Category Archives: historical fiction

A to Z 2018: Kyoto Steampunk!

by Lillian Csernica on March 19, 2018


Welcome to my fourth adventure as a participant in the A to Z Blog Challenge!

This year I will be taking you into the depths of my fiction. Thanks to the wonderful folks behind Clockwork Alchemy, I have two short stories in each of the three convention anthologies published so far. You can see all three covers in the sidebar. History is my passion and historical fiction my favorite reading and writing pleasure. With that in mind, my A to Z Challenge Theme is



Come and meet the main characters such as Dr. William Harrington, eminent British physician, his wife Constance and their daughter Madelaine, a genius at creating clockwork automata and a keen student of Japanese language and culture.

Meet his adversaries who hail from various corners of Japanese mythology!


Meet the people of Japan who bring their strengths and weaknesses to the battles Dr. Harrington must face as he struggles to carry out the mission entrusted to him by Queen Victoria herself.

Join me for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.  I will take you behind the scenes into the creative process and amazing historical details that shape Dr. Harrington’s adventures!





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5 Quick Tips to Get You Through That First Draft

by Lillian Csernica on December 20, 2017


Write the ending first. It will probably evolve. That’s fine. You can change it. When you have a destination in mind, it’s easier to map the route, right? Same goes for stories. When you know what you’re aiming for, you can figure out how to put the best obstacles in your main character’s way. He or she will fight harder and then win a bigger victory.

Go where the energy is strongest. Listen to your characters. Write down what they want to tell you. They may have ideas that haven’t broken through to your writing mind yet. I know, some days you just can’t figure out what to write next or how it should be written. Find a conversation, a bit of internal narrative, or some big disaster in the story that captures your imagination. Run with it! See where it takes you.

Experiment with POV. Who has the most to lose? Who has nothing to lose and everything to gain? Writing from the antagonist’s POV can provide useful insights. You don’t have to use this writing in the actual story. The better you know what’s going on in the minds of each of your characters, the more precise and vivid their actions and dialog will be on the page.

Go big or go home. Push your action, your characters, your magic, your tech, as far and as hard as you and it can go. Don’t be timid. Readers want powerful writing. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for the brushstroke technique, but when you’re trying to finish that first draft, it’s better to go all out. Throw in everything and the kitchen sink. The editing process is the time for picking and choosing which story ideas to keep.

Finish it. Until you finish it, you can’t submit it. Until you submit it, you can’t sell it. I know that’s obvious, but it’s important to bear all this in mind. Writing is hard work. The initial rush of a new idea wears off and then you have to figure out the rest of the story. It’s easy to get swept up in a new idea and leave that other one sitting on your mental back burner. FINISH IT. The only way to learn how to write better, stronger stories is to get all the way through them one at a time.




Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, publication, science fiction, Writing

New Release! Killing It Softly, Vol. 2

by Lillian Csernica on October 30, 2017


Just in time for Halloween, Killing It Softly 2, another collection of short stories to be read with the lights on and the doors locked!
Part 1 – Another Space, Another Time
The Whims of My Enemy – Amanda J. Spedding
A Moveable Feast – Jenny Blackford
Softly into the Morning – L. D. Colter
Whispers in the Wax – Tonia Brown
The Screaming Key – Lillian Csernica
Framed – Diana Catt
Bloody Rain – Rie Sheridan Rose
The Idlewild Letters – H.R. Boldwood
Kristall Tag – Holly Newstein
The Adventure of My Ignoble Ancestress – Nancy Holder

Part II – Monster Party
The Devil’s in the Details – Stacey Longo
Octavia – Chantal Boudreau
The Skeench – Debra Robinson
Sandcastle Sacrifices – Jennifer Brozek
Unfilial Child – Laurie Tom
Milk and Cookies – M.J. Sydney
Figaro, Figueroa – Karen Heuler
Scarecrow – Vonnie Winslow Crist
A Great and Terrible Hunger – Elaine Cunningham

Part III – Cognitive Deception
Belongings – Abra Staffin-Wiebe
Evil Little Girl – Barb Goffman
Blue – Julie Travis
The Devil Inside – Shannon Connor Winward
Shining Brook and the Ice Moon Spirit – Jean Graham
Damaged Goods – Lindsey Goddard
Project Handbasket – Rebecca J. Allred
Behind the Eight Ball – Lena Ng
A Faithful Companion – Deborah Sheldon
Omega – Airika Sneve

Part IV – The Changed and the Undead
Little Fingers – Christine Morgan
Golden Rule – Donna J. W. Munro
Fifth Sense – Tina Rath
Cycle – Rebecca Fraser
The Hand of God – Gerri Leen
Vile Deeds – Suzie Lockhart
The Holy Spear – Barbara A. Barnett
Skin and Bones – Rebecca Snow
Death Warmed Over – Rachel Caine

Many of the contributors here also appear in the first Killing It Softly anthology, also well worth your attention.



Filed under creativity, editing, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Halloween, historical fiction, Horror, Lillian Csernica, mother, publication, steampunk, sword and sorcery, Uncategorized, Writing

NaNoWriMo 2017: Fantasy for Fun & Profit

by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2017


That’s right. I’ve gone and done it. I have officially signed up for NaNoWriMo 2017.

I’m in the editing stage of The Flower Maiden Saga, so this year I’m going back to basics and writing a good old-fashioned sword & sorcery novel. When I first started to read fantasy, I gravitated to C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and of course Conan the Barbarian. Red Nails remains one of the most chilling and thrilling stories of its kind.


