Category Archives: historical fiction

Doin’ the BayCon Boogie!


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2019

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It’s taken me more time than usual to recover from the wonders of BayCon. This year’s amazing spectacle had so much going on I wanted to be in at least two different places in every time slot. Here are the highlights of one of the better con weekends I’ve enjoyed.

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How diverse is diversity?

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

I added another layer to the definition of diversity by speaking for those who have disabilities, whether physical or psychological. While some physical disabilities are obvious and others are not, most psychological problems are not immediately apparent. Thanks to the expanding realm of neurodiversity, more and more people are aware of the prevalence of autism, of clinical depression, of chronic pain, and other conditions that create daily challenges on several levels.

Teen Guided-Storytelling Workshop

Host: Margaret McGaffey-Fisk

John wanted to attend this event. He’s been drawing for years and has taken at least two ceramics classes in school. Now he’s interested in learning how to tell a good story to go along with his illustrations and sculptures. Margaret did a wonderful job of explaining the techniques of oral storytelling. There was a young lady present as well. Margaret encouraged both John and this young lady to use their own original characters as part of practicing the techniques she discussed. I am delighted to say I learned quite a lot also! Margaret’s techniques came in very handy for the Spontaneous Storytelling panel on Sunday.

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Altered Beast

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature.

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

I have written and published three stories with Kevin and one  (so far) with Pat. We all have extensive libraries on folklore and shapeshifters, so we took the audience on a round-the-world tour of the beliefs and manifestations of the “werewolf” tradition.When we three are together, you will hear some of the weirdest facts and fancies you could imagine!

Spontaneous Storytelling

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

Jeff Warwick (M), David Brin, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Mark Gelineau (Gelineau and King)

Jeff is brilliant. Get somebody who was in the audience for this panel to tell you about the illustrations he drew while the story evolved, most notably The Harmonicat. This critter has now entered into the annals of A Shot Rang Out folklore right up there with Darth Tetra. I found a way for our protagonist to speak Japanese to the cat. David Brin picked right up on that and easily blew my tourist doors off with his accent and much better grammar. Mark Gelineau caught some of the stranger audience suggestions and turned them to his advantage. A good time was had by all!

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The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

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

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

It’s not easy to talk about one’s creative process, but the three of us gave it a solid try. Jay described how the combination of his acting training and his directing skills help him render authentic emotion on the page. Maya gave us some very personal insights into how she transforms personal pain into dynamic action in her stories. Me? I keep digging deeper and deeper into the hearts of my characters to find the pain that drives them onward, that won’t let them sleep, that gives them strength in the face of crushing opposition. Pain is supposed to be Nature’s way of telling us to stop doing something. For writers, it’s what keeps us writing.

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BayCon 2019 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2019

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

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

Keeping our children involved.

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

How do we ENHANCE their education?

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

 

How diverse is diversity?

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

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

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

 

Why do writers kill characters?

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

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

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

 

Altered Beast

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

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature

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

 

Spontaneous Story

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

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

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

 

The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

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

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

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

 

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#atozchallenge Reflections


by Lillian Csernica on May 6, 2019

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Greetings! After all the labors of April, we have come to the post-game analysis. I’m going with the official suggested list of questions because they’re mighty fine for providing insights.

