Category Archives: historical fiction

Gathering My Thoughts


by Lillian Csernica on May 17, 2022

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I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.

Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.

I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!

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Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, publication, research, steampunk, therapy, Writing

X is for Xenophile


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2022

“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples.  Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind.  If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera.  This was the number one item on my bucket list.  Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.

I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them.  This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories.  My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera.  If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

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 The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls.  Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva.  There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera.  Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there.  People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms.  When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.

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The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves.  Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.

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Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop.  Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards.  The Stage contains not a single nail.  Wooden pegs were used instead.

In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.  The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time.  Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire.  Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!

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This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction.  I stood at the corner on the center left.

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There are several shrines on the temple grounds.  This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth.  I love those fox figurines.  Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.

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Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking.  The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai.  Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money.  The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition.  The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers.  A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine.  The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.

Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree.  Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it.  We didn’t understand that at the time.  Now we do!

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The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people.  I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji.  Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world.  Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them.  Still not sure what that was all about.

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Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings.  On the far right, wisdom.  In the center, long life.  On the left, success in scholarship.  I meant to drink from the water of longevity.  Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead.  I suspect that’s probably what I really need!

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Soon it was time to head back down the mountain.  This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.

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I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning.  Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list.    If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka.  We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick.  Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa.  I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, charity, fairy tales, Family, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, legend, memoirs, nature, research, steampunk, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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Filed under #atozchallenge, autism, Blog challenges, creativity, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, memoirs, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, publication, research, science fiction, special education, Special needs, specialists, therapy, worry, Writing

N is for Nitpicking


“When you nitpick, you focus on small, specific mistakes.” — Vocabulary.com

Writing about history gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion. There is one particular occupational hazard to becoming an historical writer. One can develop an obsession with historical accuracy that appears to people outside one’s own head as relentless nitpicking.

A good example is Scotland. Not the wealthiest of countries, Scotland has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, especially the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. When in the company of such people, I’ve learned to keep my knowledge of history to myself. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those nasty facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. I find it one of history’s most humorous moments to see all that grandeur reduced to the business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are business available to produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese. Context is everything, and Japan is a high-context society.

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chilvary was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved more than once.

Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. Love might be a nice side effect of marriage. Nobody expected it to be the whole point.

Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, also found in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. Not a lot of romance there for me. I’m not fond of desert climates.

One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first romance novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because that novel is set in Navarre. I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. In Egypt the custom of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes was based as much on pragmatism as piety. If not for that custom, many members of the lower classes in Egypt would have starved to death. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the delights of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the carnelian combs of early Russia to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing with splendor and detail. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. I had to wonder how she avoided ending up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s.

History is full of little questions like this, alongside the larger mysteries. And so with every novel I go exploring!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Humor, Japan, love, marriage, publication, research, romance, travel, Writing

M is for Mystery


by Lillian Csernica on April 15, 2022

I love a good mystery novel. Few things offer me the escapism and fine writing and entertaining guesswork of an excellent mystery. These are some of my favorites:

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Artists In Crime by Dame Ngaio Marsh

This was the first Inspector Alleyn novel I read. While clearly upper crust and possessed of impeccable manners, Alleyn brings a very pragmatic approach to his investigations. By that I mean he lets the suspects think he’s playing along with their nonsense while he seizes the available opportunities to gather the information he needs. Among the artists involved in this crime is Agatha Troy, a famous painter who captures Alleyn’s heart while he’s trying to figure out if she’s the one he has to arrest for murder. As the sixth case in the series, this story presents Alleyn in a new light with a depth of characterization that compelled me to read all thirty-two of his adventures.

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The Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The first of the Miss Marple novels, in this story I discovered the world of the quaint little English village and what a fierce combination of deceit, resentment, and violence seethes just below its proper public face. A cranky, abrasive churchwarden is shot in his office at the vicarage. A total of twenty-one characters dilute the main story a bit with subplots, but the red herrings do keep you guessing. The characters are so realistic and well-drawn I can read this book again and again.

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The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Nordic Noir is quite a reading experience. Scandinavian landscapes, brooding police protagonists, and crimes of dark and twisted violence. I admit I wasn’t prepared for that last one. Even so, the brilliance of the writing and the intensity of the characters make for a thrilling read. Harry Hole is the Norwegian detective in Jo Nesbo’s series.

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The Fifth Elephant by Sir Terry Pratchett

There’s trouble brewing in Uberwald, a dark, spooky country where power is split between the vampires, the werewolves, and the Low King of the Dwarves. A new Low King is about to take charge in a turn of events that will affect the reins of power all over the Disc. Lord Ventinari intends to protect the interests of Ankh-Morpork and its allies by sending Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch. Vimes also happens to be a Duke, which makes him the perfect copper for the diplomatic mission. Vimes is anything but diplomatic, guaranteeing a bumpy time will be had by all. The plot concerns a theft that leads to murder surrounded by lies, lies, and more lies. Great stuff!