Now the tricky part will be getting my daily 1667 words written while I’m doing all of this November stuff as well:


A road trip up to EuCon in Eugene, Oregon. John will be teaching drawing classes in the Art Bus, which is sponsored by Imagination International Incorporated, the folks who make Copic markers.


Making Thanksgiving happen.


Celebrating John’s birthday.

And the usual daily chaos that keeps me on my toes.

All this and write 50,000 words? 200 pages? No problem!

Stay tuned, folks. Let’s see if I can make it to the end of November before my head explodes!





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I’m a Featured Author!

by Lillian Csernica on September 25th, 2017


Thanks to the generosity of Renee Scattergood, I am the featured author in today’s spotlight on her blog. Please do head on over there and take a look. The interview questions were a lot of fun to answer!

Many thanks, Renee!



Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, Family, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, history, love, nature, pirates, publication, romance, tall ships, Writing

Talk Like a Pirate Day

by Lillian Csernica on September 19, 2017

This is a very special day for me, dear to my heart for three important reasons.


First, I met my husband of thirty years at the Northern Renaissance Faire where he was playing a pirate aboard the good ship Cardiff Rose, aka the fencing booth. See that tall, dark, handsome fellow in the middle? Bosun’s Mate Christopher Fortune!


Second, my first published romance novel, Ship of Dreams, is a love story between an English Lady and a notorious French pirate. There are sea battles and sword fights and many people talking like pirates in English, French, and Spanish. I had such a good time writing this book!


Third, I once received a letter to Santa Claus that asked Santa what he thought about pirates. (I volunteer every holiday season at my local post office, replying to the letters the local kids write to Santa Claus.) This took some thinking on my part. Hollywood has done a lot to romanticize what pirates were and what they did. Speaking on behalf of Santa Claus, I had to strike a balance between truth and a child’s sense of adventure.

In the letter from Santa I said that the real pirates of history weren’t very nice people. They tended to get a lot of coal in their stockings. Santa Claus does believe that pretending to be a pirate can be a lot of fun. You find out amazing things about sailing ships, life at sea, and all the different kinds of treasure pirates captured.

The boy who wrote this letter to Santa Claus happened to live in my neighborhood. The next time I crossed paths with his mother, she told me all about how excited her son had been to get a reply from Santa himself. She thought the answers to the pirate questions were just right. I love it when I hear how much the kids enjoy their letters!

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Which Story Should You Write First?

by Lillian Csernica on August 28, 2017

44384633-creativity-and-imagination-concept-open-book-with-magical-city-inside-ship-palm-trees-tropical-islaYou’ve got two or more ideas in your head, fighting for your attention, demanding to be written.

It happens.

What do you do? How do you prioritize them? Maybe you really can write more than one story at once, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Everybody’s got a process. It’s good to know and respect your own. If you’re still somewhat new to writing narrative fiction, you might want to concentrate on one story at a time.

But again, which one?

The answer depends on knowing exactly what you want.


Are you after the money? Go with the idea that’s most marketable.


Are you out to make a statement or address an issue? Go with the idea that really sets your heart on fire, be it with anger, grief, or joy.

Vector creativity concept

Do you have what seems like a really cool idea but you’re all caught up in the worldbuilding and you can’t seem to make the characters behave and there’s all this research? Let that one sit. It sounds like it might be a novel. If you don’t have enough experience yet from writing short stories, writing a novel might be biting off more than you can chew. Do I know this from personal experience? Oh yes.


When you get to the stage where you see ideas everywhere, that’s when you have to adjust your own settings as a writer. By doing so, you’ll be able to concentrate on the ideas that show up most strongly on the radar of your imagination.

How do you adjust those settings? Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a deadline to meet? If there’s a submission window open and it has a firm deadline, that movies it up the priority list.

Is the idea time-sensitive? Seasonal themes often require submitting the story several months in advance, so keep an eye on guideline updates.

Do you have a particular word limit in mind? It might seem obvious to think flash fiction can be written in a shorter time frame than a novella. Shorter is often harder, because every word has to do that much more work. If you have more than one work-in-progress, the time factor is an important consideration.

Cost/benefit analysis

Will Idea A yield benefits that outweigh the costs of time, effort, marketing, etc.?

Opportunity cost

What else could you be doing instead of developing Idea A into a story? Maybe Idea B would yield more in the way of benefits long term.

If you want your writing to be more than a few random thoughts jotted in a personal journal while sipping a latte in the local coffeehouse, then this kind of analysis is very important. It may seem too cold and clinical to evaluate a creative effort in these terms, but hey, life is short. Make hay while the sun shines or the storms will come and all that hay will rot in the field. All that opportunity will be lost.

Regardless of which priority you choose, once you have settled on a project, there is one ironclad rule:











Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, Horror, publication, research, Small business, steampunk

The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask

by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017



Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?


In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.


In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.


In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!




Filed under Christmas, classics, creativity, dreams, editing, fairy tales, Family, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, memoirs, nature, publication, research, science fiction, travel, Writing

The Writer’s Spellbook

by Lillian Csernica on August 1, 2017



One of the most important elements of a fantasy novel or a game world is the magic system. A logical and consistent magic system will do a lot to help improve the quality of the story… A better magic system means a better story, and a better story means more readers!



Whether you’re a writer or a gamer, a graphic novelist or an historical reenactor, The Writer’s Spellbook will give you step by step guidance in making the crucial decisions that will bring your fantasy world to life.



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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories

by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017


The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)


Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.


In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods


Find Me







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