Tag Archives: short story

Why Deadlines Are Your Best Friends


by Lillian Csernica on October 24, 2016

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Yesterday I kept thinking I need to blog. Gotta blog today. Must write an original blog post.

And then I’d push on with the scene I was writing for my latest short story.

Between writing, research, more writing, and a few breaks to loosen up mind and body, before I knew it midnight was fast approaching.

So here I am today, showered, caffeinated, and making this blog post Item Number One on my To Do list.

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I have a story deadline coming up. In fact, for this particular anthology I’m committed to delivering two short stories that relate to each other. I know I absolutely must get these stories written, edited, polished, and delivered before NaNoWriMo  begins. Once the starter gun fires and we race toward the 50,000 word finish line, I want to be focused on pouring all my writing time and energy into my NaNo novel.

People often think deadlines come at the end, when you have to hand in the homework, the article, the novel manuscript. A deadline can also mark the beginning of a project. This is why there’s #NaNoPrep, along with lots of advice on the Internet about everything you need to accomplish before November 1.

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Deadlines also create accountability. If you know you’d better have something to read at your next writer’s group meeting, you’re more likely to get it written. Never underestimate the power of potential embarrassment as a motivational tool.

Deadlines keep me organized. Deadlines help me prioritize. Deadlines help me generate the creative pressure that makes the words keep coming. For me, deadlines are the surest protection against writer’s block.

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Filed under Blog challenges, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, research, steampunk, worry, Writing

99 Cents Sale!


Thinking Ink Press, the publisher of Thirty Days Later, Steaming Forward: 30 Adventures in Time” is putting the Kindle version of the anthology on sale for 99 cents! This is a limited time sale, just until September 7th. Get your Harry Turtledove fix for under a buck!

via Sale on Thirty Days Later — Welcome to the Treehouse!

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Filed under cats, creativity, doctors, fairy tales, Family, fantasy, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, legend, Lillian Csernica, parenting, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing

Playing the Writer’s Accordion


by Lillian Csernica on June 22, 2016

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First you expand by writing.  Then you compress by editing.  Expand, compress.  Expand, compress.

The trouble is, right now I’m compressing the synopsis for Sword Master, Flower Maiden while also expanding a short story that needs to get out to market.

Playing two separate accordions at once is no simple task. Just when I’ve settled into the mindset to murder my darlings in the synopsis, it’s time to switch gears and open the taps for the short story’s new scenes.

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Can I work on one project at a time?  Can I finish it and then move on to the other?  I could, but that would slow down my productivity even more.  I have to work on multiple projects at once. The satisfaction of completing a short story and getting it out to market helps me endure the day after day grind of writing a 100,000 word historical romance.

There are days when I do get tired of being neck deep in the details of Japan under the Tokugawa.  I want to run away to modern day and drop some creature of folklore into a situation that causes havoc for all concerned.  I like blowing things up.  It’s very therapeutic.

Sex scenes aren’t as much fun as non-writers seem to think.  Those scenes take a lot more work and attention to detail.  This is why my favorite scenes in Ship of Dreams are the sea battles.  I just loved figuring out how the Black Angel would disable Vasquez’s galleon so he could rescue Rosalind before sinking the ship.

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So I’m back to my daily 1000 word quota.  And I’m pushing forward on the support documents, so to speak.  And I’m hauling short stories out of inventory, ripping out the seams, adding panels, and freshening the trim.

Whoops.  Just mixed my metaphors.  Oh well.  Tell me you’ve never heard an accordion hit a wrong note!

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North By Norwescon


by Lillian Csernica on March 24, 2016

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Hi there!  I come to you from Seattle, Washington, home of Norwescon, the finest science fiction convention in the Pacific Northwest.  We’re here at the DoubleTree Inn by Hilton at SeaTac.  Lovely hotel, somewhat confusing at first, given that there are 7 wings and plenty of event spaces.  Yes, the hotel does still give out chocolate chip cookies when you check in.  That’s my kind of welcome!

This adventure began on Tuesday at 1 p.m. when I hit the road for Stockton.  That’s a two hour drive from my house over the Altamont Pass.  I haven’t driven that far all at once in almost 30 years.  Neither have I driven on Interstate 5 North since late August of 1987 when I was in the car accident that left me for dead on I-5 South.  Was I jittery?  Oh yeah.

Pat and I have made many a road trip together.  Stockton to Eugene, 6 hours’ sleep, then Eugene to Seattle saw us arrive here at the hotel an hour or so before Pat’s first Programming item.  There was joyful chaos all over the place as people checked in, other conventions passed out ribbons and promo materials, plenty of folks were already in costume, and we were clearly ready to party like the book-loving fan boys and girls that we all are.

Tonight’s highlights:

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Lots of fun on the Alien Communication panel.  Did you know giraffes can hum?

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Crossed paths with Dean Wells, one of my favorite people. I met him many years ago when I was a pro in his section of a writer’s workshop.  He’s gone on to publish in markets such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  I am very proud of him.

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The Art Show reception was a total blast.  Gorgeous paintings and sculpture and jewelry and housewares.  Pat and I went nuts over the Tarot of Brass & Steam.  Oh my stars and garters!  I would LOVE to have those artists illustrate my steampunk stories from Twelve Hours Later and Thirty Days Later!

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Now it’s after midnight.  I’ve been up for 18 hours and I haven’t gotten a whole lot of sleep in the past few days, so it’s time to take advantage of my queen size bed and call it a night.

Tomorrow:  More adventures from Norwescon 39!

 

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The Family Spirit — Back in Print!


by Lillian Csernica on February 26, 2017

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Thanks to the wonderful folks at Digital Fiction Publishing, my ghost story The Family Spirit is back in print.  This story originally appeared in Weird Tales.  If you know what it’s like to endure the company of the really strange members of your family during the holidays, then you will feel for Ben Harper as he meets his girlfriend’s family for the first time.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

Ben sat in the armchair, rattling the ice in his scotch. Five of Janice’s weird relatives sat around him, smiling and watching him like they were waiting for him to do his trick. It was Christmas Eve. His folks were on the far side of the country, busy with his sister’s latest crisis. That left him without any real plans, so he’d accepted Janice’s invitation to spend the holiday with her family. Now he wondered which was worse, the silent tension of old grudges between people he knew and supposedly loved, or the crawling anxiety of finding himself trapped with a boring version of the Addams Family.

Of all the short stories I’ve written, this is one of my three favorites.  I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.  Enjoy!

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How To Break Through to the Real Story


by Lillian Csernica on February 16, 2016

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Never throw anything away.

That’s one of the most important Rules for Living my mother ever taught me.

The minute you throw it away, you’re going to need it again.  Sometimes it can be relatively minor, like a phone number.  Sometimes it’s pretty major, like giving away all the baby toys and layette stuff then BOING!  There’s a new baby on the way.

When it comes to writing, we never know when that idea or that turn of phrase or that scene might come in handy after all.  As I’ve been editing Garden of Lies, the second novel in my Flower Maiden Saga, I save the chunks I cut out and put them in a separate file.  They may turn into the seeds of new ideas for the third novel.

Right now I’m experiencing a rather drastic epiphany in my writing process.  I have a story that fits the theme of an anthology taking submissions right now.  The story meets the essential requirements of the theme.  Unfortunately, it’s a story I wrote quite a while ago.  As my beta reader put it, it’s “from an earlier stage in my evolution as a writer.”  That means I’m a better writer now than I was back then.

I thought the plotline was pretty good.  I thought the characters had good motivations.  I thought the magic and the monster and the twist all worked.

I was wrong.  And I couldn’t see that.

I don’t know if it was just laziness on my part or what.  The more questions my beta reader asked, the more I tried to slap little patches on some of the problems, the more the story began to fall apart.  I’m in a hurry, because the submission deadline is closing in fast.  Thank Heaven my beta reader is very patient with my foibles as a writer.  She kept challenging me to think about what the story could be, and not just make do with what I’d already slapped together.

It’s not easy to admit all this.  I pride myself on writing good, solid stories.  Granted, I pulled this one out of the mending pile.  I knew it needed work.  Not until the second round of comments from my beta reader did I finally realize what the problem really was.  Yes, the main conflict of the story was worth keeping.  The rest of it had to be torn down to the foundations and rebuilt from there.

Imagine the difference between a nursery rhyme puppet show and real actors in a live performance of Shakespeare.

I’m not comparing my work to Shakespeare.  I am saying I now see how shallow the original version of the story had turned out.  If I wanted this story to really shine, I had to commit to tearing everything apart, rethinking all of it, and rebuilding it from scratch.

Stronger plot.  Fully fleshed characters.  Magic that made sense in both the big and the little details.  Anger and jealousy and hatred.  Love and loyalty and sacrifice.

Good enough isn’t good enough.  Sometimes it’s hard to see what more we could do to a story to improve it.  That’s what beta readers are for.  That’s where writing groups can be helpful.  (Please see all my caveats about writing groups.)  Once we have some thoughts from other people on what’s missing, what’s too much, and how well what we’ve got is working, then we can push harder and deeper for the real story that’s waiting to be told.

Writing is hard work.  As Westley says to Buttercup in The Princess Bride, “Anybody who says differently is selling something.”

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Filed under creativity, Depression, editing, family tradition, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Lillian Csernica, publication, sword and sorcery, Writing

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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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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Embracing the Pain


by Lillian Csernica on November 27, 2013

For A Lady Who Must Write Verse

Unto seventy years and seven,
Hide your double birthright well-
You, that are the brat of Heaven
And the pampered heir to Hell.

Let your rhymes be tinsel treasures,
Strung and seen and thrown aside.
Drill your apt and docile measures
Sternly as you drill your pride.

Show your quick, alarming skill in
Tidy mockeries of art;
Never, never dip your quill in
Ink that rushes from your heart.

When your pain must come to paper,
See it dust, before the day;
Let your night-light curl and caper,
Let it lick the words away.

Never print, poor child, a lay on
Love and tears and anguishing,
Lest a cooled, benignant Phaon
Murmur, “Silly little thing!”

I’ve been having running conversations with my two best friends, also writers, on the subject of improving the depth and meaning in my writing.  Both have advised me to work with and through the considerable amount of trauma I’ve experienced.  Car accidents, surgeries, family upheaval, my sons’ disabilities.  Yes, it could always be worse, but I do have some rather weighty material to draw on.

Right now I’m up against a good example of what could be an opportunity to prove my friends right.  In the short story I’m working on right now, I’ve come to the scene where the hero is forced to watch his father get eaten by the monster.  If the hero’s father had taken the hero’s warnings seriously, this probably wouldn’t be happening.  Part of the conflict between the father and the hero is the hero’s refusal to play along with his father’s corrupt business practices and participation in a major cover-up.  To the father, that translates as the son being a real disappointment to him.  As the hero watches his father suffer a really horrible doom, the hero isn’t thinking his father is getting what he deserves.  The hero sees this as the culmination of being such a disappointment to his father, even though the hero knows he’s made the better moral choices.

I’m having a really hard time writing this scene, even though I understand it and I’ve got the action blocked out on paper.  Why?  Because November 18th would have been my father’s birthday.  Daddy died seventeen years ago, one month before Michael had to be delivered by emergency C-section.  This is a very hard time for me.  Thanksgiving is all about family gathering together and being grateful for who’s there to share the feast.  My father never got to see his grandsons.  I know how much he was looking forward to me having children.  Daddy would have make a terrific grandfather, taking the boys fishing, playing games with them, and best of all, going bowling.  Every time we take Michael and John to the bowling alley, I feel like Daddy’s spirit is there with us.

So you can see the trouble I have with making my hero watch as his father gets eaten by a monster.  It’s easy to kill characters you hate, characters that might be based on people in real life who have given you reason to dislike them.  It’s much harder to kill characters you love, especially when they’re based on people in real life whom you love.  I don’t know how Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin stand it, I really don’t.

Now let me say that my hero’s father isn’t much like my own father.  My fictional world is probably better off with one less corrupt business executive.  That’s not the point.  My main concern is my hero and his emotional turmoil.  How can I sit here at the keyboard and take the empathy that even now has tears running down my face and translate that into the words that will express my hero’s suffering and the decisions he makes based on it?  I don’t know, honest to God I don’t, but I have to find a way.  I have to draw on my pain and reshape it into the pain as it is experienced by my hero, in a way that will resonate with my readers.

Dorothy Parker wrote, “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.”   To get to the level of writing I want to achieve, that’s exactly what I have to do.  I have to take that quill and stab myself in the heart, over and over again, keep that ink rushing out, and write my stories from the very essence of my heart.  I’m going to cry a lot, and I’m going to get headaches, and I’m going to get sick to my stomach.  Nobody ever said it was easy being a writer, and anybody who thinks so is a fool.

I will complete this story.  I will do right by my hero and my father.  And then I will move on to the next story, sharpen the next quill, and spill my metaphorical blood across the page.  Because I am a writer, a storyteller, and this is what I do.

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The Stress Meter Blew Up


by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2013

Yes, that’s right, the Stress Meter blew up yesterday and I’m still picking pieces of shrapnel out of my psyche.

Here’s my Deal With It list:

John is having trouble adjusting to the amount of homework high school is piling on him.  This has been resulting in discipline problems, noncompliant behavior, shouting matches, and punishments (loss of privileges).

Michael is having more seizures more frequently.  Last weekend he had a tonic clonic seizure, which is the worst one short of staticus epilepticus.  He’s tired all the time, his cognitive functioning is down, and he’s getting combative more often.

John’s aides are having problems keeping organized regarding his homework, projects, etc.  His school aide does not communicate with us very well.

I’m starting to have anxiety attacks again.  So far it’s been one a day, but if matters don’t lighten up around here, I may have to speak to the doctor about my medication.

Last but far from least, I had to fire one of Michael’s three nurses.  Understand that given the nursing shortage, we’re going to have a hell of a time replacing her, so I did not fire this woman on a whim.  Truth be told, my husband never should have hired her in the first place.  I trusted his judgment when I should have gone over the woman’s resume with a microscope.  I’m so happy she’s gone.  That lightens my load right there.  When the two other nurses start coming to me with their concerns about the third one, that’s a serious warning that must be taken seriously.  So she’s gone.  Hallelujah.

Did I mention my workload?  I’ve got the novel edit, I’ve got my first ebook project to edit, I’m waiting on the second half of the book doctor job I’m doing, and I just finished reviewing eighteen short stories in one issue of a major spec fic ‘zine.  Still waiting are a novella and four short stories in a brand new ‘zine.  Then there’s the little matter of all the short stories I’d like to complete, the new ones I’d like to write, and the ones that are out to market coming in and out.

I lost two sales due to the markets closing their doors.  That really sucked.  The editors were sorry, I was sorry, everybody was sorry.

This coming weekend I’m blowing this popsicle stand and heading south for San Diego.  The folks at Conjecture/ConChord have been kind enough to invite me to be a pro guest.  I’m taking along the Halloween party gear with plans to whoop it up.  While I’m gone, everything here is Somebody Else’s Problem.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

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Filed under Depression, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Horror, science fiction, Self-image, Special needs, Writing