Category Archives: science fiction

#nanoprep: Beware the Early Burnout!


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2018

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This is for all you Planners out there. The ones with the notebooks and the index cards and the color-coded little arrow Post-It notes. You know who you are. You can’t wait to plow through all those research books and make a gazillion notes. You love to chase down the other books on the bibliographies, hunting for the exact name of that one piece of clothing, or why on earth those people would be willing to eat that substance under those circumstances.

I share your addictions and I feel your pain.

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I think of myself as a plantser because in October I’m in Planner Mode. Research, outlines, scene cards, character sketches, maps, coinage, ad infinitum. When I was little, everybody stressed the importance of learning how to color inside the lines. So when I start a new novel project, I have what amounts to a compulsion to create those “lines,” the clearly marked spaces that I will fill in with backstory and location data and a list of crazy potential plot twists.

Then, come November itself, I go nuts, writing all out like a true Pantser. Each day I throw myself at that word quota and write like hell, living in fear of midnight. If everything goes well, all that material I absorbed during October will mingle and blend in the depths of my imagination. The words will come gushing out into the pen or the keyboard, and the story will take shape!

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What if all does NOT go well? What if all that research and all those notes and all the brainstorming uses up all the energy you had for doing the actual writing?

This is a very real danger. I’ve heard some writing teachers warn against talking too much about new ideas. All that wonderful pressure to get the story written can dissipate if you spend too much time talking and not enough writing.

The other danger is spending so much time and energy on your idea that when it comes time for the actual writing, you’re already bored. Over it. Burned out. That’s not a fun place to be when you’ve got 30 days and 50,000 words waiting on the horizon.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo is very important for all the obvious reasons. You need to have some idea of who you’re writing about, where the story happens, and what the stakes are. My advice is to do enough prepping so you can see the signposts but not every pothole along the way. Give your imagination enough room to consider the many different combinations of the ideas you’re mulling over.

Remember three essential guidelines:

  1. Write everything down. EVERYTHING. A piece of dialog. One character’s opinion. What kind of horse the bad guy’s sidekick dreams of owning.
  2. One day’s writing is not set in stone. You don’t like the way that scene came out? Do it again from another character’s point of view. You’re so frustrated you just want to burn down the whole super spy skyscraper? Do it! Let’s see how those fancypants S.H.I.E.L.D.–wannabes handle that scenario!
  3. Keep everything. Sure, you’ll make choices. That’s good. Just keep all the other stuff. You never know what might come in handy around Day 15 or Day 26. And who knows? All those bits and pieces might help you figure out the sequel!

 
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Reblog: How to Use Index Cards to Outline Your Book


by Lillian Csernica on September 20, 2018

Megan Burgess has some excellent ideas that may come in handy as we all keep prepping for NaNoWriMo!

via How to Use Index Cards to Outline Your Book

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September 20, 2018 · 12:14 am

O WorldCon, My WorldCon


by Lillian Csernica on August 26, 2018

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Oh my stars and garters! The past two weeks have been one long road trip. First, my mother had to go to the ER, and was then admitted to the hospital. It’s been two weeks today and she’s still there. In the midst of this ordeal, I had to leave town for the 76th World Science Fiction Convention, aka ConJose 2.

Here are just some of the highlights of this grand adventure:

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The Art of John Picacio

The T shirts! The Program Book! The Badges! Biiiiig badges, suitable for my ribbon whore tendencies along with plenty of room on the back for one’s participant schedule. Very considerate design, that.

Seeing Old Friends

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Kelly Buehler and Daniel Spector

Two of my favorite people, Kelly and Daniel now reside in that lovely country where Kelly will be co-chairing ConZealand in 2020! Start saving up now, kids! That will definitely be the happening spot on the planet!

The Usual Suspects from BayCon — You know who you are. All the people who came running up to me outside the entrance to the Dealers Room, seizing me in hugs so enthusiastic that some left a few bruises. Fine with me. The newer folks who introduced me to Cards Against Humanity at BayCon were there, including Karen in all her pink-tiara-and-camo glory.

David J. Peterson — Jedi Master among conlangers, creator of Dothraki for the Game of Thrones TV series, and an all-around sweet fellow. He once turned my name into a word in Dark Elvish, suitable for Malekith in Thor: The Dark World. The word? “Liljahi,” meaning to love. Not a word you’d hear very often in a warrior culture. Thanks, Dave!

