Tag Archives: Lillian Csernica

A New Anthology Release!


by Lillian Csernica on February 4, 2016

I am delighted to announce that my story, “The Screaming Key,” is now available in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine.

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This story came about as a result of me spending my teenage years staying up late on the weekends watching horror movies on Channel 13. (I lived in Southern California then.)  More influences include all of the 19th Century ghost stories I love to read, especially the works of M.R. James.  I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Neil Gaiman for creating the Sandman graphic novels. They set my imagination on fire and went a long way toward planting the seeds of inspiration for “The Screaming Key.”

 

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Halloween, Horror, legend, publication, Writing

How Retail Sales Work Made Me A Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2016

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I spent ten years working in retail sales.

I am soooooo happy I don’t do that for a living anymore.

Why, you ask?  Because I spent most of those ten years working Renaissance Faires around the western United States.  That might sound like a fun job, getting to dress up in costume and be part of environmental theater and spend all weekend in one big historical shopping mall with stage shows and great food and beer.

The thing is, when you’re working twelve hour days in 90 to 100 degree heat and the wood chips aren’t keeping the dust down and some of your sales crew drink too much on their breaks and forget when to come back to work, it’s not all jousting and turkey legs.

When you’re in retail, you hear “The Customer is always right” at least once a day.  When you work at the Ren Faires, this philosophy gets put to the test all day long, especially later in the day when the Customers have been drinking.  Let me tell you, it is not easy to close a sale on a $1200 Lord of the Rings chess set when the Customer is drunk and living out some Richard the Lion-Hearted fantasy regardless of the fact that Ren Faires are set in Elizabethan England.

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Southern Faire in Agoura, CA, where I hired in at 18.

People who think they’re experts about some period of history just because they’ve watched The Lion in Winter or Henry V or even Mulan really get on my nerves.  If that was true when I was 28 and “a mere shopgirl,” as I was once called, then you can just imagine how I must feel now that I’m 50 and a published historical novelist.

Working in retail has made me a better writer.  On the days when I’m lazy or frustrated or can’t get out of my own way, I remind myself that I could be back behind the counter at the dollar store where I once worked, trying to deal with the shoplifters and the English Second Language folks and the delivery trucks coming in around back.  Talk about an immediate attitude adjustment!  Writing is hard work, but it’s also a dream come true.

Working in retail has made me a better writer.  There were those Customers who were polite and entertaining and absolutely in love with history.  The two different companies I worked for during my Ren Faire days sold items that were often incorporated into weddings.  Meeting a bride who really wanted to know how and why a Queen did this or that made for some memorable conversations.  I got more than a few hugs from people who now had just the right items to make their historical dream weddings come true.

Money is nice, but sometimes I’ve been paid in coin of much greater value.

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I love writing historical fiction.  I love getting the details right.  I love picturing one of those really wonderful Customers sitting down to read one of my books and smiling because I don’t make the common mistakes, and I do my best not to make the uncommon ones either!

Ten years in retail sales gave me experience and perspective on many different kinds of people.  I know how to pitch, I know how to read my target customer, I know how to create the need and demonstrate value for money.  All of those skills are essential in the increasingly competitive fiction marketplace.

Think about the jobs you’ve had.  The people you’ve met.  The ones you really liked and the ones you couldn’t stand.  Characters.  Conflict.  Goals and obstacles.  You have all the raw material you need, right there.  Do your research, by all means, but write about what you know and what matters to you.  Find the heart of the story.

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Filed under cosplay, creativity, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Humor, research, romance, Small business, Writing

Reviews: Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?


by Lillian Csernica on January 22, 2015

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About 2/3 of the new books I read, I read on my Kindle. When I’m finished, Amazon asks me for a star rating, then I get an email asking me for a review.

At the moment, the book I’ve started is so bad I doubt I’ll finish it.  My sense of fairness compels me to read the whole thing just so if I do decide to review the book, I will have given it a thorough examination.  I don’t have that much reading time these days, so I really don’t want to waste it on a book that reads little better than a second draft in desperate need of a copy editor.  What slays me is there are already two sequels ready and waiting. <facepalm>

Let me throw this question out to all of you:  In this brave new world of electronic self-publishing, what purpose are reviews really meant to serve?  I know I may be coming rather late to this discussion, but this is what’s on my mind and I value your opinions.

