Tag Archives: Communication

Drink from a Different Well


by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2015

I’ve been working hard lately on two short stories that will appear in 30 Days Later, the follow-up anthology to 12 Hours Later.  The stories are set in the same milieu, Kyoto 1880.  My main characters, Dr. William Harrington, his wife Constance, his daughter Madelaine, and Nurse Danforth, are all upstanding subjects of Queen Victoria adjusting to life in a foreign country.  Two factors make this adjustment even more challenging.  One, Madelaine has taken an interest in clockwork and other machinery.  Two, the Harrington household keeps attracting the attention of various Japanese supernatural beings.

Does it sound like a strange mix?  It is, and that means research.  Lots and lots of research.  One minute I’m reading up on Victorian fashions, and the next I’m learning exactly why two pulleys are better than one.  I have to stop thinking of Madelaine’s bedroom as being “upstairs.”  Victorian mansions had two floors, sometimes more.  Japanese houses are typically one floor.  I have to load my brain with the correct information.  Facts + imagination are the warp and weft of historical writing.

Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of writing that requires a lot of research under the pressure of a looming deadline is mental fatigue.

I have just discovered a new way to cure mental fatigue that brings with it an additional bonus.

Before the boys came along, I cooked all the time.  I invented my own variations on the recipes in my cookbooks.  Now, Michael is on a liquid diet.  John has the ASD trait of being very finicky about what he will and won’t eat.  Chris works swing shift.  Thanks to insomnia, the boys, and my writing, I never know what my schedule will be like.  Bottom line, cooking and I have become strangers.  I love to eat, but I’m more gourmand than gourmet.

The mental fatigue hit me hard a few days ago. Out of curiosity I started watching “Food Network Star,” the reality TV show where three established Food Network experts mentor fourteen hopefuls through the competition to acquire what it takes to be the new Food Network Star.  Every week some of the hopefuls are eliminated until it comes down to the final three.

I like game shows.  I like cheering on my favorite players.  I like the way reality TV works (most of the time).  So watching this show is fun, entertaining, and relaxing.  It does not require the attention, the focus, and the retention of information that research demands of me, to say nothing of the hard work of actual writing.  Fresh input.  Stimulating another area of the brain.  Taking the pressure off.  All of that is important.

Now here’s the bonus: the process of becoming a Food Network Star is all about finding what is unique about you and what you bring to the entertainment marketplace.  The particular slant here is food and cooking, but we all know that today branding is the name of the game.

One of the biggest challenges for the competitors is learning how to describe a meal in thirty seconds.  Words.  It’s all about vocabulary.  Another challenge is to show the real you, your personal flair.  A big priority is to make a connection with the audience.  On TV that’s done through the camera.  For writers, it’s done on paper, but that connection is still essential.  Hook your reader.  Establish sympathy for your main character.  Make your customer CARE!

See what I’m saying?  There I was, watching this elaborate game show about cooks hoping to become media stars.  Suddenly I realized I was hearing advice and learning skills that could do me a lot of good as a professional writer.

When you hit the wall of mental fatigue, when you can’t stand another moment of what you’re doing but you have to keep on keeping on, go drink from a different well.  Go listen to NPR.  Go watch an expert talk about resurfacing a road, childproofing a house, or bathing an elephant.  Who knows what gems of information or inspiration you might discover?

How do you deal with it when you’re tired of writing?  How do you keep going when the clock is ticking and there’s no time to waste?

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, research

Getting the Details on Neurodiversity


by Lillian Csernica on October 8, 2015

Juliette Wade devoted one of her recent Dive Into Worldbuilding Hangouts to the subjects of neurotypical symptoms and those which are characteristic of the autistic spectrum.  She was kind enough to invite me to participate as a guest speaker because of my experience with raising John.

You can find the write-up at Juliette’s blog, TalkToYouniverse.

The blog post includes a video of me, so for those of you who don’t know what I look like “live and in person,” brace yourselves.  Just kidding.  I did dress up for the Hangout, as opposed to wearing my usual working clothes of my bathrobe over my sweats.  If anyone has any questions about the subjects discussed in the Hangout, I’m more than happy to answer questions and suggest resources.

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Filed under autism, fantasy, neurodiversity, parenting, research, science fiction, special education, specialneeds, Writing

A Failure to Communicate


by Lillian Csernica on March 19, 2015

Once again, I find myself in the position of wanting to start shouting loudly enough to shatter a few windows over at John’s high school.

