Category Archives: Writing

New Release from B-Cubed Press


by Lillian Csernica on August 10, 2018

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Announcing the Release of:

 Alternative Theologies:  Parables for a Modern World

Available for Preorder on Kindle

 https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives-ebook/dp/B07G9Z3KWZ/ref=zg_bs_158593011_4?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=YPWBEDM9J04WE5EJC9YX

 Available Now Paperback

https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives/dp/0998963429/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533934794&sr=1-1&keywords=alternative+theology

 

Table of Contents

 Editors Introduction by Phyllis Irene Radford and Bob Brown

Forward by Jim Wright

Counting Sunrises by Heather Truett

The Pale Thin God © 1994 by Mike Resnick, first published in Xanadu, Tor Books, edited by Jane Yolen

Devine Justice by Philip Brian Hall

Tit for Tat by James Dorr, first published in Ghosts: Revenge, James Ward Kirk Publishing

First by Kara Race Moore

Dear Mary, are you There? It’s Me, Heartbreak by Meg Bee

Ways of Knowing by Louise Milton

Izzy Tells No Lies by P. James Norris

The Audit by Colin Patrick Ennen

A Conservative Prayer by Gwyndyn T. Alexander

A Liberal Prayer by Gwyndyn T. Alexander

Forgiveness © 2016 by Phyllis Irene Radford, first published Kindle Unlimited

An Atheist at the Movies by Adam-Troy Castro

Everlasting Due by Marilyn Holt

Extinction Level Non-Conjunction Event by Anton Cancre

Ruby Ann’s Advice Column by C. A. Chesse

Nature Does Not Always Know by Jane Yolen

The Lost Gospel Writers by Charles Walbridge

Don’t Get the Bible Wet by Debora Godfrey

Prayer by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

So You Want to Make Gods. Now Why Should That Bother Anyone? by David Brin

The Faithless Angel by E.E. King

St Patrick 1, Snakes Nil by Jane Yolen

Temple Tantrum by J. W. Cook

Were You Good Stewards by Joyce Frohn

Righteous Spirits by Lillian Csernica

Last Words by Paula Hammond

The Good Mexican by Melvin Charles

Christian Nation by David Gerrold

A Parable About the 8th Day by Jane Yolen

The Forsaken Wall by Tom Barlow

An American Christian at the Pearly Gates by Larry Hodges

Lilith’s Daughters by Liam Hogan

Believing by Jane Yolen

Angelica by Jill Zeller

Whose Good News by Joana Hoyt

Alternative Beatitudes for the New Right by Janka Hobbs

The Ultimate Messiah Smackdown by Christopher Nadeau

 

About the Book

This is Book Four in the Alternatives Series of anthologies.

The Alternatives series looks at the social and political questions of the day with a mix of story, poetry, essay and, above all, a healthy bite of humor.

Alternative Theologies takes its turn with a gentle look at religion.

A sensitive topic.

Henry Frederic Amiel said: “Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”

And while this book explores theology and beliefs, it is written to be kind, thoughtful, and at times funny.

It will make you laugh, and it will make you think, but it will also give you an understanding of how diverse people see belief.

Our world class authors are both kind and thoughtful as they remind us, that no matter your creed, we make this journey together.

It starts with a foreword by Jim Wright, an American Icon, and it just gets better.

There are poems by some wonderful modern thinkers including Gwyndyn T. Alexander and Jane Yolen, that explore the core of our world.

Essays by David Brin and David Gerrold explore the nature of why we believe what we do.

And then there are the stories: Funny stories, like First, that explains how Hell got started. Serious stories of redemption, as seen in, Izzy Tells no Lies. stories that explore familiar themes, and stories that ask if we would even recognize a returning messiah after 2000 years of interpretation?

All written with the care, craft, skill and beauty that you have come to expect from B Cubed authors.

Book Information

Kindle

https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives-ebook/dp/B07G9Z3KWZ/ref=zg_bs_158593011_4?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=YPWBEDM9J04WE5EJC9YX

Paperback

https://www.amazon.com/Alternative-Theologies-Parables-Modern-Alternatives/dp/0998963429/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533934794&sr=1-1&keywords=alternative+theology

Released by B Cubed Press, BCUBEDPRESS.COM

Contact: Bob Brown, Kionadad@aol.com

Cover Design Sara Codair

Edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Bob Brown

ISBN-13: 978-0-9989634-5-7

Electronic ISBN: 978-0-9989634-6-4

 

 

 

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How Writers Dress for Success


by Lillian Csernica on August 6, 2018

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On days when I’m not going to be leaving the house, I observe the time-honored tradition of working in my Bathrobe. By the end of the day I’ve usually accumulated an interesting variety of odds and ends in the pockets.