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The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Philip Marlowe’s first novel-length case takes him from blackmail and a gambling den to drugs, murder, and madness. General Sternwood hires him to solve the problem plaguing his younger daughter Carmen. The cynical way way General Sternwood talks about both Carmen and his elder daughter Vivian as corrupt and “having all the usual vices” signals just how far down such high class socialites can fall. The movie version starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is excellent, directed by John Huston with William Faulkner himself working on the script. Hollywood did sanitize the story a bit. For the complete story with every sordid detail, read the book!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, artists, Blog challenges, classics, Fiction, historical fiction, memoirs, nature, publication, research, romance, therapy, Writing

#nanowrimo Writing Interrupted


by Lillian Csernica on November 16, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I’m having an extremely difficult year. Deaths and departures. The usual endless chaos at home, making sure we have enough aides and nursing staff for Michael. Courtrooms and Emergency Rooms and making room for my writing amid all the uproar.

And now, right in the middle of #nanowrimo, my gall bladder decided to declare war.

I was going to post a gallbladder graphic here, but no.

I spent most of the week between last Friday and today at a local hospital after I took myself to the Emergency Room for really nasty stomach pains. Many tests and much painful prodding revealed that my gall bladder was well on its way to causing me serious damage.

The hospital drama blew my mind. They wanted to send me home to make an appointment with the appropriate doctor in “three or four days.”

I’ll say one thing for this year. It’s put some serious steel into my spine. I repeated back to the doctors everything they’d just told me and demanded to know how they could send me home when they KNEW a medical crisis was imminent. I don’t know if I was persuasive enough or intimidating enough or just plain loud enough. They admitted me and the surgery took place last Saturday.

They discharged me on Sunday, less than 24 hours later, with no apparent regard for me still being on the big time painkillers you can’t get outside of hospitals. I hadn’t walked the ward, my gut motility had not resumed, none of the fundamental criteria for even considering discharge status. Yes, I could breathe, and no, I wasn’t bleeding to death. Apparently those two were sufficient.

And so they sent me home. They also forgot to give me back the bag of my regular medications I’d brought from home. You never know when some of your meds won’t be available in a particular hospital. I didn’t notice the glaring absence of my meds at the time because I was busy recovering from major abdominal surgery.

Two and a half hours after my husband drove me home, he was on the phone to 911. The pain had me in such a vicious grip I could not inhale without trying to scream. In the ambulance I was in such bad shape the paramedic didn’t bother with an IV. She had me ingest liquid painkiller by the simple expedient of soaking some gauze in the liquid form, sticking it up my nose, and commanding me to inhale as hard as I could.

The Emergency Room was not happy to see me again. I’m afraid I rather lost my temper with the doctor on duty who tried to tell me the CT scan they’d just done showed everything looking fine after surgery. Why then, I asked, after you people took out the organ you claimed was causing the problem, am I now in far more intense pain?

That doctor did what I’ve seen other doctors do in similar situations, which was hand me off to the next doctor up the chain of command. This worthy gentleman read the chart, examined my surgical sites, asked me a few questions, then shook his head and said, “We sent you home too soon. I’m admitting you.”

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And so I spent Monday and Tuesday heavily medicated. They managed to lose one of my medications AGAIN, would not call the prescribing physician, and came within inches of me organizing a posse of lawyers to storm the bureaucratic barricades.

All this right in the middle of #nanowrimo. Did I get any writing done? As a matter of fact, I did. Armed with a notebook and pen provided by a writing buddy  who truly went above and beyond for me, I lay there and tried to keep my writing between the lines while this dear and treasured friend coaxed me through at least two word sprints.

My word count is currently at 14,220. I have to write 12, 452 words before midnight tonight in order to catch up. That’s 50 pages. Ouch.

I’m having a blast with these new Kyoto Steampunk stories when I can shut out everything else and concentrate. Right now I’m tired and I’m hurting and there are so many other things that needed to be done last week and five days in the hospital have left me even farther behind.

So cheer me on, people. Please. Help me get all the way to 50k.

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Filed under Depression, doctors, Family, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, hospital, Kyoto, parenting, specialneeds, steampunk, surgery, Writing

#nanoprep Why Writing Buddies Are So Important


by Lillian Csernica on September 25, 2019

 

Writing is lonely work. We sit there and spend a big chunk of time with no company other than our imaginary friends. National Novel Writing Month is 30 solid days of writing, roughly 7 pages a day, all the way to 200 pages or 50,000 words.

That’s a long haul, even longer when you’re all by yourself.

I have written four novels during my years participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you more than once my Writing Buddies were the reason I made it all the way to the daily quota. I know how hard this is. Nobody understands a writer as well as other writers do.

