Category Archives: Writing

I’m a Featured Author!


by Lillian Csernica on September 25th, 2017

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Thanks to the generosity of Renee Scattergood, I am the featured author in today’s spotlight on her blog. Please do head on over there and take a look. The interview questions were a lot of fun to answer!

Many thanks, Renee!

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Reblog: Self Care Isn’t Selfish


This isn’t just an Instagram aesthetic. It’s actually really good advice for us. If you’re unfamiliar with self-care, it is the simple act of caring for ourselves. We deserve it, not because it makes us better for others or for our lecturers or for our flatmates, but because it makes us healthier for ourselves. […]

via Self-Care isn’t Selfish — the married millenials

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The Comfort Zone: Are You In or Out?


by Lillian Csernica on September 5, 2017

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about how writers need to get out of their comfort zones. Apparently better writing is achieved once we leave our comfort zones and venture out into the wild terrain of ideas that scare the daylights out of us.

I’m not talking about horror per se. There are subjects that we all find distressing. The kind of material that people these days label with trigger warnings. Facts and stories and ideas which will hit us where we live, push on old bruises, maybe bring fresh pain to old scars. Such subjects are intensely painful and could be trauma triggers.

A trauma trigger is an experience that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic and can be indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident.

(Relevant tangent: If you’re interested in the debate about trigger warnings, I recommend reading The Trigger Warning Myth.)

While I can appreciate the need to test one’s boundaries and stretch one’s literary muscles, I do have two problems with all of these articles urging writers to get out of their comfort zones.

  1. The people giving this advice have no idea what’s outside my comfort zone. I might have some very good reasons for staying in it.
  2. There’s a crucial piece of information missing. Maybe it’s just the debate team in me, but I don’t see anybody defining the term “comfort zone.” (That’s why I keep linking to the definition every single time I use that phrase.) To me the proper starting point is figuring out precisely where our comfort zones begin and end. Once that’s mapped out, we know where to find terra incognita. We can point to the spot that says “Here there be dragons!”

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Time for painful honesty. For years now people have told me I should write about my experiences with my older son Michael. Bed rest in the hospital. The terror of the day he had to be delivered via emergency C-section. Every day and night of the three and a half months he remained in the hospital, coming close to dying time and time again.

Why don’t I write about that? Simple. I’ve been too busy living it. For most of Michael’s twenty-one years on this planet, my husband and I have considered it a good week if no medical emergency forced us to call 911.

Same with John. Sure, I could write about the day he got out the front door while I was changing Michael’s diaper. I had to dash out after him before he made it to the busy street. I tore my right calf muscle doing so. Then I still had to get up and run after him. I wound up in the ER that night, and came home on crutches. That added a whole new layer of difficulty to being primary caregiver for two special needs children.

What’s outside my comfort zone?

Miscarriage. Babies dying. Whether or not to turn off the life support.

Wondering if I’ll ever know the joys of being a grandmother.

Who will look after my boys once I’m dead.

And a few other matters that I’m not ready to talk about to anybody, even myself.

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Yes, I agree that “growing our comfort zones” is a worthwhile goal. I also think people who dish out such advice should be mindful of the dangers of doing so. These are hard times. Telling people to go rummaging around in the darker corners of their psyches for really juicy writing material is not a smart or a responsible thing to do.

For me, getting my own car again was a big step outside my comfort zone. I didn’t drive for years because of a Gordian knot of anxieties surrounding the subject of driving. Now I have a car. Now I drive all the time. Oh look, here I am writing about it!

For once I don’t mean to sound sarcastic. You decide when and if you want to step outside of your comfort zone. You decide just how far, and how often. It’s good to tell the stories that only you can tell. It’s more important to respect your own pain and your own right to privacy. You’ll know when the time is right.

For some excellent thoughts on why there’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, go see what Darius Foroux has to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All Writers Need This Skill


by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017

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What is that skill? Eavesdropping.

From Wikipedia:

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[3] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[4] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[5]

I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.

A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.

Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.

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Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.

When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:

“Don’t get the cat sticky!”

People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,

“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”

Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.

One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.

 

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!

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The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask


by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017

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Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.

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In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.

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In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!

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The Writer’s Spellbook


by Lillian Csernica on August 1, 2017

AVAILABLE NOW ON SMASHWORDS!

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One of the most important elements of a fantasy novel or a game world is the magic system. A logical and consistent magic system will do a lot to help improve the quality of the story… A better magic system means a better story, and a better story means more readers!

PLENTY OF FORMATS TO CHOOSE FROM!

EPUB MOBI PDF IRL PDB TXT HTML

Whether you’re a writer or a gamer, a graphic novelist or an historical reenactor, The Writer’s Spellbook will give you step by step guidance in making the crucial decisions that will bring your fantasy world to life.

