seem like a Luddite because I’m talking about paper and pencil vs. Scrivener, well shucks. I work better when I can handle what I’m working with. I can make a story map with my scene cards, take a photo of it, then move scenes around as I please. This works for me. We all have our unique process.

 

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM/UNBEARABLE DISASTER

Brainstorming is your friend. Your main character wants something, right? How many completely outrageous ways can you think up for making that happen? For guaranteeing your main character total victory? No holds barred. Go as far and as crazy as you can.

Next, think up all the nasty, gruesome, heartbreaking, evil, and totally unfair ways you can stop your main character from ever getting near that goal. Again, push as far and as hard as you can. Never mind logic or reason. Blow the roof off the place! Wreck the joint! Just make sure your hero or heroine cannot possibly succeed.

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THE 20 QUESTIONS APPROACH

Think up 20 questions that will tell you facts about your character that nobody knows. Maybe not even that very character! I’m not talking about the usual getting to know you stuff. Why does the taste of chocolate make your character sick? Do they prefer snakes or spiders? What happened to their favorite childhood toy?

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GO BIG, GO BAD, GO BALLISTIC!

Come at your story from a different angle. How far is your main character willing to go to achieve that goal? Never mind what a sane, law-abiding, reasonable person would do. I’m talking all-out, eleventh hour, John Woo stuff. 

But wait, you say. You’re not looking to write the latest Jason Bourne-type blockbuster. You don’t want your hero to rank up there with the cast of The Expendables. You’re writing a nice, mellow, introspective literary story.

More power to you. Bear with me for a minute while I explain why the methods I’m suggesting will work just as well for literary fiction as they will for a story that fits into the world of genre protocols.

In one of my many efforts to combat my clinical depression, I participated in a day program. My favorite therapist would begin his “class” by explaining that the work we did with him would only be effective if we committed to it 125%. Why? Because 100% wasn’t good enough. We had to reach beyond our present ability. We had to work harder, to stretch farther, to make a greater effort. Only then would we grow. Only then would we really change.

Think beyond the obvious possibilities. Go wild. Push harder and farther. Abandon the limitations of linear thinking. You will transcend the predictable and open up new options for what happens when your main character finds themselves at the crux of unbearable pressure.

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PROWLING AROUND PINTEREST

When my brain gets jammed, I like to wander around Pinterest. It’s a largely visual site, which is what appeals to me. The writing articles might hand you the solution to your dilemma. The costume resources are wonderful. The creepy stuff is fun to explore. If your mind needs a rest, go look at something soothing like birthday cakes. Halloween is coming. Pinterest is a gold mine of decorating ideas. Sometimes we need to take a break. Pinterest is a lot of fun.

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How to Get Everything Done At Once


by Lillian Csernica on July 26, 2018

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People ask me how I manage to keep writing and selling fiction given everything I have going on at home with my two special needs sons. Some days I don’t get any writing done. That’s not a happy feeling. I have to make sure I get it done. That means on some days I shove everything else to the side, grab the laptop or the notebook, and just WRITE. God help anybody who interrupts me.

What is the secret of my success?

I make To Do lists. I mean one for each separate areas of my life. Here are the categories I work with every day:

Son #1 — He’s the medically fragile one who takes more or less eleven different medications each day, along with nebulizer treatments and other health-related activities.

Son #2 — School’s out for him, so he’s in need of something fun to do each day. Given that he has ASD, he’d spend every waking moment playing with something electronic. It’s important to get him out of the house. He often rides along with me when I go to appointments or run errands.

Writing — This gets done in my favorite coffeehouse, during downtime in waiting rooms, and here at home late at night. You will learn to write when you can, wherever you can. It’s the only way to get it done.

Phone calls — Doctors, medical equipment suppliers, the pharmacy, and anybody else with whom I do not communicate by email.

