Category Archives: steampunk

#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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Reflection–How the #AtoZChallenge Took Me Deeper Into My Fictional World


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2018

This year I dedicated my A to Z posts to exploring the world of my Kyoto Steampunk series. I made some valuable discoveries as I worked my way through the alphabet, some creative, some more on the practical side.

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Take a step sideways. A short story is by its nature limited in length. Every detail needs to be an essential detail. Once you get into a series of short stories, you have to keep developing those details, adding depth, bringing new information. Fujita-san is a regular character in the series, but the reader has so far never seen him outside of his function as Dr. Harrington’s translator. Devoting a post to Fujita-san’s background and qualifications made me think through aspects of his character that no story had yet required. That will greatly enrich Fujita-san’s next appearance.

Be sure to link your posts to other related posts. As the A to Z Challenge progressed, each additional blog post I wrote became an active link that expanded on references made in previous posts, and vice versa. It made for extra work, but it also gave me a wonderful sense of providing a more three dimensional experience. People who read the posts could chase the links back and forth, gathering lots of information and insights into how and why I’m writing the Kyoto Steampunk series.

Avoid the obvious, but keep in mind what’s popular. Some of the more difficult letters required brainstorming before I chose the topic I thought most useful and most entertaining. There were more Japanese words I might have used, but less is more in that regard. The Kyoto Steampunk series is about a British expatriate family living in Kyoto during Japan’s Industrial Revolution, facing difficulties both social and supernatural. I didn’t want to narrow the focus to Japan itself.

Reveal your process. This is where I really had the most fun. I’m always interested to learn how other creative people go about making their art. To be able to talk about how I made certain choices and why this or that story element is important to me gave me plenty of satisfaction. Just telling the story about how the character of Julie Rose came to be made a lot of people laugh!

Stay at least five days ahead. Absolutely essential. Some people manage to get all of their posts written before the challenge even starts. I stand in awe of such organization. Me, I need some pressure to do my best work. I also need breathing room. Staying five days ahead lets me stay relaxed while enjoying the daily challenge of each letter. It also means I have more time to go visit the people who visit me, along with roaming around chasing links to new blogs.

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thepandorasociety.com

 

And now, my favorite blogs from the 2018 A to Z Challenge!

The Old Shelter

Sarah Zama is an amazing writer, author of Give In To The Feeling. Last year she wrote about noir films, one of my favorite subjects. This year her posts about the Weimar Republic opened my eyes to a cultural revolution that was just a name in the history books.

Diary of a Dublin Housewife

Bernie Violet is a hoot. Her posts are written like bullet lists, providing bare dialogue back and forth between Bernie and one of her family or friends. You can hear the lovely Irish lilt that is authentic, not just some writer trying to fabricate a dialect. What’s more, Bernie’s sense of humor never fails to make me laugh.

Sharon E. Cathcart

Winner of much deserved awards, Sharon is a wonderful woman who devotes a lot of time to volunteering at animal shelters. Her latest novel Bayou Fire is well worth a read.

Sally’s Smorgasbord

For variety, entertainment, enlightenment, and laughter, you can’t do better. The sense of community there is strong and supportive. Go and sample some of the delights of this smorgasbord. You’ll be glad you did!

Atherton’s Magic Vapor

A time travel story with each letter of the alphabet being an entry in the mission guidebook. This is an exciting adventure with a unique style and some splendid graphics. I’ll have to read it again, now that I’ve gotten a better grip on the story!

Iain Kelly Fiction Writing

Every letter of the alphabet takes you to a new location. Every location is the setting for short piece of fiction that is rich and compelling. Some of the stories made me cry, partly from sorrow and partly from just how touching they were. Iain Kelly’s writing style is strong, admirable, and a pleasure to read.

Book Jotter

Paula Bardell-Hedley is a reviewer from Wales who keeps up with an impressive amount of reading. I’m impressed by the organization of her blog and the sheer volume of information she provides. Stop by and discover a treasure house for book lovers!

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#atozchallenge: Z is for Zaibatsu


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2018

zaibatsu

bhoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu

Zaibatsu means “financial clique.” When the Tokugawa Shogunate was in its last days, a few far-sighted samurai families positioned themselves to take the best advantage of the changing political and financial landscape.

