Category Archives: perspective

The Perils of Writing Short Fiction


by Lillian Csernica on February 21, 2017

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Opportunity cost. Cost/benefit analysis. Return on investment.

I remember these terms from my Economics and Accounting classes. Little did I know I would one day be applying them to which writing projects I chose to pursue.

So far, the Flower Maiden Saga has inspired me to write three consecutive novels. The farther I go in editing and polishing Book One for the big agent pitch, the more of the causes and consequences of the main storyline I see. The core plots for Books Four and Five have already presented themselves.

This is wonderful. I’m excited about all of it. The thing is, my first love is writing short stories. Reading short stories in Asimov’s and Weird Tales and my English Lit. classes made me want to become a writer. The first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up a copy of The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI and saw my name on the table of contents right there with Ramsey Campbell and Ed Gorman, I very nearly exploded with happiness.

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Short stories are great, but novels are where the money is. I’ve heard that many times. Novels take a while to write and a while to polish and package for publication. Not so with short stories. Short stories will get your name out there and keep it out there.

These are the five main perils of writing short fiction:

  1. Why waste a good idea on a short story? These days it’s all about writing novels. Give the readers what they want, over and over again. Build that brand. Make more money. Fine. If that’s what you want, go for it. Bear in mind there is much to be said for the art and craft of the short story. Hemingway’s “The Killers” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” remain vivid in my mind thirty-five years after I read them in high school.
  2. Short stories are often just one shots. That one shot might be brilliant, but then you have to go write another story. Is that one brilliant story continuing to earn royalties or selling well as a Kindle Single? I visit various writers’ groups online, and I find the emphasis on money to be disheartening. Short stories can be built into a novel. One of my favorite fantasy novels, A Bait of Dreams by Jo Clayton, started out as three short stories that appeared in Asimov’s.
  3. It can be difficult to pack a complex story idea into a limited word count. On the other hand, doing so can result in a stronger story. When I wrote “Fallen Idol,” my first short story sale, I got so caught up in all the research and characters and how-to books’ advice I thought I could rise to the challenge of writing a real novel. Fortunately, I had an attack of reality. All the research and ideas imploded, resulting in a much stronger short story.
  4. Unless you’re selling to the top professional markets, short fiction doesn’t pay much. If you’re sending out enough stories to generate an acceptable amount of sales, way to go! That’s not easy to do, even for the Big Names. I will say that anthologies that pay up front then give you a cut of the royalties can provide some worthwhile income.
  5. Here’s the Peril that cuts to the heart of what it means to be a writer. Are you going to write about what you want to write about, or are you going to write what you think will sell to the markets where you want your work to appear? The Digital Age has opened up a whole lot of  markets. They may not pay much. They may not pay at all. Still, you can get your words out there. Targeting a particular market is a perfectly reasonable career strategy. My first sale to Weird Tales was another day for joyful explosion.

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It comes down to those basic questions we all ask our main characters:

What do you want?

How badly do you want it?

What are you willing to give up in order to get it?

When you’ve answered these three questions, you will be on your way to navigating through the perilous process of telling the stories only you can tell.

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Filed under editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, research, romance, science fiction, tall ships, Writing

Breaking up with Ben & Jerry


by Lillian Csernica on January 18, 2017

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Tonight I consumed my last pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.

Tomorrow morning I begin a medically supervised accelerated weight loss program.

When I was ten years old, my parents took me to see a dietician. I was already 5’6″, and already 152 lbs. Not good. Now I’m forty years older and 100 lbs heavier. Time to stop kidding myself about the health problems that are right around the corner if I don’t do something about my weight problem RIGHT NOW.

This is not a New Year’s Resolution. This is me deciding to act like a grown-up and stop indulging myself while blaming the depression, the difficulty of my life, some writing setback, or whatever other chaos afflicts me at that moment.

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I have a plan. I have professionals backing me. I have a guidebook and a journal and a food scale and the necessary supplements. I’m going to do this.

There are so many stories waiting to be written.

There are so many birthdays and Christmases and personal triumphs ahead for both Michael and John.

There are so many places in the world I have yet to see, just in Japan alone!

There may be setbacks. That’s OK. I know how to deal with setbacks. You just take a deep breath, focus on the next indicated action, and start moving forward again.

I can do this. I will do this. For me, for the kids, for my writing.

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Filed under chocolate, Christmas, Conventions, Depression, doctors, editing, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Food, frustration, Goals, Japan, Lillian Csernica, parenting, perspective, publication, research, Self-image, special education, therapy, Writing

Time To Say Goodbye


by Lillian Csernica on December 8, 2016

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One of my favorite people is dying.