Appointments — We have lots of these. I have two weekly appointments. Regular check-ups for the boys come around every six to twelve months, which doesn’t seem like a lot until they show up right in the middle of a packed week. My writer’s group meets once a month. I have conventions coming up. I must also keep in mind when my husband plans trips and when other people in the household will be away. Big impact on the caregiver schedule.

Errands — The usual. Groceries, picking up meds, whatever prep I have to do for conventions in terms of PR materials, taking Son #2 on his outings, etc.

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Once the To Do lists are made, I begin to prioritize.

What absolutely has to get done today?

Let’s take tomorrow as an example. I have to be up at 6 a.m. with Son #1 for his morning routine. The RN is coming to relieve me in time for me to rush off to my first appointment of the day. When that’s done I’ll have about thirty minutes before I need to drive to the second appointment of the day. Then I have to rush back home and fill in as caregiver until the regularly scheduled person comes on duty. That will give me five hours of time with Son #1 during which he gets two separate doses of medication and one breathing treatment.

During those five hours I might be able to write, depending on how my son is doing. He’s been having more frequent seizures this week, so my attention span has to be focused mainly on him. I might be able to get some reading in, since I can glance up as him at I turn pages, which I do at a pretty quick pace.

Once the aide comes on duty, I have more freedom, but this is the nonmedical aide so I have to draw all the doses of medication Son #1 gets between 5:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. I will probably sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop and catch up on email, or I’ll do the writing that still needs to be done. Lately I’m writing by hand in spiral notebooks because I seem to write more quickly and in a better creative trance.

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And, last but not least, I have to spend some quality time with my cats. Around 10 p.m. two of them get the rips and demand a game of chase-the-ribbon or catch-the-mousie. Then one of them claims my lap while the other sits on the back of the couch right behind my head.

Figure out your categories. Pick the one most important item in each. Those items go on a new list. Can you make them work out together on the same day? If not, keep going up and down the lists until you can get at least one thing on each list done in the course of one day.

It’s all progress. It all counts. The tasks do not have to be the same size or of the same importance. What matters is getting them done. If this method gets to be too much, scale back your efforts. Consider only the three most important categories. Delegate more tasks. Say no more often. Protect your time.

Most of all, make sure you WRITE. Ten minutes, thirty minutes, two hours, whatever you can manage. Just do it, and do it every single day.

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5 Reasons Why Readers Give Up


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2018

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First, my apologies for the drop in the frequency of my posts. I’ve been having technical difficulties with both my laptop and daily life.

Keeping readers entertained and loyal is essential in today’s marketplace. I get a lot of free Kindle e-books thanks to BookBub. Given how much I read, I can plow through two or three novels a week depending on my schedule. Doing so has sharpened my sense of what will make me stop reading a book. Life is too short to read bad fiction. I have such a library built up on my Kindle there’s no reason to go on reading a book that can’t hold my interest.

These are the Five Storytelling Flaws that will make me give up on a story:

0f7398a5-6eed-4f57-b412-757fa49d8849Talking Heads — The dialogue might be witty. It might be well-crafted. If it doesn’t move the story forward, what’s the point? Dialogue can be a form of action, yes. If all you’ve got is characters having lengthy conversations, that’s going to try your reader’s patience and make them lose interest.

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Redshirts — These are the minor characters who take a bullet for the hero or heroine. I once read a fantasy novel where the redshirt problem was so blatant it became more and more aggravating with every predictable death. The novel was clearly meant to be the first in a series. It did not surprise me to learn the sequel never saw the light of day.

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Low Stakes — The majority of mystery novels are about murder because the stakes don’t get any higher than life or death. The higher the stakes, the more the main character has to risk in order to solve the problem. More risk means tougher choices and that creates more reader sympathy. Make sure the stakes in your story are high enough to keep the reader turning pages.

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Too Much Thinking — This is the internal narrative equivalent of Talking Heads. Yes, the reader needs to know how the main character feels and what thought process leads to the next attempt to solve the story problem. Too much thinking means too little action. The pace of the story suffers and the reader will lose interest.

