Tag Archives: short stories

The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask


by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017

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Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.

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In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.

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In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!

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The Wonders of Digital Fiction Publishing


by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2017

 

Michael Willis is a  lovely man who treats writers with respect. I’ve sold three short stories to DFP so far, and I look forward to submitting more work there in the future.

David Tallerman, another DFP writer, has encouraged me to share his excellent blog post on the merits of working with DFP.

10 Reasons You Should Be Submitting to Digital Fiction Publishing

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The Perils of Writing Short Fiction


by Lillian Csernica on February 21, 2017

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Opportunity cost. Cost/benefit analysis. Return on investment.

I remember these terms from my Economics and Accounting classes. Little did I know I would one day be applying them to which writing projects I chose to pursue.

So far, the Flower Maiden Saga has inspired me to write three consecutive novels. The farther I go in editing and polishing Book One for the big agent pitch, the more of the causes and consequences of the main storyline I see. The core plots for Books Four and Five have already presented themselves.

This is wonderful. I’m excited about all of it. The thing is, my first love is writing short stories. Reading short stories in Asimov’s and Weird Tales and my English Lit. classes made me want to become a writer. The first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up a copy of The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI and saw my name on the table of contents right there with Ramsey Campbell and Ed Gorman, I very nearly exploded with happiness.

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Short stories are great, but novels are where the money is. I’ve heard that many times. Novels take a while to write and a while to polish and package for publication. Not so with short stories. Short stories will get your name out there and keep it out there.

These are the five main perils of writing short fiction:

  1. Why waste a good idea on a short story? These days it’s all about writing novels. Give the readers what they want, over and over again. Build that brand. Make more money. Fine. If that’s what you want, go for it. Bear in mind there is much to be said for the art and craft of the short story. Hemingway’s “The Killers” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” remain vivid in my mind thirty-five years after I read them in high school.
  2. Short stories are often just one shots. That one shot might be brilliant, but then you have to go write another story. Is that one brilliant story continuing to earn royalties or selling well as a Kindle Single? I visit various writers’ groups online, and I find the emphasis on money to be disheartening. Short stories can be built into a novel. One of my favorite fantasy novels, A Bait of Dreams by Jo Clayton, started out as three short stories that appeared in Asimov’s.
  3. It can be difficult to pack a complex story idea into a limited word count. On the other hand, doing so can result in a stronger story. When I wrote “Fallen Idol,” my first short story sale, I got so caught up in all the research and characters and how-to books’ advice I thought I could rise to the challenge of writing a real novel. Fortunately, I had an attack of reality. All the research and ideas imploded, resulting in a much stronger short story.
  4. Unless you’re selling to the top professional markets, short fiction doesn’t pay much. If you’re sending out enough stories to generate an acceptable amount of sales, way to go! That’s not easy to do, even for the Big Names. I will say that anthologies that pay up front then give you a cut of the royalties can provide some worthwhile income.
  5. Here’s the Peril that cuts to the heart of what it means to be a writer. Are you going to write about what you want to write about, or are you going to write what you think will sell to the markets where you want your work to appear? The Digital Age has opened up a whole lot of  markets. They may not pay much. They may not pay at all. Still, you can get your words out there. Targeting a particular market is a perfectly reasonable career strategy. My first sale to Weird Tales was another day for joyful explosion.

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It comes down to those basic questions we all ask our main characters:

What do you want?

How badly do you want it?

What are you willing to give up in order to get it?

When you’ve answered these three questions, you will be on your way to navigating through the perilous process of telling the stories only you can tell.

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How to Avoid Cheating on Yourself


by Lillian Csernica on June 11, 2016

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We’d been together for years.  It’s hard to remember a time when we haven’t been together.  I knew it would be a big commitment.  What we’ve built together is strong.  There are good days.  There are bad days.  In the end, we’ve always ended up working at it together again.

Then it happened.

I didn’t see it coming.  I really didn’t.  One minute I was trudging along in my happy little rut, taking care of that day’s To Do list.  The next….

Nothing equals the excitement of a new beginning.  A fresh start, full of all the possibilities, the starry-eyed joy that you feel before any of the mistakes start happening.

I wanted to stay up all night.  I wanted it to last forever.  That feeling.  That sense of power, of fulfillment.  It’s addictive.  It’s also a trap.

The fast fix.  The one night stand.  Getting it all in one quick and dirty burst.

Short stories are such sluts.  They’ll let anybody write them.

I’d betrayed my novel.  It sat there at home, waiting for me, while I was off having a fling with A New Idea.

It’s so difficult.  At times the temptation is intense.  I just want a project I can finish!  I love typing “END.”  Is that so wrong?

My novel has to come first.  Oh, I can have my little stories on the side, but I have to do the day’s work on my novel first.  Then, if I have any energy left, any lingering “unmet needs,” only then can I go run off and play with some trollop of a short story.

They call it “career management,” but it feels a lot more like couples therapy.

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A New Anthology Release!


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 2014

Fresh from Dragon’s Roost Press comes DESOLATION: 21 TALES FOR TAILS!

Among the 21 TALES of dark speculative fiction you will find my short story “Camp Miskatonic.”  Yes, it’s a Mythos story, but I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen one like this.  Termite infestation prevents Maria Sanchez and her cousin Innocencia from attending their usual summer camp through their Catholic church’s youth group.  Instead, they find themselves thrown in with a mixture of girls from other Christian denominations.  This year’s rival in the camp athletic competition is the mysterious Camp Miskatonic.  From the minute the bus pulls up inside the Camp Miskatonic compound, Maria has a bad feeling about the sickly-looking girls in their purple and black camp uniforms with the weird silver squiggle.

This is one of my favorite stories among all the ones I’ve written.  I’ve read a lot of Lovecraft, August Derleth, and other authors who have written inside Lovecraft’s universe.  I’ve seen a lot of male characters, but very few females.  What could be more antithetical to the grim, dark, alien weirdness of the Mythos than an all-girls summer camp run by a Christian church?  Maria and Innocencia are both smart, strong girls.  They might not live up to the Golden Rule all the time but they do abide by the lessons their Abuela has taught them about what’s right, what’s wrong, and why they should always be home before dark!

So where do the TAILS come in?  Dragon’s Roost Press will donate a portion of the proceeds from every copy sold to the Last Day Dog Rescue Organization. This organization rescues dogs from high-kill shelters where the dogs are put down or sold for medical experimentation.  I’m a cat person, but I’m more than happy to help out the folks who have dedicated themselves to finding good, safe homes for these poor dogs who don’t deserve to suffer.

Thank you for your support.  I hope you enjoy my story, along with the twenty other wonderful stories waiting for you!

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