Reviews are helpful to authors in terms of promotion.  We all want to support each other, right? As a writer, I wouldn’t want to do any damage to a fellow writer’s sales by posting a negative review.  It’s said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I don’t know if I believe that.  If the Internet loves you, it really loves you.  If the Internet decides you should be run out of town on a rail, you’re in trouble.

Unfortunately, there are books out there with serious flaws.  If I’m going to write a review, I have to tell the truth about my reading experience.  I am a published novelist.  I’ve published lots of short stories.  I’ve been writing reviews for Tangent for a long time.  That means I am qualified to evaluate the quality of a story’s plot, characters, setting, tone, theme, and pace.  I know about magic systems and worldbuilding.  Certain historical periods are quite familiar to me.  Can’t say that I’m an expert, but I will give credit where credit is due even if I personally don’t care for the material at hand.

And yet I still feel conflicted.  As a writer and a reader, there are times when I am outraged at the half-witted slop churned out by “authors” who really think somebody out there might be willing to pay good money to read it.  I want to do all I can to support the “Caveat Emptor” school of thought when shopping for reading material online.

It does grind my gears to read reviews by people who either know nothing about the elements of good writing, or don’t know how to articulate what little knowledge they may have.  Shameless gushing in a review makes me suspicious.  Some people are not above stacking the deck in their favor.  Here’s the problem: when an inexperienced and uneducated writer recruits his or her fellow writers whose skill level is pretty much at that same level, nobody is going to do any real good by making comments because they just don’t know what it takes to write a better story.

What do you think about all this?

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, historical fiction, Horror, perspective, publication, Writing

My Personal Chariot of Fire


by Lillian Csernica on January 20, 2016

“Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17). All around them, but beyond the capabilities of the five human physical senses, was all the protection necessary. Elisha would be no prisoner that day. His would be captors would be.”

Today I picked up my car.  Today I drove it home from the dealership.  Today I stopped at the grocery store, I put gas in the car, and I drove home.

I was not afraid.  I did not have an anxiety attack.  In fact, I was happy and excited.

I have been a prisoner of my own fears about driving for a long time now.  Almost thirty years.  It’s called learned helplessness, and it’s born of a vicious emotional cycle that includes hopelessness and depression.

Another condition I battle on a daily basis is anticipatory anxiety.  This robs the future of hope and positive thinking.  I told myself I wasn’t afraid of my driving.  I was afraid of everybody else on the road who drove like maniacs, speeding and changing lanes without signalling and coming right up on my rear bumper like they wanted to shove my car aside.  That was true enough.  I think the real truth was, I could no longer face the responsibility of being the driver.

When I was in the car accident that did in fact kill me, my driving had very little to do with what happened.  My employer had assured me he’d replaced the two right tires on the company car, which were worn down to the point of being dangerous.  He lied to me.  I trusted him, so when we loaded the car that night for the drive from Long Beach to San Francisco, I believed him and I did not check the tires myself.

“Put not your faith in princes and sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”  (Ps. 146:3-4)

Five years ago I took two sets of driving lessons to brush up on my driving skills.  My teacher said I’m a good driver.  I have good reaction time and I’m good at judging braking distance.  I have driven on Hwy 17 all the way down to Capitola and back in the car with my teacher.

And yet, I still couldn’t internalize that knowledge to the extent that I would agree to pick out a car and drive it.  My husband said he’d get me a car, but not until he was sure I would in fact use it, and use it all the time.

Why now?  Why did I suddenly stand up last Saturday and say, “Fine.  Let’s do it today.”?  All I can say is the time was right, and I was ready.  We found a car that was everything I wanted, at a price we could afford.  It was raining, but I didn’t let that hold me back.  I got into the car and I test drove it so my husband could listen to the engine.  I was alert, I was focused, and I kept moving forward through the process of evaluating and the buying the car.

My car has become my chariot of fire.  Just as Divine Protection was present but unseen for the Prophet Elisha, so I believe God is watching out for me.  I may not always have faith in myself, but I do have faith in God.  Just look at what we went through this past summer with Michael’s hospital stay.  When Michael needed a priest, Fr. Ninos got there before the ICU team took Michael to be prepped for surgery.  I still don’t know how Fr. Ninos got there so quickly, but he did, and I give thanks every day that my boy is still alive and healthy.