Making New Friends

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Brenda Clough

 

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Joseph Malik

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Manny Frishberg

Room Parties!

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The Expanse — You have to love these fans. They really know how to throw a party. General ambience of red light. Marvelous Expanse-themed décor. In one room hung a tree that lit up from the roots to the branches. Solid color, then rainbow. Hypnotic! There was music playing and a bar and lots of people packed in there having a good time.

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Locus 50th Anniversary Party — A milestone in the industry, for sure. What stands out most in my memory is the planet cake with the fondant rockets and aliens. Way cool, excellent frosting, and high quality chocolate cake. OK, so I’m a foodie.

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Hal-Con — This event is put on by a fan group from Kawasaki. I met them in the area of the convention center devoted to fan tables. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to speak my tourist Japanese to actual Japanese people. I don’t get anywhere near enough practice. They invited me to their room party that evening. Oh wow. Lots of Japanese snacks, the great stuff you can’t get here in the States. Four Japanese ladies got me all wound up in a heavy brocade obi, the kind worn with a bridal kimono. Three different people were taking photos and video, including my usual partner in crime, Patricia H. MacEwen. I know the “obi fairies” tied at least two separate knots as demonstrations while I stood there with both hands holding my long hair piled on top of my head. I did tell the Kawasaki folks about the stories I’ve written set in Satsuma, Kyoto, and Fukushima. At the end of the evening, they did me the honor of giving me the obi.

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B-Cubed Press Table

Several of us who contributed to Alternate Theologies gathered at the table in the Dealers Room to sign copies. Bob and Phyl had badge wallets for us in purple, my favorite color! It was good to meet the other writers in the anthology, especially David Gerrold. He’s a hoot, he really is.
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The SFWA Suite

It’s good to hang out in the company of one’s colleagues. It’s even better to hang out in the company of one’s idols. Cat Rambo, Harry Turtledove, Nancy Kress, Diana Paxson, Saladin Ahmed…. At ConFrancisco, back in 1993, I made my first visit to the SFWA Suite as an Active Member. It was a thrill then, and it always will be.

There was cake. Lots of cake. The Analog party, the Clarion reunion, another author’s novel promotion.

One room of the suite was devoted to watching the Hugo Awards. I spent most of my time in what might be thought of as the conversational salon. Had a chance to really enjoy my time floating from one conversation to the next.

Next year we head to Dublin!

 

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5 Reasons Why Readers Give Up


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2018

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First, my apologies for the drop in the frequency of my posts. I’ve been having technical difficulties with both my laptop and daily life.

Keeping readers entertained and loyal is essential in today’s marketplace. I get a lot of free Kindle e-books thanks to BookBub. Given how much I read, I can plow through two or three novels a week depending on my schedule. Doing so has sharpened my sense of what will make me stop reading a book. Life is too short to read bad fiction. I have such a library built up on my Kindle there’s no reason to go on reading a book that can’t hold my interest.

These are the Five Storytelling Flaws that will make me give up on a story:

0f7398a5-6eed-4f57-b412-757fa49d8849Talking Heads — The dialogue might be witty. It might be well-crafted. If it doesn’t move the story forward, what’s the point? Dialogue can be a form of action, yes. If all you’ve got is characters having lengthy conversations, that’s going to try your reader’s patience and make them lose interest.

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Redshirts — These are the minor characters who take a bullet for the hero or heroine. I once read a fantasy novel where the redshirt problem was so blatant it became more and more aggravating with every predictable death. The novel was clearly meant to be the first in a series. It did not surprise me to learn the sequel never saw the light of day.

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Low Stakes — The majority of mystery novels are about murder because the stakes don’t get any higher than life or death. The higher the stakes, the more the main character has to risk in order to solve the problem. More risk means tougher choices and that creates more reader sympathy. Make sure the stakes in your story are high enough to keep the reader turning pages.

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Too Much Thinking — This is the internal narrative equivalent of Talking Heads. Yes, the reader needs to know how the main character feels and what thought process leads to the next attempt to solve the story problem. Too much thinking means too little action. The pace of the story suffers and the reader will lose interest.

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Purple Prose — If the reader can tell the writer is trying to impress, then the writer is trying too hard. This results in convoluted syntax that breaks the suspension of disbelief and makes the reader aware of the act of reading. I must confess that I do walk a fine line when I’m writing romance. Purple prose is very nearly one of the protocols of the genre. Keep it simple. Clarity and precision are your friends.

