Category Archives: research

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #28


by Lillian Csernica on May 28, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You will become better acquainted with a coworker.

 

Three Days of the Condor was one of the first spy thrillers I ever watched. Joe Turner goes out to pick up lunch for the people in his office and comes back to find everyone dead. Who were they? What kind of work were they really doing? Who is Joe Turner working for and why do they want him dead? Great suspense!

 

 

 

 

 

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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 #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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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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culvercityobserver.com

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Reflection–How the #AtoZChallenge Took Me Deeper Into My Fictional World


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

This year I dedicated my A to Z posts to exploring the world of my Kyoto Steampunk series. I made some valuable discoveries as I worked my way through the alphabet, some creative, some more on the practical side.

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Take a step sideways. A short story is by its nature limited in length. Every detail needs to be an essential detail. Once you get into a series of short stories, you have to keep developing those details, adding depth, bringing new information. Fujita-san is a regular character in the series, but the reader has so far never seen him outside of his function as Dr. Harrington’s translator. Devoting a post to Fujita-san’s background and qualifications made me think through aspects of his character that no story had yet required. That will greatly enrich Fujita-san’s next appearance.

Be sure to link your posts to other related posts. As the A to Z Challenge progressed, each additional blog post I wrote became an active link that expanded on references made in previous posts, and vice versa. It made for extra work, but it also gave me a wonderful sense of providing a more three dimensional experience. People who read the posts could chase the links back and forth, gathering lots of information and insights into how and why I’m writing the Kyoto Steampunk series.

Avoid the obvious, but keep in mind what’s popular. Some of the more difficult letters required brainstorming before I chose the topic I thought most useful and most entertaining. There were more Japanese words I might have used, but less is more in that regard. The Kyoto Steampunk series is about a British expatriate family living in Kyoto during Japan’s Industrial Revolution, facing difficulties both social and supernatural. I didn’t want to narrow the focus to Japan itself.

Reveal your process. This is where I really had the most fun. I’m always interested to learn how other creative people go about making their art. To be able to talk about how I made certain choices and why this or that story element is important to me gave me plenty of satisfaction. Just telling the story about how the character of Julie Rose came to be made a lot of people laugh!

Stay at least five days ahead. Absolutely essential. Some people manage to get all of their posts written before the challenge even starts. I stand in awe of such organization. Me, I need some pressure to do my best work. I also need breathing room. Staying five days ahead lets me stay relaxed while enjoying the daily challenge of each letter. It also means I have more time to go visit the people who visit me, along with roaming around chasing links to new blogs.

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thepandorasociety.com

 

And now, my favorite blogs from the 2018 A to Z Challenge!

The Old Shelter

Sarah Zama is an amazing writer, author of Give In To The Feeling. Last year she wrote about noir films, one of my favorite subjects. This year her posts about the Weimar Republic opened my eyes to a cultural revolution that was just a name in the history books.

Diary of a Dublin Housewife

Bernie Violet is a hoot. Her posts are written like bullet lists, providing bare dialogue back and forth between Bernie and one of her family or friends. You can hear the lovely Irish lilt that is authentic, not just some writer trying to fabricate a dialect. What’s more, Bernie’s sense of humor never fails to make me laugh.

Sharon E. Cathcart

Winner of much deserved awards, Sharon is a wonderful woman who devotes a lot of time to volunteering at animal shelters. Her latest novel Bayou Fire is well worth a read.

Sally’s Smorgasbord

For variety, entertainment, enlightenment, and laughter, you can’t do better. The sense of community there is strong and supportive. Go and sample some of the delights of this smorgasbord. You’ll be glad you did!

Atherton’s Magic Vapor

A time travel story with each letter of the alphabet being an entry in the mission guidebook. This is an exciting adventure with a unique style and some splendid graphics. I’ll have to read it again, now that I’ve gotten a better grip on the story!

Iain Kelly Fiction Writing

Every letter of the alphabet takes you to a new location. Every location is the setting for short piece of fiction that is rich and compelling. Some of the stories made me cry, partly from sorrow and partly from just how touching they were. Iain Kelly’s writing style is strong, admirable, and a pleasure to read.

Book Jotter

Paula Bardell-Hedley is a reviewer from Wales who keeps up with an impressive amount of reading. I’m impressed by the organization of her blog and the sheer volume of information she provides. Stop by and discover a treasure house for book lovers!

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#atozchallenge: Q is for Quack


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2018

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The Quack Doctor by Charles Green

 

Dr. Harrington has begun to realize that by bringing Western medicine to the Far East, he also has an opportunity to learn how the Far East has been keeping people alive and healthy for several thousand years.

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he.wikipedia.org

At this time in Victorian England, some impressive strides were being made regarding the causes of cholera epidemics and tuberculosis. However, general medical care had yet to fully embrace Pasteur’s discoveries regarding germs and the spread of disease. The wealthy could afford what passed for good health care. The poor, living in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation, had little if any recourse to serious medical care.

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Enter the quack, who promised this or that powder, pill, or colored syrup would bring the miracle cure everyone needed.