When the depression has been really bad, I have begged God to help me get better.  I have prayed for strength and for courage and for the determination to defeat all the symptoms that have crippled me emotionally, kept me from writing, and prevented me from being a functional member of my family.

“The Lord is my  light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” (Ps. 12:1)

It’s time to move on.  No more thinking I’m helpless.  No more being afraid.

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Filed under Depression, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, frustration, Goals, hospital, perspective, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing

How I Saved My Own Future


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2015

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In 1987 I was in a car accident that left me for dead on Interstate 5 in the middle of the night.  I spent a week in the hospital, then months recovering.

Two months after the accident, my boyfriend asked me to marry him.  I agreed, and worked three different jobs to help pay for our wedding.  This meant driving, something I had no desire to do ever again.  I stayed off the freeways, but I did it.

A few years after we got married, we donated my old used car to charity.  That meant our only vehicle was the one my husband drove to work every day.  If I wanted to go anywhere while he was at work, I walked or took public transportation (the bus).

For years now I have resisted the idea of getting another car.  At times it’s been a financial issue.  We did have to invest in a van equipped with a lift so we could transport Michael to his various medical appointments.  At other times, it’s just been a matter of my bone deep reluctance to get behind the wheel again.  There are a lot of crazy people on the roads these days.

This forced me to rely on my husband, my mother, my sister, or a friend when I needed a ride somewhere.  I felt like I was in high school again.  People kept telling me I needed to get over this fear of driving and just do it.  It’s so easy for people to say something like that when they’re not living inside the anxiety, especially anticipatory anxiety.  That kind of fear puts a real dent in rational thinking.

My husband and I have had more than one loud, hurtful argument about what a “burden” I’ve been to everyone around me because of my “selfishness” about driving myself around.  This resulted in me not going out at all except when I absolutely had to, or when a friend and I spent time together.   My depression got worse.

It’s horrible to be caught between relentless fear and the ongoing hostility and judgment from the people I look to for support.  With family or total strangers, the bottom line remains the same: I can’t change them.  The only person I can change is myself.

Today is a day of celebration.  Today I got angry enough to shove my fears aside, go to a used car dealer, and find a car we could afford, one that suits my needs and makes me feel both comfortable and happy.

Today I crossed a big bridge in my life, a bridge that leads to freedom, to independence, and to better mental health.

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This is my car, the Dodge Neon.

 

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Filed under Depression, dreams, Family, frustration, Halloween, marriage, mother, perspective, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing

The Voice of Inspiration — Special Bonus!


by Lillian Csernica on January 11, 2016

One of the most common pieces of editing advice is to read your manuscript out loud.  Hearing the narrative and the dialogue outside of your own mind will show you wear it’s rough or awkward.

The reverse of this technique is to improvise a scene by acting out the dialogue (and the narrative as well, if you like) in one or more character voices.  If sitting there staring at the blank page is inhibiting your flow of inspiration, get up and start moving around while you tell the story aloud.  It helps to have a recording device or a program such as Dragonspeak to capture all those off the cuff gems.

Writers often talk to themselves.  I do it when I’m grocery shopping, debating the selection of various items on my list.  I also do it when I’m watching TV by myself.  A few days ago this led to the beginning of my latest short story.

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So there I was, watching another one of those movies where the team of paranormal investigators seriously regrets hanging out in the haunted insane asylum overnight.  Me, I’d call this a bad idea on paper, never mind actually going inside the building.

It got to the point where I started yelling advice and criticism at the actors.  Having watched far too many of these movies, I can tell from the music and the timing when the next Scary Thing is about to happen.

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I was sitting there, being sarcastic at the characters onscreen, when it suddenly hit me:  This is great dialogue.  A few minutes’ thought gave me the basics I needed to set up a team of wannabe ghost hunters talking to an older relative of one of them who had some actual experience with the paranormal.  The older relative tries to make the kids see how little they really know about the risks involved in stirring up paranormal entities.

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Does it stop them?  It does not.

I’m having a lot of fun shaping the main character by using all of my own objections, all of my knowledge of folklore and superstitions, and what little experience I do have with the paranormal.  A few of my most successful stories have come from using my own voice for a character that I design to suit the needs of the story.  I’m thinking of “Fallen Idol,” “Music Lover,” and “The Family Spirit” in particular.