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Purple Prose — If the reader can tell the writer is trying to impress, then the writer is trying too hard. This results in convoluted syntax that breaks the suspension of disbelief and makes the reader aware of the act of reading. I must confess that I do walk a fine line when I’m writing romance. Purple prose is very nearly one of the protocols of the genre. Keep it simple. Clarity and precision are your friends.

For more tips on avoiding these mistakes, I recommend reading:

How to Write A Damn Good Novel series by James N. Frey

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress

Revision by Kit Reed

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

 

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5 Ways I Make Depression Help Me


by Lillian Csernica on June 12, 2018

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I am currently suffering a depressive episode. All the problems in my life are magnified. I can’t sleep. When I do, I have nightmares. I have no energy, but life goes on as usual with all the typical daily chaos. Same stress, different day. I just can’t deal with it.

On the subject of tackling some dull, boring, and otherwise loathsome task, some years ago a therapist suggested that I attempt to do said task on a day when I was already swamped with all the bad juju of depression. As she put it, “Why ruin a good day?” That’s a very good point.

With that in mind, I decided that when depression shows up to ruin my day, I’m going to punish depression by using that day to catch up on every task I really hate to do.

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Housework

Changing the bedding — Doing this makes my lower back ache, my sprained knee hurt, and can often result in pulled muscles and the occasional pinched nerve.

Doing the laundry — A necessary evil, one that requires me to haul baskets of dirty and then clean laundry up and down my stairway. Then comes the tedious chore of folding it all and putting it all away.

Scrubbing floors — Bad for my knees, bad for my back, and really bad for my temper.

Clutter busting — I’m not good at throwing things away. Trash, sure. Actual garbage, no problem. When it comes to anything with a sentimental attachment, that gets harder. I’m told that a key piece of the problem with hoarding is that it’s grounded in loss. I’ve had some drastic losses in my life. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m not good at purging my possessions.

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Writing

Just slam it out. Set the timer, keep the pen moving. This is my No Mercy approach to bypassing the Internal Editor. There are days when depression adds a whole other layer of torment to the usual insecurities of writing. Imagine Imposter Syndrome on steroids.

Get messy. Get wild. Tear it all up and start over. This is more fun. The Frat Party/Rock Star/Road Trip method. Trash that metaphorical hotel room. Write all the forbidden thoughts. Screw structure and pace. Let’s write so hard we blow out some windows!

Go Hide Somewhere So I Don’t Happen to Somebody

Coffeehouse — My local Peet’s has become my current Happy Place. I’m in there two or three times a week. The baristas know me. The regulars know me. I’ve met some fascinating people there. I’m out in public, so the pressures and triggers here at home can’t get to me.

Library — Guaranteed peace and quiet, as long as I’m there before school lets out. I love the smell of books. I love the comfort of knowing all those books were written by people who have dealt with the same struggles I’m experiencing.

My room — Aside from the clutter problem (see above), my room is the place where I can go, shut the door, lock the door, and hide. I have a hook on the outside of my door on which I hang signs alerting the rest of the household to my state of mind. Sleeping. Working. Not Now.

OK. Maybe it’s not hiding so much as taking refuge when I just can’t fake being cheerful anymore.

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If the depression is still gaining the upper hand and I’m good for absolutely nothing productive, then I give it up and resort to palliative care:

Watch Action Movies With Lots of Explosions

Deadpool 1 and 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2

True Lies

The Replacement Killers

XXX (The Vin Diesel movie)

 

If you also experience depression, be it that passing sorrow people call “the blues” or full blown Major Depressive Disorder, then I offer you a high five in solidarity. The Big Black Dog is a voracious monster and wants to eat us alive. We can’t let that happen. Talk to somebody. If you write in a notebook, that somebody can be totally imaginary. Use your words. The more you can get out of your own head, escape those quicksand thoughts, the more you can put the Big Black Dog on a leash.

You are not alone. I’m here. I hear you. I see you. We have to stick together on this.

