Tag Archives: Arts

Thunderbolts and Lightning Bugs


By Lillian Csernica on May 4, 2013

Day Four: Favorite quote (from a person, from a book, etc) and why you love it

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Nowhere else have I read such a perfect illustration of the importance of finding just the right word.  When I was in school I didn’t appreciate Mark Twain’s writing.  As I got older and discovered the fine arts of sarcasm and satire, then Twain’s writing and his observations about the human condition held more meaning for me.  Twain himself is one of my role models.  As a teenager he became a licensed riverboat pilot.  He was a confederate soldier in the Civil War.  He mined for gold and silver, then went on to become a journalist in San Francisco.  He was one of the first people to use this newfangled invention called a typewriter.  This was a man who knew very well the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

I want to write stories and novels that say something meaningful about people and the historical periods in which they lived.  I hope I can always find the right words.

Rest in peace, Mr. Twain.  Thank you for showing me the way.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Humor, Writing

Z is for Zygoma


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2013

Most of the people you meet will have a zygoma. You have one. I have one. Supermodels are often known for their zygomatic arches. I have read one description of the zygoma as being slanted like the blades of a scissors.

Do you, at this point, have any idea what a zygoma is? If you’re not in some field related to medicine, it’s a safe bet that you don’t.

The zygoma is the cheekbone.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “What could the zygoma possibly have to do with writing technique?” I’m glad you asked that. The answer is simple.

  1. Do not use technical jargon unless you can create a context that communicates the meaning to the reader.
  2. You can explain the term in dialogue, but please don’t make it one character lecturing another. Dramatize!

It’s important to write vivid and realistic detail. If your characters have advanced degrees or they’re specialists in their fields, they will probably be using some technical jargon in their interior narrative, their dialogue, or any writing they do in the course of the story (journal, letters, memos, etc.). Context is everything.

Let’s make up a word: rumtinkflan.

Noun: My mechanic told me that it takes three weeks to get a rumtinkflan. There’s only one factory in Austria that still makes them.

Verb: If you try to rumtinkflan me again, I will take that serving fork and show you the color of your liver!

Adjective: The roses really are quite rumtinkflan this year, don’t you think?

Adverb: “Please, Jonathan, you can’t leave now!” she cried rumtinkflanly.

Yes, this is very silly. Does it make the point? I hope so. Put the technical jargon, foreign word, medical term, or invented jibberish into a context that gives the reader some clues about form and function.

This brings me to the end of the A to Z Challenge! Thank you all for joining me on this, my first blogging challenge! Please stay tuned for the Challenge Reflections post, where I shall give my post-game thoughts and analysis.

12 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Writing

Y is for Your Truth


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2013

Speak your truth. Tell us what you see, where you see it, how it feels, the sound of it, the taste in your mouth as you contemplate it. Your truth. Your take on that strange shifting prismatic place we call Reality.

Another way to say this is “Call ’em as you see ’em.” I warn you, this is dangerous. Are you willing to be that little kid who was silly enough to see what was right in front of him and said so, announcing, “The emperor has no clothes!” People don’t like it when you won’t abide by the established, agreed-upon, and above all NICE version of reality.

Your truth. Your voice. Your vision. Your style. Do you want to sound like all the other writers chasing the latest trend in publishing? Or do you want to speak the truth that burns inside you, that makes you restless and dissatisfied and compelled to write it down in whatever shape best suits it?

Speak your truth. Be authentic. Point out that mole on the emperor’s left butt cheek. Tell people what that birthmark looks like. Your words. Your ideas. Your style.

Your truth will set you free.

4 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Writing

X is for X Marks the Spot


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2013

You might not know it, but you’ve got a big X on your forehead. Might be black, might be red. It’s the X you see on treasure maps that marks the spot where the treasure is buried.

Flannery O’Connor said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Our memories are treasure, sometimes buried, sometimes not. As writers we have to dig into those memories, along with all the other thoughts, images, opinions, likes and dislikes and whatever else we’ve buried under that metaphorical X. We’ve all heard the rule about “Write what you know.” Let’s rewrite that: “Use what you’ve experienced!”

We’re all specialists in our own ways. Me, I know more about the history of Japan than my Japanese teacher does simply because of all the research I’ve done for my current novel. My best friend has advanced degrees in Marine Biology and Physical Anthropology. Those come in very handy when she’s writing science fiction. A formal academic degree isn’t essential. Hobbies and passions and family traditions can provide the basis for in-depth knowledge that adds those special details.

