Tag Archives: short story

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

Satisfying Art


by Lillian Csernica on September 13, 2013

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

How do we create the art we want to create despite all the strictures that surround us?  I’m a writer, so I’m going to focus on writing.  I believe a lot of the same considerations extend to painting, dance, music, sculpture, etc.  With that in mind, let me recommend to you the wonderful little book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles  and Ted Orland.  As a writer, I need to know what kind of writing I want to do.  Over the course of the twenty years I’ve been working as a professional writer, I’ve written novels, short stories, screenplays, magazine articles, magazine columns, newspaper articles, poetry, and a whole lot of personal journal entries.  We find out what we want to do, what we most enjoy doing, by trying this, that, and the other.  Effort is made, data is collected, conclusions are arrived at, and off we go.

STAGE ONE:  Explore the possibilities!  What do you really enjoy doing in terms of creating art?  Poetry, short stories, literary work, hardboiled detective novels?  Figure out what you want to do, then go find out how it’s done.  Don’t worry about getting it right the very first time.  T.S. Eliot said, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.”  For writers, anyway, it’s really quite simple.  Read a lot.  Write a lot.  Study the masters of the writing forms that interest you.

STAGE TWO: Now that you know what you want to write and how to do a good job writing it, go to it!  Every day.  Process goal or productivity goal.  Whatever suits your life.  The question you have to keep asking yourself: Is this me?  Is this my work?  Is this want I want to do, what my soul cries out for, what speaks to me at night when I’m only half-awake?  Or is it what somebody else wants me to write, what somebody else is telling me I should write, what somebody else wishes he or she had the guts to write?  Be on the alert for these differences.  People will try to hijack you the minute you prove you have the courage to break away from the churning mass of wannabes.

STAGE THREE:  So you’re writing.  Good for you!  What do you want to do with it?  Personal self-expression?  Family legacy?  Professional sales?  That’s all fine.  Not everybody has to get out there and endure the daily mud wrestling that means you’re a professional writer.  Given that the majority of the writing blogs I read are about making sales in today’s marketplace, I’m going to speak to that.  Dean Wesley Smith once made a bet with Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  They each had to write one short story a week for one year (and send them out to publishers).  They continued the bet for three years, and by the end of those three years, they were selling to the top professional markets.   The moral of the story?  They worked hard, they kept improving, and they set their sights high right from the start.

STAGE FOUR:  Go do something different.  But wait, you say.  I just learned how to do what I want to do, and now I’m making progress!  Why should I switch horses in mid-race?  The human mind needs and craves a variety of input.  You like to write about cars?  Go write an essay about geraniums.  You like to write short stories?  Write a dozen haiku, or sonnets, or your very own nursery rhymes.  People demand a lot of their “Muse.”  What nobody thinks about is what the Muse needs!  Feed that Muse, people!  Take her on a vacation and let her inspire you to do something fresh and new.  Who knows what adventures you’ll have?  Who knows what strengths you’ll discover?

Stay tuned!  Next, we talk about Money!

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Fear:My Friend and Enemy


by Lillian Csernica on May 7, 201327408-blogeverday

Day 7: The thing(s) you’re most afraid of

When I first started to sell my short stories, I sold mainly to horror markets.  Horror was big at the time, so there were quite a few magazines and anthologies.  I’ve been asked more than once why I wrote horror.  In my experience, there are three types of horror writers:

The people who write about the struggle between good and evil.

The people who are on the side of the monsters.

The people who write to kill their own monsters.

I fall into the third category.  I have very little control over my world and the conditions under which I live.  I can take some of those conditions and a few of the people, change them and reshape them, then pin them down on paper where I have all the control I need.  In my stories good triumphs over evil.  The monsters die.  It might not be a total victory for the protagonist, because if there’s one thing I believe in its the spectrum of human (and inhuman) behavior that lies between what I consider to be Good and Evil.

I had to give up writing horror because events started happening in my life that supplied me with way too much raw material.  I’m prone to nightmares anyway, have been since I was a child.  I could not commit myself to living with writing horror all the time, not when real life had become so difficult and tragic.  That’s when I switched to writing romance novels.  Nothing like exotic locations, a hot love story, and happy endings as an antidote for that lingering sense of being watched or the endless fear of the dark.

What are the things that most frighten me?

Dying before I can find the right people to act as guardians for Michael and John.

Having a stroke or being diagnosed with a form of dementia that will rob me of my writing mind.

Being blinded, or going blind.

Never being free of some of the problems that keep me from achieving my full potential as a human being.

Great big bird-eating spiders

There are other things, but those are the major categories.  I fear loss.  I fear separation.  I fear endings and goodbyes.

 

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Filed under Blog challenges, Depression, Family, Fiction, Horror, Special needs, Writing

When does the editing end???


by Lillian Csernica on March 5, 2013

While I’m in the process of editing my novel, my short story inventory is out to market.  I am fortunate in that the rejections I get tend to include personal comments on what the editor(s) liked and what part(s) of the story did not work.  Then comes the hard part.  Do I rush off to rewrite the story?  Or do I keep the faith and try again with another market?

Heinlein said, “You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.”

So I had a story come back last week from a team of editors.  One of them liked the story enough to make specific fix-it comments.  The main editorial voice of the rejection slip encouraged me to rework the story and possibly resubmit it.  But I like this particular story.  Parts of it are really precious to me.