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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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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #27


by Lillian Csernica on May 27, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Past inspirations and experiences will be helpful in your job.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

Ellen sat at one round marble table. It was just big enough to hold her laptop and a cup of overpriced coffee. As she surveyed the earnest faces clustered around the grouping of three little tables, she wondered if she should have ordered a double espresso. Three women in the fifty-plus range. Two men, one a retired welder and the other a skinny, twitchy fellow in his thirties. She knew better than to make assumptions, but these people looked about as exciting as the smell of boiling brussel sprouts.

The mission in St. Petersberg had been way too exciting. Two assets dead, a safe house blown up, and bad blood with the other agencies involved. Ellen came out of it with a concussion, internal bruising, and eight weeks’ mandatory leave while the investigation tried to sort out who screwed who when. Her agency’s psych team recommended she take up some quiet hobby.

Birdwatching had felt too much like surveillance work. On the plus side, Ellen had called in three drug deals, two stolen cars, and the beginnings of a home invasion.

One quilting class convinced her that she’d become a chess master before she got the hang of all the patterns and pieces.

Knitting was right out. As Ellen’s supervisor had put it, “Anybody who puts a pair of needles that long into Ellen’s hands better bring a big stack of body bags.”

So here she was, at a local writing group.

Felicia, the group’s “facilitator,” tapped her spoon against her coffee cup. She beamed a perfect PTA Mom smile. “I’d like to welcome you all to the first meeting of this session. Why don’t we start by introducing ourselves. Tell us your name and you preferred genre.”

Ellen let the names wash past her in the general noise of the coffeehouse. The ’60s rock on the PA system combined with the bean grinder to trigger the beginnings of a headache. A fine excuse for more caffeine. Her turn came.

“Ellen. Nonfiction.”

“Any particular kind?” Felicia asked.

For a moment Ellen was tempted to say forensic archaeology. At the agency she’d developed a reputation for being able to guess time of death to within half an hour on a fresh body, and to within a week on anyone they had to recover.

“Oh, you know. Household hints, Martha Stewart stuff.”

She’d looked up various women writers, hoping to work up some kind of profile she could match. Back of the book photos qualified as glamor shots among the literary intelligentsia. Ellen had found the genre writers more to her liking, especially the fantasy and mystery people. With them in mind she wore jeans, a T shirt with a Dashiell Hammet classic cover, and a gray cardigan.

“Let’s get started,” Felicia said. “Fifteen minutes for our first writing prompt.” She tapped a few keys on her laptop. “Here we are. ‘Journeys end in lovers’ meeting.'”

Everyone grabbed their pens or bent to their keyboards. Ellen stared at the blank page. Her journeys ended in meetings, all right, but not with lovers. There was no love lost between her and the people the agency sent her to “meet.”

“Ellen,” Felicia murmured. “Remember, keep the pen moving.”

The man lay there on the sidewalk, surrounded by pieces of the shattered window glass. It was almost pretty, the way the streetlights’ sodium glare reflected off all the shiny bits, giving the man a halo in death he’d surely never earned in life. Did he have a wife somewhere? Would she miss him? Time would pass. Sooner or later she’d realize he was never coming home. Would she cry? Would she miss him? Or would she heave a secret sigh of relief? So many problems solved, so many arguments that now would never happen. There were loose ends. There were always loose ends. That’s why God invented scissors. A few discreet snips here and there and everything would be nice and tidy. She’d always been an independent woman. Now she could enjoy a more complete freedom.

Ellen smiled. Maybe this writing thing would work out after all.

END

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Filed under Blog challenges, classics, doctors, Fiction, frustration, historical fiction, Humor, Lillian Csernica, love, therapy, Writing

#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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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #25


by Lillian Csernica on May 25, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Laughter shall fuel the spirit’s engine.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Kyoto. Nice hotel room. More like an apartment.

Could not figure out how to work the overhead light. Little reading lights by each bed.

Found what looked like an upright card reader where a light switch would be.

Stuck my room key in, light came on, pulled my key out. A minute later the light went out. Rinse, repeat, about three times.