Try this. Sit down and write a list of all the subjects you know something about. Put down everything, from the complex process of bioengineering to the mucky details of unclogging the garbage disposal. It’s ALL valuable, because it’s all raw material for writing. You may well discover knowledge you didn’t know you had. I call that buried treasure!

Dig in. Dig deep. Gold and jewels await!

Buried Treasure: illustration of William "...

Buried Treasure: illustration of William “Captain” Kidd overseeing a treasure burial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Writing

V is for Vigilance


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013

Many people do not understand those of us who choose to make our living through some form of art. Such people measure our success by how much money we do or do not make. They’ve got it backward. Sure, monetary success is great, but those of us who have suffered through the creative process and really understand the toll it takes know how to see things the right way around.

We don’t get paid for our art. We pay for the privilege of creating it.

Dancers sweat. Actors may start out as part of the stage crew while they work their way up to starring roles. Sculptors and potters and people who work in “found art” do exactly that: physical labor, over and over again, until what they’re creating matches the vision in their minds.

What about writers? We pay attention. Think about that. John Philpot Curran said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I say eternal vigilance is also the price of inspiration. Writers keep their eyes and ears open and their notebooks handy. We write down whatever image, scrap of conversation, or burst of intuitive plotting that pops into mind. Then we begin the complex process of growing a complete story or novel from those little seeds.

People talk about the writer’s Muse. She demands payment in attention, observation, vigilance. The Muse doesn’t just drop an idea on our desks all gift-wrapped and pretty. She often points the way toward someone or something that could be useful to us. She’s like a consultant, and consultants don’t come cheap.

Keep alert for all the beauties and dangers and oddities and funny moments and sorrows of the world. Paying attention is the start of how we writers pay our dues.

Be vigilant!

8 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing

R is for Roughdraft


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2013

So you wanna write a novel. Fifty thousand to one hundred thousand words. Two hundred to four hundred pages. That’s a serious mental marathon. How do you train for it? How do you build up the stamina, the will power, the sheer endurance to live through every single day it’s going to take you to get to that final draft? That final, polished, perfect manuscript?

Don’t worry about it. Don’t even waste energy asking the questions.

The roughdraft is exactly that. The rough, messy, incomplete, scribbled-on first version of your story. This is where you let yourself go wild. Push it as hard and as far as you can. Throw in anything and everything that sounds good at the moment you’re writing. You’re riding that wild stallion called Creativity. Keep a light hand on the reins and just go where it takes you.

You’ve got the idea. You’ve got the plot, or at least part of it. You’ve got characters. Most of all, you’ve got the excitement. That’s where you start. Writing isn’t a linear process, not for most of the writers I know. You don’t just go from Page One straight through to The End.  Start where the passion is, where you see and feel and hear the story coming alive.

I once had a little note stuck to the side of my keyboard. On it I’d copied a quotation: “You have to write SOMETHING before you can write something GOOD.” Give yourself permission to be that kindergartener discovering fingerpaints. Feel free to color outside the lines. You’re creating something new!  That’s an organic process. Just like all the messes we made when we were little kids, we can go back and clean it up later, right?

Enjoy the ride. 

10 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Writing

Q is for Question


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2013

There are a lot of books out there on how to write fiction. Sometimes they focus on one particular type of fiction, such as the mystery genre. Other books are more general and reach for the loftier heights of literary technique. How do you write a good story? I’ve just shown you how.

You ask questions.

In science fiction, the two famous questions are “What if?” and “What then?”

In the murder mystery, you can ask the classic “Who done it?”, the more forensic “How done it?”, or the psychological/psychiatric “Why done it?”

Journalists know that every story, fiction or nonfiction, must contain the answers to five simple questions:

 Who?  What?  Where?  Why?  When?  and  How? 

 The questions are simple. What makes the difference is how clever you are at coming up with answers that will intrigue and entertain your readers.

8 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing

N is for Notebook


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2013

Writing is to a large extent an intuitive art. While we’re in the process of actual physical writing, we’re making all kinds of comparisons about word choice and sentence structure and action tags and facial expressions. All of these flash through our minds at an almost subconscious level. That’s where we get our ideas, when the great compost heap of our imagination sends up a blossom of inspiration. Quick! Write it down, every detail of it!

We’ve all had the experience of a Great Idea suddenly surfacing in our minds at one of those moments when we were in the middle of doing something like washing dishes or falling asleep. Maybe it’s not the best time to grab something to write with and something to write on. We tell ourselves we’ll remember the Great Idea until we have a minute to go get that pen and paper or run to the keyboard.