For more tips on avoiding these mistakes, I recommend reading:

How to Write A Damn Good Novel series by James N. Frey

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress

Revision by Kit Reed

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #31


by Lillian Csernica on May 31, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

You must learn to broaden your horizons day by day.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART III

Kathleen regained consciousness. She kept her eyes shut and her breathing regular. Thousands of voices made a steady clamor somewhere just on the other side of a door or wall. She lay on a couch that held the lingering odors of sweaty bodies, stale pizza, and something sugary. Concrete. Paper. Old draperies.

“I know you’re awake.” A woman’s voice, both dainty and authoritative. “Sit up. There’s much to discuss.”

Kathleen opened her eyes to see an excellent copy of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella. Posters on the walls ran heavily to superhero themes, classic Kirby art along with movie posters from the Marvel universe. She sat up slowly. All those voices…. She groaned.

“A comic con? Really?”

“This is where we blend in best.” The woman frowned. “Well, here and Burning Man.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“We don’t have time for the basics. What name did the man give you?”

“Leaf. Leaves that Fall At Twilight.”

“In what language?”

“Japanese.”

“Of course. I’ll give you another name for him: otaku. Are you familiar with that word?”

Kathleen nodded. It meant the crazier kind of fan boy, the one with obsessions and a poor sense of personal hygiene. “I take it that’s not his real name?”

“No. Human vocal chords can’t duplicate our language. The result would approximate a whale singing light opera on meth.”

The very idea made Kathleen’s brain hurt.

“On behalf of the members of my crew,” Barbarella said, “I apologize for Leaf’s disruption of your life. He means well, but he takes his hobbies too seriously.”

“‘Hobbies’? What part of his ‘hobbies’ am I?”

“He’s on our cultural analysis staff. He loves Earth storytelling, the classics and the trash and everything in between.”

“So he really did want to carry me off to some enchanted kingdom.”

“I think the word he used was ‘Wakanda.'”

Despite her consternation, Kathleen burst out laughing. “If there’s one place I’d want to go, that would be it.” She sighed. “Where is Leaf now?”

“In detention aboard our ship. He faces disciplinary action for using a breath weapon.”

“He didn’t hurt me.”

“Do you know what day it is?”

“If it isn’t Saturday, then no, I don’t.”

“It’s Sunday afternoon.”

“I’ve been out that long? Why?”

The faux Barbarella stared at Kathleen. She threw both hands upward and took a seat on the couch, facing Kathleen.

“You might as well hear all of it. Leaf carried you through the transport rift. He’d used a personal code to deliver him directly to his quarters. He might have kept you hidden long enough to make returning you to Earth too costly.”

“But?”

“When he applied the breath weapon, he lingered too long, allowing some of it to escape into the atmosphere. Our sensors alerted us immediately.”

“All this trouble because he wouldn’t stop kissing me in time?”

Barbarella nodded.

Kathleen felt a slight pang on Leaf’s behalf. It had been an amazing kiss. “What’s going to happen to him?”

“That will depend on how much damage control I can do before we return to our galaxy. The use of the breath weapon for the purposes of abduction violates at least three treaties.”

Kathleen could see where this was going. “Can you lock him into one biological shape?”

Barbarella looked at her in surprise. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Do it. Lock him into the Winter Soldier shape he was in when he appeared to me. Then leave him here on Earth.”

“What justice would that serve?”

“Exile. For a crime of the magnitude you’re describing, somebody will demand exile, permanent detention, or death.”

“What’s in this for you?”

Kathleen waved at one poster of Captain America: Winter Soldier. “Do you really have to ask? Leave him with me. He’ll be happy, you’ll be rid of a loose cannon, and I can keep an eye on him.”

“This would take time. The bio-ban alone–”

“Ever heard of marooning? That’s what you’ll do. He broke the rules. You abandoned him thousands of light years from home on a planet without the technological level that would enable him to escape. Your hands are clean.”

Barbarella gave her a grudging smile. “I’m almost sorry you won’t be coming back with us.”

“You’ll do it?”

“Understand, if he manages to cross the line again, both of you will pay for it.”

“I’ll take that risk.”

