Category Archives: steampunk

#nanoprep Where Do I Start?


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2022

#NaNoWriMo2022 is coming. 50,000 words in just thirty days. I am an eight year veteran of NaNoWriMo, and I still find the prospect of writing 1,667 words a day quite intimidating. I have number of works-in-progress underway, but this year I choose to start a new novel project. Where do I start?

For me it’s all about the characters. I have written plot-driven stories. (As a matter of fact, I found out just yesterday my latest plot-driven short story has been accepted by an anthology!) When I start a story, I tend to start in the middle of an argument between one main character and the antagonist or a minor character who gets chewed up and spat out. Open with conflict. Show the reader why the main character’s life has just been drastically complicated by the problem situation.

“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘DON’T THINK!’” Ray Bradbury

They key to writing from the heart of your character is to know what that character wants. Sometimes it’s more useful to know what the character does not want. People tend to make more of an effort to avoid something that will cause them pain, whether physical or emotional.

What’s ironic about this is how struggle makes a good story. The survival instinct might compel your main character to avoid what hurts. That’s sensible, but it makes boring reading. Throw your characters into the deep end and make them figure out how to swim. Characters have to learn something in the course of their character arcs. They have to change. If the main character is still the same person at the end of the story, that can be done to good effect, but most readers want to see that character fight hard, fight smart, risk everything, and win. That creates a satisfying reading experience.

Think of your character as a piece of iron hot from the forge. You put that red hot iron on the anvil and you beat on it until it takes on the shape of the tool you need. A wrought iron candle holder. A horseshoe. A sword. Beat on that character. Raise the stakes. Make it hurt. Heat and pressure will turn a lump of molten metal into a work of art.

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Filed under creativity, editing, Fiction, Goals, memoirs, publication, research, romance, science fiction, steampunk, Writing

BayCon 2022 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on June 15, 2022

I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing in person at BayCon 2022! It’s been a long three years. I can’t wait to participate in these panels. BayCon has some really exciting programming this year!

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Discover Your Process

1 Jul 2022, Friday 14:30 – 16:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

You have ideas. You want to get them out of your mind and into the physical world. How do you do that? Join the panel as they discuss how they came to understand their creative processes.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Steven Barnes, M. Todd Gallowglas (Gallowglas Army) (M), Scott Bradley

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Autism/Gender States

1 Jul 2022, Friday 16:00 – 17:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

New work suggests there’s a correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transgender/Nonbinary flavors of gender. But correlation is not causation. So is a link? And it now looks like female autistics are massively underdiagnosed, so what does that mean for nonbinary folks who may need help with ‘subclinical’ ASD issues? What about ADHD? Is there another link there that’s been overlooked?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen (M), John Blaker

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Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader

2 Jul 2022, Saturday 10:00 – 11:30, Connect 5 (San Mateo Marriott)

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

Rebecca Inch-Partridge (M), Emerian Rich (Self and HorrorAddicts), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

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Experiencing pestilence, war, and other significant trauma affects our lives in multiple ways.

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 10:00 – 11:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

How does it affect what we write? Can harnessing personal sorrow and stress help us write closer to our main characters?

Matt Maxwell (Highway 62 Press), Laurel Anne Hill (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Scott Bradley

Handicapped Parking

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 11:30 – 13:00, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

From the invalid chair to the mobile exoskeleton, people have needed mobility devices to replace abilities lost to birth defects, disease, accidents and war.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Gideon Marcus (Galactic Journey), Colin Fisk

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

4 Jul 2022, Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

Exotic locales challenge writers to get readers up to speed while keeping the story going. What weird settings have our panelists used and how did they solve the problem—well enough for the editor to buy, anyway.

Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), C. Sanford Lowe (C Sanford Lowe) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

Come find me at BayCon and get a sticker for your badge!

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Filed under autism, Conventions, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, publication, research, science fiction, Special needs, steampunk, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

Gathering My Thoughts


by Lillian Csernica on May 17, 2022

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I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.

Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.

I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!

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Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, publication, research, steampunk, therapy, Writing

X is for Xenophile


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2022

“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples.  Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind.  If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera.  This was the number one item on my bucket list.  Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.

I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them.  This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories.  My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera.  If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

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 The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls.  Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva.  There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera.  Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there.  People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms.  When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.

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The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves.  Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.

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Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop.  Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards.  The Stage contains not a single nail.  Wooden pegs were used instead.

In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.  The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time.  Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire.  Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!

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This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction.  I stood at the corner on the center left.

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There are several shrines on the temple grounds.  This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth.  I love those fox figurines.  Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.

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Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking.  The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai.  Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money.  The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition.  The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers.  A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine.  The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.

Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree.  Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it.  We didn’t understand that at the time.  Now we do!

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The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people.  I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji.  Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world.  Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them.  Still not sure what that was all about.

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Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings.  On the far right, wisdom.  In the center, long life.  On the left, success in scholarship.  I meant to drink from the water of longevity.  Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead.  I suspect that’s probably what I really need!

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Soon it was time to head back down the mountain.  This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.

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I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning.  Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list.    If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka.  We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick.  Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa.  I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.

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K is for Kyoto


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2022

If you’re interested in experiencing the wonders of both ancient and modern Japan, then you must visit Kyoto. I live in California. It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get me from my home to the hotel in Kyoto. Does that sound exhausting? It was, but what I found in Kyoto made it all worthwhile.

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Kyoto Station

It’s huge and beautiful. In addition to the train station, you’ll find a theater, two malls, a museum, a bus station, a 540-room hotel, and at least two dozen restaurants. Kyoto Station has its own zip code. No wonder! It’s a city unto itself.

There’s always someone ready to help, both official and everyday folks. At Kyoto Station they’re used to helping foreigners find their way around. Many of the taxi drivers are eager to practice their English language skills.

The clerk at my hotel (across the street) assured me I could find whatever I wanted inside Kyoto Station, and she was right. Isetan Department Store, free wifi, even a yen store, which is the equivalent of our Dollar Tree.

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Imperial Palace

A train ride and a short hike brought us to the Imperial Gardens that are part of the Palace Grounds. We had made a reservation for one of the tours given in English. The Imperial Household Agency runs these tours. We were directed to arrive twenty minutes ahead of time at a specific outer gate. There we found something of a staging area in the form of a gift shop with tables outside and the usual array of vending machines offering a variety of drinks.

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Toei Kyoto Studio Tour

Toei Kyoto Studio Park is not an amusement park in the sense we Americans understand it, i.e. a lot of carnival rides that will make you want to throw up. Instead, it’s living history much like the Renaissance Faire. The actors I spoke to knew their history and were more than happy to pose for photos. I consider this adventure to be one of the high points of my visit to Kyoto.

Toei Studios is behind quite a diverse selection of entertainment, including Battle Royale, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, the origin of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In the 1950s, samurai movies were hugely popular, as proven by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, just to name a few.

The park also features a Haunted House. I avoid haunted house attractions because they’re usually more gory than scary. When Pat suggested going through the Haunted House, I had to do it. After all, Japanese ghosts and monsters are very different from the frights we find in the West. First stop: the Haunted Forest. I knew there was a person in the trees off to my left. It must have been a woman, to judge from the creepy ululating cry. That distracted me just enough so I didn’t see the tree until it started to fall on me. Well, that got the adrenalin pumping. I’m just going to come right out and admit I was so scared I could hardly make myself keep moving forward. By the time I got to the room where all the dolls had bleeding eyes, I was ready to run for it.

Kiyomizudera

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true. I致e been a lot of places and I致e seen a lot of things, and I致e written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in the Later series of anthologies from Clockwork Alchemy, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in Donnie Darko a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, dreams, Goals, history, Japan, Kyoto, nature, research, steampunk, travel, Writing

Smashwords: Authors Give Back!


by Lillian Csernica on March 22, 2020

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Wash hands. Stay home. Keep busy. Stay healthy. If you need something to take your mind off too much reality, have I got an offer for you!

I am participating in the big Smashwords event, Authors Give Back.

Have you ever wanted to write a scary story? Learn how to make a monster?

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Get your copy now! Discount code KH94T

 

star-line-divider-vector-design-footer-modern-border-star-line-divider-vector-design-footer-modern-border-104457293Worldbuilding is essential for crafting a strong fantasy story, whether it’s writing a novel or creating a RPG. This tool kit can be yours!

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Make those dreams come true! Discount code XT43T

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Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, publication, research, romance, science fiction, steampunk, sword and sorcery, Writing

#nanowrimo Writing Interrupted


by Lillian Csernica on November 16, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I’m having an extremely difficult year. Deaths and departures. The usual endless chaos at home, making sure we have enough aides and nursing staff for Michael. Courtrooms and Emergency Rooms and making room for my writing amid all the uproar.

And now, right in the middle of #nanowrimo, my gall bladder decided to declare war.

I was going to post a gallbladder graphic here, but no.

I spent most of the week between last Friday and today at a local hospital after I took myself to the Emergency Room for really nasty stomach pains. Many tests and much painful prodding revealed that my gall bladder was well on its way to causing me serious damage.

The hospital drama blew my mind. They wanted to send me home to make an appointment with the appropriate doctor in “three or four days.”

I’ll say one thing for this year. It’s put some serious steel into my spine. I repeated back to the doctors everything they’d just told me and demanded to know how they could send me home when they KNEW a medical crisis was imminent. I don’t know if I was persuasive enough or intimidating enough or just plain loud enough. They admitted me and the surgery took place last Saturday.

They discharged me on Sunday, less than 24 hours later, with no apparent regard for me still being on the big time painkillers you can’t get outside of hospitals. I hadn’t walked the ward, my gut motility had not resumed, none of the fundamental criteria for even considering discharge status. Yes, I could breathe, and no, I wasn’t bleeding to death. Apparently those two were sufficient.

And so they sent me home. They also forgot to give me back the bag of my regular medications I’d brought from home. You never know when some of your meds won’t be available in a particular hospital. I didn’t notice the glaring absence of my meds at the time because I was busy recovering from major abdominal surgery.

Two and a half hours after my husband drove me home, he was on the phone to 911. The pain had me in such a vicious grip I could not inhale without trying to scream. In the ambulance I was in such bad shape the paramedic didn’t bother with an IV. She had me ingest liquid painkiller by the simple expedient of soaking some gauze in the liquid form, sticking it up my nose, and commanding me to inhale as hard as I could.

The Emergency Room was not happy to see me again. I’m afraid I rather lost my temper with the doctor on duty who tried to tell me the CT scan they’d just done showed everything looking fine after surgery. Why then, I asked, after you people took out the organ you claimed was causing the problem, am I now in far more intense pain?

That doctor did what I’ve seen other doctors do in similar situations, which was hand me off to the next doctor up the chain of command. This worthy gentleman read the chart, examined my surgical sites, asked me a few questions, then shook his head and said, “We sent you home too soon. I’m admitting you.”

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And so I spent Monday and Tuesday heavily medicated. They managed to lose one of my medications AGAIN, would not call the prescribing physician, and came within inches of me organizing a posse of lawyers to storm the bureaucratic barricades.

All this right in the middle of #nanowrimo. Did I get any writing done? As a matter of fact, I did. Armed with a notebook and pen provided by a writing buddy  who truly went above and beyond for me, I lay there and tried to keep my writing between the lines while this dear and treasured friend coaxed me through at least two word sprints.

My word count is currently at 14,220. I have to write 12, 452 words before midnight tonight in order to catch up. That’s 50 pages. Ouch.

I’m having a blast with these new Kyoto Steampunk stories when I can shut out everything else and concentrate. Right now I’m tired and I’m hurting and there are so many other things that needed to be done last week and five days in the hospital have left me even farther behind.

So cheer me on, people. Please. Help me get all the way to 50k.

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Filed under Depression, doctors, Family, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, hospital, Kyoto, parenting, specialneeds, steampunk, surgery, Writing

#nanoprep Why Writing Buddies Are So Important


by Lillian Csernica on September 25, 2019

 

Writing is lonely work. We sit there and spend a big chunk of time with no company other than our imaginary friends. National Novel Writing Month is 30 solid days of writing, roughly 7 pages a day, all the way to 200 pages or 50,000 words.

That’s a long haul, even longer when you’re all by yourself.

I have written four novels during my years participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you more than once my Writing Buddies were the reason I made it all the way to the daily quota. I know how hard this is. Nobody understands a writer as well as other writers do.

On the NaNoWriMo site you can have official Writing Buddies. This is a great way to make new friends, meet new writers, and expand your network or, if you prefer, your tribe. It’s a wonderful feeling to log on, update my word total and seeing messages from my Writing Buddies in my NaNo mail. I cheer them on, they cheer me on, and we all race together toward the finish line.

