Category Archives: Horror

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!





Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, doctors, fairy tales, Family, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Horror, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, parenting, steampunk, sword and sorcery, Writing

99 Cent Sale! The Fright Factory!

by Lillian Csernica on February 1, 2018

Welcome to Women in Horror Month!

To celebrate, I am offering The Fright Factory for just 99 cents.

Learn the fine art of suspense, how to make monsters, and more! The techniques I explain are the very ones that helped me write and sell the stories available here:




It’s a great way to celebrate


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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Halloween, Horror, Lillian Csernica, publication, 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

How to Keep Halloween Safe and Happy

by Lillian Csernica on October 3, 2017


Holidays at my house are always a bit out of the ordinary. We don’t do ordinary, or normal, or any of those just-like-everybody-else words.

My boys are too old to trick-or-treat these days, but they do love dressing up in costume, and they will never say no to treats.

Michael in knight costume2

My older son does not eat by mouth. He has a g-tube which feeds a liquid diet directly into his stomach. He loves toys, games, arts and crafts, so non-food treats are fine with him.


My younger son is allergic to peanuts. They are EVERYWHERE, especially when it comes to candy. There are a lot of safe candy options, as well as healthy alternatives and non-food items.

For the past four years I have been careful to have two bowls for trick-or-treaters. One has a mix of chocolate and non-chocolate candy. The other has a variety of non-food treats such as Halloween-themed bubbles, stickers, baby Slinkies, and glow sticks. I also keep a supply of prizes I give out to individuals and/or families who have created costumes that I think are really special.

Two years ago, I discovered the Teal Pumpkin Project.

Families like mine all over the country (and quite possibly the world) face the dilemma of wanting their children to participate in Halloween and enjoy all the fun the other kids are having. When you put a teal pumpkin on the porch, you send a very bright and welcome signal. You tell families like mine that you get it. You are aware of food allergies and related health problems and you are prepared. Come one, come all! You have goodies to suit everybody’s wants and needs.

This Halloween I look forward to putting my teal pumpkin in a prominent place on my porch so everybody will know when they yell “Trick or Treat!” at my house, they won’t go away empty-handed. On the contrary. We usually have so much that by the end of the night I encourage the older trick or treaters to take a handful.

Please support the Teal Pumpkin Project. Let’s make this a safe, happy Halloween for everyone!


Filed under autism, charity, chocolate, classics, cosplay, creativity, doctors, Family, family tradition, Food, frustration, Halloween, Horror, neurodiversity, parenting, special education, Special needs, therapy

The Comfort Zone: Are You In or Out?

by Lillian Csernica on September 5, 2017


I’ve been reading a lot lately about how writers need to get out of their comfort zones. Apparently better writing is achieved once we leave our comfort zones and venture out into the wild terrain of ideas that scare the daylights out of us.

I’m not talking about horror per se. There are subjects that we all find distressing. The kind of material that people these days label with trigger warnings. Facts and stories and ideas which will hit us where we live, push on old bruises, maybe bring fresh pain to old scars. Such subjects are intensely painful and could be trauma triggers.

A trauma trigger is an experience that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic and can be indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident.

(Relevant tangent: If you’re interested in the debate about trigger warnings, I recommend reading The Trigger Warning Myth.)

While I can appreciate the need to test one’s boundaries and stretch one’s literary muscles, I do have two problems with all of these articles urging writers to get out of their comfort zones.

  1. The people giving this advice have no idea what’s outside my comfort zone. I might have some very good reasons for staying in it.
  2. There’s a crucial piece of information missing. Maybe it’s just the debate team in me, but I don’t see anybody defining the term “comfort zone.” (That’s why I keep linking to the definition every single time I use that phrase.) To me the proper starting point is figuring out precisely where our comfort zones begin and end. Once that’s mapped out, we know where to find terra incognita. We can point to the spot that says “Here there be dragons!”


Time for painful honesty. For years now people have told me I should write about my experiences with my older son Michael. Bed rest in the hospital. The terror of the day he had to be delivered via emergency C-section. Every day and night of the three and a half months he remained in the hospital, coming close to dying time and time again.

Why don’t I write about that? Simple. I’ve been too busy living it. For most of Michael’s twenty-one years on this planet, my husband and I have considered it a good week if no medical emergency forced us to call 911.