He and I have been friends for about eight years now. We’ve been in two different writers’ groups together. He writes nonfiction, a memoir of his Navy days. We’ve gone out to brunch together a number of times, and we have a few treasured in-jokes.

It’s very hard to see him and know these are his last days.

As soon as I heard he was in the hospital, I hurried over there yesterday. Fortunately, my friend was awake and aware, so we had a brief conversation. His brother and his four children were on hand, so I didn’t stay long. After I left my friend’s hospital room, I found a private corner and sat there crying for a while.

Today I stopped by the hospital. My friend’s wife and one of their sons were about to take him home. It’s time for hospice care. I don’t know how I managed to keep it together until I got out to the parking lot.

I wanted to write all kinds of profound things here about my friend, his life, and our time together. Yesterday I was in shock. Today I’m so sad.

I love you, Art. For however many days you have left, and for every day after that.

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Filed under Family, Fiction, frustration, hospital, Lillian Csernica, memoirs, perspective, worry, Writing

Why Deadlines Are Your Best Friends


by Lillian Csernica on October 24, 2016

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Yesterday I kept thinking I need to blog. Gotta blog today. Must write an original blog post.

And then I’d push on with the scene I was writing for my latest short story.

Between writing, research, more writing, and a few breaks to loosen up mind and body, before I knew it midnight was fast approaching.

So here I am today, showered, caffeinated, and making this blog post Item Number One on my To Do list.

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I have a story deadline coming up. In fact, for this particular anthology I’m committed to delivering two short stories that relate to each other. I know I absolutely must get these stories written, edited, polished, and delivered before NaNoWriMo  begins. Once the starter gun fires and we race toward the 50,000 word finish line, I want to be focused on pouring all my writing time and energy into my NaNo novel.

People often think deadlines come at the end, when you have to hand in the homework, the article, the novel manuscript. A deadline can also mark the beginning of a project. This is why there’s #NaNoPrep, along with lots of advice on the Internet about everything you need to accomplish before November 1.

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Deadlines also create accountability. If you know you’d better have something to read at your next writer’s group meeting, you’re more likely to get it written. Never underestimate the power of potential embarrassment as a motivational tool.

Deadlines keep me organized. Deadlines help me prioritize. Deadlines help me generate the creative pressure that makes the words keep coming. For me, deadlines are the surest protection against writer’s block.

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When You Have Too Much Privacy


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“All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts.”

Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Today was one of those days when I had to get out of the house to get out of my own head. I packed up my notebooks, a short story in progress, a fistful of pens, and I took refuge in the local library.

(It’s a sad state of affairs when the local coffeehouse holds more peace and quiet than the library does.)

I wanted something to read, something that wouldn’t tax my weary attention span, yet something that would nourish my writing mind and maybe even get me fired up again.

I roamed the Mystery aisles, where I found The Simple Art of Murder. The Preface is in fact the eponymous essay written by Chandler that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. If you have anything to do with the writing life, you’ll enjoy reading that essay.

The above quotation, taken from the essay, struck me as being a profound truth. Chandler said it in the context of explaining why “escapist literature” has just as much right to exist as what critics consider the more high brow type of literature. My preferred leisure time reading is a good mystery. Getting caught up in the puzzle and the characters takes me away from the stress of my every day life and whatever burdens are weighing on my mind.

Being trapped in “the deadly rhythms” of my private thoughts can trigger my depression or be a symptom of it. Writing in my personal journal isn’t much help then. This is when I need to plunge into the mind of a character. Sinking down to the bone deep level of want and need in someone I’ve created lets me engage in what I think of as primal scream therapy on paper.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how you cannot wait until you’re “in the mood” to write. That’s true. Take the mood you’re in and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Anger. Hate. Grief. Frustration. Despair. Negative emotions tend to be the ones we hold back, so they’ve already built up considerable pressure inside us. Cut the brake lines and ride that emotion down the mountain to whatever head-on collision awaits. It will be messy, but it will also be worth it.

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Filed under classics, creativity, Depression, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, therapy, Writing

5 Ways to Improve the Action in Your Story


by Lillian Csernica on August 13, 2016

Writers tend to be visually oriented. We see our stories playing out much like movies inside our minds. Whatever we can do to enhance the clarity of the images and information we want to convey to the reader will improve the strength of our stories. That clarity begins with making sure we can see exactly what’s going on.

Map out the key locations.  Start with just the distances between the major settings. If you want to get into topography, go for it. Bear in mind there’s a difference between miles on land and nautical miles.

Draw the important action. Draw one scene between two characters on a stage. You could also look down on the action, using an aerial view to keep track of items or characters outside of the protagonist’s sight lines. Split the page into four sections and take the comic book approach!