  1. What did you love about the challenge this year? I had a good time drawing on the less familiar moments of my writing life. I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of things. Finding a subject for each day’s letter made me sift through all that for material that was both entertaining and edifying.
  2. What would you change about it? Maybe plan a brainstorming event a month ahead that would get me off the starting block with my posts. That way I could stay a week or so ahead and not fall into the last minute pressure cooker.
  3. What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge? When it was time to write something for the letter U, I got stuck. I looked up words, pondered angles, and started to overthink the post. Then I realized I could write about one of my greatest sources of inspiration: my mother. That’s when I decided to tell the story of the best Halloween costume Mom ever created, starring her Utility Belt.
  4. What is the best comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment? “Vintage also comes with a connotation of good, as in the good old days, not the parts nobody wants to remember or return to. In wines, it refers to aging in carefully controlled conditions so as to add both character and subtlety to the final product.” — Pat MacEwen, in response to V is for Vintage
  5. Will you do the challenge again? Can’t wait! Every year is an adventure. My previous themes have included Chocolate, Bad Sword & Sorcery Movies, Art Nouveau jewelry, and my Kyoto Steampunk universe!
  6. Was it well organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?) Yes indeed! A particular shout-out to J Lenni Dorner.
  7. How did you and your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? In opening up my own mind to areas of my life I don’t normally mention in my blog posts, I think I’ve given myself permission to write with a deeper level of meaning. Both the positive experiences and the negative ones provide useful perspective.  Did you find new blogs out there to enjoy? Yes I did! 
  8. Were you on the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it better this time without the daily lists?) I was on the Master List, yes. The daily lists are helpful to me. Last year I’d go to the Facebook page and browse the links. That made it easier for me to roam around. I regret not getting as much roaming time in this year.
  9. Any suggestions for our future? Keep up the good work! This is easily one of the highlights of my blog year.
  10. Any notes to the co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics? A thousand thank-yous to all the folks who make the A to Z Blog Challenge happen. I’ve made some great online friends by participating and I’ve discovered some brilliant people.

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#atozchallenge Z is for Zarf


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2019

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Names are powerful. To know the name of a thing is to possess some degree of control over it. Long before I learned about that belief, I had already fallen in love with knowing the names of rocks, seashells, plants, and animals.

Few activities are better for learning new words than reading a lot. You never know what you might come across. That’s one reason I love to read historical fiction and nonfiction. There’s no pleasure like finding the exact word.

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What does all this have to do with the word ZARF?

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A standard cardboard coffee cup sleeve. That phrase is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Clarity and precision are my watchwords. First draft might be all over the place, but a good solid edit will include the right words in the right places. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but you won’t get the same mental image!

giphyThis brings us to the end of the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge. Many thanks to all of you who have been kind enough to stop by, like a post, and leave a comment. I’m always happy to hear from you.

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#atozchallenge Y is for Yearning


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2019
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Writers spend a lot of their time thinking about their characters’ deepest yearnings.

Sure, the protagonist wants to solve the problem that sets the story in motion. What else is going on down in the deeper layers of the protagonist’s psyche? What unmet need drives that character onward?

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There’s a school of thought in psychodynamics that says we marry a person who represents our parent of the opposite gender. Men marry their mothers, women marry their fathers. As we know, the gender spectrum is not binary, so this thinking is clearly behind the times. Still, take a good look at the spouse and children of a close friend, somebody you know well enough to know about their nuclear family and its dynamics.

See any patterns there? Any repetition of childhood scripts?

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At this point in my life I read a lot less romance and a lot more murder mystery. What does that say about the kind of escapism I’m yearning for? I’ve lived too long to get caught up in the romance paradigm. These days I’m a lot more interested in knowing that by the end of the book, the mystery will be solved and the killer will meet some kind of justice.

I yearn for solutions. I yearn for the power to stop arrogant maladjusted people from getting away with murder. I yearn for an orderly, well-mannered, peaceful world.

"Yes, it's sort of a yearning disability."

 

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#atozchallenge X is for Xenophilia


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2019

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Welcome to one of the more unusual days in the A to Z Blog Challenge. X is a tricky letter.

My apologies for this post going up a bit later than the others. My in-laws from back east have been visiting and I got a bit behind.

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I have a confession to make: I am a Xenophile. This will come as no surprise to folks who have read this far in my A to Z. I love foreign people, places, and things.

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When did this start? I was in first grade. A family from Japan moved into the apartment across the big grassy yard from where I lived. Hiro Takahashi joined my class. Getting to know him, his sisters, and his parents gave me my first glimpse into a whole new world.

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From age 16 to 18, I worked as a professional Turkish-Moroccan belly dancer. My teacher, a marvelous lady from Saragossa, Spain, taught me so much about her part of the world. I still have the coin belt made for me by a Turkish man. 144 diamond-shaped silver coins, all stamped with the Venus di Milo.

As my high school graduation gift, my father sent me to the Netherlands. I spent the summer with the family of the girl who had been my Physics lab partner on a student exchange program. While I was there I took a weekend bus tour to Paris, France. I am now all the more grateful for that trip, given that it allowed me to see Our Lady of Notre Dame cathedral in its full glory.

