Category Archives: research

#nanoprep How to Choose Your Project


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2019

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I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.

National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.

Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.

For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been  total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.

Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?

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I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.

I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.

And so the new stories begin to grow!

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Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.

What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, research, steampunk, Writing

How Do You #nanoprep?


by Lillian Csernica on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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November is coming. That means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo!

This year is the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo. Twenty years of hot ideas, hard work, and tanker trucks full of coffee! If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a novel, or you really need group support to get you through that first draft, then NaNoWriMo is waiting for you.

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“Where do I start?” That is the question I hear most often from people who really want to write but don’t know what to do first. The answer is simple: Find what gets you most excited about your project. Is it the main character? Is it the dialogue? Is it the glorious victory of the Good Guys stomping the Bad Guys into the dirt? Whatever gets you all fired up, that’s the key to Writing Every Single Day.

Here’s how I do my #nanoprep:

Pick an idea. For me this means choosing a genre, a time period, and the major location.

  •  Write down a bunch of details about my main character.
  • Do the same for my villain.
  • Brainstorm a rough plot outline.
  • Keep making notes as the ideas start crossbreeding with every new detail I imagine. I try to keep organized from the very beginning. Index cards, Scrivener, a spiral notebook, whatever works. The important thing is to get all those details recorded hot and fresh without thinking too much.

If you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, you need to create a lot of the basic information about plot, character, and setting. I liken this part of the writing process to the way a sculptor begins a new piece. First you have to get your hands on some clay, right? Once you have the clay, then you can start shaping it into a story. Brainstorming all those details is how writers create the clay from which we shape our stories.

If you’re starting with a work-in-progress, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. I suggest you come up with a specific goal you want to achieve during NaNoWriMo. Some examples:

  • Finish your draft
  • Flesh out the relationship(s) between the main character and the sidekick, the love interest, the mentor, or the villain. Depending on the type of story you’re after, you can have the main character working on a better understanding of that person’s own mind and motivations. Do be careful to dramatize what happens. Pages of interior monologue are fine when you’re working out the details of an idea. Too much of that can kill your pace and leave your reader hungry for real action.
  • Familiarize yourself with your setting and test the dramatic possibilities of some key locations. If you’re using a well-known setting such as Paris or London, make sure you get the details right.

Remember, no first draft comes out letter perfect. The first draft is where you get to play around, chase ideas up blind allies, start a character off with one motivation and see where that takes you. This is where you get to find out which ideas fit together and which ones tend to muddle up the story.

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Give yourself permission to write badly at first. That doesn’t mean your writing will be bad. It just means you take the pressure off of yourself so you can just enjoy the act of writing. All that really matters during NaNoWriMo is that you WRITE. Just do it. Just get the daily word quota out of your head and onto the paper, screen, bedroom wall, whatever. Just WRITE.

Watch for more tips on getting ready for National Novel Writing Month!

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Doin’ the BayCon Boogie!


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2019

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It’s taken me more time than usual to recover from the wonders of BayCon. This year’s amazing spectacle had so much going on I wanted to be in at least two different places in every time slot. Here are the highlights of one of the better con weekends I’ve enjoyed.

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How diverse is diversity?

Gregg Castro (Salinan T’rowt’raahl) (M), Dr. yvonne white (Hayward High School), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Jean Battiato

I added another layer to the definition of diversity by speaking for those who have disabilities, whether physical or psychological. While some physical disabilities are obvious and others are not, most psychological problems are not immediately apparent. Thanks to the expanding realm of neurodiversity, more and more people are aware of the prevalence of autism, of clinical depression, of chronic pain, and other conditions that create daily challenges on several levels.

Teen Guided-Storytelling Workshop

Host: Margaret McGaffey-Fisk

John wanted to attend this event. He’s been drawing for years and has taken at least two ceramics classes in school. Now he’s interested in learning how to tell a good story to go along with his illustrations and sculptures. Margaret did a wonderful job of explaining the techniques of oral storytelling. There was a young lady present as well. Margaret encouraged both John and this young lady to use their own original characters as part of practicing the techniques she discussed. I am delighted to say I learned quite a lot also! Margaret’s techniques came in very handy for the Spontaneous Storytelling panel on Sunday.

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Altered Beast

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature.

Kevin Andrew Murphy (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen

I have written and published three stories with Kevin and one  (so far) with Pat. We all have extensive libraries on folklore and shapeshifters, so we took the audience on a round-the-world tour of the beliefs and manifestations of the “werewolf” tradition.When we three are together, you will hear some of the weirdest facts and fancies you could imagine!

Spontaneous Storytelling

Panelists developing a story developed by multiple choice suggestions from audience members.

