Tag Archives: Victoriana

Yet More Good News!

by Lillian Csernica on February 28, 2016



A brand new release from Thinking Ink Press!  Included are my stories “Putting on Airs” and “Blown Sky High.”  I am proud and honored to share the Table of Contents with such masters of fiction as Harry Turtledove, David L. Drake, and Katherine L. Morse.

If you enjoyed my stories “In the Midnight Hour” and “A Demon in the Noonday Sun” which appeared in Twelve Hours Later, then you’re sure to have a good time reading the further adventures of Dr. William Harrington and his mechanical genius daughter, Madelaine.  The creatures of Japanese myth and folklore have more dangerous business with the Harrington family!






Filed under classics, Conventions, cosplay, creativity, editing, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, legend, Lillian Csernica, research, steampunk, travel, Writing

Drink from a Different Well

by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2015

I’ve been working hard lately on two short stories that will appear in 30 Days Later, the follow-up anthology to 12 Hours Later.  The stories are set in the same milieu, Kyoto 1880.  My main characters, Dr. William Harrington, his wife Constance, his daughter Madelaine, and Nurse Danforth, are all upstanding subjects of Queen Victoria adjusting to life in a foreign country.  Two factors make this adjustment even more challenging.  One, Madelaine has taken an interest in clockwork and other machinery.  Two, the Harrington household keeps attracting the attention of various Japanese supernatural beings.

Does it sound like a strange mix?  It is, and that means research.  Lots and lots of research.  One minute I’m reading up on Victorian fashions, and the next I’m learning exactly why two pulleys are better than one.  I have to stop thinking of Madelaine’s bedroom as being “upstairs.”  Victorian mansions had two floors, sometimes more.  Japanese houses are typically one floor.  I have to load my brain with the correct information.  Facts + imagination are the warp and weft of historical writing.

Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of writing that requires a lot of research under the pressure of a looming deadline is mental fatigue.

I have just discovered a new way to cure mental fatigue that brings with it an additional bonus.

Before the boys came along, I cooked all the time.  I invented my own variations on the recipes in my cookbooks.  Now, Michael is on a liquid diet.  John has the ASD trait of being very finicky about what he will and won’t eat.  Chris works swing shift.  Thanks to insomnia, the boys, and my writing, I never know what my schedule will be like.  Bottom line, cooking and I have become strangers.  I love to eat, but I’m more gourmand than gourmet.

The mental fatigue hit me hard a few days ago. Out of curiosity I started watching “Food Network Star,” the reality TV show where three established Food Network experts mentor fourteen hopefuls through the competition to acquire what it takes to be the new Food Network Star.  Every week some of the hopefuls are eliminated until it comes down to the final three.

I like game shows.  I like cheering on my favorite players.  I like the way reality TV works (most of the time).  So watching this show is fun, entertaining, and relaxing.  It does not require the attention, the focus, and the retention of information that research demands of me, to say nothing of the hard work of actual writing.  Fresh input.  Stimulating another area of the brain.  Taking the pressure off.  All of that is important.

Now here’s the bonus: the process of becoming a Food Network Star is all about finding what is unique about you and what you bring to the entertainment marketplace.  The particular slant here is food and cooking, but we all know that today branding is the name of the game.

One of the biggest challenges for the competitors is learning how to describe a meal in thirty seconds.  Words.  It’s all about vocabulary.  Another challenge is to show the real you, your personal flair.  A big priority is to make a connection with the audience.  On TV that’s done through the camera.  For writers, it’s done on paper, but that connection is still essential.  Hook your reader.  Establish sympathy for your main character.  Make your customer CARE!

See what I’m saying?  There I was, watching this elaborate game show about cooks hoping to become media stars.  Suddenly I realized I was hearing advice and learning skills that could do me a lot of good as a professional writer.

When you hit the wall of mental fatigue, when you can’t stand another moment of what you’re doing but you have to keep on keeping on, go drink from a different well.  Go listen to NPR.  Go watch an expert talk about resurfacing a road, childproofing a house, or bathing an elephant.  Who knows what gems of information or inspiration you might discover?

How do you deal with it when you’re tired of writing?  How do you keep going when the clock is ticking and there’s no time to waste?

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, research

Meet the Real Me, Live and In Person!

by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2015

Convention season is underway, which means I’ll be out and about performing my Shameless Self-Promotion Road Show.

Memorial Day Weekend is just around the corner!  I will be appearing at two, count ’em, TWO separate conventions!


At Clockwork Alchemy:

5 to 6 p.m. “Nemo’s Realm: Steampunk Underwater.”

