Category Archives: Food

#atozchallenge Z is for Zarf


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2019

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Names are powerful. To know the name of a thing is to possess some degree of control over it. Long before I learned about that belief, I had already fallen in love with knowing the names of rocks, seashells, plants, and animals.

Few activities are better for learning new words than reading a lot. You never know what you might come across. That’s one reason I love to read historical fiction and nonfiction. There’s no pleasure like finding the exact word.

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What does all this have to do with the word ZARF?

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A standard cardboard coffee cup sleeve. That phrase is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Clarity and precision are my watchwords. First draft might be all over the place, but a good solid edit will include the right words in the right places. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but you won’t get the same mental image!

giphyThis brings us to the end of the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge. Many thanks to all of you who have been kind enough to stop by, like a post, and leave a comment. I’m always happy to hear from you.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, editing, Food, historical fiction, publication, Writing

#atozchallenge V is for Vintage


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2019

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When I think about the word vintage, I most often associate it with clothing. I love Jazz Age fashions. The wardrobe is one big reason why I love to watch the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. Phryne looks good in anything.

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Vintage is a word that pertains mainly to wine. I am not all that fond of wine. Merlot is nice. Port can be good during the holiday season. One glass of champagne always has its merits. Otherwise wine just gives me a headache.

Imagine my surprise when I looked up the definition of vintage for today’s post and discovered the term applies to me.

From The Urban Dictionary:

1. Too old to be considered modern, but not old enough to be considered antique. Often used to describe items for sale online such as ebay auctions or craigslist posts though may also be found in printed listings such as classified ads. Can also be a euphemism for “heavily used” items.

2. Retro, recently out of style with potential to make a comeback

In these days of high definition video, VHS is often characterized as vintage and will one day be antique.

“Too old to be considered modern, but not old enough to be considered antique.” I’m now in my fifties, so I suppose this is true. I am now in my “Get off my lawn!” years.

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Maybe this is why I’m so fond of history. Knowing that there are people, places, and things so much older than I am makes me feel better. Knowing that I live in a time period with flush privies and antibiotics definitely makes me feel better!

If one believes in astrology, this time of life is supposed to be the best for Capricorns. I was born in the dark of winter, four days after Christmas. People say I don’t look my age. I say it depends on the day. I’ve heard 50 is the new 30. Does that mean I’m still middle-aged? It would be nice to think so.

There will come a day when my hair is all silver and I slow down. Until then, I’m vintage, baby!

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wilsoninfo.com

 

 

 

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Filed under #atozchallenge, birthday, Blog challenges, Christmas, classics, Food, history, Humor, perspective, Writing

#atozchallenge R is for Roger Zelazny


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2019

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Once upon a time, I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Zelazny, author of The Chronicles of Amber and creator of Dilvish the Damned. I love his writing style. It’s dense and rich and such a pleasure, much like flourless chocolate cake.

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goodmangames.com

Mr. Zelazny had a book signing scheduled at one of my favorite local indie bookstores. Quite a few people turned up. I was in line for an hour or so. I spent the time thinking over the one question I most wanted to ask this Grand Master.

At last my turn came. This is the question I asked:

“When you do your daily writing, what method to you use to reach your target?”

Mr. Zelazny put down his pen and mulled that over. His reply:

“I sit down at my desk four times, and each time I write at least three sentences.” He smiled. “Something usually catches fire.”

I have kept this in mind, especially on the days when the words just will not flow. Keep at it. This is not an all or nothing situation. If you have to take a break, walk away, drink more coffee, whatever, then do it. Then come back and try again.

Keep it up until the daily quota is met. You never know when something will catch fire.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, chocolate, classics, fantasy, Fiction, Food, science fiction, sword and sorcery, Writing

#atozchallenge J is for Jousting


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2019

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked at the first Medieval Times dinner theater in the United States. It was in Buena Park, which is famous as the home of some Hollywood-based companies. The big draw of Medieval Times is having your dinner while watching two knights on horseback engage in a jousting match with real lances.