Jeff Warwick (M), David Brin, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Mark Gelineau (Gelineau and King)

Jeff is brilliant. Get somebody who was in the audience for this panel to tell you about the illustrations he drew while the story evolved, most notably The Harmonicat. This critter has now entered into the annals of A Shot Rang Out folklore right up there with Darth Tetra. I found a way for our protagonist to speak Japanese to the cat. David Brin picked right up on that and easily blew my tourist doors off with his accent and much better grammar. Mark Gelineau caught some of the stranger audience suggestions and turned them to his advantage. A good time was had by all!

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The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

Dorothy Parker wrote “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” Being willing to do exactly that is what will bring the deepest meaning to our writing. How do we bring ourselves to be that honest and vulnerable in our stories?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), Ms. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Book View Café)

It’s not easy to talk about one’s creative process, but the three of us gave it a solid try. Jay described how the combination of his acting training and his directing skills help him render authentic emotion on the page. Maya gave us some very personal insights into how she transforms personal pain into dynamic action in her stories. Me? I keep digging deeper and deeper into the hearts of my characters to find the pain that drives them onward, that won’t let them sleep, that gives them strength in the face of crushing opposition. Pain is supposed to be Nature’s way of telling us to stop doing something. For writers, it’s what keeps us writing.

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But Wait! There’s More!


by Lillian Csernica on May 3, 2019

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Hi there. I had to take a small break from blogging to keep up with some other writing commitments. An article for SEARCH Magazine, the latest critiques for my writers group, and a vigorous session at the coffeehouse with my personal journal. If I don’t write in the personal journal with reasonable frequency, internal pressures build up and I get way too stressed out.

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Those of you who are in my general age range will recall those commercials that came on late at night during the really bad horror movies that showed on Channel 13 (I grew up in Southern California). The fast-talking salesman doing the voice-over would tell you all about the wonders of the chef’s knives for one low, low price.

But wait! There’s more!

The voice-over would throw in some amazing device that could peel carrots, slice spuds into French fries, and turn those radishes into roses. All for another rock bottom price!

But wait! There’s more!

Now and then you’d get the third tier offer which usually had to do with jewelry, sterling silver or 18k gold. You just dipped the item into the secret polish and out it came gleaming like the prize treasure from a dragon’s hoard.

I have completed the April 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge. So here I am looking for a May Blog Challenge. Any suggestions?

I could go with an official challenge, or I could devote this month to a subject that you wonderful people would like to see me discuss. I can cover anything in the subject areas I’m known for, or you can send me off on a new adventure.

What new & improved thrills would you like to see me provide here?

You are some mighty clever people. Can’t wait to see what you throw at me!

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innovateuk.blog.gov.uk

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#atozchallenge X is for Xenophilia


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2019

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Welcome to one of the more unusual days in the A to Z Blog Challenge. X is a tricky letter.

My apologies for this post going up a bit later than the others. My in-laws from back east have been visiting and I got a bit behind.

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I have a confession to make: I am a Xenophile. This will come as no surprise to folks who have read this far in my A to Z. I love foreign people, places, and things.

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When did this start? I was in first grade. A family from Japan moved into the apartment across the big grassy yard from where I lived. Hiro Takahashi joined my class. Getting to know him, his sisters, and his parents gave me my first glimpse into a whole new world.

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From age 16 to 18, I worked as a professional Turkish-Moroccan belly dancer. My teacher, a marvelous lady from Saragossa, Spain, taught me so much about her part of the world. I still have the coin belt made for me by a Turkish man. 144 diamond-shaped silver coins, all stamped with the Venus di Milo.

As my high school graduation gift, my father sent me to the Netherlands. I spent the summer with the family of the girl who had been my Physics lab partner on a student exchange program. While I was there I took a weekend bus tour to Paris, France. I am now all the more grateful for that trip, given that it allowed me to see Our Lady of Notre Dame cathedral in its full glory.

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My fiction has been translated into German and Italian. (Ship of Dreams became In the Spell of the Pirate.) I’m looking for someone to translate a novella into Japanese. If you know anybody, drop me a line, won’t you?

And of course I’ve had some adventures in Yokohama and Kyoto.

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Why am I so attracted to the Other? People fascinate me. How they think, what they think, and why they think it. Just the single concept of life after death has given rise to so many different schools of thought. The pursuit of happiness involves such a broad spectrum of effort depending on how one defines happiness.

Writing allows me to take apart some aspect of life and put the pieces back together in a new way. Am I trying to make some sense of what I’ve experienced? Probably. Am I trying to bring order to a chaos that leaves me frightened and bewildered? Probably. It’s not all one-for-one, of course. By the time I get to the final edit of a story, the pieces of me I’ve used undergo quite a process of transformation.

