Category Archives: nature

#atozchallenge: N is for Netsuke


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2018

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In the Tokugawa period, yokai became very popular in ink paintings, woodblock prints, and carvings, especially the small and useful carvings known as netsuke. They were the must-have fashion accessory, so to speak.

A netsuke will play an important role in one of Dr. Harrington’s upcoming adventures. Given that he keeps attracting the attention of the gods and monsters of Japan, it seems reasonable to expect the netsuke to be carved in the shape of something supernatural.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

From the seventeenth through mid-nineteenth centuries, Japanese citizens of all classes wore the kimono—a simple T-shaped robe constructed with minimal cutting and tailoring—wrapped around the body and held in place with an obi sash. In order to carry small items such as tobacco, medicine, and seals, ingeniously constructed sagemono (a collective term for “hanging things”) were suspended on cords that hung from the obi sash (29.100.841). Stacked, nested containers, known as inrô, were specifically designed to hold medicine or seals (10.211.2081). Netsuke served as anchors or counterweights for inrô and sagemono (14.40.843a,b). A single cord was threaded through a cord channel on one side of the suspended container, through two holes (himotoshi) in the netsuke, then through the other side of the container, and knotted on the underside of the container (JP1954). A decorative bead, or ojime, slid along the cord between the netsuke and sagemono, allowing the user to open and close the container (14.40.878a,b).

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Drawing of a man wearing an inro suspended with the help of a netsuke and held together with an ojime. (Wikipedia.com)

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Netsuke are made from a dazzling variety of materials.

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A skeleton beating on a fish drum. Made from narwhal tusk. (pinterest.com)

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Two of the most commonly used materials for netsuke were ivory and wood, with boxwood favored for its fine grain and durability. About 80 percent of surviving antique netsuke were carved in various types of native Japanese wood—cypress, cherry, black persimmon, yew, camphor, zelkova, and camellia. Elephant tusk ivory was one of the most popular materials for netsuke carvers for centuries (10.211.1444). With the enactment of international trade restrictions on elephant ivory in 1989, however, netsuke carvers turned to other sources, including fossilized mammoth and walrus tusks. Extant eighteenth- and nineteenth-century netsuke made of or inlaid with coral, shells, metals, ebony, porcelain (91.1.213), cloisonné,mother-of-pearl, and various nuts attest to the skilled carvers’ ingenuity in conveying the plasticity of these materials, despite their hardness and resistance to wear (10.211.780).

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A fox spirit pretending to be a priest. Made of wood. (pinterest.com)

 

The nure-onna, a monster with the head of a woman and the body of a snake. This one has a monkey on her back.

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Pumpkin, 19th Century, Hirado ware. Porcelain with blue glaze.

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#atozchallenge: M is for Madelaine


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2018

Madelaine Victoria Harrington is Dr. Harrington’s nine year old daughter. She is his only child and his first priority in life. The fever that renders her critically ill is the crisis that sets in motion the first story, In the Midnight Hour (Twelve Hours Later).

Madelaine is a genius. She gets on well with everyone, making friends quickly among the Japanese staff at Dr. Harrington’s Kyoto residence. Madelaine is keen to understand the mechanics of everything, including the social etiquette so important to Victorian England. Her open mind and intense curiosity serve her well in learning about Japan.

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She picks up languages quickly, which is essential when she begins studying the mythology and folklore of Japan. Her studies go a long way toward helping Dr. Harrington deal with the challenges he faces in each story.

Madelaine does a number of things that just happen while I’m writing. I had no idea she and the Abbot would develop such a close friendship. The Abbot loves children and Madelaine loves intelligent conversation, so they suit each other. There’s more to it, though. They both have a unique understanding of the supernatural. The respect goes both ways.

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Then there’s the clockwork dragon in Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later). I knew Madelaine was up to something, but I didn’t find out until her mother Constance discovered the secret project. I did have to work out the interior mechanics of the dragon. Fortunately, my husband is an engineer.

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#atozchallenge: H is for Hokusai and Hiroshige


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2018

 

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“The Lantern Ghost”

HOKUSAI KATSUSHIKA

There is so much to know about Hokusai, about the various periods of his work and the wide scope of subject matter. Best known for his iconic drawing of The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, Hokusai’s work encompassed both the natural and the supernatural. He even drew shunga, or erotic art, most notably The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.