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Humor in paranormal writing is a happy thing.  Humor in most writing is a happy thing.

Do you find reading your work aloud helps the editing process?  Does acting out a scene just make you feel silly?  Let me know what works for you.

BONUS:  Since my new short story will fit the horror genre, the first three people to respond in the Comments section will receive a copy of my ebook The Fright Factory: Building Better Horror.

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Filed under bad movies, classics, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, hospital, Humor, research, Writing

Counting Down to Christmas


by Lillian Csernica on December 20th, 2015

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If I didn’t keep a running To Do list, I don’t know how I’d get anything done.  When I’m stressed out I tend to lose my long range focus and the ability to structure my time effectively.  I’ve done a lot of my shopping online this year.  The rain coming down in buckets outside my window makes me very happy for that option.

This year has been such an ordeal for our family.  I decided back in November to pay attention to all those articles on managing holiday stress and choose the activities most important and meaningful for both me and the boys.

Here’s what got checked off the To Do list this weekend:

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On Saturday night I took John to “The Nutcracker.”  He’s been asking to go tothe ballet for a month or two now.  We know he enjoys seeing and hearing a live orchestra perform.  I think the main attraction of the ballet was A) the costumes for this particular show and B) the emphasis on all those pretty girls with their long legs.

The Santa Cruz Ballet Theater put on a marvelous performance.  Hearing Tchaikovsky played live was a treat in itself.  The production values and the special effects left both me and John wide-eyed with wonder.  As for the dancing….  Wow.  The Snow Queen and her Cavalier made it seem like gravity had no power over them at all.  This was the first of John’s Christmas presents.  He kept saying it was “Amazing!”

John and I had dinner on Pacific Avenue after the show, talking about our favorite parts of the show.  Despite the 40+ degree weather, we stopped in at Cold Stone Creamery for some dark chocolate peppermint ice cream.   Oh my stars and garters.  That was heaven on a spoon!

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Today Chris and John got our Christmas tree.  It’s become a tradition for the two of them to go to a tree farm and cut down a fresh tree.  I had to admire their determination.  Soon after they left, the skies darkened and it started raining.  They did return victorious, if a little damp.

John has graduated to stringing the lights on the tree himself.  He loves the colored lights that blink on and off and change colors in varying patterns.  Out came all the boxes from the garage with our wide variety of Christmas ornaments, table linens, and John’s personal treasure, his Peanuts cuckoo clock.  On the hour, Snoopy comes out where the cuckoo would be and the Peanuts theme song plays.  We put this up only during the holiday season.

Once the lights and gold tinsel garlands were in place, Michael sat in his wheelchair to help choose ornaments and where they should go.  As each of us pulled the tissue off an ornament, we’d hold it up for Michael to see and ask him if that one should hang on the tree.  Once he gave us his yes or no, then he’d pick the right spot on the tree.  After spending two months watching Michael lying there in his ICU bed, I cannot tell you the joy I felt seeing him sitting there happy and smiling, reaching out to touch an ornament or grab John’s shirt and make him laugh.  Michael’s R.N., a wonderful lady named Joan, had a good time helping with the ornaments.  They were all new to her, so I shared some of the stories attached to them.

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Here it is, courtesy of Michael and John!

As for me, I put on a Christmas jazz CD and drank eggnog.  All of a sudden, there it was.  Our family gathered around the Christmas tree, breathing in the fresh pine scent, joking about hanging the good ornaments up where our three cats can’t get at them.  My mother is visiting my brother right now, but she’ll be back for Christmas Eve.  My sister is down in Southern California, but she’ll be back for New Year’s.  It’s good to have time with just us and the boys.

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In my family we party a lot during the holidays.  My birthday is December 29.  My sister’s is on January 1st, and my mother’s on January 3rd.  I keep careful track of who gave who this or that Christmas present, along with who gave who that birthday gift.  Lists!  More lists!  One of the traditions I consider most important is writing thank-you notes.  Michael likes to create his own stationery, and John will add little drawings to his cards.

We have so much to be grateful for, and so many people to whom we owe our thanks.