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erenow.com

With the help of key Western advisors such as Thomas Blake Glover, “the Scotsman who built Japan,” these families were the leaders in Japan’s Industrial Revolution. That some of these family names are familiar right now in the 21st Century is a testament to the success of their business strategies.

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The zaibatsu form the backdrop against which my Kyoto Steampunk series take place. Just as fairies don’t like cold iron, the yokai of Japan resent the presence of steel and concrete. So much of the natural splendor of Japan has been destroyed thanks to the greed of industrialists.

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tunza.eco-generation.org

Thank you for joining me during the A to Z Blog Challenge for 2018. I hope you’ve found every letter both informative and entertaining. There is so much to know about Japan, yokai, and all the historical factors at work during the Meiji Restoration. I can’t wait to write the next story!

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#atozchallenge: Y is for Yokai


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2018

youkai

tvtropes.org

The yokai of Japan are many and varied. They go from humorous to horrifying. Some arise from the animistic principle in Shinto. Others are born from the angry, vengeful passions of the human heart.

These are a few of the more unusual yokai.

 

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Dodomeki, the spirit of the pickpocket or thief.

 

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Oni-no-Nenbutsu, the Demon who chants Buddhist prayers

 

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From Ancient Origins:

The baku, otherwise known as the ‘dream eater’, is a mythological being or spirit in Chinese and Japanese folklore which is said to devour nightmares. The baku cannot be summoned without caution, however, as ancient legends say that if the baku is not satisfied after consuming the nightmare, he may also devour one’s hopes and dreams.

 

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yokai.com

This is the Kawataguruma, a tormented naked woman riding on the wheel of an ox cart that’s ablaze. If this reminds you of the wanyudo, you’re right. Apparently the Wheel Monk has a female counterpart who rolls around collecting impure souls and putting curses on people.

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#atozchallenge: X is for eXpatriate


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2018

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chinesemartialartsstudies.com

Dr. Harrington is a member of the middle class. His father is a banker, and high finance is looked upon with great favor, but trade is still trade. The aristocrats of Great Britain are “to the manor born,” and everything about them signals that fact. In this they had a great deal in common with the strictly hierarchical society of Japan.

From Gentlemanly Capitalism and the Club by Darren L. Swanson:

Early editions of the Hiogo & Osaka News, Kobe’s first English language newspaper, often have a haughty tone about them, and it is easy to deduce that the paper saw itself as the voice of reason among the foreign community. Robert Young, the eventual owner of the paper’s successor and much superior, Kobe/Japan Chronicle, was responsible for inviting such scholarly mavericks as Lafcadio Hearn and Bertrand Russell to write for the Chronicle. He was also one of the founding members of the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club, as well as senior member of the settlement’s International Committee.

This is the attitude I demonstrate through Dr. Harrington’s supervisor Alexander Thompson, Undersecretary for Technology Exchange. The sun never sets on the British Empire. Thompson comes off as a rather officious buffoon in the first few stories. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), he makes it very clear to Dr. Harrington just how short the official leash really is. This is not a pleasant discovery.

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slideserve.com

The United States pried open the oyster, but Great Britain seemed determined to take possession of the pearl.

Specialists in Anglo-Japanese relations, such as Ian Nash, have theorized that after the signing of an alliance with Japan in 1902, the British considered the Japanese a trusted ally rather than as part of the British informal empire.15 This theory, however, does evoke the opinion that before this agreement, Japan may have been tacitly viewed as falling within the informal empire sphere by the British.

Dr. Harrington is a good man. Diplomacy can become a euphemism for the enlightened self-interest practiced by one country while standing inside another country’s borders. The supernatural creatures of Japan are not impressed by Dr. Harrington’s British passport. He’s in their territory now and their House Rules are the ones he’d do well to respect.

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#atozchallenge: V is for Voyage of Discovery


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2018

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The 1880s were an amazing time to be alive. All over the world scientific breakthroughs were changing life, from the wonders of the steam engine to the humble advantages of the first dish washing machine. Some major highlights included:

1880–1882: Development and commercial production of electric lighting was underway. Thomas Edison of Milan, Ohio, established Edison Illuminating Company on December 17, 1880. Based at New York City, it was the pioneer company of the electrical power industry.