Fun fact: Shunga was enjoyed by both men and women of all classes. Superstitions and customs surrounding shunga suggest as much; in the same way that it was considered a lucky charm against death for a samurai to carry shunga, it was considered a protection against fire in merchant warehouses and the home. (Wikipedia)

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“The Maple Trees”

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE

From Wikipedia:

Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese: 歌川 広重), also Andō Hiroshige (Japanese: 安藤 広重; 1797 – 12 October 1858), was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, considered the last great master of that tradition.

Hiroshige is best known for his landscapes, such as the series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō; and for his depictions of birds and flowers. The subjects of his work were atypical of the ukiyo-e genre, whose typical focus was on beautiful women, popular actors, and other scenes of the urban pleasure districts of Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868). The popular Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series by Hokusai was a strong influence on Hiroshige’s choice of subject, though Hiroshige’s approach was more poetic and ambient than Hokusai’s bolder, more formal prints.

These two masters of their arts provide me with considerable inspiration. The landscapes of Japan and the eerie images of yokai fire my imagination and take me away to that place where my stories are born.

When I make appearances at conventions, I bring along bookmarks I make by hand which include the URL for this blog. Thanks to the folks at Dover Publications, I’m able to create bookmarks for the Kyoto Steampunk series featuring the works of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and a few of their contemporaries. Be sure to get yours!

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#atozchallenge G is for Garden Party


by Lillian Csernica on April 7, 2018

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One of the key elements of the Kyoto Steampunk series is writing each story from a different character’s point of view. Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later) features a garden party presided over by Constance. This was an excellent opportunity to let the reader into her mind and see just how Constance is coping with the challenge of navigating through Kyoto’s expatriate society along with all the Japanese diplomats Dr. Harrington encounters.

A Victorian garden party is a lavish affair, held outdoors in a fine English garden full of stately oaks, manicured hedges, and an abundance of flowers. In 1880, did Kyoto provide the necessary landscape? Traditional trees in a Japanese garden included pine, bamboo, and plum. Because they do so well in winter, they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience.

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Springtime flowers in Kyoto include irises, azalea, hydrangea, plum blossoms, and waterlilies. Best of all are the roses. If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, be sure to see the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

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Blown Sky High is an important story in the series. It’s more lighthearted, and it takes a look at the expectations placed upon “the fairer sex.” When events at the party take a sudden unexpected turn, Constance must look to Madelaine and her bluestocking habits to save the day. To learn more about Victorian women who redefined their roles in society, please read this excellent article.

 

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#AtoZBlogChallenge B is for Bakemono


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2018

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Bakemono are the group of yokai (monsters) in Japanese mythology who are shapeshifters and tricksters. Foremost among them are the mujina (badger), the tanuki (raccoon-dog), and the kitsune (fox spirit). Also holding noteworthy rank among the bakemono is the nekomata, the split-tailed cat who can assume the form of a beautiful woman.

In Putting On Airs (Thirty Days Later), there’s a surprisingly large cat terrorizing the dogs in Dr. Harrington’s neighborhood. With the help of the monks of Kiyomizudera, Madelaine builds a trap meant to catch what she suspects is the real cause of all the trouble.

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In the second story of this pair, Blown Sky High, Constance is in charge of a garden party held in conjunction with the Blue Dragon Festival at Kiyomizudera. The party celebrates the Blue Dragon, an avatar of Kannon, Goddess of Mercy.  The party features Madelaine’s origami paper dragons and a wondrous clockwork dragon that adds just the right touch to the party’s symbolic rejoicing.

 

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Family Gardens, Family Trees


by Lillian Csernica on Februart 12, 2018

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“To be one woman, truly, wholly, is to be all women. Tend one garden and you will birth worlds.” –Kate Braverman

Springtime with its new growth of plants and flowers always makes me think of my maternal grandmother’s flower garden. They say inherited traits skip a generation. That means we’re more like our grandparents than our parents. This is certainly true of me and both of my grandmothers.

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My maternal grandmother was a woman who lived large in a time when that just wasn’t done. Her role model was her own mother, my great-grandmother. Back in the ’30s Nana had gotten a divorce then opened her own modeling agency, two actions that were way beyond the social norm for women of her time. My grandmother was raised in that environment of independence and determination. Grandma became a fashion model. The natural companion for a model is a photographer, right? My grandfather was a professional photographer with his own studio and darkroom. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma, showing her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.

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Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Not only did her column appear in the paper, but her photo as well, and under amazing circumstances. Once, on a trip to Enseñada, Grandma donned the traditional traje de luces of the bullfighter, complete with hat and cloak, and fought a bull right there in the bullring in front of God and everybody. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the wild woman Grandma really was.

