Category Archives: Lillian Csernica

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #27


by Lillian Csernica on May 27, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Past inspirations and experiences will be helpful in your job.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

Ellen sat at one round marble table. It was just big enough to hold her laptop and a cup of overpriced coffee. As she surveyed the earnest faces clustered around the grouping of three little tables, she wondered if she should have ordered a double espresso. Three women in the fifty-plus range. Two men, one a retired welder and the other a skinny, twitchy fellow in his thirties. She knew better than to make assumptions, but these people looked about as exciting as the smell of boiling brussel sprouts.

The mission in St. Petersberg had been way too exciting. Two assets dead, a safe house blown up, and bad blood with the other agencies involved. Ellen came out of it with a concussion, internal bruising, and eight weeks’ mandatory leave while the investigation tried to sort out who screwed who when. Her agency’s psych team recommended she take up some quiet hobby.

Birdwatching had felt too much like surveillance work. On the plus side, Ellen had called in three drug deals, two stolen cars, and the beginnings of a home invasion.

One quilting class convinced her that she’d become a chess master before she got the hang of all the patterns and pieces.

Knitting was right out. As Ellen’s supervisor had put it, “Anybody who puts a pair of needles that long into Ellen’s hands better bring a big stack of body bags.”

So here she was, at a local writing group.

Felicia, the group’s “facilitator,” tapped her spoon against her coffee cup. She beamed a perfect PTA Mom smile. “I’d like to welcome you all to the first meeting of this session. Why don’t we start by introducing ourselves. Tell us your name and you preferred genre.”

Ellen let the names wash past her in the general noise of the coffeehouse. The ’60s rock on the PA system combined with the bean grinder to trigger the beginnings of a headache. A fine excuse for more caffeine. Her turn came.

“Ellen. Nonfiction.”

“Any particular kind?” Felicia asked.

For a moment Ellen was tempted to say forensic archaeology. At the agency she’d developed a reputation for being able to guess time of death to within half an hour on a fresh body, and to within a week on anyone they had to recover.

“Oh, you know. Household hints, Martha Stewart stuff.”

She’d looked up various women writers, hoping to work up some kind of profile she could match. Back of the book photos qualified as glamor shots among the literary intelligentsia. Ellen had found the genre writers more to her liking, especially the fantasy and mystery people. With them in mind she wore jeans, a T shirt with a Dashiell Hammet classic cover, and a gray cardigan.

“Let’s get started,” Felicia said. “Fifteen minutes for our first writing prompt.” She tapped a few keys on her laptop. “Here we are. ‘Journeys end in lovers’ meeting.'”

Everyone grabbed their pens or bent to their keyboards. Ellen stared at the blank page. Her journeys ended in meetings, all right, but not with lovers. There was no love lost between her and the people the agency sent her to “meet.”

“Ellen,” Felicia murmured. “Remember, keep the pen moving.”

The man lay there on the sidewalk, surrounded by pieces of the shattered window glass. It was almost pretty, the way the streetlights’ sodium glare reflected off all the shiny bits, giving the man a halo in death he’d surely never earned in life. Did he have a wife somewhere? Would she miss him? Time would pass. Sooner or later she’d realize he was never coming home. Would she cry? Would she miss him? Or would she heave a secret sigh of relief? So many problems solved, so many arguments that now would never happen. There were loose ends. There were always loose ends. That’s why God invented scissors. A few discreet snips here and there and everything would be nice and tidy. She’d always been an independent woman. Now she could enjoy a more complete freedom.

Ellen smiled. Maybe this writing thing would work out after all.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #26


by Lillian Csernica on May 26, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Follow your instincts when making decisions.

 

 

One of my all-time favorite songs. It speaks to me on a very deep level of the trouble I’ve always had when trying to sort out matters of the heart.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #25


by Lillian Csernica on May 25, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Laughter shall fuel the spirit’s engine.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Kyoto. Nice hotel room. More like an apartment.

Could not figure out how to work the overhead light. Little reading lights by each bed.

Found what looked like an upright card reader where a light switch would be.

Stuck my room key in, light came on, pulled my key out. A minute later the light went out. Rinse, repeat, about three times.

Called front desk. Explained problem. They were puzzled. Sent a guy to check.

He put my key card in the slot. Light came on. He didn’t see any problem. Why?

HE LEFT THE KEY CARD IN THE KEY READER.

That was the secret! Once I removed the key, as I would if I was leaving the room, then the lights would automatically turn off about a minute after I’d left the room.

I have rarely felt like such a total bonehead.

 

 

 

 

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #24


by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Demonstrate refinement in everything you do.

THE STANDARD OF LIVING

Deanna watched the fire, adding some sticks to keep the flames at the right height. The grill Johnny had found in some trash heap held four skewers with five small chunks of meat on each skewer. Deanna didn’t know what kind of meat. She told herself it was animal protein, and that was what mattered. It could have been worse. Even with the city burning and the streetlights smashed and the blood smeared on the sidewalks and the doorways. Somewhere Johnny had found some meat. It might have been tofu.