I managed a crafts booth at the Agoura Renaissance Faire for a jeweler. My boss managed to get a spot in the Gift Shop, which was out in the small courtyard ringed by the stables. Yes, my shop was in a converted horse stall.

Oh, the stories I could tell about what went on while I worked there. The Head of Security was a fascinating fellow with a military background. Each of the knights had tales to tell. The owner was a gentleman from Spain. I loved this place for the same reason I love international airports. You just never knew who might show up from one night to the next. We had a lot of celebrities come to see the show, actors and sports stars and other Big Names.

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Working at Medieval Times did cause me cognitive dissonance as a writer. The production designer must have done some reading on what an actual joust looked like in terms of arena design, how the horses were caparisoned, and what the armor looked like, along with the lances. Other than that, historical accuracy went out the window. It was all down to whatever looked good and sold souvenirs.

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This is an occupational hazard when you write historical novels. I strive for historical accuracy, I really do. There have been times when somebody in an editorial position has pointed out to me that I occasionally get carried away with realism at the expense of story. The first time I wrote a medieval novel, that involved six different languages. Why? I had everybody speaking the language he or she would have spoken at that time:

My agent told me I’d better stick to French, Spanish, and English.

If you’d like to get a look at the jousting match, there’s one episode of Cake Boss where Buddy takes his family to Medieval Times. He made a cake for a special occasion being celebrated during the tournament, and the cake alone is impressive.

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aprilmunday.wordpress.com

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, history, Lillian Csernica, research, romance, travel, Writing

How To Deal With Peculiar People


by Lillian Csernica on March 27, 2019

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The Younger Boy (TYB) and I were out running errands the other evening and we stopped in at our favorite pizza parlor. There are six, count ’em, six big flat screen TVs. We’re regulars, so the staff lets us have a remote and watch whatever we like while we’re eating our food. Most often we watch cooking shows or paranormal investigations or whatever YA show TYB prefers at the time.

On this particular evening, I witnessed the ritualistic behavior observed by another regular patron. I’d seen this woman two, maybe three times, but I hadn’t noticed the details that would have cemented her in my memory. That was about to change.

For the sake of both anonymity and clarity, let me call this woman Barbara.

We were sitting in our favorite booth eating pizza and watching a show TYB chose. Most of the flat screens in the pizza parlor are set on sports games, so I’m in the habit of making sure the close captioned subtitles are on. That way I can keep the volume down and still know what the people onscreen are saying. This is important. Bear it in mind.

Barbara comes in, sees us sitting there, and stops dead in her tracks. She looks up at the screen we’re watching, looks back at us, then goes to the register to place her order. She keeps glancing over at us, then chooses one of those bistro tables where the chair and table legs are extra long. From the bag she’s carrying, Barbara takes out a seat cushion, plumps it, sets it on the chair, adjusts the angle, plumps it again. She moves on to the napkin dispenser and pulls out several paper napkins, unfolds them completely, then takes a long time making sure there’s a solid layer covering the tabletop.

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This particular pizza parlor is kept in a good state of tidiness. I’ve seen it messy only during the lunch hour all-you-can-eat buffet when turnover is rapid and the staff are busy making more food. The floor is always clean. If I ask, somebody comes out right away to wipe down the table where we like to sit.

Even so, Barbara takes extreme pains to prep her chair and her table.  Then she looks up at the flat screen across from her. It’s the one designated #3. TBY and I are watching #4. Barbara comes around the railing that divides the bistro tables from the booths. She ignores me completely and greets TBY by name. She’s vaguely familiar, so I figure she must be somebody we knew from the years my boys went through the local school system. TBY doesn’t recognize her, and has no interest in doing so. This makes no difference to Barbara, who begins explaining how she’s going to watch a certain show now, she really likes that show, so would that be OK with him? He gives her a polite yes. This is making him uncomfortable. Barbara goes through it again, still not making any eye contact with me.

