Are you thinking of asking a writer friend for help with something? Maybe you should think twice.
Tag Archives: Writers Resources
by Lillian Csernica on June 22, 2016
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.
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.
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!
by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2016
Japan — Plenty of koi.
The Netherlands — Plenty of tulips
Las Vegas, NV — Plenty of neon
Paris, France — Plenty of cafes
Ensenada, Mexico — Plenty of beer
Seattle, WA — Plenty of coffee
Lillian Csernica on March 25, 2016
Slept late. What a luxury! There was a time when I’d stay up far too late, either roaming the room parties or hanging out somewhere talking with a group of friends. Now that I’m older and (somewhat) wiser, I know the value of a good night’s sleep.
There’s a programming track for kids that includes arts & crafts. I’d been hoping the Decorate-a-T shirt make-n-take would allow me to create a customized souvenir for Michael or John. There were no shirts big enough for the boys, but that was OK. I came up with an idea for a pillow. A medium shirt with 3 sets of sparkly blue dolphins leaping out of the waves should turn into a fun reminder of this con.
During the T shirt workshop I got to talking with three young ladies who enjoy horror. I brought a copy of Typhon with me. When I showed it to them, one of the girls pounced on it with the kind of enthusiasm that brings serious joy to a writer’s heart. They bought it, complete with autograph and gold foil Autographed Copy sticker.
I’ve been drinking Coke today. Shame on me, but I need the caffeine.
Make a Superhero Mask! Yes, I went and hung out with the kids again. No, I do not have a photo of my mask to show you. I left that particular USB cable at home with my Kindle. I am now the Bride of Cthulu! The mask base is white plastic with the usual elastic string around the back. I took a piece of lace meant to jazz up a wedding gown and glued it to the temples and the bridge of the nose. That way the point of the triangle, so to speak, hung down over the mouth, dangling pearl teardrops like really classy tentacles. More pearls and some golden sunburst sequins across the forehead added the right amount of sparkle.
What’s my superhero name? What’s my superpower? You tell me! I’m looking for inspiration!
While I was making my way back through the hallways to the main lobby area, I happened across a jeweler selling marvelous steampunk items at bargain basement prices. Bought John a glow in the dark star necklace with the word ZAP! on it in a red explosion, just like one of the sound effects on the old “Batman” TV series from the 1960s. Better still, it glows in the dark!
The dinner menu in the Hospitality Suite included hot dogs, chili, and chips with guacamole. Pat and I shared a table with T-Bone, the Saturday night DJ. He told us a very weird story he called “A Tale of Bamboozlement.” I told him one of my stranger Ren Faire adventures. Pat told us a of peculiar incident that happened while she was working for the Stockton Police Department. Now this is what I call live entertainment!
Around 9 p.m. I went back up to our room to drop off my tote bags, shopping bags, and some art Pat bought from the Tarot of Brass & Steam booth. In the hallway outside our hotel room were people with Magic: The Gathering decks. There were also people wearing Viking-type clothing. Two doors down a pumpkin beer party was underway, put on by a group of historical re-enactment folks who enjoy Viking lore. Somebody lent me a helmet that looked like the upper half of a pumpkin with the mandatory two horns sticking out of it. Now that I met the dress code, I hung out at the party for a good hour, sampling three or four remarkable brews from Seattle micro-breweries. I do mean samples, given out in the little plastic cups often used by Mexican restaurants for servings of pico de gallo. I rarely drink, but when I do, I do it for a good cause. This was a good cause!
Parties are raging here in Wing 5. I can hear the multitudes out in the hallway whooping it up. I should get on out there and see what other adventures await me!
by Lillian Csernica on March 24, 2016
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.
Lots of fun on the Alien Communication panel. Did you know giraffes can hum?
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.
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!
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!
by Lillian Csernica on March 16, 2016
I know. I said I wouldn’t do it anymore. I’ve learned my lesson.
Then somebody came along and made me an offer that brings with it a lot of benefits.
I’m going to join a writer’s group.
In the past I’ve had some unfortunate experiences. Personality conflicts. Hidden agendas. The gap in experience between some of the writers was so great that we couldn’t do each other that much good. In some cases it was a matter of logistics that just didn’t work out.
Online writer’s groups don’t really appeal to me because the biggest plus that comes with participating in a group is the brainstorming, plot twists and bigger stakes and stronger motivations for the characters. We bounce ideas off each other and the person whose work we’re discussing makes lots of notes, to be sorted out later at home.
In this group, which meets this coming Saturday, there will be three people I’ve known for over twenty years. I have collaborated with two of them on separate projects. With the one, I’ve sold three stories. With the other, two stories and a novel series that is still a work in progress. One member is new to me, but I’m told he writes in genres where I have more experience than the other three, so we should all be able to do each other some kind of good.
I confess I let myself get talked into this by the member of the group whose advice about writing has led to many improvements in quite a few of my stories as well as my novels. I have packaged up the first fifty pages of Sword Master, Flower Maiden and emailed it to all of them. I’ve been reading through the ms as I prepare a new synopsis for query purposes. The book needs more tinkering in terms of pace and the use of Japanese language. We’ll see what my fellow scribes have to say. We’re all history addicts, so that makes for a happy foundation.
