Category Archives: science fiction

Road Trip! EuCon 2017!


by Lillian Csernica on November 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you here!

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All Writers Need This Skill


by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017

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What is that skill? Eavesdropping.

From Wikipedia:

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[3] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[4] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[5]

I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.

A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.

Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.

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Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.

When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:

“Don’t get the cat sticky!”

People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,

“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”

Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.

One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.

 

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!

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The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask


by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017

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Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.

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In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.

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In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!

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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

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Cabin in the Woods

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Find Me

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Three Top Tips to Put New Power in Your Writing


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2017

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When we’re in the process of writing, we sometimes reach a point where despite having a complete list of story elements on board, we feel like something is still missing. What we’ve written so far is good, but we want more. More depth. More intensity. More power.

Here are three simple, effective techniques to bring more power to your ideas and the ways you write about them.

 

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CHARACTER ORCHESTRATION

There are two parts to  proper character orchestration.

First, you make the protagonist and antagonist very different from each other. Create strong contrast with opposing traits, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or all of the above!

Author James N. Frey provides an excellent explanation of this technique in How To Write A Damn Good Thriller.

Second, the events of your story leave these two characters tied together in what’s known as the “unity of opposites.” In his blog The Story Element, Paul Nelson explains:

The two opposite characters who are in conflict must be forced together, and neither of them can be allowed to leave the battle. For example, if Gandalf gives up and the ring isn’t destroyed, then Sauron wins and turns Middle Earth into hell. If Sauron gives up and lets the ring be destroyed, then he is also destroyed. Both Gandalf and Sauron are in danger of being destroyed, so they must destroy the other. They cannot both exist at the same time.

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JUXTAPOSITION

From Writing Explained:

What does juxtaposition mean? Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes. Juxtaposition is a type of comparison. Typically, the two elements being juxtaposed have differences and the juxtaposition is meant to highlight contrasting effects.

In the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie, the juxtaposition of Diana and Steve Trevor serves to highlight the many layers of meaning in the story. Diana is a strong, independent warrior at a time when Steve Trevor sees a woman as being weak, needing his protection and guidance. Diana sees victims of the war who need help right now, while Steve knows they have to complete the mission to save the greatest number of people. Steve expects Diana to learn how to follow the rules of his world. Diana is committed to her sacred duty and says so in one of the movie’s best lines: “What I do is not up to you.”

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ASYMMETRY

Let’s start with symmetry. From Dictionary.com:

noun, plural symmetries.
1. the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point; regularity of form or arrangement in terms of like, reciprocal, or corresponding parts.
2. the proper or due proportion of the parts of a body or whole to one another with regard to size and form; excellence of proportion.
3. beauty based on or characterized by such excellence of proportion.

Sounds good, right? Symmetry has its value, but in writing a good story, asymmetry can be even more useful. Find out why here:

How to Blow Your Own Mind in Just Five Minutes

These three techniques can help you make the most out of any story idea. Write with power!

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Universal Studios: Screaming and Laughing


by Lillian Csernica on July 2, 2017

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Next up: Shrek 4-D. This adventure was so amazing and funny we saw it both days.

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You start out in Lord Farquad’s Dungeon, where the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio are being held prisoner. The Magic Mirror and the Ghost of Lord Farquad get the story started as a prelude to what happens during the 4D movie in Ogre-Vision!

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No spoilers here, but I will say this is more than just a visual experience. Four out of the five senses get some stimulation. One of them hit me right where I live, bringing a whole new dimension to this thrill ride!

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Minion Mayhem — Another wild ride! When the Minions all get thrown into prison, Gru starts a recruiting campaign. This is the basis of the ride’s storyline. Gru’s henchman Dr. Nefario has created another evil death ray gizmo that will turns even humans into Minions. (I got to be a purple Minion!) John and I can’t wait to see Despicable Me 3.  What we saw during the ride convinced us we had to see the whole movie. John bought a Minion key ring with his name on it. I bought a charm that shows Kevin and Bob back to back, both of them holding serious ray guns! The perfect keepsake to remind me of the time John and I joined the ranks of the Minions!

The Simpsons Experience — Ever wanted to be inside an episode of The Simpsons? This will do it for you. It’s an insane 3D ride through Itchy & Scratchy Land, facing the homicidal robot cats and mice. There’s an ominous undercurrent to the ride’s lead-in, which explodes into some genuine terror (at least for me) when you experience the very realistic sense of being trapped on a shattered roller coaster.

Yes, that’s right. If you weren’t already in enough of a panic, the ride starts going backwards!

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Back when I was ten years old, just the prospect of going behind the scenes at a real working movie studio was a huge thrill. In today’s modern digital world, visitors expect a whole lot more given the endless competition for their attention spans. Now the Studio Tour includes a 3D adventure between King Kong and some vicious dinosaurs. The grand finale is the hyper-realistic, HD adventure Fast and Furious: Supercharged.

I confess a certain nostalgia for the Jaws portion of the tour. There I was, sitting in the tour shuttle with John just as my mother had sat with me. John has a pretty good grip on what’s real and what isn’t, but that didn’t stop him from yelping when the shark reared up out of the water. Another fine family tradition, watching the next generation get freaked out by Bruce the animatronic shark.