1882–1883: John Hopkinson of Manchester, England patents the three-phase electric power system in 1882. In 1883 Hopkinson showed mathematically that it was possible to connect two alternating current dynamos in parallel — a problem that had long bedeviled electrical engineers.

1885: Galileo Ferraris of Livorno Piemonte, Kingdom of Italy reaches the concept of a rotating magnetic field. He applied it to a new motor. “Ferraris devised a motor using electromagnets at right angles and powered by alternating currents that were 90° out of phase, thus producing a revolving magnetic field. The motor, the direction of which could be reversed by reversing its polarity, proved the solution to the last remaining problem in alternating-current motors. The principle made possible the development of the asynchronous, self-starting electric motor that is still used today. Believing that the scientific and intellectual values of new developments far outstripped material values, Ferraris deliberately did not patent his invention; on the contrary, he demonstrated it freely in his own laboratory to all comers.” He published his findings in 1888. By then, Nikola Tesla had independently reached the same concept and was seeking a patent.[34]

1886: Charles Martin Hall of Thompson Township, Geauga County, Ohio, and Paul Héroult of Thury-Harcourt, Normandy independently discover the same inexpensive method for producing aluminium, which became the first metal to attain widespread use since the prehistoric discovery of iron.

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flavorwire.com

The literature of the time examined the benefits and disadvantages to all of these technological marvels.

Literature and arts

 

Two more notable events destined to have a lingering impact on the world:

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In this time period the world was full of possibilities. Scientific breakthroughs were changing the way people perceive the universe and its daily workings. That had a significant impact on belief in the creatures of mythology, folklore, and so-called superstition.

Where better to dramatize this conflict than Japan, land of eight million gods?

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#atozchallenge: U is for Unseen


by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2018

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woodblockprints.org

Here’s the question: Why can some of the characters in my Kyoto Steampunk series see the gods and monsters of Japan, while other characters can’t see a thing?

Nurse Danforth When she sets out to make a deal with the Devil that will save Madelaine’s life (In the Midnight Hour, Twelve Hours Later), she opens her own mind to the supernatural powers present in Japan. Whether or not that was a one-time experience remains to be seen.

Dr. Harrington Being appointed personal physician to the Abbot of Kyomizudera is a great honor. The position includes a few duties Dr. Harrington is not aware of at the start. He has become one of the guardians of the Abbot, and as such is now on the radar of all things supernatural in Japan.

Madelaine Children are often more capable of perceiving the supernatural. Madelaine has the added advantage of intense curiosity.

Constance A practical, down-to-earth woman, Constance has all the psychic sensitivity of a brick. She does see the terrible yokai that comes after Dr. Harrington in The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later). Some monsters are so formidable they make their presence known regardless of whether or not humans have psychic gifts.

Alexander Thompson The Undersecretary for Technology Exchange is a dedicated civil servant with very little imagination. This is a mercy, sparing him from sights that would surely bring on what the Victorians referred to as “brain fever.”

Fujita-san When Amatsu Mikaboshi confronts Dr. Harrington, Fujita-san can’t see him. I suspect Fujita-san may have more talents than I’ve discovered so far. His close working relationship with the monks of Kiyomizudera makes me wonder if Fujita-san knows more than he’s telling.

The Abbot and monks of Kiyomizudera One would expect ascetics pursuing a spiritual discipline to be familiar with the supernatural realm and the beings who inhabit it. This proves true in A Demon in the Noonday Sun (Twelve Hours Later) when Dr. Harrington’s call for help is answered.

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thehammermuseum.tumblr.com

 

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#atozchallenge: T is for Tea


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2018

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shorouknews.com

From Cha’s Tea Blog; The Story of Tea:

In the early 600s AD, tea was introduced to Japan through contact between Zen priests and Chinese Buddhist monks. The Japanese Zen priest, Saichō returned to Japan in 815 after many years spent in China. He brought with him compressed tea bricks and tea seeds, which he presented to the reigning Emperor Saga. Interest in tea remained guarded and centered solely around the court and its high-ranking officials for several centuries, until the Japanese Heian era of 794-1185.

