Name: Lillian Csernica. (Pen name: Elaine LeClaire)
Age: Old enough to have teenage sons.
Where are you from: I live in Northern California.
A little about yourself, i.e. education, family life, etc.
I’m married and I have two teenage sons who both have special needs. My older son has cerebral palsy and seizure disorder, so he’s in a wheelchair. My younger son is autistic. I’m very fortunate in that I work at home and can make my own hours. That way I’m available whenever the boys need me. We do not have what most people think of as normal family life. While that can be a real strain at times, it has also brought me many blessings in terms of the people we’ve met and the material for my writing.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
The steampunk anthology Twelve Hours Later has just been released. In it I have two stories, “In the Midnight Hour” and “A Demon in the Noonday Sun.” The premise of the anthology is quite intriguing. Each author must have two stories which relate to each other and happen twelve hours apart. Each story must take place within that one hour. It was a wonderful challenge, and I’m very proud to have my stories chosen for the anthology.
Fiona: Why and when did you begin writing?
When I was little I had one of those diaries with the lock on it. Even at that age I could see the diary didn’t have anywhere near enough pages!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In the sense of “This is who I am, this is what I do,” I would say junior high or high school. That’s when I knew that writing was the art form meant for me. I come from a long line of artists on my mother’s side. My mother paints, my sister could be a professional party planner, and my grandmother created several different types of art. In terms of writing as a professional, I made my first short story sale in 1990. In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as an Active Member.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My father was a twenty year Navy man, so I grew up seeing him watch “The World at War” and other historical documentaries. That probably had something to do with my love of history. Pirates are quite popular, and since I’m a big fan of tall ships, it seemed very natural to write Ship of Dreams. Creating this terrifying French pirate, L’Ange Noir (The Black Angel), who turns out to be a lonely, troubled Naval officer gave me a great deal of satisfaction. Alexandre is one of my best heroes.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
It depends on what I’m writing. I’ve published stories in science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, steampunk, and mystery. I’ve also published two nonfiction how-to texts, The Writer’s Spellbook and The Fright Factory.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
For the purposes of this question I’ll focus on my current novel. Sword Master, Flower Maiden is an historical romance set in Japan 1865, between a masterless samurai and an English girl raised in Japan to become tayuu, the absolute highest rank of courtesan. My working title had been The Ronin and the Runaway, but that wouldn’t work well enough for marketing purposes. I needed a title that would tell the romance reader what kind of hero and heroine would be falling in love.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The usual message of a romance novel is “Love conquers all.” I don’t believe that, because there are some things in the world that love can’t conquer. For example, in the Tokugawa Period of Japanese history, the bias against non-Japanese was absolute. The Dutch and the Portuguese were allowed to land on Nagasaki, but contact was strictly regulated between them and representatives of the Shogun. All this being true, when my hero Tendo and my heroine Yuriko meet, he is beyond shocked to discover this white girl who can speak fluent Japanese. The smart thing for him to do is hand her over immediately to the corrupt samurai who raised her. Tendo instead chooses to act like a proper samurai and defend her, since she is weak and helpless.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
As much of it as I could possibly manage, allowing for the requirements of the romance paradigm. In a strictly real world, the bad guys’ troops would have found Tendo, killed him, and taken Yuriko back. I have created another Japanese lord as powerful as the bad guy who can protect Tendo and Yuriko. At this time in Japan, the smart people could look ahead and see the West had come to Japan and the Shogunate was doomed to collapse. Prejudice against foreigners was still very strong, but some of the Japanese, including the Emperor Meiji, understood that Japan needed to come out of the Middle Ages and join the modern world. It could do that only with the help of the foreigners, which included the French, the Germans, and the British.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I do have Japanese friends, and I know people in Japan who have been very helpful with details of speech, etiquette, and clothing. Thanks to working at the Renaissance Faire, I know several men who are trained swordsmen and a few who actually make swords. I can speak enough Japanese to be a polite tourist, although my knowledge of historical Japanese terms surprised my Japanese instructor. Back in 2007 I spent a week in Yokohama. I really love Japanese history and culture. I can’t wait to go to Kyoto!
Fiona: What books have influenced your life most? A mentor?
