Tag Archives: creativity

On Tour in My Own Back Yard

by Lillian Csernica on October 18, 2015

This weekend Santa Cruz County held its Open Studio Art tour.  The city of Santa Cruz is known as a haven for artists of all kinds.  What people often don’t realize is that up here in the mountains we’ve got a lot of artists as well.

John’s ceramics class had a serious project to complete.  Each student had to go to at least three of the studios on the tour and do what amounted to an interview.  The project worksheets included questions about what mood the artist was trying to create, comparing two different pieces by the same artist, and how the artists the student chose to visit could inspire that student’s own artwork.

John comes from a long line of artists on my mother’s side:

His great- great-grandmother ran a modeling agency back in the 1930s.

His great-grandmother wrote a society column for the newspaper, raised some amazing roses, and created artwork using textiles and ceramics and other media.

His great-grandfather was a professional photographer and filmmaker.

His grandmother sketches and paints, as well as creating multimedia artwork.

His mother (that’s me!) has worked as a professional bellydancer, and actor, and currently as a professional writer.

John is primarily a graphic artist, but he’s learning how to use computer graphics, clay, and other media.

I steered John toward three artists who live here in the San Lorenzo Valley.  John and Michael have lived their whole lives in this area.  It’s good for John to know he doesn’t have to go to a museum to see art.  What’s more, on the tour you’re allowed to see the artists’ studios where they create the pieces on display.

First Studio: Janet Silverglate.  Ms. Silverglate creates art by using found objects, many of which are what most of us would consider scrap materials or just plain junk.  Her style of art is called assemblage.  Each work of art is one of a kind.  John and I were both drawn to a circular artwork that included pieces from several different games such as Scrabble tiles, chess pieces, old Bingo cards, and even some Pick-Up Stix.  The overall look and feel put me in mind of the Kachina dolls I’ve seen in the southwest.

Second Studio: Larry and Pat Worley

Larry Worley takes basket weaving to a whole new level.  My favorite piece was a woven seashell the size of a small suitcase wound around a piece of redwood driftwood.  Simply stunning.

Pat Worley is a textile artist.  One side of her display featured long, rectangular silk scarves dyed in rich, vibrant colors such as fuschia and aquamarine.  The scarves all had leaf patterns running the length of the silk in either silver or gold.  The other side of the display showcased what I thought of as small quilts because of the many pieces of fabric arranged to form patterns or scenes.  The dominant color scheme was black, brown, and rust, with maple leaves as a frequent motif.  Ms. Worley explained the method she used to make the fabric for these as “reverse tie-dye.”  Starting with black cloth and using bleach, she would coax a variety of shades out of the material.  Impressive!

Third studio: Bob Hughes.  To say that Mr. Hughes makes wooden boxes is to say Monet liked to paint flowers.  My favorite box was shaped like the diacritical mark called a tilde, used to denote the palatal nasal sound of the “eñe” in words such as mañana. Mr. Hughes makes more than just boxes.  His vases and candle holders combine varieties of woods, or woods and metals.  Mr. Hughes was kind enough to explain to John, using a guide with step by step images, how he made a particular vase.  John is a visual learner, so this really helped him understand Mr. Hughes’ artistic process.

The artists were all happy to know I wanted John to get a wider understanding of how many ways people create art, and what’s inside them that wants to be expressed.  Getting a good grade on the project is important, but more than that, John has so much potential just waiting to come out through his drawing skills.

Take a look at your local community arts news items.  You’d be amazed what’s waiting for you in your own back yard!


Filed under art show, artists, autism, creativity, Family, family tradition, home town, homework, Writing

Career Day at the Hospital

by Lillian Csernica on September 24, 2015

So I promised to tell you some of the funny things that happened at the hospital once word got round about me writing novels for a living.

Michael spent six weeks in the ICU.  That meant I was there, day and and day out, so the staff got to know me and I got to know some of them.  One of the Fellows had a great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh.  He was teasing me one day.  I gave him That Look over the top of my glasses and said, “Keep it up.  I’ll put you in a book.”