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When I think of Grandma’s house, I think of the garden out in the backyard. It might have been the Hall of Flowers at the county fair or the sales floor of an upscale nursery. When I was three years old, we lived with Grandma for a short time. I was just old enough to start getting into everything, and that included the garden. The roses looked good enough to eat, in sugary pinks, deep golden yellows, and reds even darker than Grandma’s lipstick. Their scents mingled with the delicate fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine and the down-home sweetness of the honeysuckle vines. On hot summer days I liked to sit out there and just breathe.

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There was a lot more to Grandma’s garden than just flowers. A tall tree with drooping branches would blossom with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. It was new and strange and made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. There was the raspberry bramble, a dangerous place for little hands and little tummies. The best berries were always deep in the bramble where the birds couldn’t eat them, which meant I had to stick my hand way in there past all the thorns and spiderwebs and bugs. One day my cousin Kevin ate a bunch of the berries before they were ripe. His stomachache taught me the value of patience, and of letting him go first!

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The garden remains a symbol for all those traits I saw in Grandma. What the child I was saw and remembered the woman I am can now interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. There were places in her house and in her life that little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.

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Then there’s my father’s mother. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She survived the Depression and both World Wars. She lived at the same address all the years I knew her. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (At one point he had a ponytail halfway down his back).

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Grandma lived in a trailer park in Ohio. When I think of her garden, I think of the little field beside her trailer, a shaggy patch of weeds and blackberry vines, dandelions and wildflowers, lizards and birds and bumblebees as big as the tip of my thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understood the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that’s my Grandma.

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As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From Grandma Lownesberry come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From Grandma Chamberlain come my cooking skills, my love of board games, and my contentment with less than perfect housekeeping.

From both my grandmothers I’ve inherited the need to locate and preserve photos of every generation of the family back as far as I can find. I want my two sons to at least see the relatives they won’t have the opportunity to meet. These photos have become a garden of memories, one that will show my boys and their children the root stock that we come from, the sturdy vines and delicate blossoms, the everyday ferns and the hothouse roses. I hope that all the babies yet to come will one day know they are the latest buds to blossom in a garden tended with love.

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Road Trip! EuCon 2017!


by Lillian Csernica on November 9, 2017

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Here I am in lovely Eugene, Oregon. I’m part of the volunteer team for the Eugene Comic Con. It promises to be a spectacular show, with an impressive line up of Hollywood talent and some of the best names in the comics industry.

Two of the stars I’m most excited to see:

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Martin Klebba, known for his roles in Scrubs and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

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Deep Roy, who has had a long and impressive career in movies ranging from The Return of the Pink Panther with Peter Sellers to the recent remake of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnnie Depp.

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One of the key reasons that convinced me to make the drive from Santa Cruz, CA all the way to Eugene, OR is my son John. He began drawing when he was just two years old, watching Blue’s Clues. He liked to draw the clues along with Steve. Watching the Veggie Tales animation series introduced John to a more advanced level of sketching. The Special Features on the DVDs included lessons from the show’s creators in the techniques of sketching Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and other popular members of the cast.

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At EuCon this weekend the folks from Imagination International Incorporated, creators of the Copic markers, are sponsoring the art contest. Winners will be announced Sunday afternoon. In one of the exhibit halls, III will have the Art Bus available. Space will be provided for all the artistically inclined attendees. Copic markers will be provided, along with paper and other materials. My wonderful son John will be on hand to offer tips on creating that one of a kind superhero or capturing the beautiful autumn landscape that makes Oregon such a picturesque place to visit now.

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I will be at the convention, not in my usual official capacity as a professional writer, but even so. If you can join us and you spot me while I’m running around doing volunteer errands, by all means, say hello. EuCon is a great show, family friendly, lots of wonderful people and plenty to see and do.

Hope to see you here!

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In Honor of All Those Whom We Have Lost


by Lillian Csernica on October 10, 2017

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It’s that time of year. The O-bon Festival. El Dia de Los Muertos. All Hallows’ Eve. All Souls’ Day.

As the sunlight fades from the summer’s warm butter yellow into the pale light of autumn, we think about the people we’ve lost. All the tragedies and natural disasters that have struck this year have left many of us with fresh emptiness in our lives. For me, this became personal yesterday when the writing community lost someone I’ve known for a long time.

In honor of all the people who are gone now, and all those who must remain behind, I offer this poem.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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I’m a Featured Author!


by Lillian Csernica on September 25th, 2017

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Thanks to the generosity of Renee Scattergood, I am the featured author in today’s spotlight on her blog. Please do head on over there and take a look. The interview questions were a lot of fun to answer!

Many thanks, Renee!

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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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