Tag Archives: train

#atozblogchallenge L is for Location


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2019

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One of the key ideas in retail success is “Location, location, location.” Put your business in the right place, where the right customer base will find you, and you stand a much better chance of making a profit.

When writing stories, your setting is a vital element. I see a lot of stories with complex worldbuilding, but the setting is more like stage scenery or a rack of props. Where you locate your story, or which locations appear in your story, can be just as powerful a story element as plot or character.

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Consider some famous settings:

Mars — The Martian

A train — Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train

A bus — Speed

A deserted islandRobinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies

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These settings have crucial aspects in common:

  • The physical location is very limiting, requiring quick thinking and immediate adaptation.
  • The main character is trapped in that setting. There is no easy way out.
  • The stakes are life or death.

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When I write historical fiction, location encompasses not just the physical setting but the time period as well:

Fallen Idol starts out in a mall food court, an ordinary, modern, nonthreatening setting. The main character, a photographer, notices a girl with elaborate and dramatic makeup. The rest of her skin is completely covered up by layers of clothing. The photographer follows this girl to a creepy abandoned factory, full of strange foreign folk art, where the rest of the story, rooted in a famous historical conflict, takes place.

Saving Grace is set in a chateau on a pilgrimage route in 14th Century France. The main character fled Russia during the Tatar invasion. She is a vampire. That makes daily living hard enough. She is also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this time most of the Western world was controlled by the Pope of Rome. That puts my heroine in constant danger of arrest as a heretic and schismatic. That meant being burned at the stake.

The Kyoto Steampunk stories take place in Kyoto 1880. Dropping a Victorian physician into an Oriental environment where he can’t speak the language and knows nothing about the social protocol makes every problem I give him twice as difficult.

Make the most of your fictional location. It can make a huge difference!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Horror, publication, research, science fiction, steampunk, travel, Writing

L is for Lost


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2016

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No collection of travel stories would be complete without tales of the times I’ve gotten lost.

On my first trip cross country to Toledo, Ohio with my father, I remember how we got lost with in Missouri on a dark and stormy night.  Even at age ten  I’d watched way too many horror movies.  I hadn’t seen “Psycho,” but I was pretty much on the lookout for the Bates Motel.  Just when Daddy was about to turn around and try again, we spotted red and blue lights ahead.  I think Daddy would have been happy to see a policeman at that point, just so we could get some solid directions.  The lights were the flickering letters on a hotel sign.  Never have I been so glad to see neon!

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When I was still in high school, my mother drove me up to Pasadena, CA so I could visit a friend at CalTech.  The important part of the story comes at the end, when we began the drive home.  At one point we had to change freeways.  I still don’t understand how Mom could miss the same off ramp three times in a row.  Seriously.  Three separate tries, three separate misses, even with me navigating.  I have to chalk it up to the lateness of the hour.  We got lost in the Chinatown area.  It was so late at night that nobody was around other than two Chinese men out behind a restaurant’s kitchen door.  I’ve never been able to speak much Cantonese, so I couldn’t ask them for directions.  Sheer dumb luck got Mom back on the right road to the freeway and headed home again!

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One night while I was staying in the Netherlands, I missed the last train home from the disco because I was busy dancing with a gorgeous Dutch soldier named Andre.  He’d just turned eighteen and came home on leave for a few days. He asked me to dance, which is one reason Phil Collins‘ “Against All Odds” will always be one of my favorite songs. 

When we realized the time, my host sisters and our friends had already left the disco.  Andre and I ran through the streets to the train station.  It was locked up for the night.  My luck was golden that night because Andre had a friend with a car. This was very uncommon at the time.  Andre and his friend were willing to give me a ride.  (I know, this sounds insane, right?  Every mother’s worst nightmare.) Fortunately, I’m good at remember landmarks.  That’s how I got us all the way from the disco in one town, along the highway through the dark and to my host family’s front door.  The girls were all sitting up waiting, expecting me to walk all the way home.  I think they were miffed to know I actually got a ride!

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On yet another of our convention adventures, Pat and I drove down to San Diego, CA for ConDor.  This really wonderful con is held at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center. This place is huge, as you can see from the map.  It is located on a road referred to as the “hotel circle.”  We arrived late on Thursday night and did our best to figure out where on earth the street numbers were posted.  We went around the circle three times!  I tell you, we were both ready to scream.  We could see the lovely white buildings, we just couldn’t get to them!  We did eventually succeed.  This was a very special trip for me, because San Diego is the city where I was born.

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Filed under bad movies, Blog challenges, Conventions, Family, family tradition, Fiction, frustration, home town, Horror, Humor, Lillian Csernica, memoirs, mother, parenting, research, science fiction, travel, worry, Writing

B is for Brick


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2016

I spent a day in Hamburg, Germany.  By a random twist of Fate, I turned left out of the train station.

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Had I turned right, I would have been caught up in all the glitz and prepackaged “German experience” for tourists.  Going left took me into the areas populated by the local folks.  This included a corner market, a delightful bakery, and a beautiful little church built from brick.

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There are two large churches in Hamburg also built from brick.

 This is the church of St. Peter, which dates all the way back to the 11th Century.

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This is the church of St. Catherine, dating from the 13th Century.

