Category Archives: special education

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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Filed under #atozchallenge, autism, Blog challenges, creativity, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, memoirs, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, publication, research, science fiction, special education, Special needs, specialists, therapy, worry, Writing

B is for Bullying


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2022

BULLYING: THEN AND NOW

This is about getting bullied at school. I don’t get into any really drastic details. Still, be advised. This might bring back memories you don’t want to revisit.

When I was in elementary school back in the ’70s, the officials took a much different approach to incidents of bullying. By the time I was ten years old I stood almost five feet seven inches tall. This caused me all sorts of problems. Because I looked older, adults expected me to act the age they perceived me to be. When I didn’t act that way, they accused me of being immature. This complicated matters when my height made me a target for bullies. Given that I was a girl, I came in for a lot of the usual bullying tactics as well.

The main bully saying nasty things while the rest of the mob watched or added their own insults.

The usual name-calling, i.e. “Four Eyes

Putting something in the desk of the person being bullied for a nasty surprise

Chasing girls into the bathrooms

Bra-snapping

What kind of responses did I get when I told my teachers about all this? What kind of support and protection did they provide for me, along with disciplinary action for my tormentors?

“Boys will be boys.”

“Just ignore them and they’ll stop.”

“You must have done something to provoke that.”

“You must have been asking for it.”

Do these statements sound familiar? They’re the responses women often get when we’re trying to report sexual harassment or rape.

When it came time for me to enroll in middle school, my parents got divorced. My mother and I had to move, which meant I left my few friends and all the classmates I’d grown up with to go to a different school. Being the new kid put an even bigger target on my back. Every day of my life at school included some or all of these:

Verbal provocation

People making up rumors about me

Harassment in the girls’ gym about my weight, glasses, hair, etc.

The older students ganging up on me while I was walking home from school.

Nobody would listen. Nobody took me seriously. I guess I’m lucky the boys in middle school were acting one at a time, only intent on breaking my glasses, punching me, spitting on me, pulling my hair and making me cry. Just imagine what might have happened if those thugs combined their strength to ambush me and commit a more serious form of assault.

One day after school two dozen of my classmates surrounded me with their bicycles and demanded that one of my archenemies beat me up right there in front of all of them. I ran up to the door of the nearest house, told them it was an emergency and I needed to use their phone, then called the police and my father. I was twelve years old, and I had to do this for myself. My father arrived in time to see the ring of bullies before they all took off. He knew I wasn’t making anything up.

This incident led to the principal insisting my parents meet with him at his office so they all could to discuss what to do about me because I was such a troublemaker. Unfortunately, due to the terms of the divorce my father pretty much left school decisions to my mother, who got custody of me. Mom was so busy smiling and groveling to the school officials she didn’t stand up for me at all. My test scores were high enough to enable me to skip sixth grade. That didn’t really help matters. It just created even more resentment among my classmates. The one mercy I received was being trapped in that educational hell for only two years instead of three.

High school? Same people, more sophisticated grief.

Let’s contrast my experiences with the anti-bullying policy of today’s educational system. This is taken from the student manual of the high school both of my sons attended:

Students may not coerce others through threats or intimidation. Students shall not haze, sexually harass or commit any act which degrades or discredits students and/or staff. Harassment has nothing to do with intent, and it is determined by the victim. Harassment is defined as intentional threats or intimidation directed against a person or group that is so severe that it disrupts class work, creates substantial disorder and invades the rights of the student by creating an intimidating or hostile environment.

Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and/or other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Any student who feels he/she is the victim of harassment must notify a teacher, counselor or administrator. The student may be asked to provide a written statement. Any form of sexual harassment toward personnel or students will result in automatic suspension and/or expulsion.

Consequences:

1st Offense: 1-5 day suspension; Parent contact/contract; Referral to Counseling/CRT

 2nd Offense: 5 day suspension; Referral to law enforcement.

 3rd Offense: 5 day suspension; Recommendation for expulsion; Referral to law enforcement.