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Filed under autism, birthday, cats, chocolate, Christmas, classics, Family, family tradition, fantasy, Food, hospital, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, special education, Special needs, Writing

Birthday Celebrations, Part Two


by Lillian Csernica on December 29, 2013

Today’s actual partying has included a bento box lunch at my second favorite sushi emporium.  My #1 favorite is closed until New Year‘s.  Chris speculated that the staff was at home pounding mochi, which is entirely possible.  He told me this fascinating fact: pounding mochi for the New Year’s rice cakes is a really big deal in sumo stables.  I can see those large gentlemen being good at it, as strong as they are.   We had a good time at lunch, watching this little tiny Asian girl in her party dress give our server a workout trying to maneuver around the little girl while serving our bento boxes.  The music playing over the PA system was some strange langorous pop music.  Granted, listening to taiko while you’re trying to eat isn’t always that relaxing, but some shamisen and shakuhachi would have been nice.

After lunch we happened to spot a new chocolate shop across the parking lot, Ashby Confections.  This place was amazing.  One of the chocolates on display is made with Ghost chili.  If you’re not familiar with the world of chilis, let’s just say this is the absolute top of the mountain, King/Emperor/God of chilis.  Makes habaneros look like bell peppers.  For you endorphin junkies out there, this might make for quite a culinary adventure.  Me, I chose a Caramel Apple Truffle make with apple brandy the confectioner brought back from Paris.  If all this sounds worth investigating, and believe me, it is, you can see more of the delights available at www.ashbyconfections.com.

There is a rock shop along Highway 9 that I’ve pointed out to Chris more than once.  He suggested we visit it, because now that we’d had some chocolate, nothing would make me happier than buying a new rock.  This sounds silly, but more than once in the days when the depression was still crushing my spirit Chris would take me out and we’d hunt up a shop that sold semiprecious stones.  That’s how I got my labradorite heart, big enough to fit in the palm of my hand.

Mountain Spirit is one of those places where you just know the Buddhist, yoga, Hindu, and New Age folks like to shop.  Plenty of statues of Kwan Yin and Ganesh, prayer flags. and whatever incense was burning.  It’s a nice place with something for every age range.  I had been in there once before, but not on a serious mission of acquisition.  I explored the place, mentally checking off every rock I already had, i.e. amethyst and malachite and lapis lazuli and tiger iron and even Pakistani agate.  Much to my delight, I found a splendid specimen of kyanite.  It was available in obelisk form, which did a lot to show off the color variations and crystalline structure.  Even better was the “raw” specimen that bared the blue/gray crystals in their native matrix.  Had to have it.  The really sweet young lady who runs the shop showed me the listing for kyanite in her book on the meanings of stones.  That information harmonized well with the goals on my immediate horizon for the New Year, so all the better.  Now I just have to find a good display stand.

Kyanite from mineralatlas.com

 

Now here I sit, having just completed my Amazon Author Page.  Got a rejection slip today, but hey, that’s still progress, right?  Ad astra, baby!

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‘Kittendales’: Shirtless men do their part to get kitties adopted | MNN – Mother Nature Network


by Lillian Csernica on December 4, 2013

Do you know anyone who likes both good-looking half-naked men AND cute fuzzy little kittens?  The fundraising genius at this animal shelter has brought these adorable subjects together in what may well be the perfect Christmas gift for several people on your list:

‘Kittendales’: Shirtless men do their part to get kitties adopted | MNN – Mother Nature Network.

All the proceeds go to support the no-kill animal shelter.  Please, consider buying at least one calendar.  I just ordered mine.  This is some serious eye candy, and it’s a great way to support the dedication of the shelter staff and the volunteers/models.

Happy Holidays!

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The Top Five Writing Blogs I Read


by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2013

 

Kristen Lamb’s Blog — Sharp, personable, meaningful, and informative.  Deserves the title Social Media Maven.

terribleminds: Chuck Wendig — Raunchy, hilarious, heartfelt, and streetwise.

Hunting Down Writing — Full of resources, such as this excellent challenge.

Broadside — Witty, thought-provoking, a valuable perspective on whatever topic she chooses.

Leanne Shirtliffe — Ironic Mom — Just too damn funny.  Whether or not you’re a mother, you will enjoy the author of “Don’t Lick the Minivan.”

Click those links!  You’ll be glad you did!

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