by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2017
David Tallerman, another DFP writer, has encouraged me to share his excellent blog post on the merits of working with DFP.
by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2017
David Tallerman, another DFP writer, has encouraged me to share his excellent blog post on the merits of working with DFP.
Are you thinking of asking a writer friend for help with something? Maybe you should think twice.
by Lillian Csernica on September 17, 2016
Yes, that’s me. Granted, I was all of eighteen.
Once upon a time, I worked as a Turkish-Moroccan belly dancer. My teacher was a delightful lady from Zaragoza, Spain. I had a genuine, 100% authentic coin belt made by a man from Turkey. The belt had 144 diamond-shaped metal coins stamped with the image of Venus on the Half-Shell.
I performed in my high school talent show. The audience actually threw money at the stage. That in itself was funny. Then the stagehands gathered it all up and brought it to me backstage!
My teacher often took me with her when she’d been hired for a party. During the holiday season, we appeared as part of a steady stream of entertainers at a bachelor party. Just one piece of art on the walls in that house could have put me through college. That was the night I got the biggest tip I’d ever received. Some generous soul stuffed a $10 bill down the back of my coin belt!
Ah, the places I’ve been and the things that I’ve seen….
by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2016
In Everybody’s Autobiography, Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, CA, “There’s no there there.” This is not true of Oakland, but I have seen many places where there’s just nothing there.
On one of our trips to Ohio, Daddy decided to take the southern route on I-15, which meant driving through a whole lot of very hot Nowhere in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. We had to put beach towels on the car seats. If I didn’t, and I was wearing shorts, my skin would stick to the slick upholstery. Peeling myself off of that was no fun at all. Have any of you ever had to do that?
Off California Interstate 5, just before you get to the Grapevine, there’s a little town called Lost Hills. The last time I was there (late ’80s/early ’90s), the town consisted of one stoplight, one gas station, a Motel 6, and one lonely tumbleweed blowing around in the hotel parking lot. I’ve always wondered where the people lived who worked in Lost Hills. Maybe they all stayed at the Motel 6.
My mother likes to travel. This includes booking bus tours out of the local community center or some other local organization. I’ve always been fond of castles, so when Mom decided to go to Hearst Castle she took me with her. Hearst Castle is located in San Simeon, CA, two hundred fifty miles from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s in the middle of nowhere quite literally because the ranch it sits on includes two hundred fifty thousand acres! Hearst Castle also sits atop some really steep mountains, so getting there was a challenge. I was profoundly grateful to know Mom had the sense to leave the driving to a professional tour bus driver. If coming home from Pasadena had been difficult, getting to and from Hearst Castle could have been a nightmare!
On the drive back from Las Vegas, where Pat and I had attended KillerCon, it was cold and dark and very empty outside our car windows. Then a sign appeared, a sign with the three words you see in the photo above. Out in the middle of nowhere, near the Interstate 15 and Hwy 286/288 interchange, in perfect territory for an alien abduction, stands the Alien Fresh Jerky store. I tell you, “Hotel California” by the Eagles might as well have been playing in the background. We had to investigate. How often does an opportunity like this come along?
Pat got lost in the hot sauce aisle. Neither of us had ever seen so many different varieties of hot sauce in one place. I like Thai food so I’m OK with spicy, but some of the labels on those hot sauce bottles should have included HazMat symbols. Ye gods!
by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2016
I spent ten years working in retail sales.
I am soooooo happy I don’t do that for a living anymore.
Why, you ask? Because I spent most of those ten years working Renaissance Faires around the western United States. That might sound like a fun job, getting to dress up in costume and be part of environmental theater and spend all weekend in one big historical shopping mall with stage shows and great food and beer.
The thing is, when you’re working twelve hour days in 90 to 100 degree heat and the wood chips aren’t keeping the dust down and some of your sales crew drink too much on their breaks and forget when to come back to work, it’s not all jousting and turkey legs.