In my right pocket, where things most often end up, I have my comb, two small butterfly paper clips, an unopened alcohol wipe, and a green plastic fly.

In my left pocket, where I carry more important items, my SFWA secret decoder ring awaits being used on relevant emails.

My nightstand is littered with the bits and pieces I pull out of my pockets before I go to bed at night. I’ve learned to make a ritual of this. There’s nothing like a few harsh metallic noises coming from the washer or dryer to cause the Spousal Unit unwelcome distress.

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There are different schools of thought on how writers should suit up for their daily work count. Some dress as if they were going to the office, because that is what they are doing. Some dress in a manner that helps them connect with the material they’re working on. I find that idea entertaining. If I were to dress in a manner suitable for the heroine of my current novel, I’d be wearing a yukata and zori. For the short story in progress, Victorian attire of the 1880s. Of the two I’d choose the yukata for summer comfort and ease of movement. I’ve worn corsets, but I confess I’m not a big fan of steel boning.

Pro tip: Nothing says we have to look like the back of the book photo all the time.

Back to the Bathrobe. Built for comfort, if not for style. When I’m writing, I want no distractions. If my shoes annoy me, I take them off. If the clip in my hair isn’t comfortable, out it goes. I’ve never carried this idea to its ultimate extreme, largely because I do most of my writing either at my favorite coffeehouse out in public, or here at home on the living room couch. Neither is an appropriate context for creating while I’m in my birthday suit.

I find that I do my best work when I’m comfortable. This means more than just wearing slippers and sitting in a comfy chair, although those can be important elements. I can’t write when I’m hungry. I really can’t concentrate when my blood sugar is low. I need a certain amount of background noise to help me focus. I don’t mind being a little cold, but I can’t stand being too hot. Total silence makes me jumpy, because the selective hearing I’ve developed over 22 years of having a medically fragile son keeps me alert for the sounds I should be hearing.

All this explains why I hang out at my local Peet’s Coffee so much. It provides everything I need to do good work.

There’s one really great aspect of the Bathrobe. Remember when we were little kids and pinned towels around our necks for capes? Or we used those old sheets to make a pillow fort? We could be anybody in those capes. The pillow fort could be a crater on Mars or the penthouse in Tahiti. That’s what the Bathrobe does for me. Because there’s no pressure, there’s no appearance to maintain, I can relax and be whoever I need to be for that day’s writing. Let the record show I own three different bathrobes.

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In her article about Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman, Vanessa Friedman writes:

As Ms. Newman discovered, Virginia Woolf actually had a name for this awareness: “frock consciousness.” She used it to refer to the way she employed clothing to denote character, and changes in character, particularly as they applied to her book “Mrs. Dalloway.” But really, it’s a (not surprisingly) perfect turn of phrase that could apply to us all.

What do you wear when you write? Do you have a favorite set of writing clothes?

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How to Get Everything Done At Once


by Lillian Csernica on July 26, 2018

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People ask me how I manage to keep writing and selling fiction given everything I have going on at home with my two special needs sons. Some days I don’t get any writing done. That’s not a happy feeling. I have to make sure I get it done. That means on some days I shove everything else to the side, grab the laptop or the notebook, and just WRITE. God help anybody who interrupts me.

What is the secret of my success?

I make To Do lists. I mean one for each separate areas of my life. Here are the categories I work with every day:

Son #1 — He’s the medically fragile one who takes more or less eleven different medications each day, along with nebulizer treatments and other health-related activities.

Son #2 — School’s out for him, so he’s in need of something fun to do each day. Given that he has ASD, he’d spend every waking moment playing with something electronic. It’s important to get him out of the house. He often rides along with me when I go to appointments or run errands.

Writing — This gets done in my favorite coffeehouse, during downtime in waiting rooms, and here at home late at night. You will learn to write when you can, wherever you can. It’s the only way to get it done.

Phone calls — Doctors, medical equipment suppliers, the pharmacy, and anybody else with whom I do not communicate by email.

Appointments — We have lots of these. I have two weekly appointments. Regular check-ups for the boys come around every six to twelve months, which doesn’t seem like a lot until they show up right in the middle of a packed week. My writer’s group meets once a month. I have conventions coming up. I must also keep in mind when my husband plans trips and when other people in the household will be away. Big impact on the caregiver schedule.