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My fiction has been translated into German and Italian. (Ship of Dreams became In the Spell of the Pirate.) I’m looking for someone to translate a novella into Japanese. If you know anybody, drop me a line, won’t you?

And of course I’ve had some adventures in Yokohama and Kyoto.

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Why am I so attracted to the Other? People fascinate me. How they think, what they think, and why they think it. Just the single concept of life after death has given rise to so many different schools of thought. The pursuit of happiness involves such a broad spectrum of effort depending on how one defines happiness.

Writing allows me to take apart some aspect of life and put the pieces back together in a new way. Am I trying to make some sense of what I’ve experienced? Probably. Am I trying to bring order to a chaos that leaves me frightened and bewildered? Probably. It’s not all one-for-one, of course. By the time I get to the final edit of a story, the pieces of me I’ve used undergo quite a process of transformation.

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#atozchallenge T is for Talisman


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2019

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Most writers I know keep meaningful items on their desks, keepsakes associated with inspiration, good luck, or some method of coaxing the Muse into delivering the day’s word quota. While these may not be talismans in the classic sense of rings or pendants of precious stone inscribed with mystic words, these keepsakes are talismanic in that they stir up our imaginations in positive and productive ways.

My most treasured talismans include:

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The inkwell given to me at my first book signing by the owner of the store.

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The Mixy Award given to me by Steve Mix at BayCon 2015.

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The enamel pin showing the main building of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto which I bought from the gift shop when I visited the palace.

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A note sent to me by the parents of a little girl whose letter to Santa Claus I answered, thanking me for keeping their daughter’s “dream and belief” alive.

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The clay pendant bearing my name in cuneiform made for me by a dealer at WorldCon 75 in Finland, brought all the way home to me by my best friend, Patricia H. MacEwen. I would show you the pendant itself, but I’m fine-tuning my wire wrap jewelry skills so I can wear the piece at BayCon next month!

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge S is for Sociopath


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2019

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Sociopaths are scary people. They are cold-blooded, their conscience is weak, and they do not play by the rules most of us learn early on. What’s worse, they are often attractive and can pass themselves off as perfectly wonderful people.

Sociopaths make useful characters in stories. In real life, they can be terrifying.

When I was still a teenager, I worked for a man who seemed like a lovable teddy bear, a great father, and a fun boss. Bit by bit I discovered the truth he kept hidden behind this lovely front. The man was a sexual predator, a child molester (his own), and he let his girlfriend deal drugs out of what amounted to the “back room.” I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten out of that situation in one piece.

Writing about someone like this man is not simply a matter of devising some well-deserved and precisely constructed karmic annihilation. Sociopaths know how to spot the types of people who will play right into their hands. Sociopaths can make you feel wonderful, get you to open up about yourself, and then they will use all of that against you in the most heartless, vicious, and efficient ways possible.

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If you want to create a sociopath in a story, bear in mind that a sociopath has Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This can present with a variety of symptoms. The particular symptoms an individual shows will vary according to genetics, the family environment, and other factors such as alcoholism or substance abuse. One of the most common traits is expert manipulation of other people. This is where the weak conscience is a factor. Sociopaths might know what they’re doing is wrong, but they don’t care. They will use and abuse other people to whatever extent is necessary just to get what they want.

It’s easy to think of sociopaths as being monsters. They can be, but they’re not always the worst sort out there. People sometimes confuse “sociopath” with “psychopath.” I once attended a lecture by the psychologist and profiler who worked with Ted Bundy. It was that man’s opinion that psychopaths are made, not born, through key events in their lives. This is even more true of sociopaths, because they are more common and the psychiatric “starter kit,” so to speak, can be shaped by a wider variety of influences.

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A character with sociopathic tendencies can make an excellent good guy, if only in the antihero sense. Take a close look at the classic noir detectives such as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. They have their own codes of conduct. They might acknowledge the authority of police and the courts, but they play by their own rules and deliver the punishments they believe are deserved.

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#atozchallenge O is for Opportunity


by Lillian Csernica on April 17,  2019

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There’s a famous saying: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” That might have been true once, but today the Internet has brought the marketplace to the consumers. They don’t have to “beat a path” anywhere. It’s up to us as the sellers of our writing to get our work in front of the people who will buy it.