6 to 7 p.m. “Steampunk Alchemy.”

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Twelve Hours Later release party!

At BayCon:


8:30 p.m. Horror Addicts.net BoF/Author Showcase

Hang out with fellow horror fans!  Meet some of the Horror Addicts!  Win prizes!


At BayCon:

4 p.m. Death panel — How our culture deals with death, or fails to.

I’ll be telling the true story of what happened in 1987 when I died in a car accident!

At Clockwork Alchemy:

6 to 7 p.m. “Steampunk Trinkets”

8 to 10 p.m. “Steampunk Mythology”

Come one, come all!  We’ll be breaking down steam power to its component parts, then dreaming up gods, goddesses, spirits, elementals, and other appropriate Powers That Be to preside over each component.  Be there for the creation of the first Steampunk Pantheon!


At BayCon:

11:30 a.m. “Vic Spec Fic”

This is short for Victorian Speculative Fiction, best typified by Jules Verne.  There’s a whole lot more worth exploring, so come join my fellow panelists as we compare and contrast the best and the worst of the period!


To Be Announced.  I have no official commitments right now, but you know me!  I’m sure to be up to something!



Filed under Conventions, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, history, steampunk

Clocking In, Clocking Out

Lillian Csernica on May 25th, 2014


Busy busy busy day!  For some insane reason I was awake by 8:30 a.m.  It might have had something to do with the somnolent sound effects from Pat’s side of the room, but maybe what I heard was just some maid being a little too enthusiastic with a vacuum.  That’s all right.  I took a shower, made myself presentable for the public, and got a good head start on a problem I discovered when I checked my panel notes for today.  I’d forgotten to print out the latest update of my notes for the “Steampunk in Japan” panel.  I knew the hotel had an Office Center, but I did not think it would be open on a Sunday.  I was right.



So off I went to Guest Services.  That’s such a plain phrase.  I much prefer the term “concierge,” don’t you?  Guest Services is a department, but the concierge is the Person Who Handles The Problem.  Sure enough, the nice fellow there directed me to a PC complete with printer in the lobby.  Once I figured out which USB port was the right one, I opened the file, printed my notes and all was right with my world.  The Hilton now owns the Doubletree, and I must say the new management has made some good improvements.  Anybody who makes my life easier is a winner in my eyes!

Now it was time to continue Map Quest!  Off I went to the Caravan Bazaar, determined to hunt down the last two stamps I needed.  I found the Handmade by Droids booth.  I had to pass their challenge in order to win their stamp.  They asked me to do my best impression of “a steam-powered penguin in a mad rage.”  Oh wow!  Good thing I’d taken that Improv training with the commedia dell’arte troupe back in the days when Northern Ren Faire made you take workshops.  Imagine me waddling side to side with my arms flapping stiffly while I alternated “Squawk squawk squawk!” with chuffing and hissing noises.  Did I get the stamp?  Oh yeah!


My final destination kept eluding me.  I learned later that I kept missing the booth because “The sign was hidden behind the shrunken heads.”  I went back to the Sacramento Steampunk Society table to throw myself on the mercy of the lady in charge.  I pled my case, mentioning that I had lived up to the challenge of the steampunk penguin impression.  You know what happened next, right?  That’s right.  I had to do the penguin impression again.  I won the badge ribbon of white satin with a metallic red trail leading to the X that marks the spot.  Two high quality chocolate coins came with it.  The dear lady brought out the “special prizes for the people we really like.”  In a variety of small ornamental tins were tiny sewing kits, just what attendees of this costume-oriented con would enjoy!  I chose the ginger tin because that enabled me to return the lady’s kindness by reaching  into my purse and pulling out a ginger candy.  She was delighted.  I now sport a Society pin on my badge lanyard.


I came back to our hotel room around 1 p.m.  Pat was up.  I was torn between calling the maid to tidy the room and just falling over for a nap.  I did call the maid, and she turned out to be this really sweet older lady from the Canton area of China.  We got to talking, and she asked me if I spoke any Chinese.  I can say “Nihao,” “shay  shay nee,” and “doh jay sai.”  (They mean “Hello,” and “thank you” in both Mandarin and Cantonese.  Please forgive my transliteration.  It’s the best I can do.)  The maid gave me an approving laugh.  I pulled my cross chain out from under my blouse to show her the small piece of jade I wear, Taiwanese jade that my mother gave me.  The length of the chain allows the jade to rest next to my heart.  When the maid saw that, she threw her arms around me and hugged me.  I love meeting new people, I really do, especially people from other countries.