Errands — The usual. Groceries, picking up meds, whatever prep I have to do for conventions in terms of PR materials, taking Son #2 on his outings, etc.

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Once the To Do lists are made, I begin to prioritize.

What absolutely has to get done today?

Let’s take tomorrow as an example. I have to be up at 6 a.m. with Son #1 for his morning routine. The RN is coming to relieve me in time for me to rush off to my first appointment of the day. When that’s done I’ll have about thirty minutes before I need to drive to the second appointment of the day. Then I have to rush back home and fill in as caregiver until the regularly scheduled person comes on duty. That will give me five hours of time with Son #1 during which he gets two separate doses of medication and one breathing treatment.

During those five hours I might be able to write, depending on how my son is doing. He’s been having more frequent seizures this week, so my attention span has to be focused mainly on him. I might be able to get some reading in, since I can glance up as him at I turn pages, which I do at a pretty quick pace.

Once the aide comes on duty, I have more freedom, but this is the nonmedical aide so I have to draw all the doses of medication Son #1 gets between 5:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. I will probably sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop and catch up on email, or I’ll do the writing that still needs to be done. Lately I’m writing by hand in spiral notebooks because I seem to write more quickly and in a better creative trance.

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And, last but not least, I have to spend some quality time with my cats. Around 10 p.m. two of them get the rips and demand a game of chase-the-ribbon or catch-the-mousie. Then one of them claims my lap while the other sits on the back of the couch right behind my head.

Figure out your categories. Pick the one most important item in each. Those items go on a new list. Can you make them work out together on the same day? If not, keep going up and down the lists until you can get at least one thing on each list done in the course of one day.

It’s all progress. It all counts. The tasks do not have to be the same size or of the same importance. What matters is getting them done. If this method gets to be too much, scale back your efforts. Consider only the three most important categories. Delegate more tasks. Say no more often. Protect your time.

Most of all, make sure you WRITE. Ten minutes, thirty minutes, two hours, whatever you can manage. Just do it, and do it every single day.

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5 Reasons Why Readers Give Up


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2018

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First, my apologies for the drop in the frequency of my posts. I’ve been having technical difficulties with both my laptop and daily life.

Keeping readers entertained and loyal is essential in today’s marketplace. I get a lot of free Kindle e-books thanks to BookBub. Given how much I read, I can plow through two or three novels a week depending on my schedule. Doing so has sharpened my sense of what will make me stop reading a book. Life is too short to read bad fiction. I have such a library built up on my Kindle there’s no reason to go on reading a book that can’t hold my interest.

These are the Five Storytelling Flaws that will make me give up on a story:

0f7398a5-6eed-4f57-b412-757fa49d8849Talking Heads — The dialogue might be witty. It might be well-crafted. If it doesn’t move the story forward, what’s the point? Dialogue can be a form of action, yes. If all you’ve got is characters having lengthy conversations, that’s going to try your reader’s patience and make them lose interest.

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Redshirts — These are the minor characters who take a bullet for the hero or heroine. I once read a fantasy novel where the redshirt problem was so blatant it became more and more aggravating with every predictable death. The novel was clearly meant to be the first in a series. It did not surprise me to learn the sequel never saw the light of day.

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Low Stakes — The majority of mystery novels are about murder because the stakes don’t get any higher than life or death. The higher the stakes, the more the main character has to risk in order to solve the problem. More risk means tougher choices and that creates more reader sympathy. Make sure the stakes in your story are high enough to keep the reader turning pages.

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Too Much Thinking — This is the internal narrative equivalent of Talking Heads. Yes, the reader needs to know how the main character feels and what thought process leads to the next attempt to solve the story problem. Too much thinking means too little action. The pace of the story suffers and the reader will lose interest.

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Purple Prose — If the reader can tell the writer is trying to impress, then the writer is trying too hard. This results in convoluted syntax that breaks the suspension of disbelief and makes the reader aware of the act of reading. I must confess that I do walk a fine line when I’m writing romance. Purple prose is very nearly one of the protocols of the genre. Keep it simple. Clarity and precision are your friends.

For more tips on avoiding these mistakes, I recommend reading:

How to Write A Damn Good Novel series by James N. Frey

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress

Revision by Kit Reed

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

 

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How History Books Will Make You a Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on June 27, 2018

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Why do I write about history?

History gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion.