Ray Bradbury gave me my first taste of science fiction. Dandelion Wine showed me how to tell a novel-length story in a way that allowed for side stories flowing into the main plot like tributaries feeding a river. I’ve always loved historical fiction, so I have to mention Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Bowen, and the big names of the turn of the century ghost stories, people such as M.R. James, A.M. Burrage, Mrs. Riddell, and Lady Cynthia Asquith.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories by Robert Hood
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Ben Winters, author of The Last Policeman trilogy. Zena Shapter, winner of the Ditmar Award.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
As I mentioned earlier, Sword Master, Flower Maiden is my current novel. Allow me to clarify by saying it’s now in my agent’s hands. I am at work on the sequel, Garden of Lies. In this novel Tendo and Yuriko face a new and far more powerful enemy as they continue to struggle with all the obstacles that keep coming between them and their love for each other.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
“Entity”? I don’t know if I should name a person, an organization, or some supernatural creature! <laughing> If there’s one person outside of my family who has done the most to help me further my writing career, that would have to be Patricia H. MacEwen, my collaborator, partner in crime, and number one best friend. Pat reads my work and asks the hard questions, challenges me to raise the stakes, and never for a minute lets me get away with being lazy or missing an opportunity in my work.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. This is what I do for a living. This is my job. When it’s time to write, I tell my sons I have to go to work.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Oh yes. I could be more precise about what the characters are wearing, but my agent doesn’t like it when I use too many foreign language terms. Right now, in Garden of Lies, I know somebody from the main cast is going to die by the end of the book. I hate it when that happens, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was in grade school, I wandered around in the children’s section of the library and found the books that had either a red skull or a blue rocket ship on their spines. The skull meant mystery, suspense, and/or horror. The rocket ship meant science fiction, or the broader category now in use, that of speculative fiction. I’d read these books and my imagination would go off like a fireworks display. I wanted to tell my own stories, to make up people who faced some enormous problem and fought through it with a combination of brains, strength, and sheer luck.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Here’s part of a scene from Garden of Lies. Tendo and Yuriko have to stay with his parents for two weeks. Tendo and Yuriko are on horseback, riding Tendo’s parents’ house. Tendo calls Yuriko “Okusan,” which means “the center of my heart.” Yuriko calls him “Goshujin-sama,” which means “Honorable Lord Husband.”
“Stop trying to convince me all will be well,” Yuriko said. “You have never lied to me. Now is not the time to start.”
“Okusan, we will be living under my father’s roof. Are you afraid you won’t be safe there?”
“What does it mean to be safe, Goshujin-sama? If you mean do I fear for my life, yes, I do. I’d be a fool not to, after all that has happened to us.”
“You will come to no harm in my father’s house.”
“You think in terms of swords and poison and hidden dangers in the night.” Yuriko shook her head. “I am not afraid to die, Goshujin-sama. What I fear is losing the only thing that makes my life worth living.”
Tendo frowned. “Me? What could there be inside my father’s house that would take me away from you?”
“Goshujin-sama, the body can be upright, the eyes wide open, and yet the spirit within has been broken.”
“My father’s house is not three miles ahead. Speak plainly. At this rate we’ll be on the doorstep before you tell me what’s upsetting you.”
“Your father and mother want their son back. They want the son they knew before he was sent into an unjust exile. All that remains of that exile is the gaijin you brought back with you. I am a constant reminder of that shame, that pain, that loss.”
“Yuriko, stop this! How many times must I tell you, you are the reason Kobayashi found the proof that enabled my exile to be revoked!”
“I am not the one you must convince, Goshujin-sama. Can you stand against every argument? Can you stand against every plea? That is what I fear.”
“So ka.” Tendo looked away. “You doubt my resolve. You doubt the worth of my promises to you.”
“Kazuhiro, my faith in you is as strong as it has ever been. Because of the man you are, I know your father and mother are not to be underestimated. I know they will fight for what they love, just as they taught you to do.”
She was right. Just as she always was. Yuriko saw through people to the palest shades of meaning in their every word and action. Yuriko knew how to take the measure of an enemy, how to use that enemy’s strength and make it her weapon. Tendo stared ahead, his heart heavy and his thoughts in turmoil.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
<laughing> Aside from learning to speak Japanese? I suppose the challenge for me lies in maintaining a strong plot through the middle. I’m good at beginnings, and I’m good at endings, but sometimes I have trouble keeping the tension strong in the second act, so to speak.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It’s difficult to choose only one. I would have to say Terry Pratchett. In the Discworld anything goes, and yet the magic system Pratchett created has very definite limitations and some high prices for its use. Pratchett gave himself a lot of room to work with from the very beginning. Ankh-Morpork itself is a very large canvas on which to paint lots and lots of characters and places and events which have developed and matured over the course of forty separate novels. Pratchett’s ability to use the Discworld to examine different aspects of society and human nature and even archetypes as vast as Death himself really inspires me to stretch, to try harder, to write about what really matters to me.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?