Wow. What a difference forty years and a technological revolution have made. Thanks to cell phones and social media, everybody is watching everybody else. Any stupid, embarrassing moment can be captured and uploaded to the Internet in a matter of minutes. I’m glad I got through my school days before the Internet became an essential part of everyday life. Still, it would have been great to have photos or video proof of my tormentors.

In the Steubenville rape case, the two boys who were convicted used their cell phones to broadcast all the horrible things they did to that poor girl. Apparently it never occured to them they’d handed the prosecution evidence of their own guilt. Cell phones and other easily concealed recording devices have provided documentation of abuses committed in classrooms by both teachers and aides against mainstream students and even special education children. Discovery of such despicable acts has led some parents to call for surveillance equipment in all classrooms. Controversy now rages over invasion of privacy versus the active prevention of abuses against helpless minors.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’d almost be happy to have Big Brother watching us if it meant protecting innocent children, especially those who are disabled and defenseless, from any form of bullying and/or abuse committed against them by classmates, teachers, one to one aides, and any other on-site personnel. I’m an adult now, but I still remember all too well what it felt like to be victimized by bullies, then ignored and even punished by the very authorities who should have been there to safeguard my physical and emotional health.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, frustration, memoirs, mother, parenting, school, Self-image, special education

All Together Now


by Lillian Csernica on June 18, 2020

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Hello again. I come to you from the throes of the pandemic here in California. Our Governor Gavin Newsom now requires all of us (with appropriate exceptions) to wear masks when we’re out in public. Not just when we’re going into stores or other essential activities, but all the time. I’m delighted. As the mother of a medically fragile child, I don’t care how low the odds of infection might be. Any odds are too high when it comes to risking my son’s life.

This week I attended a writing class online with my dear teacher Andy Couturier, author of Writing Open the Mind and A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance. Thanks to the writing exercises Andy taught us, I created a piece of writing that I’d like to share with you.

The world has changed so much. Four months. Everything is different. If we know nothing else, we know we’re not alone in this world. We can kill each other by being careless. We can save each other by being mindful. We can unite, be strong, say a kind word. We can use that word, make signs, write on walls, spread it across the Internet, wear it on a T shirt, paint it on a car window. We can spread that kind word.

We can make the world better. Life is hard, times are tough, but we can make this pandemic a chance to heal more than just torn up lungs and traumatized minds. We can be the people we needed. We can delay the achievement of our private glories as we come together to build a world where we all can thrive.

I don’t know much, but I do know our hearts are all the same color. We are all the same in our component parts. Blood, breath, bone, spirit. We are all humanity. Bring back the Rainbow Coalition. Bring back the songs that we all sang together.

I believe this. I believe every word of it. I’m just one person. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Let’s start helping each other. We could all use a little more kindness.

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Filed under Family, Goals, Lillian Csernica, love, memoirs, parenting, special education, Special needs, worry, Writing

A Thousand Thanks


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2020

ASD T shirt2

April is Autism Awareness Month. As you can see, I’ve “gone blue” in support of ASD children and adults everywhere. As the T shirt says:

It takes a special mom to know what a child cannot say.

Both of my sons have difficulties with their verbal skills. John has speech delay. Michael doesn’t not speak at all, aside from some vigorous vocalizing. I am fortunate in that words seem to be what I’m good at in this life. Public speaking, sales, writing fiction and nonfiction. I had no idea my ability with words would stand me in such good stead given how hard it is for both of my boys to communicate.

What really keeps me going right now is the generosity and support of my community. By that I mean all of you folks reading this. All the folks who have donated to the GoFundMe, Safeguarding My Special Needs Sons. As of today, the total amount donated is over $3,000. In these strange, stressful, and scary times, the weight of enduring the divorce process is crushing me. I have to stay strong for my boys, to help them make the most of each day.

Thank you. Thank you so much. If I could do it, I would hug every single one of you.

Please keep sharing the link to the GoFundMe. Being able to pay a good lawyer to protect my interests and my boys’ future will do so much to keep all three of us strong until we get to that brighter future we all are hoping for.