Called front desk. Explained problem. They were puzzled. Sent a guy to check.

He put my key card in the slot. Light came on. He didn’t see any problem. Why?

HE LEFT THE KEY CARD IN THE KEY READER.

That was the secret! Once I removed the key, as I would if I was leaving the room, then the lights would automatically turn off about a minute after I’d left the room.

I have rarely felt like such a total bonehead.

 

 

 

 

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #20


by Lillian Csernica on May 20, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A loved one is of utmost importance at this time.

SPECIAL NEEDS

I sat there on the generic brown couch, staring up at the TV screen mounted high in one corner. Hospitals. Designed to give you a crick in the neck. You were lying in bed looking up at the TV, or you were sitting in some “Family Lounge” praying the news was good or at least bearable.

It was four a.m. on a Tuesday in late April. I sat in the “Family Lounge” trying not to cry. One of the CNAs, Delia, slept on the other couch. Using her lunch break to take a nap. I didn’t want to wake her. She’d rather sleep than eat. That said a lot about how little sleep she generally got.

I knew all about sleep deprivation. Tommy was back in the hospital again. Another infection. The immune system of a premature baby isn’t very strong. Tommy had made it to age ten, but even so, none of his systems were all that strong. He held on. He kept breathing. His heart kept beating. His organs continued to develop. The doctors were amazed. If Tommy’s life had been a song, that would have been the chorus. The doctors were amazed. And so I sat there, recharging my phone, watching the minute hand of the clock move or staring at the blank black mirror of the plasma screen TV.

Tommy had to live, to go on surviving. If he didn’t, that would finish me. Losing Bobby had been hard enough. Eighteen weeks. Early rupture. He was fine. It was me, my body, that couldn’t carry him to term. I lost him. That horrible moment when I really understood the emptiness where he had been. He’d just started kicking. I was happy, really happy, for the first time in years. That lasted two days, maybe three. Then my water broke too soon, and the nightmare began.

I knew a lot about hospitals. I could write a Lonely Planet guidebook comparing the beds, the food in the cafeterias, what there was to do in the surrounding neighborhoods. I always knew where to find a bookstore, or at least a drugstore with a news stand. When Tommy had to spend a whole summer in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I blew through at least a dozen books. When I finished them I’d leave some for any of the RNs who wanted them.

The clock said five a.m. Delia’s phone alarm went off. She sat up, smoothed her hair, tugged at her scrubs, then gave me that smile that was part pity and part professional compassion. She went back to work. The Infectious Disease unit. What fun. I’d want to burn my clothes and throw away my shoes every single night.

Two hours until shift change. The blood draws usually started at six a.m. so the results were ready in time for Rounds. That was a three hour window of muscle-knotting tension spent constantly on the alert for the five or ten minutes of the specialist’s time. Were the test results good? Did they show progress? Were we a day closer to discharge? The doctors were like Santa Claus. They appeared, dropped off their packets of information, then hurried on. So many more houses to visit, so many more patients to see. Instead of eight tiny reindeer, they had residents and physician’s assistants and sometimes a flock of student nurses who stood out like a flock of geese in their white scrubs. I often wondered if they made the students wear white scrubs so any mistake would leave a telltale mark. There are a lot of bodily fluids splashing around in hospitals, especially in the Infectious Disease unit.

Then came the empty hours until lunchtime. Linen changes. Emptying the catheter bag. Making sure Tommy’s pain levels were still under good control. Just awake enough to be bored, too worn out to do anything about it. I spent a lot of time reading to him, trying to find something entertaining on the hospital’s available TV channels, or just sitting there watching him sleep. It’s a terrible thing when you’re happy to see your child lying there unconscious because it’s the preferable alternative.

Stephen, my husband and Tommy’s father, spent his days at work maintaining the insurance coverage, paying the endless medical bills, keeping our life moving forward until that time when Tommy could come home again. He did his part and I did mine as I sat there alone, watching the empty black mirror of the big plasma screen.

END

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