Category Archives: travel

#atozblogchallenge L is for Location


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2019

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One of the key ideas in retail success is “Location, location, location.” Put your business in the right place, where the right customer base will find you, and you stand a much better chance of making a profit.

When writing stories, your setting is a vital element. I see a lot of stories with complex worldbuilding, but the setting is more like stage scenery or a rack of props. Where you locate your story, or which locations appear in your story, can be just as powerful a story element as plot or character.

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Consider some famous settings:

Mars — The Martian

A train — Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train

A bus — Speed

A deserted islandRobinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies

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These settings have crucial aspects in common:

  • The physical location is very limiting, requiring quick thinking and immediate adaptation.
  • The main character is trapped in that setting. There is no easy way out.
  • The stakes are life or death.

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When I write historical fiction, location encompasses not just the physical setting but the time period as well:

Fallen Idol starts out in a mall food court, an ordinary, modern, nonthreatening setting. The main character, a photographer, notices a girl with elaborate and dramatic makeup. The rest of her skin is completely covered up by layers of clothing. The photographer follows this girl to a creepy abandoned factory, full of strange foreign folk art, where the rest of the story, rooted in a famous historical conflict, takes place.

Saving Grace is set in a chateau on a pilgrimage route in 14th Century France. The main character fled Russia during the Tatar invasion. She is a vampire. That makes daily living hard enough. She is also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this time most of the Western world was controlled by the Pope of Rome. That puts my heroine in constant danger of arrest as a heretic and schismatic. That meant being burned at the stake.

The Kyoto Steampunk stories take place in Kyoto 1880. Dropping a Victorian physician into an Oriental environment where he can’t speak the language and knows nothing about the social protocol makes every problem I give him twice as difficult.

Make the most of your fictional location. It can make a huge difference!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Horror, publication, research, science fiction, steampunk, travel, Writing

#atozchallenge K is for Kids


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019
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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.

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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.

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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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#atozchallenge J is for Jousting


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2019

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked at the first Medieval Times dinner theater in the United States. It was in Buena Park, which is famous as the home of some Hollywood-based companies. The big draw of Medieval Times is having your dinner while watching two knights on horseback engage in a jousting match with real lances.

I managed a crafts booth at the Agoura Renaissance Faire for a jeweler. My boss managed to get a spot in the Gift Shop, which was out in the small courtyard ringed by the stables. Yes, my shop was in a converted horse stall.

Oh, the stories I could tell about what went on while I worked there. The Head of Security was a fascinating fellow with a military background. Each of the knights had tales to tell. The owner was a gentleman from Spain. I loved this place for the same reason I love international airports. You just never knew who might show up from one night to the next. We had a lot of celebrities come to see the show, actors and sports stars and other Big Names.

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Working at Medieval Times did cause me cognitive dissonance as a writer. The production designer must have done some reading on what an actual joust looked like in terms of arena design, how the horses were caparisoned, and what the armor looked like, along with the lances. Other than that, historical accuracy went out the window. It was all down to whatever looked good and sold souvenirs.

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This is an occupational hazard when you write historical novels. I strive for historical accuracy, I really do. There have been times when somebody in an editorial position has pointed out to me that I occasionally get carried away with realism at the expense of story. The first time I wrote a medieval novel, that involved six different languages. Why? I had everybody speaking the language he or she would have spoken at that time:

My agent told me I’d better stick to French, Spanish, and English.

If you’d like to get a look at the jousting match, there’s one episode of Cake Boss where Buddy takes his family to Medieval Times. He made a cake for a special occasion being celebrated during the tournament, and the cake alone is impressive.

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#atozblogchallenge G is for Ghost


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2019

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I love a good ghost story. I collect anthologies that include authors from the turn of the 20th Century. E.F. Benson. F. Marion Crawford. J.H. Riddell. Best of all, A.M. Burrage.

People have asked me if I believe in ghosts. I believe that people believe in ghosts. Therein lies the key to much of my writing.

It’s what people believe about the supernatural that fascinates me. The beliefs that give rise to folklore, that cause people to create teaching stories and urban legends and some kind of narrative that explains some bizarre event. This kind of thinking makes it easier to bear the strain of living in an unpredictable universe.

Have I ever seen a ghost? Well, let me tell you….