At that point I realize what’s really going on. When I want to change the channel on #4, I ask anybody who’s sitting in that area if that’s OK with them. Most people aren’t even paying attention, but they do thank me for taking the time to check first. Barbara wasn’t trying to be polite. Barbara was telling TYB what she was going to do. There was a script running inside her head and we weren’t giving her the replies she was after. I suspect we were watching the flat screen Barbara usually watches. The disruption of her ritual might have caused her the predictable rise of anxiety in someone who has OCD or OCPD, which are two separate and distinct diagnoses. I could be wrong. This might have been nothing more than one more garden variety control freak with territorial imperative, which is a lot more common than clinical OCD or OCPD.

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Barbara had crossed the line into Bothering My Child, so I gave her a smile that didn’t reach my eyes and told her we understood. Translation: Thank you, now go away.

I thought that settled the matter. Nope. The staff brought out Barbara’s order. That prompted her to scurry back to her table and begin the process of arranging her plate, drink, plastic cutlery, etc. OK fine. None of my business. Barbara was in my line of sight, so watching her was something I couldn’t really avoid doing. That’s what helped me spot the problem when it happened.

Barbara’s show came on set #3. She cranked up the volume so high it intruded on all the other sets and on general conversation. Other people started giving Barbara annoyed looks. To say she was oblivious is an understatement. The way she sat in her chair, leaning forward and hanging on every word spoken by the main characters, told me this show was really important to her. Again, OK fine. We had the close captioning on our set, so TYB kept watching his show and didn’t seem to mind. He did turn the volume up a little bit.

Barbara aimed the remote she was using at “our set” and dragged the volume down to nothing.

Not OK. Trying to be a grown-up about this, I let myself assume Barbara did not know that each remote can affect the other sets. TYB set the volume at the polite level.

Barbara promptly turned it down again.

When this happened a third time, I was more than ready to tell this woman off.

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Fortunately, I’ve learned to take a breath and weigh my options. TYB was done eating. It was time to move on. This particular TV show seemed to be very important to Barbara. Maybe I was witnessing what amounted to a Big Night Out for her. It’s also possible she did not connect turning down the volume on #3 with having any impact on us. Keeping these thoughts in mind, all I did was return the #4 remote to the guy at the register. He glanced over my shoulder at Barbara, sighed, and rolled his eyes. Clearly this was a regular event.

People do have issues. Sometimes those people are also rude. Is it worth it to call them on it? I could see Barbara had a genuine problem of some sort. In all fairness, I must say she did make an effort to be polite and reasonable. Now I know what might happen if and when we cross paths at the pizza parlor again.

Times are hard. In the big picture, this incident was odd and irritating, but really no big deal. It costs me nothing to be charitable to people who are probably just doing the best they can.

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Filed under autism, charity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Food, frustration, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, Special needs, therapy

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House


by Lillian Csernica on December 19, 2018

 

 

Hi there. Right now I’m spread thinner than Nutella on the last three pieces of shortbread. Mom will be out of the hospital the day after Christmas. Tomorrow I have three appointments, then my younger son takes his first test for a new belt rank in tae kwon do. And then there’s all the Christmas prep to keep doing.

I need a laugh, and by some strange bit of good fortune I happened across something I wrote years ago at this same time of year. For your Yuletide entertainment, I present it to you now.

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thismommycooks.com

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

Never ever attempt to make a gingerbread house with somebody who’s never seen one before and yet, thanks to his control freak tendencies, immediately mutates into an expert on the art.

It’s difficult to sustain an intelligent argument about the precise technique of using industrial strength icing to glue peppermint candies, gummi bears, M&Ms, and gumdrops to the various flat and angled surfaces of a gingerbread house. Believe me, we tried. Too much icing. Not enough icing. The grouping of the gumdrops on the roof lacked the right balance of colors. The little candy canes lining the walk to the front door weren’t maintaining their lines with military precision. And the windows. This is where things almost got violent. Making window panes out of pretzel sticks might seem like no big deal, but when you’re dealing with a man who thinks we should have been using a carpenter’s balance, you’ve entered into a whole new realm of the bizarre.

Then came the argument over building the chimney out of Pez candies, licorice bricks, Jolly Rancher cinnamon bites, or graham crackers iced in proper brick and mortar formations. I’m not much for drinking, even during the holidays, but by the time I was about halfway through this delightful holiday pastime, I was ready to forget the eggnog and go straight for the brandy.