How do we do that? By making the most of every opportunity.

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Where are those opportunities? Market listings.

Duotrope — It’s possible to glean some information from this site without paying an annual subscription fee. Me, I have a subscription. Best money I ever spent. I credit this site with improving my acceptance rate.

The Submissions Grinder — This site is free. There is a lot of information available. Do be careful to follow through on the links and make sure you’ve got the latest submission requirements. Many markets, especially anthologies, have limited reading windows on very specific themes.

Remember what I said about building a writing community? That’s another crucial element in finding opportunity. The more writers we know, the more contacts we have in the writing world, the more likelier we are to hear about opportunities.

One day I was at the supermarket. I bumped into Deborah J. Ross, a well-known writer and editor who also lives in my part of the world. We’ve known each other for a while now, mostly meeting up at conventions. Deborah happened to be putting together a new anthology. She said she’d love to see a story from me. Holy cats! I thanked her and got to work right away. That story, The Katana Matrix, will appear in Citadels of Darkover.
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What happens if we can’t find an opportunity that matches what we have to offer?

We take it to the next level by finding ways to create our own opportunities.

Tailor stories we’ve already finished to suit the target market.

When I was in college, I took a fiction course and wrote the original version of Masquerade. The result landed about halfway between literary and genre fiction. Later, when I decided to start submitting the story, I rewrote it and cranked up certain aspects so the story fit into the horror genre. It first appeared in Midnight Zoo, then Karl Edward Wagner accepted it for my second appearance in The Year’s Best Horror Stories.

Push our limits by writing on a subject or in a genre where there are many opportunities.

I started out writing fantasy and horror. I switched to romance because it was easier to break into the novel market there and the money was better. The result? Ship of Dreams. That novel did earn out its advance, and it continues to bring in good royalties.

Ask questions, seek advice, beat the bushes in pursuit of potential opportunities.

Where do we start? Join online writing communities. Join the professional association that suits what you prefer to write. Go to the places where you will meet other writers, editors, and publishers. Conventions, seminars, lectures at the local library. Yes, attending the larger events can get expensive. We have to weigh the potential benefits against the cost. One good pitch session can save a lot of time and effort.

Remember: Be polite. Be considerate. Be grateful. Pass on the kindness to other writers who need help. This is how we grow our community, and how we keep ourselves in the minds of people in a position to alert us to opportunities that could make all the difference to our success.
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#atozblogchallenge L is for Location


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2019

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One of the key ideas in retail success is “Location, location, location.” Put your business in the right place, where the right customer base will find you, and you stand a much better chance of making a profit.

When writing stories, your setting is a vital element. I see a lot of stories with complex worldbuilding, but the setting is more like stage scenery or a rack of props. Where you locate your story, or which locations appear in your story, can be just as powerful a story element as plot or character.

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Consider some famous settings:

Mars — The Martian

A train — Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train

A bus — Speed

A deserted islandRobinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies

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These settings have crucial aspects in common:

  • The physical location is very limiting, requiring quick thinking and immediate adaptation.
  • The main character is trapped in that setting. There is no easy way out.
  • The stakes are life or death.

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When I write historical fiction, location encompasses not just the physical setting but the time period as well:

Fallen Idol starts out in a mall food court, an ordinary, modern, nonthreatening setting. The main character, a photographer, notices a girl with elaborate and dramatic makeup. The rest of her skin is completely covered up by layers of clothing. The photographer follows this girl to a creepy abandoned factory, full of strange foreign folk art, where the rest of the story, rooted in a famous historical conflict, takes place.

Saving Grace is set in a chateau on a pilgrimage route in 14th Century France. The main character fled Russia during the Tatar invasion. She is a vampire. That makes daily living hard enough. She is also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this time most of the Western world was controlled by the Pope of Rome. That puts my heroine in constant danger of arrest as a heretic and schismatic. That meant being burned at the stake.

The Kyoto Steampunk stories take place in Kyoto 1880. Dropping a Victorian physician into an Oriental environment where he can’t speak the language and knows nothing about the social protocol makes every problem I give him twice as difficult.

Make the most of your fictional location. It can make a huge difference!

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