Lillian Csernica’s first short story sale, “Fallen Idol,” appeared in After Hours and was later reprinted in DAW’S YEAR’S BEST HORROR STORIES XX. Her Christmas ghost story “The Family Spirit” appeared in Weird Tales #322 and “Maeve” appeared in #333. Ms. Csernica has published stories in DAW’S Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI, 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, When Women Waken, and Outpourings: Typhoon Yolanda Relief Anthology. She has also published an historical romance novel, SHIP OF DREAMS.
Ms. Csernica has written nonfiction in the field of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She has been a columnist for Speculations, writing “The Fright Factory” and “The Writer’s Spellbook.” Her controversial column of literary criticism and short fiction reviews, “The Penny Dreadful Reader,” ran in the print edition of Tangent, earning praise from such leading lights of the field as editor Ellen Datlow.
Ms. Csernica continues to review short horror fiction for Tangent Online. Born in San Diego, Ms. Csernica is a genuine California native. She currently resides in the Santa Cruz mountains with her husband, two sons, and three cats.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book(s), but nobody has? Write it out here, and then answer it.
Q Why are your novels historical romance, but your short stories are speculative fiction?
A For a good historical romance, I need the broad canvas available in the 400 page format. The short story form is good for sudden intense ideas.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
The only consistent element in my writing process is my need for 3 to 5 drafts. First I generate the clay in the form of the roughdraft, then I start sculpting it through the editing process until I have a polished piece of work. My life tends to be on the chaotic side, so I grab writing time when and where I can. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for writing rituals or strange habits. I do believe chocolate fuels the engines of creativity!
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I have Major Depressive Disorder. For about 5 years it crippled my ability to write. I couldn’t even push out a letter to family. Then I found a teacher with an unusual, non-linear approach to writing. His classes were my path back to writing, back to really enjoying my work. I highly recommend Andy Couturier and his book, Writing Open the Mind.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Keep the pen moving. No matter how you feel, no matter what the weather, no matter what anyone else is saying. Just write. You won’t know where to begin until you get to the end, which means you have to finish a piece of writing to understand where it really starts.
What are your current/future projects?
I’ve written the first book in my Sword Master, Flower Maiden trilogy set in 1865 Japan. The second book will be an adventure as I plan to start using Scrivener. I’ve got basic plans laid for the third book. My short stories proceed through the submission process. Recently I’ve gotten into flash fiction as a challenge to write short again. When you’re used to having 400 pages to work with, it’s good to remember the importance of every word.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
My first few story sales were to horror markets. I’m more comfortable in what’s termed “dark fantasy” than I am in the more extreme forms of horror. I write across the whole spectrum of fantasy genres, both in my short work and in another trilogy that awaits completion. I got into historical romance writing because with my depression I really needed happy endings. I love history and political intrigue, so it seemed to be a natural choice for combining pleasure and marketability.
What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?
I think indies will have to keep on keeping up with the progress of e-reader technology. Actual print books still sell more than the e-reader versions of the same, which gives me hope because a real bookstore is my second home. I think it’s easy for anyone to be a published author. Whether or not a particular person can sustain a following through working the social media platform along with maintaining quality writing output is going to vary. To some extent writing success is a war of attrition. You just keep at it. The people who don’t won’t make it.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
My first published novel, Ship of Dreams, was part of Dorchester Publishing’s Leisure Imprint. I have an agent, and she handled the sale. My first ebook, The Writer’s Spellbook, I put together myself with the help of a friend who has a lot of design experience. At this point I plan on putting my Japanese trilogy in my agent’s hands first, while I continue to publish my nonfiction how-to work independently.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
When I brought out the ebook version of Ship of Dreams, I used a simple cover image rather than going with something more dramatic. Amazon KDP makes the process very user friendly and provides a gallery of stock images for cover art. Now that I’m working with an ebook designer, I can create more appealing products.
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)
When my first story sale was accepted for The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI, I organized a book signing at a local bookstore. To sit there signing my autograph for the first time like a “real writer” was a thrill. In 2007, I went to Yokohama, Japan for the first World Science Fiction Convention in Asia as a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. That was a dream come true. Japan was everything I’d hoped it would be, for me as a person and as a writer. Conventions are one of the best perks of being a SF/F writer. I’ve met so many wonderful people, fans and pros alike. I’m at home writing most of the time, so conventions are an excellent opportunity to get out of the house as well as take care of business.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
Always carry business cards with your URL and email address. Follow up on any contact. Maintain a strong blog/website that will keep people coming back for more. Be very careful not to cross the line between shameless self-promotion and spamming everyone you know. I’m all for self-promotion. It’s critical now that anyone and everyone can put together a book and throw it out there into the vast Internet marketplace. For face to face events, bring bookmarks, magnets, postcards, whatever you can manage and afford. People love party favors, as I call them.
If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?
I think Amazon KDP is the most accessible. If you want a print copy of your ebook, Amazon owns CreateSpace. I’ve purchased print copies of some of the anthologies my work appears in, and I was pleased with the quality CreateSpace produces.