The ICU Social Worker saw me sitting in the cafeteria at lunch one day.  She bustled over with a big smile and said, “I’ve been talking about you!”  This statement is pretty much guaranteed to activate my fight-or-flight response.  She went on to say, “I was telling someone about your book.  You’re my first writer!”  She meant I’m the first parent she’s met who writes for a living.  It was really sweet of her to be so excited about that.

The classic no-no for writing hopefuls is to walk up to an established writer and say, “Will you read my manuscript?”  Sure enough, this happened to me.  What surprised me was the person asking.  Not a parent, not one of the nurses, but a doctor!  The one thing I had a lot of at the hospital was time. I was always waiting for this or that test to be done, and then for the results to come back.  So I read the doctor’s manuscript.  Late one night we sat there beside Michael’s bed and discussed what needed fixing while the doctor’s team of residents came and went with their questions about other patients.  That had to be one of the stranger critique sessions I’ve experienced.

The nurses started to ask me about whether or not I had a pen name, and why writers need those.  So I explained how I came up with Elaine LeClaire.  They’d write down that name and the title, Ship of Dreams.  I’m used to that happening when people find out I write, so I didn’t pay much attention to it.  Then I noticed an improvement in the online sales of the ebook version.  And then one morning I was leaving the Family House, a residence created for parents of patients rather like a Ronald McDonald house, when one of the ladies at the desk plopped a paperback copy of Ship of Dreams on the counter and asked me to sign it.  Well!  That was a nice way to start my day!

Staying in the hospital with Michael took a toll on my writing for several reasons, mostly due to fatigue and paralyzing anxiety.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel my plans to attend Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention is Spokane, WA.  The funny thing is, all things considered, I might have done more actual business in terms of sales thanks to the hospital staff taking such an interest in my work!

During one of Michael’s respiratory treatments, the respiratory therapist (RT) asked me what advice I’d give to someone trying to write.  I asked her if she meant fiction or nonfiction.  Turns out she’d gone back to school and was having trouble writing essays and analytical papers.  She’s one of those people who either likes something or doesn’t like it.  If you press her for details about why, she claims she wouldn’t know how to construct a detailed answer.  So we talked about how to use the five journalistic questions to break down her opinions so she could translate them into arguments either for or against the subject of the essay or the paper.  Once she got the hang of creative nitpicking, she was really relieved.  Now here’s the punchline.  She said to me, “I wish I had your mind!”  I started laughing and told her she did not want my mind.  Skills, sure.  Education, maybe.  But not my mind.


Filed under creativity, Depression, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Writing

Blog/Link Party

This is such a great idea. The more the merrier, right?

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Filed under Blog challenges, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction

The Top Ten Things I Love & Hate About Being Creative

by Lillian Csernica on July 15th, 2015

The delightful lady known as @jazzfeathers on Twitter has tagged me to participate in the Love/Hate Blog Challenge.  I’m a big fan of making lists, so I thought I’d give it a go.  If you’d like to see @jazzfeather’s list, visit her at The Old Shelter.


1) Making things.  Jewelry, cookies, Christmas ornaments, a good story.  Beadwork has proven to be good occupational therapy.

2) Being able to run away from home inside my own head.  In my imagination there’s always a road not taken.

3) Hanging out with other creative people.  Hearing them talk about how they see the world and process their sources of inspiration.  My creative drive to write has taken me to groups and lectures and conventions, to other states and even to other countries.  In my circles we say “Only writers really understand writers.”  I wonder if that’s true for painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, et al?

4) I’ve spent most of my life reading, writing, going to the movies, and watching way too much TV.  I’ve explored acting, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, and making a really terrible science fiction movie (high school project).  My creative streak has taken me in a lot of directions.

5) Being creative is an essential element of parenting.  As hard as life has been for me and my sons, there have still been those moments of shared discovery.  Finding out which types of music Michael likes best.  John’s first taste of chocolate ice cream.  Making up games Michael could play with just his right hand.  Making up other games that helped John learn the skills he needed to attend public school.

6) Creative thinking has proven one of my greatest weapons in the war I fight against my depression.  When the Black Dog comes scratching at the door, it can take a lot of work to make it leave again.  Self-talk, journal writing, art therapy, making something by hand, volunteering or just getting out the crayons and a coloring book.  Our motto at my house is “Whatever works!”

7) I come from a long line of creative women.  My mother takes amazing photographs and also draws or paints.  My grandmother wrote a society column for the newspaper along with having quite an adventurous life.  She once fought a bull in the corrida in Mexico and won!

8) I’m always learning.  There’s always something new to discover, to explore.

9) Being creative comes in very handy when my insomnia takes over.

10)  I’m never bored.  I really don’t understand how people can suffer boredom when there’s so much to see and feel and do.  One lifetime is not enough!


1) So many ideas, so little time.

2) Sometimes when I get caught up in the rush of enthusiasm that comes with a new idea, I get carried away with it and annoy the people around me.  That has occasionally led to arguments, which are a real buzz kill.

3) Aside from more time, the one thing I need the most of is concentration.  I live in a world of relative chaos.  One change and all the dominoes for that day start to fall.  It can even spread to the rest of the week.  Stress stress stress.

4) I grew up with my grandmother often telling me to “get my nose out of that book.”  It’s astonishing how many people can’t stand seeing someone sitting alone at a table reading or writing in a notebook.  They assume you must be bored and feel some warped humanitarian compulsion to interrupt and drag you off to some “fun” activity.

5) Having an artistic temperament is not a 24/7 blessing.  Quite the opposite.  More than once I’ve asked my mental health care professionals whether or not I am in fact bi-polar.  Nope.  Not even uni-polar.  I have Major Depressive Disorder.  Creative people tend to live in a heightened state of awareness all the time.  That can and does take a serious toll.  It goes along way toward explaining why some creative people resort to substance abuse, either as a way to maintain the creative high or as a means to come down off it.

6) A classic struggle for creative women is the choice between art or family.  It’s difficult to enjoy being a wife and mother when you want and need to be left alone for long stretches of time so you can work on your art.  That’s not really compatible with the ’50s ideal of the Stepford Wife.  Times have changed, but for the most part, expectations haven’t.  I write when my sons are either in school or asleep.

7) Some days I wish my imagination would just shut up.  It would be nice to sit in a coffee house drinking iced chai and just watching the clouds drift by.  I suppose it’s an occupational hazard to see the tattoo on the back of the barista’s neck and invent the deep inner upheavals that made getting that particular tattoo so important.  You can take the pen out of my hand, but you can’t make me stop writing!

8) Knowing what I can’t have.  I can’t plunge into a jewelery business on Etsy.  I can’t spend as much time as I would like hiding out in libraries sucking up all the strange and attractive odds and ends I find on the bookshelves.  Worst of all, I can’t have any of the heroes that people my stories because they’re just not real.

9) The signs were there, from kindergarten onward.  Big vocabulary, avid reader, drawings more detailed, asking so many questions.  I was “different.”  I felt it, even then.  My classmates certainly sensed it.  For me school was either drudgery, extra credit, or a nightmarish social minefield.  A lot of reasons combined to create those circumstances, but I’m positive one major contributing factor was me being creative, possessed of the artistic temperament.

10) I have a very difficult time throwing anything significant away.  Mementos, theater programs, fortunes from fortune cookies, little plastic toys from the Boardwalk.  These are touchstones, gateways to moments in my life I want to keep alive.  The trouble is, when you’re a kid you don’t have that many.  Once you’re my age, the trinkets start to pile up.  Too much emotional energy gets tied up into those souvenirs.  I have to take it back, which makes me sad.

And now, I must tag ten more bloggers!

Patricia MacEwen, Juliette Wade, Reggie Lutz, Alex Hurst, Sue Archer, ruralspaceman, David Snape, Cliff Winnig, Emerian Rich, Setsu Uzume


Filed under Blog challenges, Conventions, creativity, Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Writing

Perspective, the Two-Edged Sword

By Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2015


Today I read over a story I wrote fifteen years ago.  At the time I thought it was pretty good.  Not Pushcart material, but the basic premise was entertaining.  The antagonist was based on somebody I knew in real life, one of the stranger people I’ve met in my wanderings.  I chose a setting quite familiar to me, a particular type of restaurant where I liked to go often.  I made up a protagonist that seemed to be well-orchestrated in comparison to the antagonist.

The story has been rejected several times.


That’s the question I kept asking myself.  I trimmed the backstory.  I juiced up the fantasy elements.  I refined the protagonist.  Still didn’t help much.

So today, fifteen years later, I read the story and understood it had some good elements, but it was not fully developed.  In fact, it was time to toss out that version and start from scratch.

That hurts.  It’s not fun admitting you created something that isn’t very good.  That’s one edge of the sword called Perspective.

The other edge is sharper, honed on the whetstone of my keyboard and my notebooks.  I’ve done a lot of writing in the fifteen years since I wrote that story.  I’ve sold a novel and quite a few short stories.  I can’t fix what’s wrong with the original version of that particular story, but I can salvage the ideas that made it worth writing and remake them into better, stronger material.

Beginning writers are often reluctant to let go of part or all of something they’ve written.  They’re sometimes afraid that they won’t be able to think up something else.  Once you learn that there will always be more words, you’re free.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, some days the words hide and it feels like squeezing the last drop of blood from solid rock.  Believe me, I’ve had those days and they’re hellish.

There are more words.  More outside, in print and digital forms.  More inside, in the imagination.

If all you can do is take pen in hand and scribble in a cheap composition notebook, whining and crying and complaining about how you can’t get the words right, well guess what?  You’re still writing.  And that’s OK.

Andy Couturier, world class writing instructor, taught me this motto: “Keep the pen moving.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a pen or a pencil or a crayon or your hands on the keyboard or a tape recorder or Dragonspeak.  It doesn’t matter, as long as you keep the pen moving and keep more words appearing on the page.

Another wise person once said, “You have to write something, before you can write something good.”



Filed under Depression, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, perspective, Writing

Meet the Real Me, Live and In Person!

by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2015

Convention season is underway, which means I’ll be out and about performing my Shameless Self-Promotion Road Show.

Memorial Day Weekend is just around the corner!  I will be appearing at two, count ’em, TWO separate conventions!


At Clockwork Alchemy:

5 to 6 p.m. “Nemo’s Realm: Steampunk Underwater.”

6 to 7 p.m. “Steampunk Alchemy.”

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Twelve Hours Later release party!

At BayCon:


8:30 p.m. Horror Addicts.net BoF/Author Showcase

Hang out with fellow horror fans!  Meet some of the Horror Addicts!  Win prizes!


At BayCon:

4 p.m. Death panel — How our culture deals with death, or fails to.

I’ll be telling the true story of what happened in 1987 when I died in a car accident!

At Clockwork Alchemy:

6 to 7 p.m. “Steampunk Trinkets”

8 to 10 p.m. “Steampunk Mythology”

Come one, come all!  We’ll be breaking down steam power to its component parts, then dreaming up gods, goddesses, spirits, elementals, and other appropriate Powers That Be to preside over each component.  Be there for the creation of the first Steampunk Pantheon!


At BayCon:

11:30 a.m. “Vic Spec Fic”

This is short for Victorian Speculative Fiction, best typified by Jules Verne.  There’s a whole lot more worth exploring, so come join my fellow panelists as we compare and contrast the best and the worst of the period!


To Be Announced.  I have no official commitments right now, but you know me!  I’m sure to be up to something!



Filed under Conventions, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, history, steampunk

Writing Prompts: Yea or Nay?

by Lillian Csernica on January 31, 2015

I need your opinions.