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A good example is Scotland, which has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, notably the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those annoying facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

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I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I would find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. Today we see all that grandeur reduced to the common everyday business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are businesses available which produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese.

It was Eleanor who paid her son's ransom when he was captured

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chivalry was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved on more than one occasion. In our present time the High Court of Chivalry deals with matters of heraldry.

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Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. It’s possible that I’ve become a tad cynical regarding romance. When you’ve been married for thirty years, the starry-eyed honeymoon phase is a rather distant memory. That’s probably why I enjoy recreating it in my stories.

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Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, which also occur in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. 

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One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because the novel was set in Navarre. It took quite some doing, but I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. Compare that with the necessity in Egypt of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes. If not for that, many of the commoners and slaves in Egypt would have starved to death.

In Medieval Europe, bread, watered wine, ale, meats such as venison, game birds, and roast pork, and large wheels of cheese made up the main meal. You can find a number of cookbooks online that provide recipes from the Middle Ages. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the pleasure of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

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Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about the delights of dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the jeweled inlays of the Egyptian pectoral collars to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. Given that their total weight was more than 35 carats, it’s a wonder she didn’t end up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s!

History is full of fascinating details. There are so many ideas out there just waiting to inspire you. Read those history books, those biographies, those memoirs! You never know when you’re going to find the one detail that opens up a world of inspiration.

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5 Ways I Make Depression Help Me


by Lillian Csernica on June 12, 2018

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I am currently suffering a depressive episode. All the problems in my life are magnified. I can’t sleep. When I do, I have nightmares. I have no energy, but life goes on as usual with all the typical daily chaos. Same stress, different day. I just can’t deal with it.

On the subject of tackling some dull, boring, and otherwise loathsome task, some years ago a therapist suggested that I attempt to do said task on a day when I was already swamped with all the bad juju of depression. As she put it, “Why ruin a good day?” That’s a very good point.

With that in mind, I decided that when depression shows up to ruin my day, I’m going to punish depression by using that day to catch up on every task I really hate to do.

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Housework

Changing the bedding — Doing this makes my lower back ache, my sprained knee hurt, and can often result in pulled muscles and the occasional pinched nerve.

Doing the laundry — A necessary evil, one that requires me to haul baskets of dirty and then clean laundry up and down my stairway. Then comes the tedious chore of folding it all and putting it all away.

Scrubbing floors — Bad for my knees, bad for my back, and really bad for my temper.

Clutter busting — I’m not good at throwing things away. Trash, sure. Actual garbage, no problem. When it comes to anything with a sentimental attachment, that gets harder. I’m told that a key piece of the problem with hoarding is that it’s grounded in loss. I’ve had some drastic losses in my life. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m not good at purging my possessions.

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Writing

Just slam it out. Set the timer, keep the pen moving. This is my No Mercy approach to bypassing the Internal Editor. There are days when depression adds a whole other layer of torment to the usual insecurities of writing. Imagine Imposter Syndrome on steroids.

Get messy. Get wild. Tear it all up and start over. This is more fun. The Frat Party/Rock Star/Road Trip method. Trash that metaphorical hotel room. Write all the forbidden thoughts. Screw structure and pace. Let’s write so hard we blow out some windows!

Go Hide Somewhere So I Don’t Happen to Somebody

Coffeehouse — My local Peet’s has become my current Happy Place. I’m in there two or three times a week. The baristas know me. The regulars know me. I’ve met some fascinating people there. I’m out in public, so the pressures and triggers here at home can’t get to me.

Library — Guaranteed peace and quiet, as long as I’m there before school lets out. I love the smell of books. I love the comfort of knowing all those books were written by people who have dealt with the same struggles I’m experiencing.

My room — Aside from the clutter problem (see above), my room is the place where I can go, shut the door, lock the door, and hide. I have a hook on the outside of my door on which I hang signs alerting the rest of the household to my state of mind. Sleeping. Working. Not Now.

OK. Maybe it’s not hiding so much as taking refuge when I just can’t fake being cheerful anymore.

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If the depression is still gaining the upper hand and I’m good for absolutely nothing productive, then I give it up and resort to palliative care:

Watch Action Movies With Lots of Explosions

Deadpool 1 and 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2

True Lies

The Replacement Killers

XXX (The Vin Diesel movie)

 

If you also experience depression, be it that passing sorrow people call “the blues” or full blown Major Depressive Disorder, then I offer you a high five in solidarity. The Big Black Dog is a voracious monster and wants to eat us alive. We can’t let that happen. Talk to somebody. If you write in a notebook, that somebody can be totally imaginary. Use your words. The more you can get out of your own head, escape those quicksand thoughts, the more you can put the Big Black Dog on a leash.