What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?
My novels are historical romance. On the one hand, a romance is easy to write because reader expectations are very clear and you have a guaranteed happy ending. On the other hand, history offers so many opportunities for exploration and creativity. Political intrigue is fun to write. People will go to great lengths for both power and love. Characters and their motivations take on greater depth for me in an historical setting.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
I keep repeating it out loud over and over again so it won’t fall out of my short term memory. The second I get to something I can write on, I pour out all the dialogue, setting details, character thoughts, whatever it is that caused the spark.
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
Publishers want historical romance to weigh in at 400 pages or 100,000 words. The other novels I’ve written have been between 300 and 400 pages.
How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?
A broader and stronger knowledge of history has given me a much more informed opinion about world events. I’ve had to get to know myself better, to be willing to reach into the darker, more sensitive, and/or more vulnerable parts of my being for material I use in my stories. I believe my nonfiction and my fiction reviews have been helpful largely because people have told me so. That’s always gratifying, and I very much appreciate it.
How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?
Economic times are hard. What little disposable income people have, they’re going to spend carefully. An intriguing title, an attractive cover, and a good heft of pages add up to value for money. When I was in retail, I learned that demonstrating to the buyer the value of the product exceeded the price being charged was the key to closing the sale.
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
The old-fashioned Press Release through newspaper PR channels is gone. Now we have to use our blogs, websites, Twitter feeds, etc. to create a promotional buildup. The cover reveal, the countdown to release date, all the tactics of generating anticipation and excitement. Announcing my short story sales and the releases of the anthologies or magazines where they appear has contributed to the “buzz” that helps sales.
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s a double-edged sword. I see a lot of authors tweeting about 10 or 18 or 20 5-star reviews. Too much of anything reduces its overall value. There’s been talk on Goodreads about some authors receiving reviews that are nothing more than a lot of cheering without any actual review content. We all want good reviews, but an honest and sincere review is of greater worth to me in evaluating the effect of my writing.
What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?
There’s nothing wrong with review swaps. You want an informed reader who can accurately evaluate your work? Get somebody who writes what you write. I think paying for reviews sets up an immediate conflict of interest. The writer wants something of value in return for the money, putting the reviewer under pressure to provide that regardless of the reviewer’s actual opinion. Reviews that just don’t seem right for that book spring from a reviewer who probably doesn’t know how to review a book properly. I see a lot of articles lately on how to write a proper review that will help the reader make a decision about that book.
Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?
It’s a buyer’s market, so of course the sellers have to be competitive. As for actual sabotage, I’ve read about some writers who have been ganged up on by friends/fans of a competitor in terms of negative or 1-star reviews. Nobody has done that kind of thing to me. I believe that such immature, unprofessional behavior will rebound on the people who do it and even more so on the writers who sic people on other writers in this manner.
Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?
The Oklahoma Writers Federation invited me to be their first genre speaker. While I was there a local TV station interviewed me about why I wrote horror. That was the first time I’d had to really explain, and on camera, no less! Funny things happen all the time during my readings. When I read the first chapter of Ship of Dreams, the women in the audience made great comments about my hero Alexandre and then demanded I read Chapter Two! Just recently, I had to split the reading of a story I wrote with my collaborator. He read the beginning in his deep, dramatic voice, and I got to read the climax which is terrifying and funny all at once. Sharing the reading made for a better show for the audience.
With self publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an over abundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?
Oh yes. My Twitter feed runneth over with paranormal romances, especially vampires. Then there are the “confused ingenue” books, as I like to call them. I have to wonder if the spy novels and the ex-military hero books have the same quality of research that could be found in Tom Clancy novels or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. The copycats are easy to spot, because only the character names or the locations are different. Bad hype is even easier to spot. If the promo copy is weak, odds are good the book itself is not going to be stellar.
What is your biggest fear about having a book published?
That I’ll never manage to do it again. Writing a novel is a tremendous commitment. Then there’s the whole publishing challenge.
If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?
So far Ship of Dreams is out there putting me on the map. I’m hoping the Japanese trilogy will garner even better reviews.
What is the intended audience for you book?
Romance readers, history buffs, samurai fans, and people who want to see more cross-cultural romance. In Sword Master, Flower Maiden, my heroine is a British woman raised in Japan and my hero a samurai.
Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?
Satsuma, Japan, the setting of the novel, is 1000 miles from Tokyo and the Shogunate. The Shimazu clan ruled the area and did pretty much whatever they wanted, including taking over the Ryuku Islands as a vassal state.
If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?
Keep telling your stories. Everybody has stories, bus drivers, janitors, kings and queens and tennis pros. Nobody can tell your stories like you can, so tell them or write them down or record them. Storytelling is at the heart of what it is to be human.
Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?