Deanna could make herself put up with a lot of discomforts. She’d braided her long brown hair to keep it tidy. Her jeans and blouse were still fairly clean. She’d have given up her gold chain for a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Eating junk food and drinking sodas or energy drinks or anything else they could find, that she could live with. She drew the line at tofu.

Johnny came jogging back from his latest hunt for supplies. Deanna let out a sigh of relief. It had been quieter today, but still. The sight of his greasy blue overalls, curly black hair and long legs made her feel a little calmer. This morning they’d moved to the sheltered spot on the side of the high school facing away from the road. It was better to keep out of sight, hiding in a place where they could hear the scavenger crews coming. Two nights ago Deanna had seen a boy swept up in the mob rushing down the street. She didn’t want to think about what might have happened to him.

“I found some good stuff in a basement.” Johnny plopped down beside her on the flattened cardboard box they used for ground cover. He rummaged in his backpack. Glass clinked. With a big grin, he held up two bottles of some off-brand beer. “Nothing like a barbecue under the stars!”

Deanna managed a smile. She loved Johnny for his upbeat spirit, for his endless cocky remarks reflecting a confidence she didn’t feel. Four nights ago the world had gone insane. The power grid failed. Computers all failed due to some big horrible virus sent out by some mysterious gang of international hackers. All the news outlets had been shut down. No phones, no TVs, nothing but hysteria and violence and whispered rumors about who was behind it all.

Deanna pulled a clean bandana out of her backpack and set two skewers on it, offering them to John. She pulled out another bandana for herself, then two of the paper napkins.

Johnny pulled the heavy keyring out of his hip pocket and pried the cap off one bottle of beer and handed it to her. “It’s warm, but hey, that’s how they drink it in England, right?”

Deanna nodded. She accepted the beer, watched Johnny open his own, then held up her bottle.

“To better days.”

Johnny grinned. “Better days, baby. You bet.”

They clinked bottles. Johnny drank a long swallow of his beer, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Deanna ducked her head to hide the wince she couldn’t stop. A diamond in the rough, she told herself. He worked hard at the auto shop, he’d always been polite, and he made sure Deanna felt safe and comfortable. She’d just have to do what her grandmother taught her and be the one who preserved the manners in the family.

Grandma Elaine set a perfect table, gave the best presents, and made sure Deanna knew all the proper phrases for formal occasions. “Congratulations.” “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “Happy Birthday! Wishing you your best year yet.” On and on, handwritten thank you notes, party invitations, and the list of Christmas cards. Deanna’s mother had abandoned writing by hand in junior high in favor of electronic devices. Mama had laughed at Grandma’s slow, old-fashioned ways.

Tears blurred Deanna’s sight, smearing the flames into so many orange flickers. Nobody was laughing now. Deanna had been out with Johnny when the house caught fire. Mama and Grandma were already asleep. Deanna hoped the smoke killed them before the fire did.

“Hey,” Johnny said. “Hey, honey, why are you cryin’?”

Deanna sat up straight and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. “The smoke, Johnny. That’s all. Just smoke in my eyes.”

Johnny looked up at the sky. “Yeah, the wind’s picking up. Rain would sure help, but we gotta find a place inside first.”

Deanna nodded. She bit into a chunk of the meat, ignoring the peculiar taste. Protein meant strength. Strength meant survival. Survival meant living to see those better days, living in a house again with nice furniture and fresh flowers and guest towels in the downstairs bathroom. Concentrating on all the proper details Grandma would expect to see in Deanna’s new house made it easier to force down the strange meat and the bitter warm beer.

She’d survive. Grandma would consider that a lady’s duty, to preserve civilized behavior.

END

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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 #23


by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A single conversation with a wise man is worth ten years of study.

 

Here are the Top Five Pieces of Advice I’ve received thus far:

“Keep the pen moving.” Andy Couturier, top notch writing teacher.

“Remember, it’s not about you.” My mental health pros explaining what motivates other people’s hurtful behaviors, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Oy!

“Why is this happening NOW?” Darrell Schweitzer on the problem that starts a story.

“To combat depression, count your blessings every night by keeping a daily list in a journal, notebook, etc.” I can’t remember which of my therapists first suggested this idea. It’s advice I pass along frequently when I meet someone else struggling with depression.

“If your pain is getting in the way of your writing, maybe you need to make room in your writing for your pain.” The LCSW who was my therapist for the longest stretch, which included the worst disasters of my benighted life.

Yes, I have Major Depressive Disorder. Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a crayon. And yes, I’ve spent most of my life in cognitive behavioral therapy, starting at age 11 when my parents divorced and starting again in a big way when I was 28. I’m now 52, and frankly, there’s no end in sight.

So I follow Stephen King’s advice. “Read, read, read. Write, write, write.” Because, really, stories are what make life worth living.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #22


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach.

Just get them to fly in formation.

 

And now, a little something from the True Story Archives.

Way back when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher liked the way I gave my presentations. He had a talk with the coach of the speech and debate team. When my sophomore year started, I joined the team. This proved to be one of the smartest and most beneficial decisions of my life.