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#atozchallenge W is for Water


by Lillian Csernica on April 26, 2019

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I have a strange relationship with water.

When I was in first grade, if I came near a body of water larger than a puddle, I would fall in. Kiddie pools. Duck ponds. A bucket of water beside a neighbor’s half-washed car.

This is one big reason I learned to swim quite early in life.

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Fast forward to my senior year in high school. Anywhere I went, from a friend’s house to a public restaurant, if there was a vessel of water (vase, drinking glass, finger bowl)within ten feet of me, somebody would find a way to knock it over and I’d get soaked.

I never did the spilling. I did not touch the water until the water touched me. My family thought I was cursed. Seemed like a pretty feeble curse to me, but it just kept happening, too often to be mere coincidence.

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Mind you, all of that had to do with fresh water. I had no trouble at all at the beach, aside from being convinced there was a monster way down deep in the dark water that was just waiting to grab me and drag me under.

The technical term for this is thalassaphobia. I built an entire story around this condition by giving it to the main character in Dark Water.

At one point I wanted to become a marine biologist. Few things made me happier than starting my school day down at the beach with my science teacher, measuring the waves or looking for specimens in the wetlands. Unfortunately, at some point in any career involving on biology, one must dissect a cat. For me, that would be unbearable.

Water plays an important role in a number of my stories:

Ship of Dreams — the Caribbean

The Kyoto Steampunk stories — Japan is a volcanic archipelago

Cold Comfort — the seashore

Storm Warning — the Gateway Islands

Family Tides — the Gateway Islands

The Path of the Sun — the shore at sunset

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livingmoonastrology.com

For my birthday one year my mother paid an astrologer to cast my natal chart. Turns out my Moon is in Pisces. I don’t pay much attention to astrology except when I’m creating characters. I did find this particular piece of information interesting. It seems people who have their Moon in Pisces are often creative, artistic, and might also have an addictive personality. Makes me wonder to what extent this might be true, and whether or not it has affected my writing.

 

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#atozchallenge T is for Talisman


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2019

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Most writers I know keep meaningful items on their desks, keepsakes associated with inspiration, good luck, or some method of coaxing the Muse into delivering the day’s word quota. While these may not be talismans in the classic sense of rings or pendants of precious stone inscribed with mystic words, these keepsakes are talismanic in that they stir up our imaginations in positive and productive ways.

My most treasured talismans include:

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The inkwell given to me at my first book signing by the owner of the store.

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The Mixy Award given to me by Steve Mix at BayCon 2015.

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The enamel pin showing the main building of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto which I bought from the gift shop when I visited the palace.

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A note sent to me by the parents of a little girl whose letter to Santa Claus I answered, thanking me for keeping their daughter’s “dream and belief” alive.

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The clay pendant bearing my name in cuneiform made for me by a dealer at WorldCon 75 in Finland, brought all the way home to me by my best friend, Patricia H. MacEwen. I would show you the pendant itself, but I’m fine-tuning my wire wrap jewelry skills so I can wear the piece at BayCon next month!

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge S is for Sociopath


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2019

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Sociopaths are scary people. They are cold-blooded, their conscience is weak, and they do not play by the rules most of us learn early on. What’s worse, they are often attractive and can pass themselves off as perfectly wonderful people.

Sociopaths make useful characters in stories. In real life, they can be terrifying.

When I was still a teenager, I worked for a man who seemed like a lovable teddy bear, a great father, and a fun boss. Bit by bit I discovered the truth he kept hidden behind this lovely front. The man was a sexual predator, a child molester (his own), and he let his girlfriend deal drugs out of what amounted to the “back room.” I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten out of that situation in one piece.

Writing about someone like this man is not simply a matter of devising some well-deserved and precisely constructed karmic annihilation. Sociopaths know how to spot the types of people who will play right into their hands. Sociopaths can make you feel wonderful, get you to open up about yourself, and then they will use all of that against you in the most heartless, vicious, and efficient ways possible.

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If you want to create a sociopath in a story, bear in mind that a sociopath has Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This can present with a variety of symptoms. The particular symptoms an individual shows will vary according to genetics, the family environment, and other factors such as alcoholism or substance abuse. One of the most common traits is expert manipulation of other people. This is where the weak conscience is a factor. Sociopaths might know what they’re doing is wrong, but they don’t care. They will use and abuse other people to whatever extent is necessary just to get what they want.

It’s easy to think of sociopaths as being monsters. They can be, but they’re not always the worst sort out there. People sometimes confuse “sociopath” with “psychopath.” I once attended a lecture by the psychologist and profiler who worked with Ted Bundy. It was that man’s opinion that psychopaths are made, not born, through key events in their lives. This is even more true of sociopaths, because they are more common and the psychiatric “starter kit,” so to speak, can be shaped by a wider variety of influences.