Soon it was time to get some food into me before my panel at 5 p.m.  The menu in Sprigs was the same as the bar, which makes sense during a con.  That meant I had the linguine and meat balls again.  Hey, I know what I like.  Jeffrey went dashing by again in his attire as The Phantom of the Opera.  Since he was in character, I called out “Eric!” but that didn’t work, so I tried “Jeffrey!”  There’s something about his presence that demanded I rise to meet him.  We chatted for a few minutes and he was off again.  At some point in the day I had an opportunity to tell his wife Sharon how much I appreciated the talk Jeffrey and I had yesterday.  She was very pleased to hear it.  She knows what a gem she has in him.

Then it was Magic time!  I was worried about what size audience I might have because it was in the window of dinner time.  Fortunately, at least a dozen people turned up for “Making Magic Meaningful.”  (I am now OUT of bookmarks.  I knew I should have made the wine-colored set!)  Creating magic systems for fantasy fiction and gaming is one of my favorite subjects.  Programming gave me 90 minutes for the panel, and I needed it.  Each section of my panel notes corresponds to chapters in The Writer’s Spellbook.  I can go into as much or as little detail as people want on any of the many aspects of creating a strong, consistent magic system.  We had a good time.  I called on Pat to speak at points when her particular adventures in fantasy and forensics have led to either knowledge or experience by turns fascinating and freaky.

After the panel we went out into the hallway so Con Ops could pack up and secure the room.  A cluster of folks stayed with me, including Matthew and Mark.  Matthew is a delightful 15 year old boy who kept thanking me for helping him see what he needed to think about to fix his story.  I encouraged him to tell me about the plot.  As he went along I asked questions about cause and effect between events, character motivation, the real problem at the heart of the story, and who hired the bad guys.  As we went along, Matthew began to understand the importance of backstory and the details of how his world works.  Bright kid, very excited about what he’d learned from my talk.  I made sure he had my blog URL and told him I’d be happy to answer questions and talk writing with him.  I’m all for helping young writers who are just starting out.

Mark was closer to my age group.  He’s a member of RWA!  We got to talking about a very complex storyline involving shapeshifters and a secret temple in the wilds of Turkey.  Pat and I directed Mark to some books and movies that might provide more ideas and some different angles on the issues he wants to address.  He plans to get “The Writer’s Spellbook,” which is always good news to me.

In a surprisingly short time, 9 p.m. was upon us, time for Pat to present her talk on “Sky Warriors.”  It was just the two of us sitting there, wrestling with the Power Point projector as usual.  Around 9:15 p.m. we were joined by a couple that boggled my mind.  All in black, a cross between Elizabethan, steampunk, sky pirate, and a dash of Goth, they made an impressive pair.  I can now say I have seen a steampunk codpiece.  Pat gave her talk, and the gentleman of the pair asked some knowledgeable questions.  He’s a pilot, so he knew some of the more modern history of airships, dirigibles, blimps, etc.

My feet were ready to give it up for the day.  Pat made the night’s cookie raid on the front desk, and now here we are, snug in our hotel room, ready to watch some action movie or more episodes of “Forensics Files.”  Tomorrow we have “Steampunk in Japan” and “Steampunk CSI” back to back, and then I’m going to see the Japanese sisters do their naginata demo.  That should be great!


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Filed under charity, chocolate, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Food, Goals, history, Humor, Japan, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

Rocking the Clock

by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2014

Nelson’s Navy vs. the Nautilus — Thanks to Pat, my 10 a.m. panel had the added benefit of a Power Point presentation.  She’d created slides to back up my lecture notes.  This is Silicon Valley, after all.  People expect good tech!  The schematics of the Plongeur, the French submarine on which Jules Verne based the Nautilus, brought the right steampunk touch.  I had been hoping there might be some Naval personnel in the audience.  We had good attendance for that hour, including a retired Communications and Intelligence officer who had some very useful and interesting comments.

Harry Turtledove GoH panel –Harry Turtledove is so much fun.  A thoroughly gracious man, he asked us what we wanted him to do for the hour.  When nobody else said anything, I got the ball rolling with a question about writing alternate history.  Mr. Turtledove read an essay on the Dos and Don’ts of writing alternate history.  Some of the turns of phrase were so clever and so witty they had me laughing out loud.  Given that I write historical fiction, I’m thinking it would be an adventure to try alternate history.  I’m having a blast with the steampunk world.  This might be a whole new genre for me.