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I’ve been to the Moss Beach Distillery three times. The third time must indeed be the charm, because that’s when I encountered at least one of the three ghosts said to haunt the building. The Blue Lady walks the cliffs or hangs out in the basement. By an unfortunate coincidence, the restrooms are located down there. A fairly broad stairway leads down from the dining room, passing below ground level, to the basement. I was halfway down those stairs when the air seemed to thicken around me, stopping me cold. I sensed a hostile awareness much like somebody at the bottom of the stairs glaring up at me. All the lights were on. No people were anywhere nearby. Speaking out loud, I announced my intention to go to the ladies’ room, then go back upstairs. I was not there to poke around. The thickness in the air eased up. I visited the ladies’ room, taking care not to look in the mirror. The second of the three ghosts, the piano player, likes to hide in there and spy on women diners. I came back up the stairs faster than I’d gone down, still feeling that hostile stare burning holes in my back.

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One night while Pat and I were in Hollywood on business we went to Graumann’s Chinese Theater. The box office is at street level, then you take an elevator down to the floor with the actual theaters. Pat was already at the ticket window ahead of me while I hurried down the hallway. To the left stood the bank of elevators. I saw a man and a woman get into the elevator going down, so I called, “Hold the car!” Pat and I reached the elevator at the same moment.

There was no one inside. Pat looked at me. I looked at her. I described the man. She nodded and described the woman. There was nowhere at all they could have gone other than into the elevator. That was so disturbing I find myself avoiding elevators ever since.

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Do I believe in ghosts?

I believe in life after death.

I believe that intense emotion leaves a lasting imprint on its surroundings.

I believe that some people will do anything to avoid giving up all the things you can do in and with a human body.

I believe in angels, therefore I also believe in fallen angels or demons, aka evil spirits.

I believe there’s a whole lot out there that we don’t know about, and don’t understand.

And so I write stories, trying to make sense of what I’ve seen and heard and maybe even touched. And I stay out of haunted houses.

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#atozblogchallenge D is for Don’t


by Lillian Csernica on April 4, 2019

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Some of the lessons I’ve learned in my writing life have been firsthand experience, and some have come from observing the disasters other people have brought upon themselves. Since seven is widely considered a lucky number, I’ve distilled these “teaching moments” down to a list of seven Don’ts:

 

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Don’t burn bridges.

I have written three different regular columns for three different magazines. More than once what I wrote became rather controversial. One of my editors decided it would be a wise move to show my column to someone in the field before the column was published. I did not know about this at the time. What I did know is the way the editor insisted I make changes to that column, all of which were later revealed as being specific points complained about by the person to whom the editor showed it. Were these valid editorial objections? No, they weren’t. They had nothing to do with The Chicago Manual of Style or proper grammar. They had everything to do with private personal agendas. That editor sold me out. Once I found out what had really gone on behind the scenes, I was quite angry. Did I call the editor out? I did not.

Notice, please, that even though this happened twenty years ago, I’m still not naming names. Why? Because in the writing field, which really is a small world, it’s not smart to burn bridges. You just never know where that editor might turn up next. Sure enough, this particular editor went on to work at a magazine that had considerable importance in my chosen profession. Burning that bridge would have had serious repercussions.

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Don’t forget to say thank you.

Nobody owes you anything. If somebody does you a favor, show appreciation in an equivalent and appropriate way. I’m always passing on market information to my fellow writers. At least two of those people made their first sales based on info I sent their way. Writers ahead of me on the career food chain have introduced me to my heroes such as Ray Bradbury and Robert Silverberg. Once a successful writer gave me a roll of gold foil Autographed Copy stickers. Years later there came a day when I met Joseph Malik, a newly published writer, in the SFWA Suite at WorldCon and made sure he had some Autographed Copy stickers for his books. What goes around, comes around. Let’s all help each other.

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Don’t waste energy on self-doubt, anger, jealousy or fear.

None of those will get you where you want to go.

I live with grief, depression, disappointment, and constant fear. I can let them suck all the strength out of me. I can point to all the reasons in my life, valid reasons, for why I don’t get more writing done. Or I can write. Make the time, make the effort, get it done.

Take those emotions and use them to power your writing. Even if all you do is spew your negative emotions into your personal journal, writing is writing. As my dear teacher Andy Couturier says, “Keep the pen moving!”

Don’t be afraid to offend people or make them angry.

When I was little, my mother taught me not to talk about politics or religion. Mom said that was the surest way to start a fight. What do I write about now? My historical novels involve a certain amount of political intrigue. My fantasy often has some kind of religious content. A while back I appeared on a lot of religion panels at conventions. I would often end up defending Christianity, which really upsets some people. Those people took a serious dislike to me because of my beliefs, and that had some career repercussions. Oh well. This is still the land of the free and the home of the brave, at least for the time being. St. John Maximovich, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, once said, “Where there is no adversity, there is no victory.”