On the NaNoWriMo site you can have official Writing Buddies. This is a great way to make new friends, meet new writers, and expand your network or, if you prefer, your tribe. It’s a wonderful feeling to log on, update my word total and seeing messages from my Writing Buddies in my NaNo mail. I cheer them on, they cheer me on, and we all race together toward the finish line.

A key element of #nanoprep is finding yourself some Writing Buddies. Here’s why:

Accountability — Stern word, right? It’s been proven that we will work harder to live up to other people’s expectations than we will just for our own good. When I know my Writing Buddies are waiting to see me post my daily word count, I can push past the excuses and avoidance behavior and the other self-defeating behaviors. That’s because having Writing Buddies creates a strong sense of community.

Comfort — Knowing that we are not alone does a lot to improve morale and keep us going in stressful circumstances. During NaNoWriMo I encourage the participants in my region to remember we’re all here to lift each other up and keep our writing spirits strong. During NaNoWriMo we strive to achieve our own goals, challenging ourselves to stretch a little bit farther each day.

Feedback — Comments from our fellow writers don’t have to come in the form of a critique. Some days we might get stuck. Other days we might get overrun by a herd of plot bunnies. In the forums on the NaNoWriMo site, writers of like mind and similar genres can look for the help they need. We can reach out to our Writing Buddies for comments and support.

Play — Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days sounds like hard work. It most certainly is. It can also be a whole lot of fun. Go to the Kick-Off Party. Go to the write-ins. Go to the Thank God It’s Over Party. Being part of an online community is great. Meeting fellow writers brought together by the courage to take on NaNoWriMo is even better. The joy of shared laughter will do a lot to recharge your writing batteries.

When all else fails, remember, caffeine is always there for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under creativity, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, romance, science fiction, steampunk, worry, Writing

#nanoprep How to Choose Your Project


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2019

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I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.

National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.

Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.

For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been  total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.

Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?

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I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.

I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.

And so the new stories begin to grow!

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Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.

What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, research, steampunk, Writing

How Do You #nanoprep?


by Lillian Csernica on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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November is coming. That means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo!

This year is the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo. Twenty years of hot ideas, hard work, and tanker trucks full of coffee! If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a novel, or you really need group support to get you through that first draft, then NaNoWriMo is waiting for you.

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“Where do I start?” That is the question I hear most often from people who really want to write but don’t know what to do first. The answer is simple: Find what gets you most excited about your project. Is it the main character? Is it the dialogue? Is it the glorious victory of the Good Guys stomping the Bad Guys into the dirt? Whatever gets you all fired up, that’s the key to Writing Every Single Day.

Here’s how I do my #nanoprep:

Pick an idea. For me this means choosing a genre, a time period, and the major location.

  •  Write down a bunch of details about my main character.
  • Do the same for my villain.
  • Brainstorm a rough plot outline.
  • Keep making notes as the ideas start crossbreeding with every new detail I imagine. I try to keep organized from the very beginning. Index cards, Scrivener, a spiral notebook, whatever works. The important thing is to get all those details recorded hot and fresh without thinking too much.

If you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, you need to create a lot of the basic information about plot, character, and setting. I liken this part of the writing process to the way a sculptor begins a new piece. First you have to get your hands on some clay, right? Once you have the clay, then you can start shaping it into a story. Brainstorming all those details is how writers create the clay from which we shape our stories.

If you’re starting with a work-in-progress, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. I suggest you come up with a specific goal you want to achieve during NaNoWriMo. Some examples:

  • Finish your draft
  • Flesh out the relationship(s) between the main character and the sidekick, the love interest, the mentor, or the villain. Depending on the type of story you’re after, you can have the main character working on a better understanding of that person’s own mind and motivations. Do be careful to dramatize what happens. Pages of interior monologue are fine when you’re working out the details of an idea. Too much of that can kill your pace and leave your reader hungry for real action.
  • Familiarize yourself with your setting and test the dramatic possibilities of some key locations. If you’re using a well-known setting such as Paris or London, make sure you get the details right.

Remember, no first draft comes out letter perfect. The first draft is where you get to play around, chase ideas up blind allies, start a character off with one motivation and see where that takes you. This is where you get to find out which ideas fit together and which ones tend to muddle up the story.

calvinb

Give yourself permission to write badly at first. That doesn’t mean your writing will be bad. It just means you take the pressure off of yourself so you can just enjoy the act of writing. All that really matters during NaNoWriMo is that you WRITE. Just do it. Just get the daily word quota out of your head and onto the paper, screen, bedroom wall, whatever. Just WRITE.

Watch for more tips on getting ready for National Novel Writing Month!

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, research, science fiction, steampunk, Writing

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.

justshineon.com

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.

mythicalrealm.com

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!

clinicalpsychreading.blogspot.com

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.

emilyclarkcounseling.com

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