#

The following Thursday Kathleen came home from work to find Leaf sitting on her couch, remote in hand, surrounded by DVD cases and videogames and piles of books. On the coffee table sat a big salad bowl full of popcorn. Three empty pizza boxes stood in a neat pile by the front door. By the sound of the ’70s music, Leaf was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.

“Hi, honey,” she called. “I’m home.”

Leaf hit Pause, sprang off the couch, and swept her up into a pepperoni-flavored kiss.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #29


by Lillian Csernica on May 29, 2018

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Today’s fortune cookie says:

The love of your life is stepping onto your planet this summer.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART I

Kathleen sat cross-legged on the shabby old blanket in the middle of an empty meadow near a farm that boarded horses. It was a twenty minute drive from her apartment, just far enough to feel like she’d gotten away. Overhead the June sky was midnight blue, speckled with thousands of stars. If she squinted, Kathleen could just make out hints of red or blue, stars that were really suns with cool names like Red Giant or Blue Dwarf.

She sighed and took another sip from her bottle of Blue Moon. She’d drunk half the six-pack. The remains of a sausage calzone sat on a paper plate beside the cooler. This late a slight chill gave the night air an an edge. Her jeans and Blue Moon Brewing Company sweatshirt kept her comfortable. Her long black hair often hung in a simple English braid down her back, but tonight she let it fall loose. Sometimes the braid gave her a headache. Sometimes it was just life.

The emptiness inside continued to nag at her. Thirty loomed, the days passing like seconds on some giant Doomsday Clock. Thirty years old. No husband, no steady boyfriend, no roommates, not that many friends. Dad had walked out when she was three. Mom died of cancer five years ago next month. Her strongest relationships were online. It was like that old saying about grandchildren. You could play with them all day, then give them back when you were done.

Her coworkers at Greenhaven Labs were nice enough people. They invited her to the parties that marked the various rites of passage for people who had found love and paired up, or in the case of Tim, Wei Ming, and Sanjay, created the menage that suited their needs. Sometimes Kathleen worried about being out of touch with her own needs. She didn’t seem to mind being alone, regardless of the onslaught of advertising that tried to inspire the insecurities that in turn created needs met by the products being sold.

The truth was, she just hadn’t met anybody who made her feel that way, whatever that way actually felt like. Sure, there were actors who caught her eye, like the guy who played Captain America. Too bad his character had commitment issues due to the whole unnatural lifespan thing. The Winter SoldierShe usually was pretty hot too, but even reformed psychopaths seemed a little too out there. Kathleen grinned. She’d had these conversations online. Everybody said she was too careful, too cautious, too practical.

Twenty feet in front of her, the air rippled like a heat shimmer then split open down the middle. Out stepped a figure that wavered for a moment, then resolved into tall, long-legged, broad-shouldered. A gloved hand reached up to pull off the helmet. Waves of dark brown hair spilled down across those broad shoulders. The face that regarded Kathleen was such a happy combination of Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan she was immediately suspicious.

“Good evening, Kathleen O’Bannon.” Rich baritone music, like hot fudge poured over brown velvet.

“Good evening. Who are you?”

“To translate my name into modern American English, it loses some of its meaning.”

“What Earth language works best, then?”

“Japanese.”

Another coincidence.

“You lucky devil. I’m one of the few gaijin you might run into at this time of night who can speak Japanese.” Kathleen stood up, wobbling only a little. “Hajimemashite. Anata no onamae wa?”

Watashi no namae wa Yugure-ji no Ochiba.”

Kathleen’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Leaves that fall…at sunset?”

“Dusk. Or twilight.”

“Good name. What do people call you? Leaf? Fall?”

“Leaf would be acceptable, if that is what you would prefer.”

“Leaf it is.” Kathleen nodded. “I’m guessing you’ve come a long way?”

“Indeed. I have traveled thousands of light years, past the brilliant embers of dying suns, to find you.”

Kathleen blinked. Which old movies had this guy been watching? “Let me guess. Mars needs women.”

“Mars?” Those dark brown waves rippled as he shook his head. “Mars needs water. Those canals dried up a long time ago.”

“So where are you from?”

“A planet as yet unidentified by your scientists. I assure you, the climate is enjoyable and the atmosphere compatible with your biological requirements.”

“That’s wonderful news. Why would I want to run off with a total stranger who is also an alien capable of reading my mind and shapeshifting into a form he knows would be highly attractive to me?”

“Doesn’t that question answer itself? I can anticipate your wants and needs far better and more quickly than any male of this planet.”