When you’re in retail, you hear “The Customer is always right” at least once a day. When you work at the Ren Faires, this philosophy gets put to the test all day long, especially later in the day when the Customers have been drinking. Let me tell you, it is not easy to close a sale on a $1200 Lord of the Rings chess set when the Customer is drunk and living out some Richard the Lion-Hearted fantasy regardless of the fact that Ren Faires are set in Elizabethan England.
People who think they’re experts about some period of history just because they’ve watched The Lion in Winter or Henry V or even Mulan really get on my nerves. If that was true when I was 28 and “a mere shopgirl,” as I was once called, then you can just imagine how I must feel now that I’m 50 and a published historical novelist.
Working in retail has made me a better writer. On the days when I’m lazy or frustrated or can’t get out of my own way, I remind myself that I could be back behind the counter at the dollar store where I once worked, trying to deal with the shoplifters and the English Second Language folks and the delivery trucks coming in around back. Talk about an immediate attitude adjustment! Writing is hard work, but it’s also a dream come true.
Working in retail has made me a better writer. There were those Customers who were polite and entertaining and absolutely in love with history. The two different companies I worked for during my Ren Faire days sold items that were often incorporated into weddings. Meeting a bride who really wanted to know how and why a Queen did this or that made for some memorable conversations. I got more than a few hugs from people who now had just the right items to make their historical dream weddings come true.
Money is nice, but sometimes I’ve been paid in coin of much greater value.
I love writing historical fiction. I love getting the details right. I love picturing one of those really wonderful Customers sitting down to read one of my books and smiling because I don’t make the common mistakes, and I do my best not to make the uncommon ones either!
Ten years in retail sales gave me experience and perspective on many different kinds of people. I know how to pitch, I know how to read my target customer, I know how to create the need and demonstrate value for money. All of those skills are essential in the increasingly competitive fiction marketplace.
Think about the jobs you’ve had. The people you’ve met. The ones you really liked and the ones you couldn’t stand. Characters. Conflict. Goals and obstacles. You have all the raw material you need, right there. Do your research, by all means, but write about what you know and what matters to you. Find the heart of the story.
Krista Tippet interviewed Mary Oliver, the famous and beloved poet, for On Being recently. She encouraged writers to have a specific time to write. It’s great for discipline, she says. The muse will come for regular appointments.
I’ve often thought that is true. But I don’t write like that. Maybe one day I will. It seems like a good idea. But what I actually do is scribble in the margins.
I’ve had a blog for 13 years, with about 2,000 posts. I have three books for sale on Amazon, and the big one that I’m getting ready to put out there this year called The Russian American School of Tomorrow.
RASOT is the one that demanded to be written, and I’ve been slogging away on it for more than ten years. I’ve given hundreds of incomplete drafts to friends, talked about it with strangers, mentally flagellating myself for not getting it done already.
What was wrong with me?
I would write on it on weekends in coffee shops.
I wrote on it while riding the bus to work.
Spare moments in my cube would find it up on my computer, me typing away.
I always always always had a notebook at hand. I would arrive early to meetings and write. I would write on it while other people were late to meetings. I would write on it when meetings got boring.
I loved work trips, plane flights and lonely hotel rooms where I could write. A hard day doing the paid day job and then no interruptions to write in a restaurant while the company bought me dinner.
Those were the times when I can look back and see the clarity. I may not have known what the book was going to say yet, but I loved the writing and myself doing it.
There were other times. When I just didn’t know what to do with RASOT and I cheated on it with other writing projects. That is how my first published book, The Parable of Miriam the Camel Driver, was born. I wanted to write a story that was easier. It came out in a series on my blog. I didn’t really think much of it, until it was done.
That was 2006 and self-publishing was an achievable thing. I learned about editing and layout, cover design, ISBNs and print-on-demand. I put it out on lulu.com and felt like a star.