No we won’t. What we’ll have is the empty space in our memories, the shape of the idea without that exciting content. That is a serious downer.

Confucius said,  The strongest memory is weaker than the weakest ink.

The writer’s notebook has become iconic for our craft. Spiral notebook, hardback journal, leather bound work of art, legal pad, or these days our laptops, iPads, and other bits of electronic wizardry. Me, I prefer paper to silicon because it’s right there and I don’t have to push and tap and slide before I get to the screen I need. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as you make it work.

Notebooks are those very compost heaps. We write down all the bits and flashes and thoughts and turns of phrase that pop into our conscious minds. The more we say YES to this process of adding to the compost heap, letting it go through its organic process, then reading through it for material we can use, the more blossoms will spring up, allowing us to harvest a bouquet of inspirations.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

K is for Keepsake


By Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2013

 

My family teases me because they think I have too many keepsakes. I suppose I do. Beach glass and seashells and a beaded lizard keyring and a little bean bag dragon called a “shishimai.” I have a pot holder from Santa Fe given to me by my Japanese teacher and some odd little toys from a friend in Germany. I even have a jade Kwan Yin pendant from a friend in Hong Kong.

I am sentimental. I have been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things, but best of all I have met a lot of people. When I went to the 2007 World Science Fiction Convention held in Yokohama, Japan, I took a blank journal with me. I had people sign it, leaving their email addresses and greetings and little reminders of the moments we shared. It was the best way I could think of to capture more than just the faces of the people I met on the vacation of a lifetime.

While I treasure that book and the photo album that goes with it, I think the most precious of my keepsakes is a little inkwell made of blue glass in the shape of a one room schoolhouse. The chimney is where the quill dips into the ink. A nice man named John ran a comic book shop in Santa Cruz. He agreed to host my very first book signing when I was promoting The Year’s Best Horror XX. Friends and family and my husband’s co-workers came, along with UCSC students and curious locals. We had a great time. At the end of the evening, John presented me with the blue glass inkwell. I have never seen the like before or since. It remains a singular treasure.

Most writers don’t make a lot of money. Self-promotion is hard, tiring work. Every now and then somebody comes along who appreciates what you’re doing and how hard you’re trying. Sometimes that appreciation takes tangible form in what becomes a keepsake.

I want to hear from you folks. Do you have any keepsakes related to your writing? Any trinkets or treasures that inspire you?

11 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, Family, Fiction, Humor, Writing

G is for (Writer’s) Group


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2013

G is for (Writers’) Group

If you’re thinking of joining a writer‘s group, ask yourself these questions:

Is this group designed for the type of writing I want to do? Is the critique format based on a professional model (i.e. the Clarion method) or is everybody there to just cheer each other on?

Is the level of experience among the writers in the group close enough to mine for us to help each other, yet they’re far enough ahead of me so that I’ll be learning as I go?

Is this group committed to serious effort at production and improvement, or is it really just a social occasion? Worse, do any of the members try to turn every meeting into some kind of group therapy session?

Allow me to illustrate the different kinds of group dynamics you might encounter by describing three writer’s groups I’ve experienced:

Group #1: Ten members, some with novel sales, some with short story sales, some at the small press level. This was a good group for me. We were all working toward greater professional achievement, we used the Clarion method, and I learned a lot from the other writers. We had a few personality conflicts, but those didn’t become serious obstacles to the critique process.

Group #2: Just four of us, women writers who’d met through each other at SF conventions. We all have at least two types of writing in common, so we all bring something useful to each critique. We meet for the weekend when our schedules permit, talk shop, work on our stories, eat too much and stay up too late and enjoy the fact that we’ve become best friends. Thanks to each other’s help, we continue to make sales.

Group #3: Ten members, the emphasis on nonfiction and writing memoirs. What am I, the writer of fantasy and historical fiction, doing in this group? That’s a good question and a long story. I’m the youngest by at least ten years, but I have the most professional sales. While I defer to my elders, they defer to me about formal writing technique. In recent months the woman who organized this group has become very controlling and dictatorial. I really enjoy the people in this group, but my time could be better spent working at home. I now have to decide if the convenience and pleasure of meeting these people once a month is worth putting up with the control freak behavior of our Fearless Leader.

A writer’s group represents a serious investment of time and effort. Activate your social network for references, recommendations, and possible warnings. You want to find the group that will provide the best return on your investment according to your writing goals.

11 Comments

Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing