Tag Archives: naginata

#atozchallenge E is for Experience

by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2019


One of the first rules of writing is “Write what you know.” Draw on your life experiences to bring fresh, original detail to your stories. I agree with this. I also believe it’s very important to write about what we don’t know. I am not Japanese. I was not born into the Japanese cultural matrix. That means in order to write about Japan, I have had to do a whole lot of research as well as visiting both Yokohama and Kyoto.

As writers we are often painfully aware of how much we don’t know. This can cause a problem referred to as a “poverty mentality.” Most often this term is associated with how we think about money and finance. I first heard the term used by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones:

“People often begin writing from a poverty mentality. They are empty and they run to teachers and classes to learn about writing. We learn writing by doing it. That simple. We don’t learn by going outside ourselves to authorities we think know about it… Stay with your original mind and write from it.”(p30-31)

Sit down and make a list of all the experiences you’ve had that you like to talk about. Then list the ones you never talk about. And the ones you refuse to talk about. Don’t worry, nobody will see these lists but you. Just list the experiences in one or two sentences. You’re taking inventory to see what you have to work with. Here’s my list:

  • When I was nine years old, I came face to face with an armed robber in a sewer.
  • I helped some Greek Orthodox nuns go shopping for glasses at a mall in Fresno.
  • I took a battery-powered submarine ride around the coral reefs off Lahaina on Maui.
  • I once died in a car accident. I recovered, but I remember being dead.
  • At a steampunk convention, two identical twin female world class kendo masters taught me how to use a naginata.
  • I worked as a belly dancer from age 16 to age 18. Jobs included Father’s Day at a retirement home where only the men got to see my teacher and the rest of us.
  • When I was 18, I lived in Holland for two months one summer. I met a Dutch soldier at the disco one night. He walked me to the train station. Our goodnight kiss made me miss the last train.
  • I answer letters written to Santa Claus that come to the local post offices.
  • I’ve been through a Japanese haunted house. Much weirder than Western haunted houses.
  • I won a bottle of champagne in a storytelling contest after hours at the Northern Ren Faire.

Part of this is choosing the unusual experiences. Part of this is knowing how to make an experience unusual by the way you write about it. My friends know I have a talent for getting myself into strange circumstances.

Write the stories only you can tell. You will bring fresh wonder to the world!

"My creative writing professor suggested that I write about what I know...from my own experience!"




Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Conventions, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, fantasy, Fiction, hospital, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, memoirs, research, steampunk, therapy, Writing

And the Clock Wound Down

by Lillian Csernica on May 28, 2014

Meant to get to this more promptly, but upon my return home I discovered one of my cats had developed a serious abscess.  We took him to the vet the next morning, and it was worse than we realized.  Fortunately, our vet is great, so the cat will be fine.


I started my Monday off with the naginata demo held in the War Room.  Alyne and Malyne Hazard taught a good dozen of us how to hold the naginata, then the proper forms for executing the head cut called “men” and the shin cut called “tsune.”  I had some trouble with my form and doing things in the proper order, and then remembering to yell as well!  Cheerful and patient, the Hazard sisters and their assistants corrected us with smiles and encouragement.  By the end of the hour I could even look my opponent in the eyes instead of staring at my target while I struck.  What a thrill to be able to learn such a weapon, the main weapon of Japanese women in my chosen time period!

Monday morning’s panel schedule put Pat and me back to back, with my “Steampunk in Japan” panel followed by her “Steampunk CSI.”  I had divided my panel material into two parts.  The first dealt with the technology transfers that came from the West with the three French military missions, the two German missions, and then the United States and other countries joining in as trade opened up after the Shogunate fell and the Meiji Restoration was well underway.  The second half gave an overview of popular facets of steampunk culture in modern Japan to be found in anime, manga, music and fashion.  Before the panel started, one fellow asked me if I’d be addressing modern Japan, such as the SteamGarden events, and I was happy to tell him I would be.

Pat drew a good crowd for “Steampunk CSI.”  I was running the Power Point program, which meant I sat there pushing the button to advance the slides.  With an examination of the technology available in Sherlock Holmes’ days, Pat showed what could have been possible in terms of forensic science.  (I do wish she’d warned me ahead of time about some of the case photos that showed that shotgun and knife wounds really look like and why.  Good thing I don’t eat much for breakfast!)  The people in the crowd who had an interest in the Jack the Ripper mystery got their dose of fascination when Pat talked about Patricia Cornwell’s book on the subject.

We’d made arrangements for late check-out, which gave us until 1 p.m.  That was a very narrow margin, because I was on from 11 to noon and Pat from noon to 1 p.m.  I slipped out early, cleared the last of my luggage from our room, parked it with Pat, then ran back to make sure I tipped our maid.  I’m a bit OCD about tipping.  One, it’s customary, two, it’s polite to show appreciation this way, and three, some people who live on the margins rely on that money to make the difference.  I might not know exactly who those people are, but that’s none of my business anyway.

Nautilus shells: N. macromphalus (left), A. scrobiculatus (centre), N. pompilius (right)

Pat hadn’t been to the Caravan Bazaar yet, so off we went.  I finally made it back to the lady selling the wonderful embroidered patches.  We worked out a trade for one of my contributor’s copies of Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails.  She got the book and I got two patches, one with a rocket ship and one with a Nautilus (the sea creature).  She even threw in a third patch that expressed the theme of another of my stories.  Such a deal!

At last it was time to hit the road for home.  We got to my house considerably earlier than we usually arrive.  Fortunately, the holiday traffic was all going the other way as people who went to Santa Cruz returned to Silicon Valley and points north.  My boys always like to see “Aunt Pat,” especially Michael.  Then Pat and I sat down in my office and spent two or three hours at the computer which were devoted to an important aspect of her Shameless Self-Promotion.  It was a funny feeling to be the person who knew more about what we were doing, but I’d traveled the route we were taking already, so I could explain the comparative advantages of the choices available.  If it seems like I’m being deliberately vague, I am.  It’s for Pat to announce and present what we came up with when the time is right.

The cats missed me, the kids were glad to see me, and nothing had blown up or broken down while I was away.  All in all, a really spectacular weekend!



Filed under cats, Conventions, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, Japan, romance, science fiction, Writing