See, I’m in this writing group.  It started out with all of us writing nonfiction about events from our own lives.  Somehow over time somebody thought we should add the option of writing prompts.  The prompts usually consist of a word or a phrase.  They often relate to the season or a significant event or holiday.  Along with the writing prompts there has developed a subtle pressure or expectation for people to write to the prompt.

I now find myself annoyed by the writing prompts because instead of mining our own lives for writing material, we seem to be writing essays that fit the current prompt.  We don’t have to write to the prompt.  They’re purely optional.  Unfortunately, due to the group dynamics, most people go along with the prompt.  I am not one of them.  Why has this become such a big deal to me?  Because I would rather hear the stories my fellow group members choose to tell, events important enough to inspire each person write about them, rich with personal meaning and creativity.  If I wanted to write “assignments” I’d go back to school.

So tell me, my fellow bloggers and creative people, what do you think about writing prompts?  Do you use them regularly?  Do you think they’re just part of a writer’s First Aid kit for those times when inspiration runs dry?  Are they a once in a while adventure?

While we’re on the subject of writing prompts, you might enjoy:

40 really awful writing prompts that no writer should use

S****y Writing Prompts

And this marvelous blog post by Jeff Goins:

The Last Writing Prompt You Will Ever Need.

Am I a curmudgeon with no appreciation for a fine tool?  Am I right on the money?  Tell me what you think!



Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Goals, Writing

Story Cubes: An Unlimited Resource

by  Lillian Csernica on July 14, 2014



It’s not easy buying gifts for my son Michael.  He’s 18 now, and while his body is medically fragile to due cerebral palsy and seizure disorder, his cognitive skills are just fine.  Michael can use only his right hand and arm, so that tends to limit our options.  Some of his favorite toys are the ones where you push a button and something lights up and/or music starts to play.  The trouble is we can’t just keep shopping for him in the Preschool aisle.

One Christmas I found Story Cubes.  They are a dream come true on so many levels.  Nine six-sided white dice.  Every side of each die has a pictogram such as a clock or a globe or a parachute in solid black lines.  There are ten million different combinations of pictograms, and that’s just with the basic set.  Now you can get additional dice such as the Clues, Enchanted, or Prehistoria sets.

Michael has told us he wants to be a storyteller when he grows up.  He wants to write books like I do.  He already has the beginning of a YA science fiction series in the works.  This is Michael’s favorite way to play Story Cubes:

I put one die in his right hand.

He pulls his hand back to his shoulder and opens his fingers, dropping the die.

I tell him which pictogram is face-up.

We talk about possible meanings for that pictogram and Michael gives his “Yes” sign for the one he likes the best.

When Michael plays Story Cubes with one of his nurses, she will ask Michael a question and then he’ll roll the die for the answer.  That’s how they build their stories.

I keep track of the story in Michael’s personal journal, adding the particular pictogram next to its section of the story.

I took the Story Cubes and Michael’s journal with me to one of his triennal IEP meetings.  Everyone on the team, from Michael’s teacher to his occupational therapist to his speech therapist, got very excited about Story Cubes and their potential for helping special needs students.  I bought another set and gave it to the Speech Therapist so she could take it with her to the other schools where she worked.  The more teachers and therapists and parents and students who know about Story Cubes, the better!

We’ve written a number of stories together.  My personal favorite is the one about the professional gambler whose plane had to make an emergency landing because of lightning.  An unknown benefactor saw to it the gambler made it to the tournament where he was scheduled to play.  That man turned out to be a sheep rancher from Australia who was very rich, but on the shady side.  With a little work, I think it might make for a very entertaining suspense story.

As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for something to stimulate my imagination on those days when my brain feels like a dried up cornstalk.  Story Cubes are wonderful for turning the work of writing back into play.  I highly recommend them for solo play, or maybe even one meeting of your writer’s group.




Filed under autism, Awards, birthday, Christmas, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, science fiction, Special needs, Writing

Four Q&A About My Writing Process

by Lillian Csernica on March 28, 2014

Today’s post is part of a Writing Process Blog Hop I was invited into by one of my favorite people, Setsu Uzume.