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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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Three Top Tips to Put New Power in Your Writing


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2017

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When we’re in the process of writing, we sometimes reach a point where despite having a complete list of story elements on board, we feel like something is still missing. What we’ve written so far is good, but we want more. More depth. More intensity. More power.

Here are three simple, effective techniques to bring more power to your ideas and the ways you write about them.

 

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CHARACTER ORCHESTRATION

There are two parts to  proper character orchestration.

First, you make the protagonist and antagonist very different from each other. Create strong contrast with opposing traits, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or all of the above!

Author James N. Frey provides an excellent explanation of this technique in How To Write A Damn Good Thriller.

Second, the events of your story leave these two characters tied together in what’s known as the “unity of opposites.” In his blog The Story Element, Paul Nelson explains:

The two opposite characters who are in conflict must be forced together, and neither of them can be allowed to leave the battle. For example, if Gandalf gives up and the ring isn’t destroyed, then Sauron wins and turns Middle Earth into hell. If Sauron gives up and lets the ring be destroyed, then he is also destroyed. Both Gandalf and Sauron are in danger of being destroyed, so they must destroy the other. They cannot both exist at the same time.

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JUXTAPOSITION

From Writing Explained:

What does juxtaposition mean? Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes. Juxtaposition is a type of comparison. Typically, the two elements being juxtaposed have differences and the juxtaposition is meant to highlight contrasting effects.

In the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie, the juxtaposition of Diana and Steve Trevor serves to highlight the many layers of meaning in the story. Diana is a strong, independent warrior at a time when Steve Trevor sees a woman as being weak, needing his protection and guidance. Diana sees victims of the war who need help right now, while Steve knows they have to complete the mission to save the greatest number of people. Steve expects Diana to learn how to follow the rules of his world. Diana is committed to her sacred duty and says so in one of the movie’s best lines: “What I do is not up to you.”

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ASYMMETRY

Let’s start with symmetry. From Dictionary.com:

noun, plural symmetries.
1. the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point; regularity of form or arrangement in terms of like, reciprocal, or corresponding parts.
2. the proper or due proportion of the parts of a body or whole to one another with regard to size and form; excellence of proportion.
3. beauty based on or characterized by such excellence of proportion.

Sounds good, right? Symmetry has its value, but in writing a good story, asymmetry can be even more useful. Find out why here:

How to Blow Your Own Mind in Just Five Minutes

These three techniques can help you make the most out of any story idea. Write with power!

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Universal Studios: Eating and Drinking


by Lillian Csernica on July 3, 2017

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Lard Lad Donuts. A cardiologist’s nightmare.

When we’re at an amusement park, Chris and I have to make John eat. He gets so excited he just wants to move on to the next ride or show.

The heat was in the 90s, so I made sure we had water bottles that we refilled frequently. Anywhere we saw a restroom sign, there would be a water fountain close by. This was very helpful knowledge when bottled water was selling for $3.49 each.

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I’ve already mentioned the supreme delights of Butterbeer. Available at Honeyduke’s is the magical ice cream that never melts. I’m not sure that we really tested the truth of that “magic.” John ate it rather quickly. Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor also offers many chilly treats.

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The Giant Donut — This is, if anything, an understatement. We’re talking about something roughly the size of the front wheel on a child’s tricycle. The GD is most commonly available with either bright pink frosting dotted with multi-colored sprinkles, or chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles. I’ll give you one guess which one John chose.

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Minion Cupcakes — Red velvet cake with a good inch and a half of blue frosting swirled on top. From there you could choose the Twinkie Minion version, or the round, flat, yellow disc decorated with white eyes and black details. I’m not a fan of Twinkies. Neither is John, thank God. By the time he was halfway through his cupcake, his lips had turned cyanotic blue. When he was finished, he stuck his tongue out at me. One of my nicknames for John is “Puppy Boy.” With that blue tongue he could be a Chow!

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Here we have the Chicken Thumbs meal available at Cletus’ Chicken Shack. The coleslaw is all right. I like a lot of pepper on mine, but that’s just me. French fries aren’t on my diet, and John had already eaten all of his, so I offered the fries to the four Australian gentlemen sitting nearby nursing their pints. They were happy to accept. Throughout the park the French fries are dusted with a seasoning mixture that will make you even more in need of a cold drink. They are tasty!

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The second night we were in the park we had dinner at Luigi’s Pizza.  For a cafeteria-style restaurant the food was quite good. Pasta or pizza or even pizza-by-the-slice, plus a small Caesar salad.  The desserts were what you’d expect in an Italian restaurant, featuring huge slices of a six layer chocolate cake edged with mini chocolate chips and topped with serious whipped cream. You do get your money’s worth at Universal Studios.

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