 

J reading to M

 

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Filed under autism, charity, Depression, Family, family tradition, frustration, Goals, Lillian Csernica, marriage, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, special education, Special needs, therapy, worry, Writing

Resting In Peace


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2019

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On Friday we held the memorial service for my mother at Pacific Gardens Chapel. More than a dozen people attended. Given the perils of weekend traffic during a Santa Cruz summer,  I was grateful to see so  many friends of our family make the effort to honor Mom’s memory.  This was in addition to the presence of my brother, whom I have not seen since my wedding 31 years ago this month.

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More family and friends sent flowers, among them white roses with blue hydrangea, a basket of roses the red of garnets, and one of those big sprays of spider mums and daisies and greenery. The flowers made the chapel even more beautiful, all of it centering on a photo of Mom taken from the days when she worked in music videos and as an extra in movies and TV. That photo, a cheerful headshot, let us mourners remember my mother as the person she was, the lively personality inside that body so weakened by illness.

My brother spoke about Mom making the most of every little thing they had when my brother was growing up. My husband talked about how many ways Mom expressed her creativity, through art and acting and singing and even stand-up comedy. I gave Mom credit for teaching me one of life’s most important lessons: Try everything! I’ve done my best to teach my boys do that so they don’t miss out on something they never knew they’d enjoy.

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These last few months of Mom’s life have been so hard. Now she’s in a better place, free of the body that kept breaking down and causing her so much pain. Mom can rest in peace, knowing how much we all loved her.

Yesterday I sat in my favorite coffeehouse and wrote for close to an hour. Then I switched notebooks and went on writing about something else entirely. I haven’t done that much writing in a single sitting in far too long.

It’s time for me to get some rest too, then go on living the life my mother encouraged me to live.

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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.

justshineon.com

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!

clinicalpsychreading.blogspot.com

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.

emilyclarkcounseling.com

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But Wait! There’s More!


by Lillian Csernica on May 3, 2019

but-wait-theres-more

yourdiamondteacher.com

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 K is for Kids


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019
atoz2019k

by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019

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People told me that when I had kids, my life would never be the same.

Those people had no idea how right they were.

My son Michael was born at 23 weeks, weighing 770 grams. That’s one pound, eleven ounces. He was the size of a kitten lying across my palms. This was back in 1996. At that time the age of viability was 24 weeks, because only then would the lungs function. During every single day of the following three and a half months Michael spent in the hospital, we watched and waited to see if our baby would live or die.

Michael in knight costume2

Two and a half years later, John arrived. He went full term, a hefty eight pounds, ten ounces. During delivery, John refused to breathe. By then the hospital staff knew our family rather well, so the head of neonatology was on hand to jump start John and make sure he started life in good form. John had to spend the first week of his life in the NICU, which drove me crazy because I wanted my baby. Then, as John missed verbal milestones and showed other unusual behavior, we learned he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

FanimeJohn

Now people tell me I should write about my experiences with both of my sons. I should write about battles with insurance, battles with the school district, battles with the boys themselves. I should write about all the doctors and nurses and teachers and aides I’ve worked with through two decades. I should write about what I’ve learned and what I wish I’d known.

It’s not easy to write about difficult events when you’re still in the process of living through them. Now that my boys are legal adults, they face a sharp decline in services, lack of day programs, and the ongoing insurance battles. Michael is still in just as much danger from every medical crisis. John is still learning how to handle some of his symptoms. I am their mother, their legal guardian, and their primary advocate.

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The time is coming when I will write more nonfiction. Right now, I write escapist literature because that’s what I need to write. I don’t travel as much as I’d like to because I simply can’t. In order to hang on to my dented sanity, I run away from home inside my head.

 

 

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#atozblogchallenge F is for Finish It!


by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2019

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I can sum up the secrets of writing success in two words: Finish it!