Storyboard the whole plot. Here’s yet another instance where the index card is the writer’s best friend. I recommend 4×6 size. A cork board, some push pins, and you’ve got your whole story laid out in front of you. On Pinterest you can find another definition of the novel storyboard which might also be quite helpful.

Illustrate the main character’s state of mind. Color can be very powerful on the intuitive level.  Put aside realism for the moment and have a go at the Impressionist school of art. Give the character’s dominant emotion a color. If emotions are clashing, assign a color to each and show that. Does the primary motivation suggest a particular color? Is there a Dark Secret lurking in the back of this character’s mind?

Color code the wardrobes for the major characters. This might sound silly, but if you have more than half a dozen characters to keep track of, you’ll be glad to have an easy way to keep this straight.  This is an even higher priority in historical fiction, where the clothing gets a lot more complicated, along with the fabrics, shades, and appropriate accessories.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t require Da Vinci level drawing skills. The whole purpose of the exercise is to get a clearer picture in our mind’s eye so we can choose the best words to describe the action. Have fun!

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How You Can Achieve World Peace


by Lillian Csernica on August 7, 2016

Lately I seem to be crossing paths with more Muslim people. Maybe there are more moving into my area. Maybe I’m just starting to notice Muslim folks more often. Women wearing the hijab are not all that common in my neck of the woods.

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In the coffeehouse where my writing group meets, I saw an interesting sight. An older man and woman who appeared to be Caucasian. The man wore the white skullcap and the woman wore the hijab. The woman’s headscarf was lovely and I commented on it. That got us into a conversation about a shop in Berkeley where I can find similar scarves. (Being Russian Orthodox, I cover my head when I’m in church.) We also discussed the latest trends toward longer skirts, which made both of us happy.

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The supermarket where I do my grocery shopping has a few new cashiers at the registers. One of them happens to be another woman who appears to be Caucasian, speaks with an American accent, and wears the hijab. She is a cheerful, talkative, charming person and I like her a lot. Our most recent conversation was about rock music. As I moved on out of the line, I said to her, “Salaam alaikum.” She gave me the sweetest smile and returned the greeting. We’re both People of the Book, so it’s all good.

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In a recent post I mentioned my family’s trip to the San Francisco Zoo. In one of the zoo’s restaurants, I met a Muslim family, mother, father, and two little boys. In the course of exchanging greetings, I said, “You folks are Muslim, yes?” The mother took a step back toward her children. The father’s expression turned wary. Little wonder. These are dangerous times.

I realized I’d made them anxious, so I smiled and wished them a Happy Eid Mubarak. The mother came forward with open arms to give me a big hug. The father thanked me, using a serious tone than conveyed gratitude for more than just my effort to be polite. When he said, “It means a lot,” I had to wonder what kind of hostility this family had faced in the past.  A kind greeting from a stranger recognizing one of the Muslim holy days brought that much relief and happiness. Such a little act, but for that family, it had great meaning.

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This is how we build world peace. We talk to each other. We get to know each other. We discover what we have in common. We respect each other.

Later today I’ll be buying groceries for the week. If I see the Muslim lady cashier, I’m going to ask her if we can have tea together sometime.

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Filed under charity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, family tradition, Goals, Lillian Csernica, love, parenting, perspective

Back By Popular Demand!


by Lillian Csernica on August 2, 2016

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School is still out. Summer school is over. That means Michael is home all day every day with the exception of adventures such as the San Francisco Zoo and his latest specialist checkup at Stanford. When we have enough staff, we have two eight hour nursing shifts, resulting in coverage from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

We do not have enough staff.

This week I get to cover the a.m. shift. 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eight hours of keeping a vigilant eye on Michael, changing diapers, giving medications, and in general keeping him entertained.

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At this time a year ago Michael was in the Oakland Children’s Hospital in serious danger of death from organ failure. All things considered, I should be overjoyed to have him home where the worst thing he’s suffering is boredom.

Taking the a.m. shifts with Michael is reminding me all too strongly of the terrors of watching over him in the hospital. It’s a strain both physically and emotionally. I love my boy and I will do right by him.

I must also be careful to do right by me.

This involves pushing onward with my efforts to edit Sword Master, Flower Maiden. Given that most mornings I don’t have two brain cells to rub together, this work demands rather more of an effort than usual.

I shall prevail! All prayers, good thoughts, and best wishes are most welcome!

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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!


by Lillian Csernica on July 27, 2016

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Yesterday we went on a family outing to the San Francisco Zoo. Back in late April, during his birthday preparations, Michael had asked for a trip to the zoo. Chris told him we’d go in the summer when the weather was better and the animals were more likely to be active.