You are not alone. I’m here. I hear you. I see you. We have to stick together on this.

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Three Reasons Why June is A Great Month for Writing


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2018

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All good stories begin with a change in the status quo, the problem situation, that plunges the main character into turmoil. Change is the writer’s best friend, and June is a month full of changes. In many cultures, the biggest changes in a person’s life are marked by rites of passage. June is a great month for two very important rites:

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Graduation

The transition from one level of education to another is always significant. Kindergarten to elementary school, from there to middle school, and then the big move to high school as the launch pad for college. Mainstream students deserve to celebrate their achievements, those who struggle and those who shine. Today’s world places so many demands on children while at the same time burdening them with so many distractions. It’s a wonder so many students can focus long enough to do so well.

Yesterday my family attended the graduation ceremony for my older son Michael. At 22 he has now aged out of the school district’s post-graduate program for seniors in the county special education class. This means leaving the learning environment and the network of teachers, aides, therapists, bus drivers, and the registered nurse who have all been part of Michael’s life since he was 3 years old.

With the help of his classroom aide and one of his adaptive communication devices, Michael made a speech that included a little bit about himself, two of his favorite jokes, and a warm thank you to all the people who have helped him come so far. When you live in the world of special needs families, you celebrate every sign of progress no matter how small. Michael and the 6 other students also graduating today demonstrated the passion, dedication, patience, and love present in the parents, teachers, and administrators gathered there. So many stories worthy of being told.

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Weddings

June is a favorite month for weddings. Clear skies, lots of sunshine, and plenty of flowers make for ideal conditions, indoor or outdoor. Summer weather also means a wider selection of honeymoon destinations. The happy couple is about to embark on a whole new phase of their lives together.  There are all those people, the family and friends, who wish the pair getting married all the best. Then there are those people who…don’t.

I’m of an age now where I’ve been to several weddings. As a writer I know that any large event that brings together intense emotion, lots of money, family dynamics, and alcohol is going to bring out the best and the worst in people. Given that most weddings also drag God and the Law into the situation, there’s so much pressure to meet so many expectations. Put all this together and what do you get? Conflict! The key element of any strong story.

Here’s a quick list of my favorite wedding movies:

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Muriel’s Wedding

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Shrek

Pride and Prejudice (Yes, the one with Colin Firth.)

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The Summer Solstice

Summer is the season of freedom. Long days, short nights, no school, family vacations. We can all call to mind a family vacation where at least one thing didn’t go as planned, leading to the kind of drama that makes a story worth telling.

The Solstice itself is celebrated all over the world. No matter how far we get in terms of advanced technology, everybody wants to make sure the sun keeps rising and setting. The summer solstice marks the waning of the sun. No wonder summer is full of so much partying! Midsummer Eve is known for being one of those occasions when the veil between the worlds grows thin, much like Halloween. Gateways, boundaries, borders, and other points of transition are all natural settings for big changes and great stories.

For more on the folklore attached to the summer solstice, click here.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #31


by Lillian Csernica on May 31, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

You must learn to broaden your horizons day by day.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART III

Kathleen regained consciousness. She kept her eyes shut and her breathing regular. Thousands of voices made a steady clamor somewhere just on the other side of a door or wall. She lay on a couch that held the lingering odors of sweaty bodies, stale pizza, and something sugary. Concrete. Paper. Old draperies.

“I know you’re awake.” A woman’s voice, both dainty and authoritative. “Sit up. There’s much to discuss.”

Kathleen opened her eyes to see an excellent copy of Jane Fonda’s Barbarella. Posters on the walls ran heavily to superhero themes, classic Kirby art along with movie posters from the Marvel universe. She sat up slowly. All those voices…. She groaned.

“A comic con? Really?”

“This is where we blend in best.” The woman frowned. “Well, here and Burning Man.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“We don’t have time for the basics. What name did the man give you?”

“Leaf. Leaves that Fall At Twilight.”

“In what language?”

“Japanese.”

“Of course. I’ll give you another name for him: otaku. Are you familiar with that word?”

Kathleen nodded. It meant the crazier kind of fan boy, the one with obsessions and a poor sense of personal hygiene. “I take it that’s not his real name?”

“No. Human vocal chords can’t duplicate our language. The result would approximate a whale singing light opera on meth.”

The very idea made Kathleen’s brain hurt.