During this time, the Japanese Samurai class rose to power, along with a flourishing of the arts and intellectual pursuits, tea drinking among them. The Zen priest, Myoan Eisai introduced Chinese tea seeds and bushes to the island of Kyushu, and they were then transported to the outskirts of modern day Kyoto, where some of Japan’s finest teas are produced to this day. After many subsequent visits to China and a deep immersion in the tea culture, Eisai wrote, Kissa Yōjōki, translated as, “Drinking Tea for Health,” lauding the medicinal and health benefits of the ancient beverage. Many other writers poetically connected tea to the changing seasons and landscape.

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From Britain Express:

Curiously, it was the London coffee houses that were responsible for introducing tea to England. One of the first coffee house merchants to offer tea was Thomas Garway, who owned an establishment in Exchange Alley. He sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. Three years later he issued a broadsheet advertising tea at six and ten pounds per pound (ouch!), touting its virtues at “making the body active and lusty”, and “preserving perfect health until extreme old age”.

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wordshunter.blogspot.com

Tea gained popularity quickly in the coffee houses, and by 1700 over 500 coffee houses sold it. This distressed the tavern owners, as tea cut their sales of ale and gin, and it was bad news for the government, who depended upon a steady stream of revenue from taxes on liquor sales. By 1750 tea had become the favoured drink of Britain’s lower classes.

Ironic, isn’t it? What first began as the ceremonial beverage of the upper class traveled around the world to become the daily drink of the common people. I love history!

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#atozchallenge: S is for Shinto


by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2018

 

continuityoftradition

bhoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu

Until 1945, the national religion of Japan was Shinto. Japan is a very high context culture. People went about their daily business knowing they were surrounded day and night by all kinds of gods, monsters, and other spirits.

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youtube.com

Dr. Harrington comes into this situation knowing that his native Christianity has not had a long or happy history in the Land of the Rising Sun. He also knows that Kiyomizudera is a Buddhist temple. What he does not know is the animistic nature of Shinto, which permeates every aspect of life.

From Japan-Guide.com:

In contrast to many monotheistic religions, there are no absolutes in Shinto. There is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. Consequently, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.

This is why I keep talking about the ofuda. When I visited Kyoto, I stood on the cypress veranda at Kiyomizudera. Believe me, that’s an experience that should be on everybody’s Bucket List. Seeing the gorgeous view from there, and visiting all of the shrines within the temple’s grounds really shows you why Japan is known as yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神), an expression literally meaning “eight million gods.”

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With that in mind, I highly recommend Wen Spencer’s novel Eight Million Gods. That will give you a modern taste of what Dr. Harrington is up against!

 

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#atozchallenge: R is for Rokurokubi


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2018

Rokurokubi. How’s that for a mouthful? It is a type of yokai that manifests only through women. This is unfortunate as well as being unfair. In many of the stories the men have committed whatever evil deed brings on the curse that transforms the unlucky woman into the creature whose neck extends to impossible lengths, allowing the head to cause all kinds of trouble.

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aminoapps.com

The rokurokubi is born of jealousy that poisons the spirit. This goes a long way toward explaining why rokurokubi are often found in brothels.

From Wikipedia:

In the late Edo period yomihon (illustrated novel), Rekkoku Kaidan Kikigaki Zōshi (列国怪談聞書帖) by Jippensha Ikku the author suggests the elongated necks of rokurokubi originate in the spiritual principle, karma. In Ikku’s work, Kaishin, a monk from Enshū and a woman called Oyotsu elope together. However, when Oyatsu collapsed from an illness, they ran out of money, so he killed her. When Kaishin eventually returned to secular life, he slept with a girl he met at an inn. When they sleep together, the girl’s neck stretched and her face becomes that of Oyotsu, who then told him about her resentment. Kaishin felt regretful his actions and proceeded to tell Oyatsu’s father everything. The girl’s father then told Kaishin that he has also killed a woman before. He stole her money and with it, he opened his inn. He had a daughter was born soon after who, due to karma, became a rokurokubi. Kaishin then reentered the priesthood. He built a grave for Oyotsu, said to be the Rokurokubi no Tsuka (Rokurokubi Mound), which told the story to future generations.[17]

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MatthewMayer.net

How could such a yokai enter the life of Dr. Harrington and his family? There are a lot of females in and around the household. Constance, Madelaine, Nurse Danforth, Julie Rose, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Rogers. There might be another woman or young lady among the expatriate community who finds herself caught in the eternal struggle of duty vs. emotion. Time will tell how the rokurokubi will find its way to Dr. Harrington’s door!

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