Amazing, isn’t it, that brick could last a thousand years?

 If you ever get the chance to go to Germany, do it.  I took the train there (this was the same summer I spent in the Netherlands), so I watched the landscape rolling by.  Fairy tale beautiful, I swear.  B also stands for the Black Forest, home of so much legend and folklore!

 

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Filed under Blog challenges, fairy tales, fantasy, history, legend, Lillian Csernica, research, travel, Writing

My Favorite Moments (Kyoto Roundup)


by Lillian Csernica on December 9, 2015

There were a few moments during the trip that stand out as particularly memorable.

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Turning on the lights in our hotel room.  There was no main switch just inside the door.  We did find the switch for the bathroom (located on the wall outside the bathroom, which is just asking for pranks and accidents).  There were small reading lights at the head of each bed, along with a table lamp and a floor lamp.  How did we turn them on?  There was a slot on the wall in the entryway similar to a credit card reader, only this was vertical.  I put my room key in the slot, then pulled it out again.  Voila!  Light!

Two minutes later the lights went out.

We went through this twice more, trying to figure this out with brains that had long since turned to cottage cheese.  I called down to the desk for help and told them the lights wouldn’t stay on.  They sent a man from Maintenance, who had me show him what I’d been doing.  I had the process half-right.  To keep the lights on, one leaves the key in the slot.  So every time Pat and I left the room on an outing, we’d check to see who had a key in hand and who had put hers in the light “switch.”  This resulted in dialogue that would have done Abbot and Costello proud!

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Norimono, 19th C.

The taxi drivers.  I love Japanese taxis.  The lace antimacassars on the seats, the white gloves, the automatic passenger door….  Sometimes the drivers were quite formal, and that’s fine.  Other times we’d get a driver who was happy to have a chance to practice his English, or maybe he just thought Pat and I were entertaining.  (Can’t imagine why anybody would think that!

One driver said, “English is just three words.  I love you.  I miss you.”  My cynical sense of humor kicked in and I told him, “You’re missing one. ‘I want money.'”  Fortunately, we were at a stoplight right then.  The driver burst out laughing.  He mimed writing something down, saying, “I must take notes.”  That made us all start laughing again.

On our way back to the hotel from Kiyomizu-dera, we had a driver who wanted to be friendly, but as is often the case, he was nervous about speaking English.  He had the radio on, playing classic rock.  That was a welcome glimpse of home.  Once I said, “American rock ‘n’ roll!” that broke the ice.  By then Pat was speaking enough Japanese to get into the conversation as well.  The driver revealed his secret stash of chocolates and gave each of us one.  Music and chocolate are the perfect ways to go from strangers to friends.

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At the smaller gift shop inside the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Pat and I got into conversation with Yuki, the lady behind the counter.  She was surprised by how much polite Japanese we could both manage.  When we explained our purpose in Kyoto as doing research for our writing, she thought that was quite exciting.  Before we left, she brought out two little packets of those sugar star candies like the ones Chihiro feeds to the dust sprites in Spirited Away.  She insisted on giving them to us.  That was a lovely surprise!

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The weather was so mild at the start of our stay I didn’t need my jacket day or night.  As the end of October closed in, the nights got colder.  In Kyoto Station one night, everybody else had begun to bundle up and there I was.  As I came up to the escalator going down, I made way for the older lady ahead of me with a polite, “Dozo.”  It was a long escalator.  The lady turned around and said, “Are you cold?”  Her tone of voice was like my mother’s just before she’d tell me to put on a sweater.  This came out of the blue, so I was glad to be able to answer in English.  “Outside, yes.  Inside, no.”  The lady nodded and faced front again.  As we neared the bottom, she turned and wished me a good trip.  The whole thing was rather endearing.

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The ladies at the front desk.  Thanks to my endless questions, Miss Nakanishi and Miss Kinjo knew our daily itinerary almost as well as we did.  When Pat and I came back from that day’s adventures, they’d greet us and ask specific questions about that day’s activities.  I think my boundless enthusiasm for all things Japanese plus my grasp of Japanese history and culture resulted in answers different from the ones a more typical American tourist might give.  Over and over again, Japanese people would ask me, “How do you know about that?”

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Miss Kinjo is from Okinawa.  That gave me a perfect opportunity to ask her about the kijimuna, the “little people” of Okinawa.  They’re on the large side for little people, being about as tall as a seven year old child.  Flaming red hair makes them unique among Japanese folkloric creatures.  All they wear is a garment like a fundoshi made out of leaves.  Kijimuna are tricksters.  They can be helpful when they want to be, and you’d better not offend them.  Miss Kinjo said her grandmother had told her stories about what the kijimuna had done when her grandmother was a little girl.

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With Halloween right around the corner, I was curious to see how Japan handled that holiday.  I saw decorations and party goods and some costume supplies.  The Japanese kids don’t go trick-or-treating the way we do in America.  The idea of dressing up as monsters to go door to door demanding candy under threat of “tricks” might strike the Shinto mind as the basis for a Takashi Miike movie!

This is what Halloween looks like in Kyoto:

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Filed under chocolate, cosplay, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Halloween, historical fiction, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, memoirs, research, travel, Uncategorized, Writing