At last our masterpiece was complete. It resembled nothing so much as a perfect 3D schematic of what would happen if the two of us EVER tried to share the same living quarters. The yard was a wreck, green icing spilling onto the graham cracker walkway like rank weeds erupting through broken concrete. The cast off wrappings of Hershey’s Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Lifesavers lay strewn across the porch, revealing us for the white trash we really were. The snowman in the front yard listed like the drunken uncle at the wedding reception. It was a mercy that we never had to bother with the inside of the house. I shudder to think what horrors would have been dissolving in there. Gummi coke bottles piled in the corners…silver foil gum wrappers wadded up in the little black licorice fireplace…cotton candy webs hanging from the corners of the ceilings…. It would be just too heartbreaking.

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I can’t recall now what became of that gingerbread house. I know it sat on my kitchen table for some weeks during that holiday season. And as for the man himself, my partner in committing this crime of both taste and art? No, it was not in fact my husband. This was another man, whose story must wait for another time.  This fellow is no longer among the living, so that time will probably be Halloween.

 

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Filed under chocolate, Christmas, classics, creativity, Family, family tradition, fantasy, Food, frustration, Halloween, Humor, Lillian Csernica, perspective, therapy

Nevertheless, I Persisted


by Lillian Csernica on December 3, 2018

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Hi there. I’ve tried at least twice to write blog posts since last we met. Got interrupted, fell asleep, had family crises. Never a dull moment.

People who aren’t all that familiar with writing think it’s a great job you can do at home whenever you feel like it. For those of us who are regular, habitual writers, it’s often like that one nightmare where no matter how hard you run, you can never quite reach the thing you’re after. We struggle to find or make the time to write. Then we struggle to produce our desired word count. We sit there second-guessing ourselves, and that’s before the actual editing process starts. Then we rinse and repeat, pretty much every single day.

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NaNoWriMo — Yes, I participated this year. What’s more, I am now the Municipal Liaison for the Santa Cruz County Region, along with a nice woman who handles the UCSC campus which is a city unto itself. This meant I hosted the Kick Off Party, I was there for the Tuesday night write-ins at the library, and I organized the final celebration. Details below. Did I win? Yes I did. 50, 141 words written mostly by hand in my notebook at my favorite Peet’s. So now there is indeed a novel in the Kyoto Steampunk universe.

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Training two new aides for Michael — We have been fortunate enough to hire a second RN and two new aides for Michael. Now that he’s out of school, he needs people to help him fill his day. There are no day programs available to accommodate someone as medically fragile as he is. Michael is a grown man now, and my joints aren’t getting any younger. I am deeply grateful for all the assistance we receive.

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Mom in the hospital, then heart surgery — My mother has been in the hospital for weeks now. She has Stage 4 kidney failure. Home dialysis never did go right. The MDs switched her to hemodialysis after the whole ER panic in August. Unfortunately, MRSA is a tenacious affliction. In the course of treating that, the cardiologist discovered Mom had a weak mitral valve in her heart. This led to a twelve hour surgery to replace the valve. Mom is about to turn 82 come January. I have no words to describe how frightened and stressed out I’ve been during all this. Mom is improving, but it’s at an incremental pace.

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The Night Of Writing Dangerously — The big NaNoWriMo fundraiser. Thanks to the generous donations of my writer friends, I raised the required amount to attend NOWD. What a blast. I drove to San Francisco, found my $12 parking space (thank you, SpotHero!), and made it to the Julia Morgan Ballroom on time. The next eight hours were full of writing and food and jokes and prizes and meeting other writers. I needed a great night out and this was definitely it.

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Thanksgiving — With Mom in the hospital, this was a bittersweet event. She wasn’t at her usual seat at the table. She didn’t make us all wait while she took photos of the food sitting there on the table getting cold. She didn’t make us pose and then sit there until our smiles wilted, resulting in the usual expressions of mild sedation. Those habits might annoy me, but they’re still part of our family tradition, dysfunctional though it may be. We did have a great dinner, cooked by my husband. And I am very thankful Mom is still with us.