This was my first visit to this particular zoo, which happens to be Northern California’s largest zoological park. Here are some of the marvelous creatures I had the pleasure of seeing live and in person:

Eagle Owl

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This owl is enormous! While I was studying her, Athena flew toward me. I now know what it feels like to be a small, furry creature seeing that shadow coming for me. In the Harry Potter books, Draco’s familiar is an Eagle Owl. The owl’s eyes really are that intense orange color!

 

Grizzly Bear

Kachina and Kiona are orphaned cubs from Montana. They were found foraging for food in a barn. Fortunately, arrangements were made for the zoo to give them a home.

Red Panda

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There are few creatures on this planet more adorable than a red panda. Even when one is just hanging out, munching leaves, it’s a delight. To judge from the number of stuffed toys red pandas I saw people carrying around, the zoo must sell more of those than any other animal.

Fishing Cat

This is when I got really excited. I didn’t know the zoo had a Fishing Cat. There she sat, on a stony ledge right beside the waterfall in her enclosure. She took no notice of us humans until a man with a service dog came closer. Then the Fishing Cat stood up and took a good look at that dog! Fishing cats’ paws are partly webbed. They pat the water to imitate how bugs move. That draws the fish, then the cats dive in!

Tigers

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Tigers are my favorite animal, especially the white tiger. We saw a Bengal tiger and a Sumatran tiger. Tigers are supremely cool and they know it.

Gray Rhinoceros

 

You need to understand just how big a rhino really is. Six feet tall at the shoulder, weighing up to three thousand pounds. My car, a Dodge Neon, weighs a bit over twenty-five hundred pounds and comes up to my chest. I had to stand there staring at the rhino for a good few minutes just to get my mind around the sheer size!

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Speaking of size, I was also boggled by the length and girth of the hippo, who was underwater and stayed there aside from a few brief bobs to the surface for air. This photo gives you some perspective. Do not annoy a hippo. It may well be the last thing you ever do.

Snow leopard

How gorgeous can one large feline get? What impressed me is the fact that a snow leopard’s tail is usually as long as its body.

These animals are all endangered species. Please, if you haven’t been able to see them in person, do so as soon as possible. If you find yourself captivated by one or more of these wonderful creatures, consider a donation or volunteer work or whatever you can manage.

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Filed under cats, charity, Family, Lillian Csernica, nature, perspective, research, travel, veterinarian, Writing

As Jumpy As A Wired Kangaroo


by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2016

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I really don’t like it when people sneak up on me. I have enough anxiety issues as it is. My son John once crept up behind me, poked me in the ribs, and said, “Boo!” He suddenly found himself staring at the floor with his arm up behind his back. I didn’t do it with much force, but I did it, leaving both of us surprised. I turned him loose and apologized, but I made it clear to John not only is it not polite to sneak up on people, it can be very dangerous.

This also explains why I almost never braid my hair. Every time I’ve ever done so, somebody will come up behind me and yank on my braid like it’s some sort of bell pull. My instincts say I’ve snagged my hair on something, which tends to kick off my fight or flight response due to that time way back when I was four years old and my long hair got caught in a floor fan.  Nothing got cut off, but it took a long time to untangle and it hurt a LOT. What is the deal with this braid-pulling? It’s up there with people being compelled to pat a pregnant woman’s stomach. I don’t care if you “just really had to do it.” Hands off!

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On a recent trip to the local Dollar Tree, I was standing there trying to remember one of the items I’d come to buy. Suddenly, right behind me, a man cleared his throat quite loudly. I shot up into the air as if I’d been stabbed with a hat pin. I jerked around and almost tripped over him. What on earth was he doing that close to me? He made some attempt at courtesy that still didn’t explain why he was standing well within my personal space. I got away from him, and nothing else came of it, so I didn’t feel a need to tell the manager. I remember his face. If I see him again, he will not have another opportunity to sneak up on me.

Tonight I was out buying groceries for the week. Put everything on the moving belt, pushed my cart forward a half step at a time as the line progressed. Out of nowhere there’s a guy leaning over my left shoulder.  Turns out he was a cashier trying to decide which check stand to close next. So what? He could have taken three steps around me and get a better look at the situation! At the very least, a polite “Excuse me” was called for. What is wrong with some people that they just treat others like objects to be ignored or pushed aside?

I’m jumpy to begin with. I will freely admit that.

However, I’ve been given reason to develop a high-strung temperament due to sudden shocks of a physical and auditory nature. That tends to make one prone to being jumpy.

This is a bit of a psychological Moebius strip. Where does one part end and the other begin?

These are tough times. Caution and courtesy should be our watch words. There are a lot of people suffering from PTSD because there’s a hell of a lot of trauma happening, both visible and invisible.

How do your experiences compare? Do you see this kind of disregard for personal space? Let me hear what’s happening to you.

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