Category Archives: Lillian Csernica

The One Writing Skill You Must Have


by Lillian Csernica on December 11, 2017

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Here we are in the holiday season. This time of year will stress out anybody, even those people lucky enough to have a “normal” family life. Writers often come from dysfunctional families. Writers often have mental health issues. Put it all together and the holiday season can be quite a gauntlet to run, between day jobs, holiday preparations, family gatherings, and the desperate struggle for time and space write.

My therapist taught me a skill that I will now pass along to you. This skill is designed to buy you the mental and emotional space you need to survive when you find yourself overwhelmed. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try. Three simple words:

Achieve literary distance.

How does one do this? Here’s my method. I always have my tote bag with me. At the moment it contains four notebooks, two manuscripts, one of those zippered pouches for pens, and a few other odds and ends. I take the tote bag everywhere. When life gets too intense, I pull out a notebook and a pen. If I’m stuck in a line, I spot the most interesting people and jot down quick lists of their notable physical and behavioral traits. If I’m in a waiting room, I might write a scene involving two of the people waiting there also.

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The point here is to derail our anxiety by making our trains of thought switch tracks. Becoming consciously more observant puts us into a more objective state of mind. Sometimes what we really need is to get out of our own heads. By calling on the skills that help us achieve literary distance, we can at least get out of the Anxiety Attic and go hang out in the Creativity Corner.  When we deliberately shift our focus outward, we may very well lower our anxiety levels.

I know this works for me. I get all stressed out about being on time, getting everything done according to my To Do list, or I’m all knotted up mentally because of a conflict with a family member.  When I achieve literary distance, that helps me step back, take that deep breath, connect pen to paper, and re-establish a calmer, more flexible state of mind.

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Make this skill work for you. If you like texting ideas on the Notepad function of your phone, go for it. If you need a blank journal with no lines and a few broken crayons, more power to you. If you just want to sit in a comfy spot and take some mental notes along with a few deep breaths, that’s good too.

Writing is our superpower. We can use it to rescue ourselves.

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New Release! Killing It Softly, Vol. 2


by Lillian Csernica on October 30, 2017

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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.

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Fantasy for Fun & Profit


by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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Making Thanksgiving happen.

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Celebrating John’s birthday.

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

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

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

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By Appointment


by Lillian Csernica on September 28, 2017

"Honey, it's scheduling! Don't worry, I'll get it."

Now that I have entered the fifth decade of my life, health concerns have become more of a priority. I had no idea how much work would be involved in simply gathering the information I’d need to make sure I’m doing all the right things. This week is a good example. Four separate appointments!

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Sleep study I have obstructive sleep apnea, so my neurologist prescribed a CPAP. It’s done me a lot of good. For one thing, it got rid of the nightmares I’ve had all my life. Turns out they were caused by my brain screaming at me to wake up so I’d breathe properly. Having now lost seventy pounds, I no longer have so much tissue in my airway. The new sleep study will determine if I still have apnea and/or need any assistance from a device.

'I'm sensing you may still have some boundary issues.'

Psychiatrist With the quality of my sleep improving, I’m hoping I can start weaning myself off of at least one of my insomnia meds. In a perfect world I wouldn’t need any of them, or the anti-depressants. One step at a time, right?

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Therapist Once a week I see my MFT, who helps me deal with the ongoing stress in my life. Coping with the depression is a priority, along with dismantling the behaviors that fuel my emotional eating. I keep the weight off, and everything else improves.

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Weigh-in at the medspa Also a weekly event, the accountability is important to keep me following the program. Because the diet is high protein, no carb, with limited fruits and veggies, I also get a B complex injection. There are handouts, recipes, refills of the supplements I take, and advice from the nurse who has also been through the program.

Did I mention the constant effort of convincing myself not to order pizza, buy that jar of Nutella, have just one potato chip, or drink anything that has caffeine? Oh yeah. If mental wrestling resulted in actual muscle, I’d make Mr. Universe look puny!

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Reblog: Self Care Isn’t Selfish


This isn’t just an Instagram aesthetic. It’s actually really good advice for us. If you’re unfamiliar with self-care, it is the simple act of caring for ourselves. We deserve it, not because it makes us better for others or for our lecturers or for our flatmates, but because it makes us healthier for ourselves. […]

via Self-Care isn’t Selfish — the married millenials

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The Comfort Zone: Are You In or Out?


by Lillian Csernica on September 5, 2017

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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!”

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All Writers Need This Skill


by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017

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What is that skill? Eavesdropping.

From Wikipedia:

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[3] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[4] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[5]

I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.

A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.

Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.

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Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.

When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:

“Don’t get the cat sticky!”

People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,

“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”

Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.

One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.

 

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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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.

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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!

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The Writer’s Spellbook


by Lillian Csernica on August 1, 2017

AVAILABLE NOW ON SMASHWORDS!

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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!

PLENTY OF FORMATS TO CHOOSE FROM!

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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

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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.)

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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.

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

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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