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John’s cake looked better.

John’s birthday — Given that we were running back and forth to the hospital and taking care of Michael (fewer caregivers on the weekend, especially major holidays), we stretched John’s birthday out from Friday through Sunday. Chris took him to Dave & Buster’s on Friday. I took him to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on Saturday along with various other fun stops. On Sunday we had his party with his custom made birthday cake and a pile of presents. My baby is now 20 years old. Next year, Chris plans to take John to Las Vegas.

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The Thank God It’s Over party (NaNoWriMo) — Once again I dressed up and headed out with my bag of NaNoWriMo swag and the prizes for the Bingo sheets we all filled out and various other little mementoes of the month’s adventures. Woodstock Pizza in Santa Cruz is great. The heaters out on the patio kept us cozy while we ate and drank and read from our novels and made the people sitting nearby wonder who all these crazy people were. NaNoWriMo is my happy place in the midst of all the stress I live with daily.

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Mercury might be in retrograde right now, but we did it. Every single one of us who did our best during NaNoWriMo is a winner. I’m exhausted, and I’m still worried, of course, but life is good.

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Coming up next: It’s time to answer this year’s letters to Santa Claus! I already have eight waiting for me!
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Filed under autism, Awards, birthday, charity, Christmas, creativity, doctors, Family, family tradition, Fiction, Food, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, mother, parenting, special education, Special needs, steampunk, surgery, worry, Writing

#nanoprep: A Night To Remember


by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2018

Through the generosity of my supporters, I have raised enough money in donations to attend The Night of Writing Dangerously.

This is one of the highlights of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I have been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2014, but never yet have I had the pleasure of attending The Night of Writing Dangerously.

This is the year I go and spend the evening with my fellow writers at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, CA. We will eat and drink and write and revel in the knowledge that we are among people who share our passion for the written word.

NaNoWriMo HQ has announced that this will be the last year for this event. That makes me twice as grateful to the wonderful people who have made it possible for me to attend.

The Night of Writing Dangerously is right up there on my Bucket List. I am now serving as the Municipal Liaison for Santa Cruz County. When I volunteered, I committed to the goal of raising the donations necessary to attend this magnificent event. I hope my success will inspire other members of my Region to do the same. It would be so wonderful for a big group of us to travel to San Francisco together so we can share this amazing evening and all that it includes.

If you think you’d like to give it a go, there’s still time. NaNoWriMo begins on November 1st. The Night of Writing Dangerously will be held on November 18th. Attendance is limited to the first 225 people who raise the money and RSVP, so get started right away.

I hope to see you there!

 

 

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Filed under charity, chocolate, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Food, Goals, historical fiction, publication, steampunk, sword and sorcery, Writing

O WorldCon, My WorldCon


by Lillian Csernica on August 26, 2018

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Oh my stars and garters! The past two weeks have been one long road trip. First, my mother had to go to the ER, and was then admitted to the hospital. It’s been two weeks today and she’s still there. In the midst of this ordeal, I had to leave town for the 76th World Science Fiction Convention, aka ConJose 2.

Here are just some of the highlights of this grand adventure:

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The Art of John Picacio

The T shirts! The Program Book! The Badges! Biiiiig badges, suitable for my ribbon whore tendencies along with plenty of room on the back for one’s participant schedule. Very considerate design, that.

Seeing Old Friends

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Kelly Buehler and Daniel Spector

Two of my favorite people, Kelly and Daniel now reside in that lovely country where Kelly will be co-chairing ConZealand in 2020! Start saving up now, kids! That will definitely be the happening spot on the planet!

The Usual Suspects from BayCon — You know who you are. All the people who came running up to me outside the entrance to the Dealers Room, seizing me in hugs so enthusiastic that some left a few bruises. Fine with me. The newer folks who introduced me to Cards Against Humanity at BayCon were there, including Karen in all her pink-tiara-and-camo glory.

David J. Peterson — Jedi Master among conlangers, creator of Dothraki for the Game of Thrones TV series, and an all-around sweet fellow. He once turned my name into a word in Dark Elvish, suitable for Malekith in Thor: The Dark World. The word? “Liljahi,” meaning to love. Not a word you’d hear very often in a warrior culture. Thanks, Dave!

