Category Archives: history

How Writers Dress for Success


by Lillian Csernica on August 6, 2018

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amazon.com

On days when I’m not going to be leaving the house, I observe the time-honored tradition of working in my Bathrobe. By the end of the day I’ve usually accumulated an interesting variety of odds and ends in the pockets.

In my right pocket, where things most often end up, I have my comb, two small butterfly paper clips, an unopened alcohol wipe, and a green plastic fly.

In my left pocket, where I carry more important items, my SFWA secret decoder ring awaits being used on relevant emails.

My nightstand is littered with the bits and pieces I pull out of my pockets before I go to bed at night. I’ve learned to make a ritual of this. There’s nothing like a few harsh metallic noises coming from the washer or dryer to cause the Spousal Unit unwelcome distress.

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There are different schools of thought on how writers should suit up for their daily work count. Some dress as if they were going to the office, because that is what they are doing. Some dress in a manner that helps them connect with the material they’re working on. I find that idea entertaining. If I were to dress in a manner suitable for the heroine of my current novel, I’d be wearing a yukata and zori. For the short story in progress, Victorian attire of the 1880s. Of the two I’d choose the yukata for summer comfort and ease of movement. I’ve worn corsets, but I confess I’m not a big fan of steel boning.

Pro tip: Nothing says we have to look like the back of the book photo all the time.

Back to the Bathrobe. Built for comfort, if not for style. When I’m writing, I want no distractions. If my shoes annoy me, I take them off. If the clip in my hair isn’t comfortable, out it goes. I’ve never carried this idea to its ultimate extreme, largely because I do most of my writing either at my favorite coffeehouse out in public, or here at home on the living room couch. Neither is an appropriate context for creating while I’m in my birthday suit.

I find that I do my best work when I’m comfortable. This means more than just wearing slippers and sitting in a comfy chair, although those can be important elements. I can’t write when I’m hungry. I really can’t concentrate when my blood sugar is low. I need a certain amount of background noise to help me focus. I don’t mind being a little cold, but I can’t stand being too hot. Total silence makes me jumpy, because the selective hearing I’ve developed over 22 years of having a medically fragile son keeps me alert for the sounds I should be hearing.

All this explains why I hang out at my local Peet’s Coffee so much. It provides everything I need to do good work.

There’s one really great aspect of the Bathrobe. Remember when we were little kids and pinned towels around our necks for capes? Or we used those old sheets to make a pillow fort? We could be anybody in those capes. The pillow fort could be a crater on Mars or the penthouse in Tahiti. That’s what the Bathrobe does for me. Because there’s no pressure, there’s no appearance to maintain, I can relax and be whoever I need to be for that day’s writing. Let the record show I own three different bathrobes.

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In her article about Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman, Vanessa Friedman writes:

As Ms. Newman discovered, Virginia Woolf actually had a name for this awareness: “frock consciousness.” She used it to refer to the way she employed clothing to denote character, and changes in character, particularly as they applied to her book “Mrs. Dalloway.” But really, it’s a (not surprisingly) perfect turn of phrase that could apply to us all.

What do you wear when you write? Do you have a favorite set of writing clothes?

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How History Books Will Make You a Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on June 27, 2018

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Why do I write about history?

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.

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A good example is Scotland, which 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, notably the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those annoying facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

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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 would 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. Today we see all that grandeur reduced to the common everyday 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 businesses available which produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese.

It was Eleanor who paid her son's ransom when he was captured

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 Chivalry 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 on more than one occasion. In our present time the High Court of Chivalry deals with matters of heraldry.

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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. It’s possible that I’ve become a tad cynical regarding romance. When you’ve been married for thirty years, the starry-eyed honeymoon phase is a rather distant memory. That’s probably why I enjoy recreating it in my stories.

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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, which also occur 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. 

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One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because the novel was set in Navarre. It took quite some doing, but I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. Compare that with the necessity in Egypt of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes. If not for that, many of the commoners and slaves in Egypt would have starved to death.

In Medieval Europe, bread, watered wine, ale, meats such as venison, game birds, and roast pork, and large wheels of cheese made up the main meal. You can find a number of cookbooks online that provide recipes from the Middle Ages. 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 pleasure of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

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Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about the delights of 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 jeweled inlays of the Egyptian pectoral collars 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. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. Given that their total weight was more than 35 carats, it’s a wonder she didn’t end up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s!

History is full of fascinating details. There are so many ideas out there just waiting to inspire you. Read those history books, those biographies, those memoirs! You never know when you’re going to find the one detail that opens up a world of inspiration.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #30


by Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Keep your feet on the ground

though friends flatter you.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART II

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

“Kathleen?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Simple observation.”

“How long have you been watching this area?”