At the beginning of this year, John and all the other sophomores received their class assignments and went off to locate the text for their courses at the school library.  John ended up not having any texts to pick up because some decisions had not been made at higher levels about which texts would be used.  OK.  It was rather late in the day for that kind of indecision, but no big deal.

A few days later, John’s classes got switched around and one was changed to something entirely different.  Nobody bothered to ask the permission of this special need student’s parents, namely Chris and me.  Nobody bothered notifying us after John started attending this class.  Good thing his IEP was right around the corner.  I printed out all the emails between John’s caseworker/teacher and myself and took them to the meeting to demonstrate the fact that we had been neither consulted nor notified.

All of this is prelude to what I’m angry about today.

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The change in schedule put John into Graphic Design.  This was problematic for several reasons, but I’m going to focus on one in particular.  At John’s school, the computer system has lots of lovely software programs so the students can work on their assignments in class or at the Computer Lab.  Nobody told us that in order for John to be able to do the homework for Graphic Design (which nobody bothered telling us about, period), John would need to do as the other students had done and purchase a package of software programs totaling $293.00.

I don’t know about you, but for us that’s a big ticket item.

My husband is a software engineer.  He was already seriously unhappy with a number of things that went on last year when John had to take Digital Literacy.  Guess what?  The same teacher is in charge of Graphic Design.  He’s a nice enough man, but he’s of a rather abstract turn of mind, so his thought processes are diametrically opposed to the way John, being ASD, can learn.  A number of the same issues that came up in Digital Literacy have now arisen in Graphic Design.

I am in a screaming hissy mood right now because John has been sent home with work he’s supposed to do over the weekend, using the software we do not have and, for a number of very good reasons, my husband refuses to buy.  Once again, despite me really hammering this point home at the IEP and in a number of emails, the teachers and school aide do not seem to grasp the point that John CANNOT do these assignments at home.  Not because of any processing issues on his part, but because the autocratic yahoos took it upon themselves to leave us, John’s parents, out of the loop, in violation of his IEP, common courtesy, and common sense.

Have any of you found yourselves in this kind of situation?  What did you do about it?  How do you get the administration to really listen and retain the crucial information about what’s interfering with your child’s education?  As my husband said, I really cannot believe we are the only family who didn’t and doesn’t have almost $300 to pay for a software package essential to the coursework.

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Filed under autism, Depression, Family, Goals, Special needs, Writing

Why Writers Need Public Speaking Skills


by Lillian Csernica on November 14, 2013

The smartest thing I ever did in high school was joining the Speech and Debate Team.  I talk a lot anyway, always have, so it made sense to harness a natural skill and train it so I could apply my speaking skills in the most useful ways possible.  Besides, I like trophies.  Wave one of those in front of me and it’s a powerful motivator.

Writers use their verbal skills on paper.  Sure, we talk to each other, brainstorming and talking shop in the coffeehouse or via Skype or on our cells.  Many of us prefer the wonders of technology as a buffer between us and other people, even our friends.  Face to face encounters can be a real strain.  Why?  Speaking for myself, I can’t handle more than a certain level of noise pollution.  There are restaurants I avoid not because the food isn’t good but because the interior design makes the acoustics painful.  Also, there are some people I know whom I enjoy a great deal, but I can be in their physical presence for only a limited time.  Some people just wear me out.  As extroverted as I am, when I’ve hit my limit, I go into my office and shut the door and hole up in my private sanctuary.  I’m sure you can relate.

In our brave new world of e-books and G+ hangouts and podcasts and other means of transmitting interviews, writers don’t have to stand up in front of live audiences to do their self-promotion.  That’s fine, but it’s also very limiting.  If you’re successful and you build a following, sooner or later you’re going to have to leave your sanctuary, get out there and do a local author reading at the library, a book signing, maybe even a book tour.  Since I work mainly in fantasy and romance, I have the advantage of attending SF/F cons.  I haven’t been to any Romance Writers of America gatherings yet, but that’s been a problem with logistics, not motivation.