“On behalf of the members of my crew,” Barbarella said, “I apologize for Leaf’s disruption of your life. He means well, but he takes his hobbies too seriously.”

“‘Hobbies’? What part of his ‘hobbies’ am I?”

“He’s on our cultural analysis staff. He loves Earth storytelling, the classics and the trash and everything in between.”

“So he really did want to carry me off to some enchanted kingdom.”

“I think the word he used was ‘Wakanda.'”

Despite her consternation, Kathleen burst out laughing. “If there’s one place I’d want to go, that would be it.” She sighed. “Where is Leaf now?”

“In detention aboard our ship. He faces disciplinary action for using a breath weapon.”

“He didn’t hurt me.”

“Do you know what day it is?”

“If it isn’t Saturday, then no, I don’t.”

“It’s Sunday afternoon.”

“I’ve been out that long? Why?”

The faux Barbarella stared at Kathleen. She threw both hands upward and took a seat on the couch, facing Kathleen.

“You might as well hear all of it. Leaf carried you through the transport rift. He’d used a personal code to deliver him directly to his quarters. He might have kept you hidden long enough to make returning you to Earth too costly.”

“But?”

“When he applied the breath weapon, he lingered too long, allowing some of it to escape into the atmosphere. Our sensors alerted us immediately.”

“All this trouble because he wouldn’t stop kissing me in time?”

Barbarella nodded.

Kathleen felt a slight pang on Leaf’s behalf. It had been an amazing kiss. “What’s going to happen to him?”

“That will depend on how much damage control I can do before we return to our galaxy. The use of the breath weapon for the purposes of abduction violates at least three treaties.”

Kathleen could see where this was going. “Can you lock him into one biological shape?”

Barbarella looked at her in surprise. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Do it. Lock him into the Winter Soldier shape he was in when he appeared to me. Then leave him here on Earth.”

“What justice would that serve?”

“Exile. For a crime of the magnitude you’re describing, somebody will demand exile, permanent detention, or death.”

“What’s in this for you?”

Kathleen waved at one poster of Captain America: Winter Soldier. “Do you really have to ask? Leave him with me. He’ll be happy, you’ll be rid of a loose cannon, and I can keep an eye on him.”

“This would take time. The bio-ban alone–”

“Ever heard of marooning? That’s what you’ll do. He broke the rules. You abandoned him thousands of light years from home on a planet without the technological level that would enable him to escape. Your hands are clean.”

Barbarella gave her a grudging smile. “I’m almost sorry you won’t be coming back with us.”

“You’ll do it?”

“Understand, if he manages to cross the line again, both of you will pay for it.”

“I’ll take that risk.”

#

The following Thursday Kathleen came home from work to find Leaf sitting on her couch, remote in hand, surrounded by DVD cases and videogames and piles of books. On the coffee table sat a big salad bowl full of popcorn. Three empty pizza boxes stood in a neat pile by the front door. By the sound of the ’70s music, Leaf was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.

“Hi, honey,” she called. “I’m home.”

Leaf hit Pause, sprang off the couch, and swept her up into a pepperoni-flavored kiss.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #29


by Lillian Csernica on May 29, 2018

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Today’s fortune cookie says:

The love of your life is stepping onto your planet this summer.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART I

Kathleen sat cross-legged on the shabby old blanket in the middle of an empty meadow near a farm that boarded horses. It was a twenty minute drive from her apartment, just far enough to feel like she’d gotten away. Overhead the June sky was midnight blue, speckled with thousands of stars. If she squinted, Kathleen could just make out hints of red or blue, stars that were really suns with cool names like Red Giant or Blue Dwarf.

She sighed and took another sip from her bottle of Blue Moon. She’d drunk half the six-pack. The remains of a sausage calzone sat on a paper plate beside the cooler. This late a slight chill gave the night air an an edge. Her jeans and Blue Moon Brewing Company sweatshirt kept her comfortable. Her long black hair often hung in a simple English braid down her back, but tonight she let it fall loose. Sometimes the braid gave her a headache. Sometimes it was just life.

The emptiness inside continued to nag at her. Thirty loomed, the days passing like seconds on some giant Doomsday Clock. Thirty years old. No husband, no steady boyfriend, no roommates, not that many friends. Dad had walked out when she was three. Mom died of cancer five years ago next month. Her strongest relationships were online. It was like that old saying about grandchildren. You could play with them all day, then give them back when you were done.