As part of the Hop, I’m answering four questions about my personal writing process and then passing the baton to four other bloggers whose work I enjoy and respect.

What are you working on?

The first novel in my Japanese historical romance trilogy, Sword Master, Flower Maiden.  I’m plowing through the second edit right now, making adjustments for consistency in characterization as well as upping the stakes here and there.  In Satsuma, Japan, of 1865, an English girl raised to be the highest class of courtesan escapes the cruel samurai Nakazawa who demanded her as payment for her father’s gambling debts when she was just six years old.  Now, sixteen and determined to thwart her captor’s power-hungry schemes, Yuriko flees her guards and rushes straight into the path of bandits  pursued by Tendo Kazuhiro, a ronin watching over a nearby village.  Captivated by Yuriko’s beauty and courage, Tendo is determined to protect her from her enemies.  The love that blossoms between them makes them determined to defeat Nakazawa.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I think history is full of treasures waiting to be discovered, stories waiting to be told.  Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro is a fine hero, an excellent leading man for a mystery series.  I hope Tendo Kazuhiro can live up to that standard of excellence as a romance hero.  Multi-ethnic romance is not well represented in the genre, especially in the subgenre of historical romance.  I happen to find Asian men very attractive, so Japan was a natural choice as a setting for my novels.  To bring a Caucasian woman into the Japan of the Tokugawa Shogunate and enable her to speak fluent Japanese took some doing.  I knew Yuriko had to be fluent in order to communicate with Tendo-san.  Only then could they achieve ishin-denshin, or “heart-to-heart communication.”

Why do you write what you write?

I write fantasy.  I write escapist genre fiction because there’s not enough love and magic and a sense of wonder in today’s world.  Part of the reason I write historical fiction is my enjoyment of political intrigue, foreign cultures, and the challenge of recreating my chosen settings on the page.  Short stories are a different thrill altogether.  I have to keep it simple, keep it tight, and still bring plenty of depth and solid story values to my tale.  I also write because I love language.  I love words.  I love being able to speak to someone from a foreign country in his or her own language.  So far my work has been translated into German and Italian.  I would be overjoyed if the Japanese trilogy was to one day be translated into Japanese itself.

How does your writing process work?

The answer to that depends on what I’m working on.  Generally speaking, I go through five drafts.  First draft: plot, dialogue, character and some setting.  Second draft: fleshing out character, making some plot events more intense and raising the stakes.  Third draft: Major revisions as necessary.  Fourth draft: filling in the background details, checking for consistency, changing any character names that conflict, as well as editing for length.  Fifth draft: beating the manuscript like an old rug to knock out everything that doesn’t need to be there then polishing what’s left.  In this draft I get down to what’s called the “microwriting level” and do quality control line by line.  Somewhere between the Third and Fifth Drafts I often call in my beta readers to help me see what I might be missing.  That kind of help is invaluable.

Setsu mentioned listening to music while she writes.  I do that too.  I choose the music based on the emotional tone of the writing I need to do.  When I wrote Ship of Dreams, U2’s “With or Without You” became Alexandre’s theme song.  Rosalind’s music varied from Berlin to Evanescence to Pat Benatar to uplifting instrumentals.

I hereby pass the baton to four writers who are well worth your time and attention:

Sandy Appleyard — “Author of hopeful memoirs and fiction.”  Sandy is a very kind lady with a generous heart.

Dorian Graves — In words and pictures, Dorian does amazing things.  I shall watch her career with interest.

Patricia H. MacEwen — Marine biologist, physical anthropologist, former CSI in Stockton, Pat’s Been There and Done That in places that would make most of us run screaming.  Look for her cover story on the latest issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction!

Blair Bonet — If you’re in the mood for something steamy and southern, start with Moonlight on the Bayou, first in the Benoit Erotic Romances.

Looking forward to your answers, ladies!





Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Humor, Japan, love, romance, science fiction, Writing