I love to travel, and I don’t get to do as much as I’d like to do. The traveling I do these days has mostly to do with conventions. In February I took a road trip to RadCon in Washington state. Attending BayCon and Clockwork Alchemy will take me “over the hill” as we locals put it, from Santa Cruz County into Silicon Valley. I hope to get to Westercon, held in San Diego, the city of my birth.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The original cover on Ship of Dreams was designed by somebody in the art department at Dorchester Publishing. The cover for the German edition was designed by an artist at Droemer Publishing, somebody I would very much like to meet. I love the German cover! The ebook version of Ship of Dreams was designed by Bridget McKenna at Zone 1 Design (www.zone1design.com). Bridget also did the book design work on my nonfiction, The Writer’s Spellbook and The Fright Factory. She’s got the vision and the skills, so she’s the only designer for me.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of any historical novel for me is the logistics. I have to have a time-line, and then I have to work out exactly how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, depending on whether it’s by ship in the Caribbean or by horse in southern Japan. In Garden of Lies, I had originally planned to have the final third of the book take place in Kyoto. Then I figured out just how long it would take Tendo and Yuriko to get from Satsuma, down on the southern point of Kyushu, all the way across Kyushu to Shikoku, and from there to the main island of Honshu. Then they’d have to go overland all the way to Kyoto. It’s conceivable for them to take a ship at least part of the way, but that’s not a good idea for various plot reasons. Spending two months trudging across Honshu to Kyoto while there are still assassins, spies, and all the usual troubles facing Tendo and Yuriko did not seem to me like a good way to tell the story. So I came up with a a different ending that still uses the Kyoto idea without forcing the reader to endure the road trip.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I always learn so much in terms of historical detail. I spent two years doing research before I even started writing Ship of Dreams. With Sword Master, Flower Maiden and Garden of Lies, I’ve had to improve my sensitivity to and understanding of romance between people of two different races. I prefer to write about foreign cultures because many of them have very strict rules about not getting involved with outsiders. Race, culture, and religion provide the obstacles my characters have to accept or overcome. There’s a real push for diversity in genre fiction these days. I’m all for that.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Stephen King said it best: “Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.” Also, Heinlein’s Rules are very important. Speaking from my own experience as a writer, I would say be willing to go where the pain is. If it hurts, if it makes you angry or makes you cry, that’s something worth writing about.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
First, THANK YOU! I really appreciate every single person who decides to take a look at my work. As far as a message in my writing? I write about outsiders who have to find a way to survive despite everything their environments throw at them. Surrender means losing yourself, merging with the mainstream, going under. It’s exhausting, but my characters keep fighting.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Yes. It was about a white kitten who fell into some blue ink or dye. The kitten thought this was a disaster. The humans thought the blue kitten was adorable at gave it a forever home.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Lots of things make me laugh, such as the goofy things my cats do late at night when they get the rips. We have laminate flooring, so they can’t get any traction and end up skittering into the walls.
What makes me cry? If I think too hard about my sons and everything they will miss out on in life, I fall apart. I don’t know what kind of world they will live in as adults, especially with the water shortage and all the climate change problems. It scares me and upsets me and makes me cry a lot.
Fiona: Is there one person you would meet past/present and why?
Eleanor of Aquitaine. There was a woman who survived three marriages to three different kings. She went on Crusade and came back alive and well. She lived to be seventy-two in a time well before anything like modern medicine. That is a woman worth knowing.
Fiona: Other than writing, do you have any hobbies?
I don’t consider writing to be a hobby. Yes, I do have some hobbies. I love to make jewelry. I also collect bookmarks and wind chimes.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I love movies. For years I didn’t have cable because I knew I would do nothing but watch anime and horror movies and British mysteries. At this point in my life I love superhero movies. My younger son and saw the first Avengers movie together, and we spent Mother’s Day watching “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” I love foreign movies and TV shows, mainly for the languages. The original “Wallander” series is very good. I watch horror movies mainly because I love a good ghost story. The first short story I ever sold was a horror story. I am the blog editor for HorrorAddicts.net, so I also watch shows such as “Hemlock Grove,” “Z Nation,” “The Walking Dead,” and “American Horror Story” to keep up with what’s happening in the genre.
Fiona: If you were not a writer, what else would you like to have done?
I’d be a linguist or a translator, anything that allowed me to learn and speak at least three different languages. Right now I can be a good tourist in about six languages.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it?
Yes indeed! You can find me at Hopes & Dreams: My Writing and My Sons www.lillian888.wordpress.com