Kathleen snorted. “Some days I think that wouldn’t be too difficult.”

Leaf took two more steps closer and pulled off his other glove, stuffing both into his belt. “Kathleen, there is a yearning inside you. None of the ways your companions have met their needs appeals to you. You think you are lonely, needy, ambivalent, insecure. You think the problem lies within you.”

“And? Am I right or wrong?”

“You have made a wrong equation based on initial assumptions that don’t apply. There is nothing wrong with you. If anything, you are overqualified for life on this planet.”

Kathleen blinked. “Overqualified?”

“The problem is simple. You are bored, Kathleen. You have yet to find a challenge worthy of your intellectual gifts. The same is true of a life partner who could hold your interest for more than a week or two.”

Kathleen swayed, then dropped back down onto the blanket. Boredom. Not ADHD. Not ASD. No learning disability. Those were all worthy explanations for her inability to get excited about what life in 21st Century North America had to offer. She leaned back to look up at the stars.

“That’s right,” Leaf said. “Above us, just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, awaits what writers of escapist fiction might call my chariot or my white charger.” He walked to the edge of the blanket, then sank down on his knees. “I’m here to carry you off to the life you’ve always dreamed of.”

Caution sent up a flare inside Kathleen’s brain. “Why me? What do you get out of this?”

Leaf smiled. Up close that was enough to carbonate Kathleen’s dormant hormones.

“I’m looking for a simple country girl with wholesome, old-fashioned values. A fair maiden untainted by the wiles of a corrupt world.”

“You must get cable on your planet. I  can guess which shows you’ve been watching.”

“I accessed your queues. I wanted to be able to talk to you about your interests.”

This was way too good to be true. “Really? You’ve watched every single episode of Once Upon A Time? Who is my favorite character?”

“Not, as so many would think, Captain Hook. Your favorite is the Mad Hatter.”

“And Supernatural? Do I like Dean or Sam better?”

“Neither. You like Castiel.”

“That was too easy. What do I watch when I’m so stressed out I want to punch a wall?”

“Haunted asylum movies.”

“Why?”

“Because they follow a pattern. The same pattern. That lets you yell at them and throw popcorn or M&Ms at your plasma screen. Which is a dangerous idea, by the way. The salt on the popcorn or the fats in the chocolate could cause considerable damage.”

“Most people would just say I might break the screen.”

“That wouldn’t start a fire.”

Kathleen shook her head. “Do you always look like this? Or are you really some kind of space squid, like the aliens in Galaxy Quest?”

Leaf laughed out loud. “I can be whatever I want to be. Or, more to the point, whatever you want me to be.”

“My lifespan is maybe one hundred years. Is that a problem?”

“Not with our medical technology. You can live far longer than that if you choose to.”

“Do I have to decide right now?”

“I realize you feel some obligation to your family and your employers. Can those be resolved by email?”

Kathleen mulled it over. No houseplants. No pet. No subscriptions to cancel. That was really depressing, but it was also a plus.

“And if it doesn’t work out? What happens then?”

“I realize you are of a scientific turn of mind, but I feel I must ask you to have a little faith.”

“No probes? No weird crop circles?”

“No bizarre alien breeding program. No Man With A Cigarette.”

An X Files reference! Gorgeous, a sense of humor, and similar interests. Kathleen would be a fool to miss the opportunity. She got to her feet.

“All right. Let’s go be a leaf on the wind.”

Leaf grinned. “Ooh, shiny!

END

PART I

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #30


by Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Keep your feet on the ground

though friends flatter you.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART II

The night breeze grew stronger, blowing Kathleen’s hair back and clearing her head. She found herself halfway to that weird heat shimmer. She slowed. Leaf moved on, taking three more strides with those long legs before he looked back.

“Kathleen?”

“Yeah, sorry. I just remembered my New Year’s Resolution. I don’t make life-changing decisions when I’ve been drinking.”

“You are nowhere near the legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream. The food you consumed and the amount of time that has passed are both providing assistance.”

“That’s another problem.” Kathleen backed up two steps and crossed her legs. Why had she walked so far from the car? Stupid stupid stupid. “I need a bathroom.”

“People who camp in this area observe the custom of digging a hole in the ground.”

“Well! Too bad I left my shovel at home.” Like she had any intention of squatting with a total stranger nearby. “Wait a minute. How do you know that?”