Authors’ Row — Authors with tables for their books and promotional items.  Sharon Cathcart writes some wonderful books based on The Phantom of the Opera.  Her husband Jeffrey was on hand dressed as the Phantom.  He has in fact played the Phantom onstage.  I was fortunate enough to have a chat later with Jeffrey about his various hobbies.  Turns out Jeffrey sings, writes poetry, builds models, has studied all the weapons of fencing, and more.  Jeffrey has so many talents he does very much resemble Leroux’s Phantom, with the added bonus that he’s not a sociopath!  Jeffrey is also exceedingly kind to any child he meets while dressed as the Phantom who is confined to a wheelchair.  Jeffrey said who better to champion special needs children than the Phantom, who was himself a child in need of special care?  The man had me in tears, because of course my son Michael must use a wheelchair.


Original Japanese 1988 Cast Audio Cassette Recording

Artists’ Gallery — Beaded art!  Automatons!  A Tardis!  An anatomical sketch of a mermaid, complete with scientific notes!  There was a pegboard wall with a running story on it made up of sticky notes in various colors big enough to hold a sentence or two.  Gotta love opportunities for audience participation.  I added my own contribution: “I activated the proto-Roomba and soon the floor was completely clear.  I had no idea what to do with all the scattered flowers.”

Pat and I weighed our dining options and settled on the bar here at the Doubletree.  Sprigs, the overhauled version of the Coffee Garden, keeps rather limited hours which are not all that compatible with the Programming schedule.  This turned out to be good luck.  While we were sitting at our table on the edge of the concourse, somebody passed by and called my name.  It took me a second to recognize him because I haven’t seen him in twenty years.  We worked together at the Northern Renaissance Faire.  He and his lady took a seat and we had a delightful meal together.  He’s been in law enforcement, so he and Pat traded some stories.  He’s a grandfather now and my sons are well into their teens, so I’m feeling the years a bit right now.  That’s OK.

Speaking of audience participation, there is a treasure map/scavenger hunt put on by Sacramento Steampunk Society.  The search takes you to various locations in the Artists’ Gallery, the Caravan Tent (dealers’ room), and Authors’ Row.  Each location gives you a stamp, mainly ink but I did get one written by pen and one like an address label.  Tomorrow I’ll collect the last two stamps I need in the Caravan Bazaar, then I will return to the Sacramento Steampunk Society’s table and receive the secret prize!

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Filed under Conventions, fantasy, Fiction, history, Humor, Japan, romance, science fiction, Special needs, Writing

The Clock is Ticking

by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2014




I will soon be heading over the hill to San Jose where I will spend the Memorial Day Weekend frolicking among the devotees of all things steampunk.

I’ve never attended Clockwork Alchemy, although I do have friends who are into steampunk.  I finally got it in gear (ho ho) and became a Browncoat not too long ago, so I am fit to join the Clockwork ranks.


I fear I cannot match the sartorial splendor of the better-dressed participants.  C’est la vie.  After the week I’ve had, it will be a major accomplishment to show up fully dressed with my lecture notes and in my right mind!

I have made a goodly pile of steampunk-themed bookmarks, so if you’re at Clockwork be sure to say hi and grab one.  My blog URL is on the back.  I am ever in pursuit of Shameless Self-Promotion!

It’s funny how life circles back on itself in some matters.  Years ago I worked Dickens Fair in when it was held on the Wharf in San Francisco.  I wore a riding habit made of cranberry wool with emerald satin facing on the lapels.  The buttons were mother-of-pearl.  I had gloves, I had a reticule, and I even had a top hat with emerald chiffon draping from the crown.  Anchoring it in place was a pewter brooch almost the diameter of my palm which showed a lady in profile with her hair blowing around her head to form the circle.  Now and then I’d switch that for this astounding piece of costume jewelry that came from my great-grandmother’s collection.  Also the size of my palm, it was made of concentric circles of rhinestones getting steadily larger until the huge one in the center.  People joke about some engagement rings looking like the headlight on a train engine.  This rhinestone pin could be absolutely blinding!

Alas, as I have accumulated years since those days, so too have I accumulated sheer mass, so I can’t fit into the riding habit anymore.  Oh well.  I shall do my best to live up to the occasion in my own peculiar ways.  A plain but professional outfit can be livened up considerably by some of my one-of-a-kind jewelry.  I was rummaging through the Bead Drawers this week and came up with both a pocket watch charm in gold and an octopus charm in silver.  Now surely I should be able to make something out of that combination!

If all goes well and I’m coherent enough, I’ll be posting here each night during Clockwork.  Stay tuned!


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