But I knew my real book was still waiting to be finished. And my life was still pushing along. I got pregnant and knew that the book was in trouble. I printed out all my chapters (to date) and stapled them separately. I knew I might be able to read them and make notes while holding my newborn. Not the first month, but the second I went over each of these chapters and made notes and found plot inconsistencies, and got a better idea of how the story might progress.
And yes, I showed them to the people who came over to see the baby, with that special cringing pride of the work-in-progress.
That was the time when it was so hard to think about anything but my victimhood. Oh Me! Me Me Me Me Me. No room for story development.
So naturally, I wrote a non-fiction book. Cheating on my creative work-in-progress to write something very doable. The Pregnant Professional; A Handbook for Women Who Plan to Work During and After Pregnancy was written and published in the middle of some of this. After all, I’d learned from Miriam how to hatch a book. I didn’t want to let it waste.
But I still wasn’t done with RASOT. And those were the hard years. I’d started to think that hopelessness was a lifestyle choice.
Oh. I forgot to mention the writing groups. My delicious word sisters. I’d joined and formed many along the way. And one of them got back together at that time to save me.
I had given up hope, barely remembering that it was an option, when my writer lady friends had a writer group reunion. Well. I tried to make myself presentable and showed up. I looked around at this group and thought, “I was once a capable, competent and valuable person. That is who these people see. They don’t see who I am now.”
And I realized I had to climb out of the well. Whatever it took.
I started to make recordings on my phone of the story. Nonsensical. “This is the part where she is going to have to find the cow…” NOT writing. But something. Something that pushed it forward. Then I could listen to the recording and type it into the computer.
Over time the story worked it out. And when I found myself in the well, victim mantras running through my head, I grabbed on to my creative work and said “NO!” No imaginary conversations, no running through the same tired stories in my head. Right the book!!! What happens after the cow? SAY IT! WRITE IT!
And I did. And I still always kept a notebook with me. And now my phone, which could recognize and type my voice. And every single tool I could think to use to get that beast of a book out there.
Now it stands at 90,680 words. HA! As if those were all. Multiply it by one hundred for all the re-writes. But here it is. Waiting for a cover and a birthing.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron lays down the rule that a writer must write three pages every morning right away. She and Mary Oliver concur on this appointment-style writing habit. Many people swear by it. No doubt it is helpful. That’s simply not the way it happened for me.
Thank you so much, Murphy! Congratulations on the imminent delivery of The Russian American School of Tomorrow!
For more of Murphy’s insights, visit her Wonderblog.
by Lillian Csernica on July 10, 2014
When I started writing I’d go nuts with a new idea. I’d sit there with my pen and notebook or I’d be at the keyboard just going at it like lightning. Some ideas were big enough to carry me along for days. The characters just kept talking or fighting or having adventures. The worlds kept opening up to me, demanding a record of all their details. I’d end up with some really hot stuff, but a lot of it was middle, sometimes an ending. I had to go back and figure out the whole story so I could fit this smokin’ hot piece of writing into it.
These days I’m a little more cautious. I watch the sound and fury inside my head and think about it for a while. Novel or short story? One book or three? One genre? More than one? I tend to evaluate my ideas in terms of marketability. While this is a practical approach, it also takes some of the fun out of that first rush of inspiration. I do think about the nuts and bolts such as plot and character. Those can also be approached from a marketing standpoint first. A lot of editors want to see POC characters, LGBT characters, and stories that speak to what happens in their lives.
If somebody asked me, “So where is the best place to start?” I’d have to say, “What do you want? Where are you in your writing, and where do you want to go?” When you have a new character that you’re all excited about, run with it. Interview him or her. Let that character talk to you and tell you the kind of stories your best friend might tell you at 3 a.m. after a long night and some hard times. It doesn’t matter how much or how little of this material you use.
IT’S ALL WRITING, and WRITING IS GOOD.