Her coworkers at Greenhaven Labs were nice enough people. They invited her to the parties that marked the various rites of passage for people who had found love and paired up, or in the case of Tim, Wei Ming, and Sanjay, created the menage that suited their needs. Sometimes Kathleen worried about being out of touch with her own needs. She didn’t seem to mind being alone, regardless of the onslaught of advertising that tried to inspire the insecurities that in turn created needs met by the products being sold.

The truth was, she just hadn’t met anybody who made her feel that way, whatever that way actually felt like. Sure, there were actors who caught her eye, like the guy who played Captain America. Too bad his character had commitment issues due to the whole unnatural lifespan thing. The Winter SoldierShe usually was pretty hot too, but even reformed psychopaths seemed a little too out there. Kathleen grinned. She’d had these conversations online. Everybody said she was too careful, too cautious, too practical.

Twenty feet in front of her, the air rippled like a heat shimmer then split open down the middle. Out stepped a figure that wavered for a moment, then resolved into tall, long-legged, broad-shouldered. A gloved hand reached up to pull off the helmet. Waves of dark brown hair spilled down across those broad shoulders. The face that regarded Kathleen was such a happy combination of Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan she was immediately suspicious.

“Good evening, Kathleen O’Bannon.” Rich baritone music, like hot fudge poured over brown velvet.

“Good evening. Who are you?”

“To translate my name into modern American English, it loses some of its meaning.”

“What Earth language works best, then?”

“Japanese.”

Another coincidence.

“You lucky devil. I’m one of the few gaijin you might run into at this time of night who can speak Japanese.” Kathleen stood up, wobbling only a little. “Hajimemashite. Anata no onamae wa?”

Watashi no namae wa Yugure-ji no Ochiba.”

Kathleen’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Leaves that fall…at sunset?”

“Dusk. Or twilight.”

“Good name. What do people call you? Leaf? Fall?”

“Leaf would be acceptable, if that is what you would prefer.”

“Leaf it is.” Kathleen nodded. “I’m guessing you’ve come a long way?”

“Indeed. I have traveled thousands of light years, past the brilliant embers of dying suns, to find you.”

Kathleen blinked. Which old movies had this guy been watching? “Let me guess. Mars needs women.”

“Mars?” Those dark brown waves rippled as he shook his head. “Mars needs water. Those canals dried up a long time ago.”

“So where are you from?”

“A planet as yet unidentified by your scientists. I assure you, the climate is enjoyable and the atmosphere compatible with your biological requirements.”

“That’s wonderful news. Why would I want to run off with a total stranger who is also an alien capable of reading my mind and shapeshifting into a form he knows would be highly attractive to me?”

“Doesn’t that question answer itself? I can anticipate your wants and needs far better and more quickly than any male of this planet.”

Kathleen snorted. “Some days I think that wouldn’t be too difficult.”

Leaf took two more steps closer and pulled off his other glove, stuffing both into his belt. “Kathleen, there is a yearning inside you. None of the ways your companions have met their needs appeals to you. You think you are lonely, needy, ambivalent, insecure. You think the problem lies within you.”

“And? Am I right or wrong?”

“You have made a wrong equation based on initial assumptions that don’t apply. There is nothing wrong with you. If anything, you are overqualified for life on this planet.”

Kathleen blinked. “Overqualified?”

“The problem is simple. You are bored, Kathleen. You have yet to find a challenge worthy of your intellectual gifts. The same is true of a life partner who could hold your interest for more than a week or two.”

Kathleen swayed, then dropped back down onto the blanket. Boredom. Not ADHD. Not ASD. No learning disability. Those were all worthy explanations for her inability to get excited about what life in 21st Century North America had to offer. She leaned back to look up at the stars.

“That’s right,” Leaf said. “Above us, just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, awaits what writers of escapist fiction might call my chariot or my white charger.” He walked to the edge of the blanket, then sank down on his knees. “I’m here to carry you off to the life you’ve always dreamed of.”

Caution sent up a flare inside Kathleen’s brain. “Why me? What do you get out of this?”

Leaf smiled. Up close that was enough to carbonate Kathleen’s dormant hormones.

“I’m looking for a simple country girl with wholesome, old-fashioned values. A fair maiden untainted by the wiles of a corrupt world.”

“You must get cable on your planet. I  can guess which shows you’ve been watching.”

“I accessed your queues. I wanted to be able to talk to you about your interests.”

This was way too good to be true. “Really? You’ve watched every single episode of Once Upon A Time? Who is my favorite character?”