Public speaking is the number one phobia for three out of four people. Worse than spiders, worse that going to the dentist, people live in fear of getting up in front of an audience for the purpose of giving a speech. I understand this. When I first started putting together expository speeches and practicing in front of my coach and teammates, the absolute terror of doing a bad job and being laughed at for it was crippling. Knowing that everybody else who was in training shared my fear didn’t make it any easier.

If there’s one thing I can do well, it’s talk. Thanks to my coach training me and my mother, who listened to me practice over and over and over again as I memorized the ten minute speeches I gave, I got past the anxiety in my determination to remember how to use cross-focus, the precise gestures, and the right variations in tone and pitch. Giving a speech is a performance. Maybe I wasn’t doing Shakespeare, but that’s only because I didn’t spend much time in the Dramatic Interpretation event. (I did break Varsity there, but after that I concentrated on my stronger events.)

In my first year of competing at speech tournaments, I went down in flames a number of times. The competition was better, more polished, smoother in their delivery. OK. I just had to work harder. What I also had to do was find my best event. That’s when I discovered Impromptu speaking.

At the junior varsity level, we had five minutes to prepare, then five minutes total for our speech. At varsity level, we had only two minutes to prep. Talk about a strain on the nerves! What we had to base our speeches on varied widely. Most often we were given slips of paper with three famous quotations. We chose one and built our speech around it. At some tournaments, we were given fortune cookies, paper bags that held some random object such as a calculator, or even plastic Easter eggs with the Surprise Topic inside. The event required mental agility, flexibility, a vast pool of random knowledge, and a mastery of the different presentation structures one could use.

The first time I competed in Impromptu, I think I had a full blown anxiety attack. There I was, about to receive my slip of paper with the three subjects on it. With sweaty palms and my heart pounding, I almost had an asthma attack. And then I saw the two words that told me I was home free:

Horror movies.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, my grandfather helped build the set for the laboratory in the original Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff. I’m a big fan of classic horror movies. The judge for this round was an older gentleman. When I started mentioning names such as Elsa Lanchester from Bride of Frankenstein and Lon Chaney from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, apparently I won the judge’s respect as well as his vote. His comments on the voting card I received after the tournament reflected his approval of someone my age (fifteen at the time), knowing those names.

Once I learned to get my butterflies flying in formation and overcame my fear of public speaking, I acquired a skill that has helped me in every aspect of my life.

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #19


by Lillian Csernica on May 19, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Your shoes will make you happy today.

 

 

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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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BusinessInsider.com

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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robynbaldwin.com

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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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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #16


by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.

VICTORY IS SWEET

Regina sat in the highest room atop the marble tower on the Isle of the Turquoise Clouds. In honor of the coming moment, she wore midnight blue velvet, her river of black hair swept up and held in place with clusters of diamonds. On the desk before her lay two pieces of parchment. On one, a list topped by the word Temptation. On the other, a similar list topped by the word Opportunity. She contemplated the words written beneath Temptation, inked in the blood of a rare night bird. Words of power. Words of warning. Dangerous words. As such, all the more attractive.

Beneath Opportunity lay words written in ink made of water from the Sacred Spring of Seven Rainbows mixed with the crushed petals of the Sunrise Lotus, which blossomed only on the morning of the first day of the New Year. Fortune favored the prepared mind. Regina had made her preparations with the greatest care. The decision that lay before her could alter destinies beyond the scope of her imagination, perhaps even beyond the reach of her dreams.

The first full moon of Spring hung round and bright. The night-blooming flowers raised their faces in its silvery light, loosing their fragrances upon the evening breeze. The constellations graced the heavens with their sparkling patterns. Regina read the lists again, then bent her head. A nod, a bow, a gesture of surrender to the ineffable powers of Chance and Fate.

The hourglass ran empty. The moment of decision had arrived.

At the base of the tower, the ship’s bell rang three times. Regina rose from the desk, taking one list with her. She walked to the ivory lattice gates that opened onto a shaft running the length of the tower. Summoning a turquoise cloud, Regina descended to the ground floor. She raised one hand and the heavy oaken door swung inward.

Before her stood a creature that came up to her shoulder. It wore a white shirt, blue lederhosen, black shoes with shiny buckles, and one of those ridiculous Robin Hood-style hats that failed to hide the creature’s pointed ears. On one small hand rested an oblong box wrapped in scarlet silk. On the other hand rested another oblong box wrapped in silk the blue of a perfect summer sky.

“The red,” Regina said.

“You are certain?” The creature’s high, reedy voice sounded like crickets. “The penalty is the loss of our deliveries for the remainder of your lifetime.”

“Do not presume to instruct me. The next decision I make could cause you considerable pain.”

The creature bowed. “As you wish.”

Regina took the scarlet box and unwrapped the silk. To choose Temptation was to risk everything she’d learned, everything she’d built. To choose Opportunity meant running the same risk, but the reward was tremendous.

The silk fell away, baring a box made of sturdy brown paper. She opened the end flaps. A tube of mirror-bright silver slid out onto her palm. Inside lay twenty-four discs of the finest baked confection known to any living being.

“Well chosen,” the creature said. “Few can penetrate the logic of the double-bluff.” It stepped back and made Regina another bow. “Until next year.”

END

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