Making New Friends

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Brenda Clough

 

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Joseph Malik

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Manny Frishberg

Room Parties!

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The Expanse — You have to love these fans. They really know how to throw a party. General ambience of red light. Marvelous Expanse-themed décor. In one room hung a tree that lit up from the roots to the branches. Solid color, then rainbow. Hypnotic! There was music playing and a bar and lots of people packed in there having a good time.

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Locus 50th Anniversary Party — A milestone in the industry, for sure. What stands out most in my memory is the planet cake with the fondant rockets and aliens. Way cool, excellent frosting, and high quality chocolate cake. OK, so I’m a foodie.

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Hal-Con — This event is put on by a fan group from Kawasaki. I met them in the area of the convention center devoted to fan tables. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to speak my tourist Japanese to actual Japanese people. I don’t get anywhere near enough practice. They invited me to their room party that evening. Oh wow. Lots of Japanese snacks, the great stuff you can’t get here in the States. Four Japanese ladies got me all wound up in a heavy brocade obi, the kind worn with a bridal kimono. Three different people were taking photos and video, including my usual partner in crime, Patricia H. MacEwen. I know the “obi fairies” tied at least two separate knots as demonstrations while I stood there with both hands holding my long hair piled on top of my head. I did tell the Kawasaki folks about the stories I’ve written set in Satsuma, Kyoto, and Fukushima. At the end of the evening, they did me the honor of giving me the obi.

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B-Cubed Press Table

Several of us who contributed to Alternate Theologies gathered at the table in the Dealers Room to sign copies. Bob and Phyl had badge wallets for us in purple, my favorite color! It was good to meet the other writers in the anthology, especially David Gerrold. He’s a hoot, he really is.
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The SFWA Suite

It’s good to hang out in the company of one’s colleagues. It’s even better to hang out in the company of one’s idols. Cat Rambo, Harry Turtledove, Nancy Kress, Diana Paxson, Saladin Ahmed…. At ConFrancisco, back in 1993, I made my first visit to the SFWA Suite as an Active Member. It was a thrill then, and it always will be.

There was cake. Lots of cake. The Analog party, the Clarion reunion, another author’s novel promotion.

One room of the suite was devoted to watching the Hugo Awards. I spent most of my time in what might be thought of as the conversational salon. Had a chance to really enjoy my time floating from one conversation to the next.

Next year we head to Dublin!

 

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Filed under artists, Awards, chocolate, Conventions, cosplay, creativity, editing, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, Food, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, science fiction, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

How History Books Will Make You a Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on June 27, 2018

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Why do I write about history?

History gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion.

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A good example is Scotland, which has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, notably the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those annoying facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.

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I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I would find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. Today we see all that grandeur reduced to the common everyday business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are businesses available which produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese.

It was Eleanor who paid her son's ransom when he was captured

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chivalry was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved on more than one occasion. In our present time the High Court of Chivalry deals with matters of heraldry.

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Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. It’s possible that I’ve become a tad cynical regarding romance. When you’ve been married for thirty years, the starry-eyed honeymoon phase is a rather distant memory. That’s probably why I enjoy recreating it in my stories.

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Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, which also occur in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. 

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One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because the novel was set in Navarre. It took quite some doing, but I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. Compare that with the necessity in Egypt of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes. If not for that, many of the commoners and slaves in Egypt would have starved to death.

In Medieval Europe, bread, watered wine, ale, meats such as venison, game birds, and roast pork, and large wheels of cheese made up the main meal. You can find a number of cookbooks online that provide recipes from the Middle Ages. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the pleasure of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

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Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about the delights of dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the jeweled inlays of the Egyptian pectoral collars to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. Given that their total weight was more than 35 carats, it’s a wonder she didn’t end up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s!

History is full of fascinating details. There are so many ideas out there just waiting to inspire you. Read those history books, those biographies, those memoirs! You never know when you’re going to find the one detail that opens up a world of inspiration.

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