“Not, as so many would think, Captain Hook. Your favorite is the Mad Hatter.”

“And Supernatural? Do I like Dean or Sam better?”

“Neither. You like Castiel.”

“That was too easy. What do I watch when I’m so stressed out I want to punch a wall?”

“Haunted asylum movies.”

“Why?”

“Because they follow a pattern. The same pattern. That lets you yell at them and throw popcorn or M&Ms at your plasma screen. Which is a dangerous idea, by the way. The salt on the popcorn or the fats in the chocolate could cause considerable damage.”

“Most people would just say I might break the screen.”

“That wouldn’t start a fire.”

Kathleen shook her head. “Do you always look like this? Or are you really some kind of space squid, like the aliens in Galaxy Quest?”

Leaf laughed out loud. “I can be whatever I want to be. Or, more to the point, whatever you want me to be.”

“My lifespan is maybe one hundred years. Is that a problem?”

“Not with our medical technology. You can live far longer than that if you choose to.”

“Do I have to decide right now?”

“I realize you feel some obligation to your family and your employers. Can those be resolved by email?”

Kathleen mulled it over. No houseplants. No pet. No subscriptions to cancel. That was really depressing, but it was also a plus.

“And if it doesn’t work out? What happens then?”

“I realize you are of a scientific turn of mind, but I feel I must ask you to have a little faith.”

“No probes? No weird crop circles?”

“No bizarre alien breeding program. No Man With A Cigarette.”

An X Files reference! Gorgeous, a sense of humor, and similar interests. Kathleen would be a fool to miss the opportunity. She got to her feet.

“All right. Let’s go be a leaf on the wind.”

Leaf grinned. “Ooh, shiny!

END

PART I

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #30


by Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Keep your feet on the ground

though friends flatter you.

A LEAF ON THE WIND

PART II

The night breeze grew stronger, blowing Kathleen’s hair back and clearing her head. She found herself halfway to that weird heat shimmer. She slowed. Leaf moved on, taking three more strides with those long legs before he looked back.

“Kathleen?”

“Yeah, sorry. I just remembered my New Year’s Resolution. I don’t make life-changing decisions when I’ve been drinking.”

“You are nowhere near the legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream. The food you consumed and the amount of time that has passed are both providing assistance.”

“That’s another problem.” Kathleen backed up two steps and crossed her legs. Why had she walked so far from the car? Stupid stupid stupid. “I need a bathroom.”

“People who camp in this area observe the custom of digging a hole in the ground.”

“Well! Too bad I left my shovel at home.” Like she had any intention of squatting with a total stranger nearby. “Wait a minute. How do you know that?”

“Simple observation.”

“How long have you been watching this area?”

For the first time that Hollywood-handsome face looked shy, uncertain. “It was a routine sweep. Then, one night, I saw you. Sitting on your blanket, drinking something hot, eating chocolate cookies and looking at the stars.”

“When was this?”

“Two months ago. It’s so dull, watching the readouts. The lower life forms go about their eating and mating and territorial battles. And the occasional humans wander through.”

“Like me. All by myself, watching for shooting stars.”

“I–” Leaf held out his hand. “I shared that lonely vigil, that quiet time where the only thoughts you want to hear are your own.”

Kathleen heard real truth, real pain, in that lovely voice. She pulled herself together.

“It’s late. I’m exhausted. I need a bathroom, and I’m not leaving this planet without packing at least one bag.”

“May I walk you to your vehicle? A woman alone at this hour is easy prey.”

That turn of phrase very nearly made the bladder emergency a harsh truth. Kathleen took three quick steps backward and bent to snatch up one of the empty beer bottles. She also grabbed her purse, hiking it up onto her shoulder.

“That’s very thoughtful.” She closed that hand around her phone, ready to hit the emergency call option. “Why don’t you hang back a bit and keep me in sight? That way you can yell a warning if you see anybody lurking.”

It was time to get out of here. Time to go home, lock all the doors and windows, and shut down all her wifi devices. Time to have a real life lock down until she was sure these beer-fueled fantasies had passed out of her body. Maybe she’d wake up with nothing more than a headache and a funny story to tell.

“It would be best if you allow me to take you home. We can retrieve your car later.”

With that, Leaf stepped up to Kathleen, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her. The sudden rush of sensations left her off balance for a second. Leaf breathed in, sucking the air out of Kathleen’s lungs, then breathed out, blowing his breath into her. A warm fog of drowsiness enveloped her. She sank into the peaceful tide of unconsciousness.

END

PART II

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