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Universal Studios: Hogwarts in Hollywood!


by Lillian Csernica on June 29, 2017

We stayed in a lovely hotel, the BLVD, on Ventura Blvd. Excellent suite, two queen-sized beds, refrigerator, microwave, big bathroom. The small snack bar downstairs had many of John’s favorite items at quite reasonable prices, which made life easier and more economical.

The Universal Studios shuttle stop was a mere five minute walk from the hotel. The main parking lot is up a long steep hill, so that was a considerable mercy.

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The City Walk leads to main entrance. Lots of shops, restaurants, and more neon than Las Vegas!

We went through the usual security clearance, then entry turnstiles which require ticket, photo ID, and a scan of your right index fingerprint. This was the first time I’d encountered the fingerprint scan. I found that somewhat disturbing.

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John made straight for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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The Hogwarts Express with its delightful conductor.

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Hogsmeade is a combination of the village and the highlights of Diagon Alley, featuring Ollivander’s and Honeydukes.

 

John chose the wand of Narcissa Malfoy. This is one bad ass wand! The interactive model comes with a map that shows where you can work spells on items in the shop windows.

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We rode the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster. A rather brief ride, but quite entertaining and a great way to start the adventure.

Stumbled into Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, the gift shop for all things HP. There are a lot of archways coming and going in there. We took a wrong turn and found ourselves in the First in Line lane for Harry Potter: The Forbidden Journey. The ride attendants must have thought we’d been cleared by the people at the entrance. They put us into a car and away we went! The posted wait time was eighty minutes, so this was an amazing turn of luck.

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Harry Potter: The Forbidden Journey was a nonstop 3D freak-out for me. BIG spiders spitting venom in our faces. Really big dragons breathing smoke and fire. Dementors getting up close and personal so they could suck out our souls. It was a good thing I had not yet sampled the Butterbeer. Just ten seconds into the ride I had serious worries about throwing up. The 360 degree spin over the Quidditch field just about did me in. John was shouting and laughing and having a glorious time. Once we were released unharmed, I wobbled over to lean against the nearest wall. That is one hell of a ride.

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John and I both enjoyed the frozen variation of Butterbeer. Cold, sweet, and refreshing indeed! Never have I consumed something that gave me such a nasty case of brain freeze so suddenly! Given the heat and relative humidity, that wasn’t entirely unwelcome. I applied the cure for brain freeze I learned while watching Popular Mechanics for Kids with John many moons ago. I pressed my tongue against the roof of my mouth, which warms up the nerves there and makes the brain freeze melt.

 

The Hogwarts light show — Better than anything I’ve seen at Disneyland.

Watching this fabulous display was the perfect way to end the evening. We did a whole lot more in the other areas of park during the twelve hours we roamed through the various wonders available to us. More to come in my next post!

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Universal Fun!


by Lillian Csernica on June 24, 2017

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Tomorrow John and I will fly down to Los Angeles and spend a few days enjoying the wonders of Universal Studios Hollywood.

John has been talking about seeing Universal Studios ever since he first heard about it many years ago. Chris and I decided that a trip to this previously unexplored land of movie magic makes the perfect graduation gift for our boy.

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John and I have studied the map. We’ve discussed what we each want to see the most. Today we’ve been packing our bags. Tomorrow we take our first plane trip together. I’m pretty sure what John is looking forward to the most is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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Me, I’m looking forward to the air conditioning on the plane, at the hotel, and on many of the rides. I’m not a big fan of heat, preferring autumn and winter to summer. I suppose this is an indicator of my advancing years. Insane roller coasters are great, but they lost their appeal for me after I reached my late twenties.

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Even so, I can’t wait to watch the Special Effects Show with John, to get silly in the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem area, and probably scream at least once on the Jurassic Park ride. Best of all, I finally get to drink butter beer and hang out at Ollivander’s where Harry Potter’s wand chose him!

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My grandfather worked in the movies. My mother has appeared as an extra in several. I did some writing for the movies, once upon a time. And now my son loves movies just as much as the previous generations in our family have.

Watch for my trip report once we’re home again!

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How to Keep Writing When Depression Strikes


by Lillian Csernica on June 6, 2017

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Yes, it’s that time again. Life’s daily stressors combined with two or three sudden unwelcome surprises have left me waging guerilla warfare against my own depression. This comes at a particularly bad time. I have writing opportunities to make use of, commitments to fulfill, as well as organizing the celebration of my younger son’s graduation from high school.

These things are very difficult to accomplish when it takes a massive effort of will just to drag myself out of bed every morning.

I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone in suffering the crippling effects of depression, whether temporary or chronic. In keeping with the Buddhist philosophy of “taking positive action for the good,” I offer this list of helpful ideas.

Why Writers Are Prone to Depression

Writing Your Way Out of Depression

Neurological Similarities Between Successful Writers and the Mentally Ill.

7 Ways to Help You Write When You’re Depressed.

The Writer and Depression (Chuck Wendig)

The important thing is to keep writing. Make lists. Brainstorm. Letters to your imaginary friends. Anything that keeps the pen moving. Suspend judgment and blow off the Internal Editor. Just write. One day at a time. Just write.

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What do you do when depression gets you down? What helps you keep the pen moving? I would love to hear your ideas and coping strategies. Let’s see how many answers come in before Friday, midnight. I will roll the appropriate die, the winner shall be chosen, and that winner will receive a free ebook copy of either The Writer’s Spellbook or The Fright Factory.

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