“Simple observation.”

“How long have you been watching this area?”

For the first time that Hollywood-handsome face looked shy, uncertain. “It was a routine sweep. Then, one night, I saw you. Sitting on your blanket, drinking something hot, eating chocolate cookies and looking at the stars.”

“When was this?”

“Two months ago. It’s so dull, watching the readouts. The lower life forms go about their eating and mating and territorial battles. And the occasional humans wander through.”

“Like me. All by myself, watching for shooting stars.”

“I–” Leaf held out his hand. “I shared that lonely vigil, that quiet time where the only thoughts you want to hear are your own.”

Kathleen heard real truth, real pain, in that lovely voice. She pulled herself together.

“It’s late. I’m exhausted. I need a bathroom, and I’m not leaving this planet without packing at least one bag.”

“May I walk you to your vehicle? A woman alone at this hour is easy prey.”

That turn of phrase very nearly made the bladder emergency a harsh truth. Kathleen took three quick steps backward and bent to snatch up one of the empty beer bottles. She also grabbed her purse, hiking it up onto her shoulder.

“That’s very thoughtful.” She closed that hand around her phone, ready to hit the emergency call option. “Why don’t you hang back a bit and keep me in sight? That way you can yell a warning if you see anybody lurking.”

It was time to get out of here. Time to go home, lock all the doors and windows, and shut down all her wifi devices. Time to have a real life lock down until she was sure these beer-fueled fantasies had passed out of her body. Maybe she’d wake up with nothing more than a headache and a funny story to tell.

“It would be best if you allow me to take you home. We can retrieve your car later.”

With that, Leaf stepped up to Kathleen, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her. The sudden rush of sensations left her off balance for a second. Leaf breathed in, sucking the air out of Kathleen’s lungs, then breathed out, blowing his breath into her. A warm fog of drowsiness enveloped her. She sank into the peaceful tide of unconsciousness.

END

PART II

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #24


by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Demonstrate refinement in everything you do.

THE STANDARD OF LIVING

Deanna watched the fire, adding some sticks to keep the flames at the right height. The grill Johnny had found in some trash heap held four skewers with five small chunks of meat on each skewer. Deanna didn’t know what kind of meat. She told herself it was animal protein, and that was what mattered. It could have been worse. Even with the city burning and the streetlights smashed and the blood smeared on the sidewalks and the doorways. Somewhere Johnny had found some meat. It might have been tofu.

Deanna could make herself put up with a lot of discomforts. She’d braided her long brown hair to keep it tidy. Her jeans and blouse were still fairly clean. She’d have given up her gold chain for a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Eating junk food and drinking sodas or energy drinks or anything else they could find, that she could live with. She drew the line at tofu.

Johnny came jogging back from his latest hunt for supplies. Deanna let out a sigh of relief. It had been quieter today, but still. The sight of his greasy blue overalls, curly black hair and long legs made her feel a little calmer. This morning they’d moved to the sheltered spot on the side of the high school facing away from the road. It was better to keep out of sight, hiding in a place where they could hear the scavenger crews coming. Two nights ago Deanna had seen a boy swept up in the mob rushing down the street. She didn’t want to think about what might have happened to him.

“I found some good stuff in a basement.” Johnny plopped down beside her on the flattened cardboard box they used for ground cover. He rummaged in his backpack. Glass clinked. With a big grin, he held up two bottles of some off-brand beer. “Nothing like a barbecue under the stars!”

Deanna managed a smile. She loved Johnny for his upbeat spirit, for his endless cocky remarks reflecting a confidence she didn’t feel. Four nights ago the world had gone insane. The power grid failed. Computers all failed due to some big horrible virus sent out by some mysterious gang of international hackers. All the news outlets had been shut down. No phones, no TVs, nothing but hysteria and violence and whispered rumors about who was behind it all.

Deanna pulled a clean bandana out of her backpack and set two skewers on it, offering them to John. She pulled out another bandana for herself, then two of the paper napkins.

Johnny pulled the heavy keyring out of his hip pocket and pried the cap off one bottle of beer and handed it to her. “It’s warm, but hey, that’s how they drink it in England, right?”

Deanna nodded. She accepted the beer, watched Johnny open his own, then held up her bottle.

“To better days.”

Johnny grinned. “Better days, baby. You bet.”