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

“When was this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

PART II

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #28


by Lillian Csernica on May 28, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You will become better acquainted with a coworker.

 

Three Days of the Condor was one of the first spy thrillers I ever watched. Joe Turner goes out to pick up lunch for the people in his office and comes back to find everyone dead. Who were they? What kind of work were they really doing? Who is Joe Turner working for and why do they want him dead? Great suspense!

 

 

 

 

 

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BayCon 2018: Where to Find Me


by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2018

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Friday 1:30 p.m. The Perfect Poison

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

Saturday 1:00 p.m. Getting the Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #17


by Lillian Csernica on May 17th, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.

dis·cord
ˈdiskôrd/
noun
noun: discord
  1. 1.
    disagreement between people.
    “a prosperous family who showed no signs of discord

    • lack of agreement or harmony between things.
      “the discord between indigenous and Western cultures”
  2. 2.
    Music
    lack of harmony between notes sounding together.
    “the music faded in discord”
    synonyms: dissonance, discordance, disharmony, cacophony

    “the music faded in discord”
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Here we have a bunch of people singing the same note in terms of the political ideology they espouse.  Is this harmonious? No. It is not.

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We need all the notes, all the chords, all the melodies to come together in the great orchestral voice of life. May a joyful noise until the Lord! Sing out with all your heart! Go tell it on the mountain! Punk rock, bagpipes, ocarinas and kazoos. Let’s do it!

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


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Shelter

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

Diary of a Dublin Housewife

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

Sharon E. Cathcart

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

Sally’s Smorgasbord

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

Atherton’s Magic Vapor

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

Iain Kelly Fiction Writing

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

Book Jotter

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

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#atozchallenge: Z is for Zaibatsu


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2018

zaibatsu

bhoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu

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

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

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

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tunza.eco-generation.org

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

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#atozchallenge: Y is for Yokai


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2018

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tvtropes.org

The yokai of Japan are many and varied. They go from humorous to horrifying. Some arise from the animistic principle in Shinto. Others are born from the angry, vengeful passions of the human heart.

These are a few of the more unusual yokai.

 

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Dodomeki, the spirit of the pickpocket or thief.

 

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Oni-no-Nenbutsu, the Demon who chants Buddhist prayers

 

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From Ancient Origins:

The baku, otherwise known as the ‘dream eater’, is a mythological being or spirit in Chinese and Japanese folklore which is said to devour nightmares. The baku cannot be summoned without caution, however, as ancient legends say that if the baku is not satisfied after consuming the nightmare, he may also devour one’s hopes and dreams.

 

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This is the Kawataguruma, a tormented naked woman riding on the wheel of an ox cart that’s ablaze. If this reminds you of the wanyudo, you’re right. Apparently the Wheel Monk has a female counterpart who rolls around collecting impure souls and putting curses on people.

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#atozchallenge: X is for eXpatriate


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2018

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chinesemartialartsstudies.com

Dr. Harrington is a member of the middle class. His father is a banker, and high finance is looked upon with great favor, but trade is still trade. The aristocrats of Great Britain are “to the manor born,” and everything about them signals that fact. In this they had a great deal in common with the strictly hierarchical society of Japan.

From Gentlemanly Capitalism and the Club by Darren L. Swanson:

Early editions of the Hiogo & Osaka News, Kobe’s first English language newspaper, often have a haughty tone about them, and it is easy to deduce that the paper saw itself as the voice of reason among the foreign community. Robert Young, the eventual owner of the paper’s successor and much superior, Kobe/Japan Chronicle, was responsible for inviting such scholarly mavericks as Lafcadio Hearn and Bertrand Russell to write for the Chronicle. He was also one of the founding members of the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club, as well as senior member of the settlement’s International Committee.

This is the attitude I demonstrate through Dr. Harrington’s supervisor Alexander Thompson, Undersecretary for Technology Exchange. The sun never sets on the British Empire. Thompson comes off as a rather officious buffoon in the first few stories. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), he makes it very clear to Dr. Harrington just how short the official leash really is. This is not a pleasant discovery.

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The United States pried open the oyster, but Great Britain seemed determined to take possession of the pearl.

Specialists in Anglo-Japanese relations, such as Ian Nash, have theorized that after the signing of an alliance with Japan in 1902, the British considered the Japanese a trusted ally rather than as part of the British informal empire.15 This theory, however, does evoke the opinion that before this agreement, Japan may have been tacitly viewed as falling within the informal empire sphere by the British.

Dr. Harrington is a good man. Diplomacy can become a euphemism for the enlightened self-interest practiced by one country while standing inside another country’s borders. The supernatural creatures of Japan are not impressed by Dr. Harrington’s British passport. He’s in their territory now and their House Rules are the ones he’d do well to respect.

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