WARNING!  WARNING!  DANGER, Will Robinson!

Well, boys and girls?  What do you do when you’re too attached to part of your writing and that part of your writing is getting in the way of making a sale?

You murder your darlings.  That’s right.  Cut out those bits NOW.

I cut that story down from five thousand words to thirty-three thousand.  That’s six, count ’em, SIX, pages.  How did I do it?  I eliminated one character, dumped some material that slowed down the opening, got the story moving faster, and put the necessary exposition back in a more dramatic context.

I couldn’t have done that if my ego meant more to me than being a better writer, more than taking advantage of the opportunity being offered by the editor who liked my story enough to speak up in favor of it provided I made the necessary changes.  That story, at its new length with a much-improved title, is on its way back to those editors.  Cross your fingers for me.  Hope I did what they thought I should do the way they thought I should do it.  The one big danger of a rewrite request is the possibility of messing up something the editor liked.

So when does the editing end?  Maybe once the short story is sold.  With a novel, once you’ve made the sale and your ms is in the hands of that editor, a whole new cycle of editing begins.

Right now I’ve got another short story sitting here.  The last three rejection slips add up to a pattern of editorial feedback.  Time to get out the red pen and murder my darlings.

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I is for I: The First Person Point of View


Let’s take a quick glimpse at the options available if you’re considering writing in the First Person.

First person singular – I. This can be the main character or a secondary character close to the main character who tells the main character’s story. One of the best known examples of this is Nick in The Great Gatsby.

First person plural – We. The first person narrator is speaking on behalf of one or more other people.

Multiple first person – First person narrators all giving their own accounts of the same event. Each provides a different perspective including information the other characters might or might not have.

There are pros and cons to writing in the First Person. In the short story, it can be quite effective. In the novel, it may be harder to sustain due to the needs of the plot.

PROS:

Immediacy

Better reader sympathy

Greater depth of characterization through the similarities and differences between the internal narration and the external behavior and dialogue.

The opportunity to use the “unreliable narrator” technique.

CONS:

The strict limitations of what that character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels.

The challenge of consistency in terms of the character’s culture, education, speech patterns, basic personality traits, etc. (All the more so with multiple first person.)

The necessity of plotting the story around the limitations of the first person point of view.

Making sure the character is an active participant in the plot and not just a passive viewer/commentator.

Reader confusion about who’s telling what part of the story.

Who can tell your story best? Who has the most to win and lose? Who sees that critical moment that makes all the difference to which way the story problem gets resolved?

Take some time to weigh your options here. Your characters may surprise you with their willingness to work within the intimacy of their first person points of view.

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C is for Consistency


by Lillian Csernica on April 3, 2013

C is for Consistency

Whether you’re writing a short story or a novel, the time will come when you rewrite it. Editing a manuscript means making lot of little changes and a few rather large ones. This forces you to read through the story to make sure all those changes line up in correct order.

This is the essence of consistency.

I’ve watched “Moonstruck” so many times I finally caught the mathematical error in the script. There are three references to when Cher’s husband died. They don’t add up to a consistent time frame. It’s not pivotal to the story. Most viewers wouldn’t notice. And yet, now that I know, I haven’t watched the movie since.

Authors who write successful novel series have staff whose specific duties involve making sure the current book is consistent with all previous books. Charlaine Harris has someone do this for the Sookie Stackhouse books. That became very important after Hurricane Katrina hit and Ms. Harris had to address the consequences of all the damage Katrina did in Sookie’s fictional Louisiana.

Good readers pay attention. Good writers respect that.

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How to Make Writing Progress Every Day


by Lillian Csernica on March 28, 2013

As the mother of two special needs teenage boys, there are many days when I am just not in the mood to write.  I’m too tired, I’m too stressed, I’ve had to be out at appointments or making phone calls or sorting out scheduling problems with the nurses and aides.  All I want to do is flop down on the couch with a bag of microwave popcorn and let my higher brain functions take a vacation while I watch some trashy action movie on Netflix.

That doesn’t get the day’s writing done.

How do I get myself to churn out the day’s writing regardless of mental fatigue, emotional turbulence, and family demands?  I keep two lists:  Process Goals and Productivity Goals.

Process Goal: This is an activity that will contribute to the overall completion of a particular writing project.  I have a new short story underway.  I brainstorm more plot complications to see if I can raise the stakes and make the story more exciting with greater suspense.

Productivity Goal:  This is the write-the-actual-words goal.  A thousand a day?  Two thousand?  If I want to get a five thousand word short story written in first draft form in one week’s time, then I have to hit my target of a thousand words per day.  If I write more, great!

There is always something I can accomplish, no matter what my frame of mind might be.  If I want to be successful as a writer, both on the personal and the professional levels, then I have to get the story or novel written, clean it up, and get it out to market.  If I keep my sights set on today, I won’t feel so overwhelmed.  Today plus today plus today adds up.  A thousand words per day five days a week for twenty weeks or five months equals one hundred thousand words, which is a four hundred page novel.

Keeping those lists of Process goals and Productivity goals is my way of making sure that no matter what kind of mood I’m in, there will be something I can muster up the motivation to accomplish.  Once I’ve overcome the inertia of not being “in the mood,” I can build some momentum and get the work done.

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