They clinked bottles. Johnny drank a long swallow of his beer, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Deanna ducked her head to hide the wince she couldn’t stop. A diamond in the rough, she told herself. He worked hard at the auto shop, he’d always been polite, and he made sure Deanna felt safe and comfortable. She’d just have to do what her grandmother taught her and be the one who preserved the manners in the family.

Grandma Elaine set a perfect table, gave the best presents, and made sure Deanna knew all the proper phrases for formal occasions. “Congratulations.” “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “Happy Birthday! Wishing you your best year yet.” On and on, handwritten thank you notes, party invitations, and the list of Christmas cards. Deanna’s mother had abandoned writing by hand in junior high in favor of electronic devices. Mama had laughed at Grandma’s slow, old-fashioned ways.

Tears blurred Deanna’s sight, smearing the flames into so many orange flickers. Nobody was laughing now. Deanna had been out with Johnny when the house caught fire. Mama and Grandma were already asleep. Deanna hoped the smoke killed them before the fire did.

“Hey,” Johnny said. “Hey, honey, why are you cryin’?”

Deanna sat up straight and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. “The smoke, Johnny. That’s all. Just smoke in my eyes.”

Johnny looked up at the sky. “Yeah, the wind’s picking up. Rain would sure help, but we gotta find a place inside first.”

Deanna nodded. She bit into a chunk of the meat, ignoring the peculiar taste. Protein meant strength. Strength meant survival. Survival meant living to see those better days, living in a house again with nice furniture and fresh flowers and guest towels in the downstairs bathroom. Concentrating on all the proper details Grandma would expect to see in Deanna’s new house made it easier to force down the strange meat and the bitter warm beer.

She’d survive. Grandma would consider that a lady’s duty, to preserve civilized behavior.

END

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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 #22


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach.

Just get them to fly in formation.

 

And now, a little something from the True Story Archives.

Way back when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher liked the way I gave my presentations. He had a talk with the coach of the speech and debate team. When my sophomore year started, I joined the team. This proved to be one of the smartest and most beneficial decisions of my life.

Public speaking is the number one phobia for three out of four people. Worse than spiders, worse that going to the dentist, people live in fear of getting up in front of an audience for the purpose of giving a speech. I understand this. When I first started putting together expository speeches and practicing in front of my coach and teammates, the absolute terror of doing a bad job and being laughed at for it was crippling. Knowing that everybody else who was in training shared my fear didn’t make it any easier.

If there’s one thing I can do well, it’s talk. Thanks to my coach training me and my mother, who listened to me practice over and over and over again as I memorized the ten minute speeches I gave, I got past the anxiety in my determination to remember how to use cross-focus, the precise gestures, and the right variations in tone and pitch. Giving a speech is a performance. Maybe I wasn’t doing Shakespeare, but that’s only because I didn’t spend much time in the Dramatic Interpretation event. (I did break Varsity there, but after that I concentrated on my stronger events.)

In my first year of competing at speech tournaments, I went down in flames a number of times. The competition was better, more polished, smoother in their delivery. OK. I just had to work harder. What I also had to do was find my best event. That’s when I discovered Impromptu speaking.

At the junior varsity level, we had five minutes to prepare, then five minutes total for our speech. At varsity level, we had only two minutes to prep. Talk about a strain on the nerves! What we had to base our speeches on varied widely. Most often we were given slips of paper with three famous quotations. We chose one and built our speech around it. At some tournaments, we were given fortune cookies, paper bags that held some random object such as a calculator, or even plastic Easter eggs with the Surprise Topic inside. The event required mental agility, flexibility, a vast pool of random knowledge, and a mastery of the different presentation structures one could use.

The first time I competed in Impromptu, I think I had a full blown anxiety attack. There I was, about to receive my slip of paper with the three subjects on it. With sweaty palms and my heart pounding, I almost had an asthma attack. And then I saw the two words that told me I was home free:

Horror movies.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, my grandfather helped build the set for the laboratory in the original Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff. I’m a big fan of classic horror movies. The judge for this round was an older gentleman. When I started mentioning names such as Elsa Lanchester from Bride of Frankenstein and Lon Chaney from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, apparently I won the judge’s respect as well as his vote. His comments on the voting card I received after the tournament reflected his approval of someone my age (fifteen at the time), knowing those names.

Once I learned to get my butterflies flying in formation and overcame my fear of public speaking, I acquired a skill that has helped me in every aspect of my life.

 

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