Tag Archives: Renaissance Faire

#atozchallenge E is for Experience


by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2019

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One of the first rules of writing is “Write what you know.” Draw on your life experiences to bring fresh, original detail to your stories. I agree with this. I also believe it’s very important to write about what we don’t know. I am not Japanese. I was not born into the Japanese cultural matrix. That means in order to write about Japan, I have had to do a whole lot of research as well as visiting both Yokohama and Kyoto.

As writers we are often painfully aware of how much we don’t know. This can cause a problem referred to as a “poverty mentality.” Most often this term is associated with how we think about money and finance. I first heard the term used by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones:

“People often begin writing from a poverty mentality. They are empty and they run to teachers and classes to learn about writing. We learn writing by doing it. That simple. We don’t learn by going outside ourselves to authorities we think know about it… Stay with your original mind and write from it.”(p30-31)

Sit down and make a list of all the experiences you’ve had that you like to talk about. Then list the ones you never talk about. And the ones you refuse to talk about. Don’t worry, nobody will see these lists but you. Just list the experiences in one or two sentences. You’re taking inventory to see what you have to work with. Here’s my list:

  • When I was nine years old, I came face to face with an armed robber in a sewer.
  • I helped some Greek Orthodox nuns go shopping for glasses at a mall in Fresno.
  • I took a battery-powered submarine ride around the coral reefs off Lahaina on Maui.
  • I once died in a car accident. I recovered, but I remember being dead.
  • At a steampunk convention, two identical twin female world class kendo masters taught me how to use a naginata.
  • I worked as a belly dancer from age 16 to age 18. Jobs included Father’s Day at a retirement home where only the men got to see my teacher and the rest of us.
  • When I was 18, I lived in Holland for two months one summer. I met a Dutch soldier at the disco one night. He walked me to the train station. Our goodnight kiss made me miss the last train.
  • I answer letters written to Santa Claus that come to the local post offices.
  • I’ve been through a Japanese haunted house. Much weirder than Western haunted houses.
  • I won a bottle of champagne in a storytelling contest after hours at the Northern Ren Faire.

Part of this is choosing the unusual experiences. Part of this is knowing how to make an experience unusual by the way you write about it. My friends know I have a talent for getting myself into strange circumstances.

Write the stories only you can tell. You will bring fresh wonder to the world!

"My creative writing professor suggested that I write about what I know...from my own experience!"

 

 

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H is for Hotel


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2016

An important part of any travel is where you’re going to stay for the night.  If you aren’t fortunate enough to have friends or family in the area, then you will probably end up getting a room in an hotel.  I have quite a few hotel stories.

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When I was 10, 13, and 16, my father and I drove from Southern California to Toledo, OH to visit my grandmother.  It took us about 3 days to get there.  We stopped for the night at cheap local motels.  On the inside, they all looked pretty much the same.  Knotty pine walls, thrift store furniture, ugly paintings, and sagging mattresses.  Until I was old enough for a driver’s license, I had to invent various games to keep myself entertained during the long hours on the road. On one particular trip  I recall sitting up late in the bathroom with the door shut so the light wouldn’t keep Daddy awake.  I wrote postcards to a friend of mine from my debate team days.  I’d drop them in the mail at post offices along the way so the postcards arrived one after the other like those old Burma Shave signs!

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At BayCon one year Pat and I didn’t make our hotel reservation in time, so we ended up at the Motel 6 down the street.  The room was clean, with a bed and a shower, which is pretty much all I really need.  We did discover one very strange feature.  The light switch for the bathroom was on the wall outside the actual bathroom itself.  Do I need to tell you what happened next?  Pat and I would sneak up on each other and flip the switch at some very inconvenient moments!

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My husband and I met at the Northern Renaissance Faire and even worked there together for a few years.  When I became pregnant with our first son, I wasn’t working Faire anymore, but Chris and I did decide to go visit for a weekend.  We booked a  cheap motel near the Faire site and woke up Sunday morning to the sounds of the people in the next room having a very good time.  So good they were slamming their headboard against the wall just on the other side next to our heads.  I got up and took a shower.  Now I was at that stage of pregnancy where your balance starts to change.  The shower/bathtub unit was brand sparkling new, no mat or traction pads on the bottom, and no safety rail.  My husband told me later what happened next.