Then there’s the other approach. You’re watching the market listings. You see a new anthology that wants stories about capturing endangered alien species for the Intergalactic Breeding Program. It just so happens you wrote a paper on the rare Checkerboard Chameleon that is rumored to live out in the wilds of Madagascar. Looks like you’ve got what you need to start building a submission for that market.
Step back for a minute.
Yes, you have serious knowledge about a rare species and its habitat. Have you been to Madagascar yourself? If you have, fabulous. If you haven’t, you can probably work around that. Do you have field experience going out and capturing live specimens? If not, you’re probably going to want to talk to somebody who’s done it and knows the pitfalls. Then you have to write the story, and rewrite it, and maybe have your expert look it over. When the story is done, you send it off to the market and cross your fingers. Your personal credentials will help, but the bottom line is the story.
All of this takes TIME.
What happens if that market rejects the story? Here you have this custom-built piece of fiction that represents a whole lot of time and energy. Are there any other markets out there where this story might stand a good chance of being accepted?
Now we have come full circle. That is the magic question you want to ask yourself BEFORE you sink all that time and energy into writing the story.
If the answer is yes, there are at least five or six other markets where your story fits the guidelines, then go for it. Be realistic. Don’t stretch the boundaries of likelihood just because you’re all hot and bothered about this one story idea.
If the answer is no, fall back and rethink your approach. There may be other markets where your expertise will give your odds a boost, and the story you come up with will have broader marketability potential. Maximize your investment of time, energy, research, and submission duration.
Passion, inspiration, drive, are all important to the creative process. Marketing strategy is crucial for business success. Knowing how to walk the line between them takes experience. The more you write, the more you submit your stories, the more you learn about yourself, your work, and the business of writing.
May your burning desire to write remain an eternal flame.
by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2014
From Dictionary.com: the branch of applied chemistry dealing with fermentation, as in winemaking, brewing, the preparation of yeast, etc. Origin: 1865–70; zym- + -urgy.
As the grand finale of the A to Z Challenge, I have located an item that I’m sure will make many of you very happy. It is indeed possible to get chocolate beer!
Thank you to everybody who joined me for this year’s A to Z Challenge. I look forward to chatting further with my new friends and continuing to entertain the folks who pop in often. Best wishes to you all!
by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2014
Chocolate is so much fun. Fun to eat, fun to play with, fun to make into all kinds of shapes. Ideal for the DIY person in your household, I have found some excellent gifts in the form of chocolate Tools.
How classy is this? A tool box in milk or dark chocolate, with tools in milk or dark. Mix and match, or go with one flavor for the chocolate purist!
For a bit more whimsy, smaller chocolate tools on the top of cupcakes in favorite flavors of cake and frosting.
I had to include this cake because it is so fantastic. For the contractor, the woodworker, the handyman/woman, this will make any celebration really special.
What’s your favorite tool? Can you imagine a chocolate chainsaw? Maybe a nail gun that shoots chocolate nails?
by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2014
Apologies for the delay in posting my entry for this letter. Russian Easter is a lot of work and a lot of fun. Somewhere along the line I came down with some kind of illness which kept me in bed today. Nevertheless, I bring you today’s chocolate wonder:
From nowimhungry.com, “Jean-Phillipe Maury’s Dragon Sculpture in Chocolate. The tree, dragon and large flowers are dark, white and light chocolate. The pearls and small flowers are sugar, and lanterns are pulled fondant.”
Last but far from least, a marvelous Chinese Dragon from the Highland Bakery. No, strictly speaking it’s not a sea dragon, but it’s just so fabulous I had to include it here:
From the Highland Bakery Blog: “Chinese Dragon head, made by Karen out of fondant and modeling chocolate. The bride used to work at Highland Bakery and instead of a traditional tiered cake, she made little individual cakes that snaked back behind the dragon to mimic the shape of its body. ”
What’s your favorite breed of dragon? How would you like to see it rendered in chocolate?