From The Online Etymology Dictionary:

quack (n.1)

“medical charlatan,” 1630s, short for quacksalver (1570s), from obsolete Dutch quacksalver (modern kwakzalver), literally “hawker of salve,” from Middle Dutch quacken “to brag, boast,” literally “to croak” (see quack (v.)) + salf “salve,” salven “to rub with ointment” (see salve (v.)). As an adjective from 1650s. The oldest attested form of the word in this sense in English is as a verb, “to play the quack” (1620s). The Dutch word also is the source of German Quacksalber, Danish kvaksalver, Swedish kvacksalvare.
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Anatomical head. Edo period. Wax. 19thc-artworldwide.org

Were there quacks in Kyoto? Probably. The world was changing very quickly. Japanese people were eager to try the wonders from the West. Some of those wonders could be truly mind-boggling in their defiance of all reason and sense.

If you’d like to know more about medical quackery in this time period, I recommend The Quack Doctor, a site created by Caroline Rance. There you will find much that will both shock and amuse you.

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#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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japaneseaesthetics.tumblr.com

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.

35mm original

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: L is for Loyalty


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2018

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Living as a member of the British expatriate community within the city of Kyoto, Dr. Harrington faces many challenges. I deliberately put him into situations that force him to make difficult choices. Again and again, he has to decide where his loyalty lies.

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Queen Victoria — Dr. Harrington must fulfill his duties and keep the Abbot in good health. Any lapse on his part will reflect badly on queen and country.

The Abbot — The image above shows Seihan Mori, the current Abbot of Kiyomizudera, using a calligraphy brush to make the kanji for the New Year. This kanji means “north.”

Dr. Harrington has been given the honor of ensuring the Abbot’s health. The Abbot is eighty-five. In A Demon in the Noonday Sun ( Twelve Hours Later), Dr. Harrington supervises the Abbot’s first use of his new steampunk wheelchair. While the Abbot is in fine health for a man of his age, he’s still fragile. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot himself sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that results in the Undersecretary forbidding the doctor to do anything of the kind.

 

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Sir George William Buchanan

His immediate superior, Alexander Thompson, Undersecretary for Technological Exchange — The image above is my model for Dr. Harrington’s boss. Thompson is utterly correct in everything he does, an ideal civil servant. That means there’s no way Dr. Harrington can explain the supernatural creatures that drag him away from the straight and narrow path Thompson expects him to walk.

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Constance and Madelaine — The safety and well-being of his wife and daughter are constantly at the forefront of Dr. Harrington’s thoughts. He accepted the posting to Kyoto in order to improve Madelaine’s prospects for a husband once the family returns to England.

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uniqueexplorer.blogspot.com

The burakumin — In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that opens his eyes to the existence of the lowest Japanese social class, one that still experiences discrimination even today. Dr. Harrington’s efforts to act on the Abbot’s instructions jeopardize everything he’s come to Japan to achieve.

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Being true to himself — William Harrington is a physician, a husband, a father, and a loyal subject of Queen Victoria. He has taken the Hippocratic Oath. He’s an honorable man of great integrity. Even so, he does have his weaknesses. Finding the right adversaries to test Dr. Harrington’s mettle among the gods and monsters of Japan is one of my greatest pleasures in writing the Kyoto Steampunk stories.

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge: J is for Julie Rose


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2018

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One day, during the time I was writing The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), I saw an ad for this coffee mug. Just on a whim, I posted the image and said the first person who bought me this mug would win a cameo appearance in my latest Kyoto Steampunk story.

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Within ten minutes, I got a reply from a very nice lady. She’d ordered the mug, emailed me the confirmation, and we had a deal! I ran around Pinterest looking for the right dress for her. After she chose the one she liked best, I set to work building her into the story. She became Julie Rose, daughter of another British expatriate family who lives in Kyoto. She makes an excellent companion for Madelaine, someone with whom she can practice Constance‘s lessons on etiquette and deportment.

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I’m sure Julie Rose will be making more appearances as the series continues. My sincere thanks to the dear lady kind enough to provide me with this delightful coffee mug!

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#atozchallenge: I is for Ink


by Lillian Csernica on April 10, 2018

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en.shibaparkhotel.com

 

Ink, like tea and rice, is an essential part of Japanese culture.

In Pictures from the Water Trade, John David Morely writes a chapter devoted to shodo, or the art of calligraphy. The passion and the poetry of his writing make his account of his lessons in calligraphy a rare adventure. Of all the books I’ve read on a foreigner’s experiences in Japan, and I’m well into double digits, this book remains a favorite.

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The Abbot of Kiyomizudera creates ofuda to protect Dr. Harrington from the dangers he faces. Ofuda are Sanskrit sutras written on parchment using a calligraphy brush and traditional ink. The preparation of the ink alone is fascinating.

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From Wikipedia:

In ink wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind inkstick over an inkstone to obtain black ink, but prepared liquid inks (墨汁 in Japanese, bokuju) are also available. Most inksticks are made of soot from pine or oil combined with animal glue. An artist puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared liquid inks vary in viscosity, solubility, concentration, etc., but are in general more suitable for practicing Chinese calligraphy than executing paintings.[4] Inksticks themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.

On Putting on Airs (Thirty Days Later), the Abbot provides Dr. Harrington with an ofuda to put on his front gate. Nothing supernatural with malignant intent can enter through that gateway. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), a yokai of considerably greater power and menace is hunting Dr. Harrington through Kyoto’s nighttime streets. This requires an ofuda to be carried by Dr. Harrington at all times!

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