There I was, in the shower, washing my long hair.  I got soap in my eyes, leaned back to wash it away, and lost my balance.  Our neighbors reached the Big Moment in their good time.  He screamed, she screamed, and then I screamed.  My husband told me there was a moment of stunned silence, a sudden thumping as of running feet, then the door to their room opened and shut.  Car doors slammed, the engine revved, and they took off.  I stepped out of the bathroom minutes later to find my husband still whooping with laughter.

 

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Photo courtesy of A Creative Writing Place

On a side street just off of Beverly Hills boulevard, quite close to some of the big, glitzy hotels, there is a small family-run hotel that was built in the 1930s.  Pat and I stayed there about 12 years ago when we were working on some screenplays for an actor who was also a world champion martial artist.  One night, quite late, we heard sounds in the room above us like somebody was bowling or moving heavy furniture.  In the morning we asked the manager about it.  He insisted the room was unoccupied.  This was an old building, under partial renovation.  OK fine.  The next night,  after midnight, we had a plugged toilet some plumbing problems.  We knew the manager and his wife were already asleep, so I went downstairs looking for a supply closet.

This was a bad idea.  No, I was not in the basement.  I did have to walk down a hallway I’d never seen before.  The light was on, the doors were shut, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for.  When I turned around to walk back, some of the doors were slightly ajar.  I had that horrible feeling of being watched.  And then I heard three or four little kids whispering and giggling.  There were no children in the hotel.  At all.  I bolted upstairs like I had hellhounds chasing me.  Between my panic and the resulting asthma attack it took me at least ten minutes to tell Pat what happened.  She went downstairs and came back with the plunger we needed.

We never stayed in that hotel again.

 

 

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D is for Drinkable


by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2016

In my many travels I have encountered a variety of drinks.  Here are a few of the more entertaining beverages, notable for both their flavors and the stories that go with them.

 

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Apple jack or Apfeljack — During my visit to the Netherlands, my host sisters and I would spend Thursday nights at the disco in the next city.  The cover charge included a two drink minimum.  In late June the Netherlands can still feel like November in California, so my preferred drink would be apple jack.  I strongly suspect the drinks were watered, which was probably a good thing.  One night somebody told me a particular guy wanted to dance with me.  Turns out he was a big, gorgeous Dutch soldier who had just turned 18.  Andre and I enjoyed more than one dance.  I tell you, apple jack makes for excellent antifreeze when you’re running to catch the last train home!

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Bottled water — These days you see people carrying spiffy personalized water bottles all the time.  When I was in Paris, this was a strange sight.  I chalked it up to one more thing the Europeans did differently than people from the U.S.  When it comes to “sparkling water,” that does make a good alternative to soda if you like the fizz and don’t want the sugar.  As I continue to battle my Coca-Cola addiction, sparkling water is my friend!

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Dragon’s Breath — There are so many recipes and so many individual variations that I can only point you to Google.  Back in the days when I was working at the Renaissance Faire, before I got married, I had a close encounter of the personal kind with a homemade liqueur named Dragon’s Breath.  In those days I worked for a jeweler.  Our booth was set up right next to the legendary Cardiff Rose, the fencing booth designed to look like a privateer vessel.  One day a pirate privateer came calling with a jug of Dragon’s Breath.  I knew the fellow by sight as one of our Faire neighbors, so I felt fairly safe in taking a swig of the brew in the ceramic jug.  Oh my stars and garters!  Imagine mulled wine with a good dose of brandy.  Before my shock could fade, said privateer grabbed me and kissed me.  Ever chewed a peppermint or cinnamon candy then inhaled really fast?  The kiss felt a whole lot like that!

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Melon soda — I first encountered this divine beverage at the Toei Kyoto Studio Park.  It came with the meal I ordered at one of the park’s restaurants.  Not overly sweet, similar to honeydew melon, and even better when made into a float with vanilla ice cream.  Bonus: the melon soda came in a souvenir mug shaped like the hanging paper lanterns that decorated the Park.  The Park’s name and logo are written on the side in kanji.

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Seattle microbrews — My latest trip to Seattle for Norwescon 39 featured a pumpkin beer party that also furthered my acquaintance with a few more of the spectacular microbrews of the city known mainly for coffee.  I regret not writing down the names of each beer.  One tasted of coffee and hazelnuts, much to my delight.  Another had plenty of ginger.  A strong, bitter brew left me thirsty for plain water.  I’m just happy nobody took photos of me there.  The dress code required me to borrow a helmet made from half a pumpkin with some horns stuck into it!

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How Retail Sales Work Made Me A Better Writer


by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2016

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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.

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Southern Faire in Agoura, CA, where I hired in at 18.

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.

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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.

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