If I can just get up to speed on the projects of two members, prep my comments, and be ready to participate by Saturday, I shall enter into this group situation with fingers crossed and notebook at the ready. I’m hoping I come out of it with the help I need to get my work to a better level of quality that will sell to better markets for better prices. We’ll see.
I’m a fan of ’80s rock, those glorious days of the Hair Metal bands. Bon Jovi remains my favorite, but in this particular instance, Whitesnake provides my theme song.
Speakeasy: Roaring Twenties America in a Shot
My novelette Give in to the Feeling entirely takes place inside a speakeasy. A friend who read it told me it was a brave choice. To me, it was just what made the most sense. But I’ll admit I do have a fascination with speakeasies, and not only because of the romantic (and largely undeserved) air that surrounds them – their secrecy, the mystery, the exciting jazz music, the daring young women. Speakeasies were microcosms where the larger change in American society showed itself at its fullest. All the daring, the good, the bad and the very ugly were going on in speakeasies, and if romanticism was actually miles away, history was truly happening in these places.
Speakeasies aren’t a product of the 1920s
It may come as a surprise, but it is still debated whether Prohibition worked or didn’t work. In general, there is agreement on the fact that it did work in smaller, rural towns and communities and was a complete failure in big, especially very big cities (I won’t name names, but New York City and Chicago might ring a bell).
I’m talking National Prohibition, which went into effect in 1920 and was repealed in 1933. The history of the United States is in fact dotted with many prohibition laws, which were most of times regional, and in some cases aimed at a particular group or situation. One of the first prohibition laws was designed to prohibit the selling of alcohol to Indian trappers, back in the second half of the 1700s. But all through the 1800s several individual states enacted prohibition or temperance laws.
You could say there had been speakeasies since there have been prohibition laws, so they could be found in the 1800s already, mostly rooms in private houses or back rooms inside otherwise legitimate shops.
But the truly famous incarnation of the speakeasy was during National Prohibition, and with good reasons. The smaller, poor version common in the 1800s kept existing and was still very common, but in the 1920s a new kind of speakeasy arose, one that was the expression of the time and showed off everything that was new and daring.
Women: flappers enter the male space
1920 didn’t just mark the beginning of Prohibition, it was also the year American women won the right to vote. The decade that followed saw the rise of a completely new breed of woman, young, daring, very focused, one who knew her value and was determined to make everybody aware of it.
It would be quite naïve and very superficial to say that in the Twenties women suddenly gained their freedom. It wasn’t at all sudden, and it wasn’t as fast as one may think or as complete as we like to think. The change in the minds and hearts of both women and men had started generations before. The roles between men and women, for example, had been slowly changing following the desire to take control of their life, children and motherhood being of crucial importance.
The 1920s brought about exceptional advance in contraception methods and the fact that these methods became more available made them more acceptable. The change that this caused was huge and touched on many level of American society, not just women.
Though women were the most affected, of course. They could now decide when to have children. Being a mother was now a choice. Which meant that being just a woman was equally a choice, a woman that could decide how to look, a woman that appropriated, first and foremost, the right to be sensual and desirable.
On the other hand, men accepted this new kind of woman, who became not just a lover and a mother for them, but a companion, someone who could share their lives, even before they built a family.
Sharing, this is the crucial change. Men and women did things together, went places together, they shared the same experience.
This was probably nowhere as apparent as in the speakeasy. Women didn’t frequent saloons before Prohibition, that was a male’s space. But now the new woman who was a companion did frequent speakeasies with their men, she drank and she smoked, like men did. She danced and she showed off, she made herself up to look more attractive, she showed naked arms and legs.
True, there were still lines they wouldn’t cross (women were still expected to be chaperoned, for example, and not to sit at the bar) but the speakeasy made utterly obvious that women had won a new space that wasn’t theirs before and they were going to use it.
Jazz: the devil music grabs America by its throat.
Nobody knows when jazz was born, although there is general consensus that it was born in the South, in and around New Orleans. By the 1920s, jazz was already quite popular in the South, and it was still a black music. Almost only African Americans played it, and because they were mostly not allowed to play in reputable places, they had to make do with less savoury establishments: brothels, dens, game houses. So people started make the connection that jazz was the music of vice and deviance, that it was brutal and animalistic.
When jazzmen went North at the time of the Great Migration, they kept playing in this kind of establishments, in the black belts of big cities. Many of them found work in speakeasies, which were spreading and becoming ever more numerous and needed entertainment.
People came to get drunk, but also to dance and soon jazz was the music you wanted to dance to.
It was still disreputable, because it was played mostly in outlaw bars, where young people of all races were giving themselves to the syncopated music that (it was said) killed all inhibitions. It was still played mostly by African Americans, so there was much debate whether the music was worth calling art (at first) and whether African Americans truly invented it (later on).