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A character with sociopathic tendencies can make an excellent good guy, if only in the antihero sense. Take a close look at the classic noir detectives such as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. They have their own codes of conduct. They might acknowledge the authority of police and the courts, but they play by their own rules and deliver the punishments they believe are deserved.

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#atozchallenge O is for Opportunity


by Lillian Csernica on April 17,  2019

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There’s a famous saying: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” That might have been true once, but today the Internet has brought the marketplace to the consumers. They don’t have to “beat a path” anywhere. It’s up to us as the sellers of our writing to get our work in front of the people who will buy it.

How do we do that? By making the most of every opportunity.

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Where are those opportunities? Market listings.

Duotrope — It’s possible to glean some information from this site without paying an annual subscription fee. Me, I have a subscription. Best money I ever spent. I credit this site with improving my acceptance rate.

The Submissions Grinder — This site is free. There is a lot of information available. Do be careful to follow through on the links and make sure you’ve got the latest submission requirements. Many markets, especially anthologies, have limited reading windows on very specific themes.

Remember what I said about building a writing community? That’s another crucial element in finding opportunity. The more writers we know, the more contacts we have in the writing world, the more likelier we are to hear about opportunities.

One day I was at the supermarket. I bumped into Deborah J. Ross, a well-known writer and editor who also lives in my part of the world. We’ve known each other for a while now, mostly meeting up at conventions. Deborah happened to be putting together a new anthology. She said she’d love to see a story from me. Holy cats! I thanked her and got to work right away. That story, The Katana Matrix, will appear in Citadels of Darkover.
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What happens if we can’t find an opportunity that matches what we have to offer?

We take it to the next level by finding ways to create our own opportunities.

Tailor stories we’ve already finished to suit the target market.

When I was in college, I took a fiction course and wrote the original version of Masquerade. The result landed about halfway between literary and genre fiction. Later, when I decided to start submitting the story, I rewrote it and cranked up certain aspects so the story fit into the horror genre. It first appeared in Midnight Zoo, then Karl Edward Wagner accepted it for my second appearance in The Year’s Best Horror Stories.

Push our limits by writing on a subject or in a genre where there are many opportunities.

I started out writing fantasy and horror. I switched to romance because it was easier to break into the novel market there and the money was better. The result? Ship of Dreams. That novel did earn out its advance, and it continues to bring in good royalties.

Ask questions, seek advice, beat the bushes in pursuit of potential opportunities.

Where do we start? Join online writing communities. Join the professional association that suits what you prefer to write. Go to the places where you will meet other writers, editors, and publishers. Conventions, seminars, lectures at the local library. Yes, attending the larger events can get expensive. We have to weigh the potential benefits against the cost. One good pitch session can save a lot of time and effort.

Remember: Be polite. Be considerate. Be grateful. Pass on the kindness to other writers who need help. This is how we grow our community, and how we keep ourselves in the minds of people in a position to alert us to opportunities that could make all the difference to our success.
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#atozblogchallenge L is for Location


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2019

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One of the key ideas in retail success is “Location, location, location.” Put your business in the right place, where the right customer base will find you, and you stand a much better chance of making a profit.

When writing stories, your setting is a vital element. I see a lot of stories with complex worldbuilding, but the setting is more like stage scenery or a rack of props. Where you locate your story, or which locations appear in your story, can be just as powerful a story element as plot or character.

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Consider some famous settings:

Mars — The Martian

A train — Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train

A bus — Speed

A deserted islandRobinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies

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These settings have crucial aspects in common:

  • The physical location is very limiting, requiring quick thinking and immediate adaptation.
  • The main character is trapped in that setting. There is no easy way out.
  • The stakes are life or death.

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When I write historical fiction, location encompasses not just the physical setting but the time period as well:

Fallen Idol starts out in a mall food court, an ordinary, modern, nonthreatening setting. The main character, a photographer, notices a girl with elaborate and dramatic makeup. The rest of her skin is completely covered up by layers of clothing. The photographer follows this girl to a creepy abandoned factory, full of strange foreign folk art, where the rest of the story, rooted in a famous historical conflict, takes place.

Saving Grace is set in a chateau on a pilgrimage route in 14th Century France. The main character fled Russia during the Tatar invasion. She is a vampire. That makes daily living hard enough. She is also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this time most of the Western world was controlled by the Pope of Rome. That puts my heroine in constant danger of arrest as a heretic and schismatic. That meant being burned at the stake.

The Kyoto Steampunk stories take place in Kyoto 1880. Dropping a Victorian physician into an Oriental environment where he can’t speak the language and knows nothing about the social protocol makes every problem I give him twice as difficult.

Make the most of your fictional location. It can make a huge difference!

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