When you meet your public, you will be doing public speaking.  Even if you’re just sitting in the conference room at the library, or behind a table in a bookstore, you’re still “onstage,” so to speak.  Being on panel discussions at conventions calls for public speaking skills in the truest sense.  Yes, I know this terrifies some people.  Studies have shown that many people fear public speaking more than they fear going to the dentist or even death itself.  When I started out on the Speech Team as a sophomore in high school, I was quite nervous.  I had a good coach, I knew my topics, and believe me, I practiced for hours.  Still, the fight or flight response pumped me full of adrenalin.  So I do understand.

Now I’m going to indulge in some naked bragging here.  During my senior year on the Speech Team, I won fifteen trophies, ten of which were First Place.  I went on to participate on the Speech and Debate Team at my local junior college.  By the end of my second year there, I’d won three gold medals at the state level, and two gold, one silver, and one bronze at the national level.  I retired Number One in California and Number Five in the entire U.S.

Why am I telling you this?  Because public speaking is your friend.  Once you get over the initial anxiety and learn the secrets, you can actually have a good time at it.  Don’t take my word for it.  I happened across an article that inspired me to write this post:

Six Psychological Secrets To Public Speaking

I have a good time at conventions for several reasons, but one of the most important is that I really enjoy being on panel discussions and swapping ideas with other writers.  The audiences are made up of highly intelligent, widely read, and often opinionated fans who are a pleasure to meet and who have a lot to contribute.  I’m often the moderator on panels because I’m comfortable with the role and I can direct the discussion so every panelist gets his or her share of speaking time.  More than once this has taken the load off the assigned moderator who really did not want the job.  That person might have been more of an expert on the panel topic, but the fear of public speaking made that person want to hang back. Understandable, but self-defeating.  For writers, conventions and other public appearances are all about self-promotion.  You want to project confidence in yourself and your work.

One really good way to get some experience with public speaking is to join your local chapter of Toastmasters.  They have an excellent training program and they’re all about being supportive of the people who want to learn what they have to teach.

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Filed under Awards, Conventions, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

Five Ways to Make Life Easier for Special Needs People


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2013

While I’ve been occupied with the A to Z Challenge I haven’t said much about Michael and John. Michael is sensitive to loud noises, certain types of music, and some pitches of voice. We believe minor key music causes him physical pain. John has sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, speech delay, and some of the other symptoms that are part of being autistic.

I want to share with you this important article written by Aiyana Bailin, a lady who understands what life is like for Michael and John. She understands what they have to endure minute to minute just getting through the day. What’s more, she can explain why some adults make life really hard for special needs people like Michael and John because of the “challenging behaviors” those adults inflict on them.

Managing Challenging Behaviors in Neurotypicals

By Aiyana Bailin

Many neurotypical adults have behaviors that the rest of us find difficult to handle.  These people are generally unaware of the stress their challenging behaviors cause for autistic friends and family members.  Even the most patient autistic people whose loved ones have challenging behaviors may become frustrated and find their time and energy greatly taxed by the demands of dealing with these behaviors regularly.

Challenging behaviors in adults include insistence that others make eye contact or physical contact with them frequently, difficulty understanding non-speech communication beyond certain stereotyped facial expressions, difficulty tolerating stimming and echolalia, narrow perceptions of what constitutes “learning,” “empathy,” and “age-appropriate behavior,” inability to recognize the sensory needs of others, and obsession with social rituals.

How to positively address challenging behaviors in your friends and family members:

1) Gently remind them that their ways of communicating, learning, succeeding, and socializing are not the only ones.

2) Regularly let them know (preferably in carefully chosen verbal or written words—remember, they respond best to “polite” requests) when their behaviors are impeding your sensory processing, communication, de-stressing, executive functioning, and other important aspects of your life.

3) Be willing to repeat this information for them as needed. Remember, very few neurotypicals have the precise memories many of us take for granted.

4) Be patient and understanding. It can be hard for neurotypicals to grasp the importance of special interests, the joys of sensory play, or the irrelevance of their social games and hierarchies.

5) Remember to love your neurotypicals, and focus on their good points. At the same time, practice self-care. While your loved ones never mean to be a burden, dealing with them alone for long periods of time can be exhausting and stressful. Remember to take time for yourself, be firm about your own needs, and recruit a good support network to help you manage the challenges that neurotypicals bring into your life.

It’s up to the parents, teachers, and caregivers of autistic and other special needs people to see to it their own challenging behaviors are corrected, and to protect the special needs people in their care from suffering at the hands of people who don’t realize they have challenging behaviors and how much distress they cause.

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Filed under Family, Special needs