Just write. Tell your story. You are not responsible for how people choose to react. If you let fear control your voice, you’ll never say anything dangerous or exciting. Who wants to read safe, boring, middle-of-the-road writing?

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Don’t think you’ll remember it later.

You won’t. Write it down.

Don’t stop learning.

There is so much out there to know. Learning opens doors, and not just in terms of a college degree or a certificate or a license. Like most writers, I know a little about a lot of things. More than once, when I’ve met someone new, I’ve been able to find some common ground almost immediately thanks to knowing about food or music or folk art from their part of the world. And if I know nothing? I ask questions. I listen. I get excited, because I love to learn something new. Just the other day, at the local dollar store, I heard a man speaking a language I thought I recognized. Sure enough, he told me it was Arabic. When I mentioned how beautiful the Arabic script is, the man told me something I did not know. Arabic is read right to left. See? Always learning!

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Don’t stop writing.

I lost my first baby. He’d just started kicking. I was so happy. Called my parents, called the in-laws, told them all about it. Three days later, I ruptured early and that led to a miscarriage. I stopped writing in my personal journal. There was no way I could write down what I was feeling. I could not live through it all again.

Two or three years later, something must have happened to break up the emotional log jam inside my mind. I began writing in my plain spiral notebook with my plain black ballpoint pen. Then I wrote a pirate romance novel for fun and escapism and maybe even profit. I got an agent, who sold that novel. And so Ship of Dreams came into the world.

Keep writing. Every day. Meet your time, fill your quota. It adds up, and you will become a better writer.

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#atozchallenge B is for Boat


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2019

Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information to last him the rest of his days.”

Today I am going to tell you a story about a boat. In the twelve hours I was aboard that boat, so many moments happened, each one raw material for a story all by itself.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a fishing trip. He and some of his coworkers had pooled their money to rent a boat for the day, complete with captain, which would take them out to fish for rock cod off the Four Mile Banks near Laguna Beach, CA. My father loved fishing. I was still a bit of a tomboy at that age, so I was quite excited to be in on the adventure.

A fishing trip means you get up while it’s still dark out, drive down to the marina, find the right dock, and go aboard. I was the only kid on board. I learned later that my father’s co-workers weren’t exactly thrilled to have me along for the trip. Back then adults still believed in behaving themselves in front of children. Me being there meant they couldn’t drink and gossip and carry on the way they’d been planning. I still wonder if my father knew that, or if he knew and just didn’t care.

There we were, heading out of the marina, the sky still black and dotted with stars. I didn’t have much experience with boats, so this was a rare thrill for me. I sat on the rail, holding on to the strip of wood on the side of the main cabin that stuck out like a smaller rail. I watched the bow wave, marveling at the reflection of all the lights on the dark water. One good whitecap could have jolted me loose and thrown me over the side. I don’t know why the adults let me sit out there all alone in such a precarious position. Daddy was a twenty year Navy man. Maybe he thought I had enough Navy in my blood to give me good instincts aboard ship. If my mother had ever found out about this moment in my seagoing adventures, the closest I would have gotten to another boat would have been floaty toys in the bathtub.

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The captain took a liking to me. I think that had to do with me catching the first fish. It was a young shark about as long as my arm with eyes the color of pale jade. The captain declared me to be lucky, then asked me if I wanted to keep it or let it go. This was not an “eating fish,” as my father called them, so it seemed only right to let the shark go. From then on wherever I cast or dropped my line, I caught the most fish. Daddy found this hugely entertaining. Later on he told me my good luck did not endear me to his coworkers, who had placed bets on who would catch the most and the biggest fish. Apparently my catches counted toward Daddy’s total.

Then came the moment that was the polar opposite of all the joy I felt sailing along in the dark. Rock cod are considered good eating by humans and other fish. As we reeled in our catch, those other fish showed up and tried to steal them off our lines. At first I couldn’t understand why the rock cod were coming up with big red holes in their sides. Daddy told me to go up on the flying bridge and look out over the water.

Circling the boat were two thresher sharks. These are really not much trouble, but this happened right around the time when Jaws had hit the theaters. There I was, out in a relatively small boat, miles offshore, being circled by the two biggest sharks I’d ever seen in person. Scared the living daylights out of me, much to the amusement of the adults.

Why am I telling you this story? There’s a lot more to this day. I haven’t even mentioned the poker game. (The adults wouldn’t let me play. A) I was too young, and B) I was already too lucky!) Mine your life for these moments. You were there! You know the details that will bring those moments to life.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, bad movies, Blog challenges, Family, Humor, Lillian Csernica, memoirs, parenting, travel, Writing

#atozblogchallege A is for Angle


by Lillian Csernica on April 1, 2019

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Welcome to my sixth year of participation in the A to Z Blog Challenge!

How I Learned To Be A Writer

This year I’m going to share with you 26 separate moments from my writing life, moments that taught me something worth remembering. Moments that helped shape my writing style. Moments that taught me how to endure the bad days and celebrate the triumphs.

A is for Angle

 

“Angle” is a term used by journalists when referring to the focus of the article they’re writing. It means which aspect of the subject matter they intend to emphasize as a means of making the article more relevant and interesting to the readers.

The concept of angle is quite useful to fiction writers. As the indie publishing market has exploded and competition for readership continues to increase, it’s becoming more and more essential to find a fresh approach, some new aspect of the stories we want to tell.

In my Kyoto Steampunk series, I chose to leave Victorian England behind and take my protagonist Dr. William Harrington to Kyoto, Japan. Once the Shogunate fell and the Meiji Emperor opened Japan to the West, Japan experienced its own Industrial Revolution, making it an excellent setting for steampunk stories.

Dr. Harrington’s adventures are a mixture of historical science fiction and Japanese fantasy. When I go to conventions to promote the anthologies where my Kyoto Steampunk stories appear, people are often surprised to hear I’ve chosen Japan for my setting. This fresh angle has resulted in a total of seven short stories so far, along with the novel that is my current work in progress.

Find that fresh angle! It will help you on your road to success.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, Conventions, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing

A to Z Blog Challenge 2019 Theme Reveal!


by Lillian Csernica on March 21, 2019

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Hi there. Yes, I’m a trifle behind schedule on this. Tomorrow I run off to Clockwork Alchemy for the weekend. Con prep is such an adventure!

 

How I Learned To Be A Writer

This year I’m going to share with you 26 separate moments from my writing life, moments that taught me something worth remembering. Moments that helped shape my writing style. Moments that taught me how to endure the bad days and celebrate the triumphs.

Being a writer is not just about mastering the techniques of fiction. Nobody understands writers the way other writers do. That’s because you have to live inside a creative mind that constantly notices odd details and can’t stop thinking about certain exciting problems. Writers are not like everybody else.

Join me and take a look at a level of living that goes so much farther than just “behind the scenes.” You’ll get a glimpse into my creative process. More than that, you might help me figure out some of the mysteries about how my mind works!

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Clockwork Alchemy 2019


by Lillian Csernica on March 13, 2019

 

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Yes, it’s time once again for top hats and goggles, airships and submarines, international intrigue and more! Join me and the rest of my multi-talented colleagues as we celebrate all things steampunk!

Here’s where you can find me on each day of the con. I do hope you will stop by and say hello. It’s always a pleasure to hear what people think of Dr. Harrington’s adventures in Kyoto.

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Friday, March 22

1 p.m. in the  Harbour Room

DIALOGUE IN HISTORICAL FICTION: Nuts and bolts technique for layering characterization into dialogue.

Saturday, March 23

11 a.m. in the Sandpebble Room

MAGIC IN STEAMPUNK: Practical tips for working magic into a storyline where period technology is the hallmark of the genre.
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Sunday, March 24

1 p.m. in Authors’ Alley

Stop by my table and pick up your copy of Next Stop On The #13, which includes The Badger Epidemic. Dr. Harrington is forced to take a train to Osaka, where a cholera epidemic is killing the railway workers. Something is waiting for him en route that could prove even more dangerous than cholera itself!

See you there!

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Can You Spot the Monster?


by Lillian Csernica on March 9, 2019

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France, 1300s. A chateau in the Alps. A Russian noblewoman sheltering there and earning her keep as governess to the daughter of the family. Katarina is the keeper of a terrible secret, one she must keep at all costs or face the loss of Yvette, the daughter Katarina herself will never have. Living under the watchful eye of Yvette’s father Sieur Etienne is difficult enough. Then a German scholar arrives, asking too many questions about matters that should be none of his concern.

Who is the real monster in this story? Who is most deserving of the ultimate punishment? Read it and make up your own mind!

 

I am overjoyed to see my story Saving Grace appear alongside some of the greatest masters of horror and dark fantasy:

Alexandra Elizabeth Honigsberg

F. Marion Crawford

E.F. Benson

Mary E. Braddon

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Darrell Schweitzer

Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem

If you enjoy weird fiction, fantasy with an edge to it, and stories that will keep you up at night, you will love all the treasures brought together in this collection.

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