A key element of #nanoprep is finding yourself some Writing Buddies. Here’s why:

Accountability — Stern word, right? It’s been proven that we will work harder to live up to other people’s expectations than we will just for our own good. When I know my Writing Buddies are waiting to see me post my daily word count, I can push past the excuses and avoidance behavior and the other self-defeating behaviors. That’s because having Writing Buddies creates a strong sense of community.

Comfort — Knowing that we are not alone does a lot to improve morale and keep us going in stressful circumstances. During NaNoWriMo I encourage the participants in my region to remember we’re all here to lift each other up and keep our writing spirits strong. During NaNoWriMo we strive to achieve our own goals, challenging ourselves to stretch a little bit farther each day.

Feedback — Comments from our fellow writers don’t have to come in the form of a critique. Some days we might get stuck. Other days we might get overrun by a herd of plot bunnies. In the forums on the NaNoWriMo site, writers of like mind and similar genres can look for the help they need. We can reach out to our Writing Buddies for comments and support.

Play — Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days sounds like hard work. It most certainly is. It can also be a whole lot of fun. Go to the Kick-Off Party. Go to the write-ins. Go to the Thank God It’s Over Party. Being part of an online community is great. Meeting fellow writers brought together by the courage to take on NaNoWriMo is even better. The joy of shared laughter will do a lot to recharge your writing batteries.

When all else fails, remember, caffeine is always there for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under creativity, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, romance, science fiction, steampunk, worry, Writing

#nanoprep How to Choose Your Project


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2019

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I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.

National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.

Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.

For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been  total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.

Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?

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I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.

I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.

And so the new stories begin to grow!

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Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.

What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, research, steampunk, Writing

How Do You #nanoprep?


by Lillian Csernica on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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November is coming. That means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo!

This year is the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo. Twenty years of hot ideas, hard work, and tanker trucks full of coffee! If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a novel, or you really need group support to get you through that first draft, then NaNoWriMo is waiting for you.

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“Where do I start?” That is the question I hear most often from people who really want to write but don’t know what to do first. The answer is simple: Find what gets you most excited about your project. Is it the main character? Is it the dialogue? Is it the glorious victory of the Good Guys stomping the Bad Guys into the dirt? Whatever gets you all fired up, that’s the key to Writing Every Single Day.

Here’s how I do my #nanoprep:

Pick an idea. For me this means choosing a genre, a time period, and the major location.

  •  Write down a bunch of details about my main character.
  • Do the same for my villain.
  • Brainstorm a rough plot outline.
  • Keep making notes as the ideas start crossbreeding with every new detail I imagine. I try to keep organized from the very beginning. Index cards, Scrivener, a spiral notebook, whatever works. The important thing is to get all those details recorded hot and fresh without thinking too much.

If you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, you need to create a lot of the basic information about plot, character, and setting. I liken this part of the writing process to the way a sculptor begins a new piece. First you have to get your hands on some clay, right? Once you have the clay, then you can start shaping it into a story. Brainstorming all those details is how writers create the clay from which we shape our stories.

If you’re starting with a work-in-progress, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. I suggest you come up with a specific goal you want to achieve during NaNoWriMo. Some examples:

  • Finish your draft
  • Flesh out the relationship(s) between the main character and the sidekick, the love interest, the mentor, or the villain. Depending on the type of story you’re after, you can have the main character working on a better understanding of that person’s own mind and motivations. Do be careful to dramatize what happens. Pages of interior monologue are fine when you’re working out the details of an idea. Too much of that can kill your pace and leave your reader hungry for real action.
  • Familiarize yourself with your setting and test the dramatic possibilities of some key locations. If you’re using a well-known setting such as Paris or London, make sure you get the details right.

Remember, no first draft comes out letter perfect. The first draft is where you get to play around, chase ideas up blind allies, start a character off with one motivation and see where that takes you. This is where you get to find out which ideas fit together and which ones tend to muddle up the story.

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Give yourself permission to write badly at first. That doesn’t mean your writing will be bad. It just means you take the pressure off of yourself so you can just enjoy the act of writing. All that really matters during NaNoWriMo is that you WRITE. Just do it. Just get the daily word quota out of your head and onto the paper, screen, bedroom wall, whatever. Just WRITE.

Watch for more tips on getting ready for National Novel Writing Month!

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