But it infiltrated every crack of life. Young people loved it, it was liberating and new and daring. The music industry, that was just rising, loved it because it was the rage of the day. White musicians loved it because it was so new and different.
Jazz influenced the 1920s to a point that that time was called Jazz Age. It penetrated every aspect of life.
In the speakeasy, it happened every night.
Integration: black-and-tan fantasy
Black-and-tans – bars and ballrooms that could be patronised by both Blacks and Whites – and slamming had existed before Prohibition, but in the Twenties it became a true fashion.
There was a general feeling that new, interesting things where happening in the black belts of big city. Where else was the best jazz performed, after all? Where else was it possible to dance the newest, craziest dances?
Black jazz bands generally performed in the segregated parts of town. Some managed to perform outside of it, but they were exceptions. So people, especially young people in search of strong emotions, flocked to the black belts of every big city. Here, speakeasies adjusted to it and many offered the possibility to both Whites and Blacks to patronised.
But we shouldn’t think the same that happens to day happened back then. The places where Blacks and White could actually mingle were very rare. Mostly, black-and-tans offered a level of interaction that was very stylised and closely controlled. One of the most famous black-and-tans of the time, for example, NYC Cotton Club, was a place where artists and stuff were black, but where black patronage was actually discouraged. There were black-and-tans where Black and Whites could dance on the same floor, but with a rope separating black couples form white couples. There were places where there were two different dance floors. Places that allowed mix couples to dance (but not to sit at the same table) and places that didn’t. And yes, there were even places where people could actually intermingle. I won’t go so far as to say that black-and-tans were integrated places, but they did become more common and they did allow more interaction.
This was particularly true for jazzmen. Black jazzmen were very seldom allowed to play outside of Black Belts, but they were the true masters of the art. So white jazzmen often traveled to the black belts to listen to black jazzmen and learn from them, they sometimes even play together.
So, in the smoky atmosphere of speakeasies, integration was timidly taking its first steps.
All of these changes weren’t just happening in the twilight of speakeasies. Change was happening in the society at large. Was it disquieting? It sure was. Was it upsetting that in these illegal places this kind of behaviour was common and sometime unchecked? Yes it was. But it was happening. But if in everyday life people may have pretend not to see, in speakeasies it was so plain it couldn’t be denied.
by Lillian Csernica on February 16, 2016
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.”
by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2016
I spent ten years working in retail sales.
I am soooooo happy I don’t do that for a living anymore.
Why, you ask? Because I spent most of those ten years working Renaissance Faires around the western United States. That might sound like a fun job, getting to dress up in costume and be part of environmental theater and spend all weekend in one big historical shopping mall with stage shows and great food and beer.
The thing is, when you’re working twelve hour days in 90 to 100 degree heat and the wood chips aren’t keeping the dust down and some of your sales crew drink too much on their breaks and forget when to come back to work, it’s not all jousting and turkey legs.
When you’re in retail, you hear “The Customer is always right” at least once a day. When you work at the Ren Faires, this philosophy gets put to the test all day long, especially later in the day when the Customers have been drinking. Let me tell you, it is not easy to close a sale on a $1200 Lord of the Rings chess set when the Customer is drunk and living out some Richard the Lion-Hearted fantasy regardless of the fact that Ren Faires are set in Elizabethan England.
People who think they’re experts about some period of history just because they’ve watched The Lion in Winter or Henry V or even Mulan really get on my nerves. If that was true when I was 28 and “a mere shopgirl,” as I was once called, then you can just imagine how I must feel now that I’m 50 and a published historical novelist.
Working in retail has made me a better writer. On the days when I’m lazy or frustrated or can’t get out of my own way, I remind myself that I could be back behind the counter at the dollar store where I once worked, trying to deal with the shoplifters and the English Second Language folks and the delivery trucks coming in around back. Talk about an immediate attitude adjustment! Writing is hard work, but it’s also a dream come true.
Working in retail has made me a better writer. There were those Customers who were polite and entertaining and absolutely in love with history. The two different companies I worked for during my Ren Faire days sold items that were often incorporated into weddings. Meeting a bride who really wanted to know how and why a Queen did this or that made for some memorable conversations. I got more than a few hugs from people who now had just the right items to make their historical dream weddings come true.
Money is nice, but sometimes I’ve been paid in coin of much greater value.
I love writing historical fiction. I love getting the details right. I love picturing one of those really wonderful Customers sitting down to read one of my books and smiling because I don’t make the common mistakes, and I do my best not to make the uncommon ones either!
Ten years in retail sales gave me experience and perspective on many different kinds of people. I know how to pitch, I know how to read my target customer, I know how to create the need and demonstrate value for money. All of those skills are essential in the increasingly competitive fiction marketplace.
Think about the jobs you’ve had. The people you’ve met. The ones you really liked and the ones you couldn’t stand. Characters. Conflict. Goals and obstacles. You have all the raw material you need, right there. Do your research, by all means, but write about what you know and what matters to you. Find the heart of the story.