Same with John. Sure, I could write about the day he got out the front door while I was changing Michael’s diaper. I had to dash out after him before he made it to the busy street. I tore my right calf muscle doing so. Then I still had to get up and run after him. I wound up in the ER that night, and came home on crutches. That added a whole new layer of difficulty to being primary caregiver for two special needs children.

What’s outside my comfort zone?

Miscarriage. Babies dying. Whether or not to turn off the life support.

Wondering if I’ll ever know the joys of being a grandmother.

Who will look after my boys once I’m dead.

And a few other matters that I’m not ready to talk about to anybody, even myself.


Yes, I agree that “growing our comfort zones” is a worthwhile goal. I also think people who dish out such advice should be mindful of the dangers of doing so. These are hard times. Telling people to go rummaging around in the darker corners of their psyches for really juicy writing material is not a smart or a responsible thing to do.

For me, getting my own car again was a big step outside my comfort zone. I didn’t drive for years because of a Gordian knot of anxieties surrounding the subject of driving. Now I have a car. Now I drive all the time. Oh look, here I am writing about it!

For once I don’t mean to sound sarcastic. You decide when and if you want to step outside of your comfort zone. You decide just how far, and how often. It’s good to tell the stories that only you can tell. It’s more important to respect your own pain and your own right to privacy. You’ll know when the time is right.

For some excellent thoughts on why there’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, go see what Darius Foroux has to say.








Filed under autism, Depression, doctors, dreams, Family, family tradition, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Horror, hospital, Lillian Csernica, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, PICU, Self-image, Special needs, surgery, therapy, Writing

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

Available Now on Smashwords!

by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017


Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.



Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!






Filed under bad movies, creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, science fiction, 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







Filed under bad movies, classics, creativity, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Halloween, historical fiction, history, Horror, hospital, Lillian Csernica, nature, publication, reality TV, research, science fiction, surgery, therapy, Writing

Three Top Tips to Put New Power in Your Writing

by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2017


When we’re in the process of writing, we sometimes reach a point where despite having a complete list of story elements on board, we feel like something is still missing. What we’ve written so far is good, but we want more. More depth. More intensity. More power.

Here are three simple, effective techniques to bring more power to your ideas and the ways you write about them.




There are two parts to  proper character orchestration.

First, you make the protagonist and antagonist very different from each other. Create strong contrast with opposing traits, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or all of the above!

Author James N. Frey provides an excellent explanation of this technique in How To Write A Damn Good Thriller.

Second, the events of your story leave these two characters tied together in what’s known as the “unity of opposites.” In his blog The Story Element, Paul Nelson explains:

The two opposite characters who are in conflict must be forced together, and neither of them can be allowed to leave the battle. For example, if Gandalf gives up and the ring isn’t destroyed, then Sauron wins and turns Middle Earth into hell. If Sauron gives up and lets the ring be destroyed, then he is also destroyed. Both Gandalf and Sauron are in danger of being destroyed, so they must destroy the other. They cannot both exist at the same time.



From Writing Explained:

What does juxtaposition mean? Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes. Juxtaposition is a type of comparison. Typically, the two elements being juxtaposed have differences and the juxtaposition is meant to highlight contrasting effects.

In the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie, the juxtaposition of Diana and Steve Trevor serves to highlight the many layers of meaning in the story. Diana is a strong, independent warrior at a time when Steve Trevor sees a woman as being weak, needing his protection and guidance. Diana sees victims of the war who need help right now, while Steve knows they have to complete the mission to save the greatest number of people. Steve expects Diana to learn how to follow the rules of his world. Diana is committed to her sacred duty and says so in one of the movie’s best lines: “What I do is not up to you.”



Let’s start with symmetry. From

noun, plural symmetries.
1. the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point; regularity of form or arrangement in terms of like, reciprocal, or corresponding parts.
2. the proper or due proportion of the parts of a body or whole to one another with regard to size and form; excellence of proportion.
3. beauty based on or characterized by such excellence of proportion.

Sounds good, right? Symmetry has its value, but in writing a good story, asymmetry can be even more useful. Find out why here:

How to Blow Your Own Mind in Just Five Minutes

These three techniques can help you make the most out of any story idea. Write with power!




Filed under classics, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Horror, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, romance, science fiction, steampunk, sword and sorcery, Writing