Everybody loves the beginning. Even when it’s difficult and you don’t know where it start. That first flush of creativity, the excitement over a new idea, can be addictive. So addictive, in fact, that when the shine of a new idea wears off and the doldrums of rewriting set in, people often abandon a project for something new.

That way lies disaster.

Most writers have several ideas sitting around in various stages of development. It’s what we do. Successful writers figure out which ideas have the most potential and invest time and effort in developing those projects. Agents won’t look at unfinished manuscripts. Editors don’t buy unfinished stories. Readers don’t read either of these because unfinished projects never get published.

Finish it.

When I wrote my first fantasy novel, I hit a rough patch about 3/4 of the way through. For three solid weeks I thought every word I wrote was worthless. Every single day I had to bully myself through my word quota. Eventually I got through it and completed the manuscript. When I got to that “worthless” section later during the editing process, it wasn’t really all that bad.

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When I wrote Ship of Dreams, my boys were both quite young. I wasn’t getting much sleep. There were lots of doctor appointments. When John was around 4 or 5 years old, we discovered he’s autistic. That was heartbreaking on top of all of Michael’s difficulties. Once again I hit that stage at the 3/4 mark where I couldn’t stand the story and wanted to give up. I also had a disk crash that cost me a chunk of work. Even with all this going on, and with the help of my agent, I completed the manuscript. That book sold.

Whatever you’re writing, finish it. Only when you get all the way to what you think is the ending, will you have a better idea of where the story should start. This is why they’re called roughdrafts. Just do it. Get it written. Throw everything at the page until you reach the end. Take a break. Step back. Let it cool. Then begin the edit and the rewrite.

Checkered, Chequered, FINISH

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How To Keep Writing When You’re Drowning in Chaos


by Lillian Csernica on February 18, 2019

Hi there. Today I will tell you how to keep up that word count and move forward with your creative life regardless of how crazy your everyday life has become.

What are my qualifications for this?

  • My older boy is an invalid requiring R.N. level care. We have two R.N.s. One has been on vacation. That means I fill in when she can’t be here.
  • My younger son has high-functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He attends community college, and he has a lot going for him. Even so, he needs supervision.
  • My mother has been having a series of medical crises since last summer. She’s back in the hospital again after having a heart valve replaced. The insurance is running out and time is against us in finding other caregivers for her.
  • Me, I have Major Depressive Disorder, I don’t sleep much, and I’m not getting any younger.

Having said all that, I can also say that I keep writing. I have three stories coming out in three different anthologies in the next few months. Marketing my novel proposals continues. When I sold my pirate novel, I did it with the help of an agent through traditional publishing. I liked that a lot and I’d like to do the same with my fantasy novels and my historical romance series. We’ll see what happens.

What is my secret? Simple. The ongoing chaos that I live in every day provokes powerful emotions inside me. Love and hate. Joy and grief. Depression and exultation. I’ve never been a halfway kind of person. These emotions are often so big inside me I have to let them out. I have to get them down on paper, get them out of my head, give them somewhere to go.

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And so I write. Maybe not every single day, but three out of five, I write.

Am I angry? My characters fight.

Am I frightened? My characters either hide from or face what frightens them.

Am I sad? My characters talk about it. They fight about it. They do something stupid or something brave or something that just makes it stop hurting for a while.

Whatever emotion is strongest within you, WRITE ABOUT IT.

Personal journal. Vignette. Short story. Chunk of a novel. Whatever size you need.

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No matter how good life is, no matter how bad life gets, WRITE ABOUT IT.

This is how you keep writing. This is how you keep from going under.

Writers commit alchemy every time we put our feelings into words. We take that heavy leaden weight of emotion and through our imaginations we transmute it into the pure gold of storytelling.

New Ray Bradbury Quotes On Writing anna dobritt s blog

P.S. Why are all the quotations from Ray Bradbury? When I was in grade school he was the first writer to set my mind on fire. Dandelion Wine showed me that I could imagine on paper and make use of everything going on inside my head. The day I finished reading Dandelion Wine was the first day I knew I wanted to be a writer.

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