Yes, it’s much easier. Back in the ’90s when I got fan mail for my review column in the print version of Tangent, I’d be getting snail mail. Now email zips back and forth and I can reply to comments on my blog. As for platforms, my blog is on WordPress (www.lillian888.wordpress.com), but I do most of my socializing on Facebook. I was on LiveJournal for a while, but I found it irritating to use.
What makes a good story, why?
Characters you like and want to cheer on, involved in a strong story with good plot twists. Henry James said fiction is about “the human heart in conflict with itself.” The main character has to want something badly enough to keep throwing himself or herself at the problem. Intelligent, proactive main characters are essential. Nobody likes a stupid protagonist. High stakes make for good conflict and suspense. Exotic settings are fun, but they need to play a pivotal role in the story or they’re just window dressing.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Names are so important, the cornerstone of shaping a character. In romance, the hero’s name is usually something short, strong, and masculine. I have a quirk I’ve developed while writing romance. The hero gives the heroine a nickname, first to annoy her and then as an endearment. (For example, in Spain the hero might call the heroine Teresa his “Tesoro,” his treasure.) I choose names based on the time period I’m writing about and the culture where the story is set. I don’t use Baby Name books. I watch movie credits, I look in the phone book, or I use a huge reference book I have that lists names going all the way back to the Norman Conquest.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?
The science fiction and fantasy conventions in the Bay Area have been great for making contacts and learning from the well-published writers who attend such events as Guests of Honor. Attending the Nebula Awards as a member of SFWA is really wonderful. I can talk shop with my idols and cheer on the writers who win. Google+ Hangouts can be useful too, and I don’t have to leave the house.
What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)
The most difficult to write would be a betrayal scene. I get very attached to my characters, so the fear of betrayal is bad enough. When I have to write the scene where the hero or heroine believes the other person has betrayed him or her, it demands a lot from me. Intensity of emotion, of concentration, and the horrible distress of the one accused of the betrayal.
What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?
A female law enforcement officer at the level of Interpol, a U.S. Marshal, maybe FBI or NSA.
Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?
I’ve taken a lot of my horror story ideas from dreams. The central idea in “Dark Water” (Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2) came from nightmares about something deep in the ocean waiting to get me.
Do you have any characters you would like to introduce in other books or a combination of characters from multiple books you would like to write about in one book?
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
My characters are usually a mixture of the real and the imaginary. I might pick up some fascinating detail about a historical personage and add that to my hero, heroine, or villain.
What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
Good writing consists of clarity, precision, originality, and people and problems that will engage the reader. For the writer as a person self-discipline, dedication, imagination, the willingness to keep on learning, some training in public speaking, and above all, perseverance.
What book(s), author(s), or significant life event(s) have had a positive or negative influence in your life that inspired you to begin writing?
Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, Jo Clayton. Also William Faulkner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Manne, and Guy de Maupassant. Most of all, Jane Austen and Dorothy Parker.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
Ebooks and e-readers are convenient and useful, but nothing will ever replace in my heart the smell of a library or bookstore. The sight of all those tangible books surrounding me both intimidates me and inspires me. You don’t get that from a Kindle.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
All of the above.
Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) in bringing your book to life?
In the course of writing Ship of Dreams, I had two disc crashes that cost me 2 months of work. Then we moved. I gave birth two my two sons, both of whom are special needs and require considerable care. Even after the book was finished and in my agent’s hands, it still took 18 months to find a publisher.
Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?
I am my own book doctor. My two best friends are also published writers. We read each other’s work, which includes some copyediting at times.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?
The advantages are creative control and price setting. The disadvantages are in the production values, the promotional labors, and the sales venues. If you’re going to go indie, be prepared to shoulder most if not all of the work. You have to wear all the hats at once and be good at it.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
I don’t like to use the words “always” and “never.” Life changes. People change. What I would “never” write about at this stage in my life I might well feel comfortable with in ten or twenty years’ time.
What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?
When I first started out, I wrote because I had all these daydreams in my head that were so vivid and exciting. Now I write because I want to explore ideas that I get, match them up with other ideas and see what comes out in the mix. When I started writing, I was very young and in middle school. Now I’m middle-aged with two teenagers and a mortgage. Perspective is a tricky thing.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Ship of Dreams is a great adventure. I’m a Navy brat and I love tall ships, so I really had a good time with the sea chases and the cannon fire and the tricky maneuvers. Rosalind and Alexandre come together in a great love story. In Sword Master, Flower Maiden, I have a British woman who speaks fluent Japanese and is in essence a Japanese woman in a Caucasian body. This causes the hero, Tendo, endless conflict because while he loves who Yuriko really is but her “gaijin” appearance will keep them apart.
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
Bridget McKenna of Zone1Design.com does my book covers now. The cover for the original printing of Ship of Dreams was chosen by the publisher. I much prefer the cover of the German edition. That was taken from a particular scene in the novel.
What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?
Realizing I have to change something that will result in the need to go through the entire manuscript with a fine tooth comb so I make sure I maintain consistency. That drives me nuts, but it has to be done.
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