Setting: the Lilac Festival

Have you ever written about a place you’ve visited? I’m guessing that most authors have done this. How about writing about a place you’ve never visited? I’m sure a lot of us do that, too – springboarding off of our dreams and desires, we use our imagination to visit places we may never see in real life. Okay, how about this one: have you ever written about a place you haven’t been to, and then gone there?

I did that yesterday.

Our upcoming release in the José Picada, PI series (Act of Abduction) has multiple scenes that take place at the Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY. Until yesterday, I’d never been to this festival.  I was curious to see how closely my imaginings of this annual event matched up with reality. Plus, it was a beautiful day out. So off we went.

I had envisioned a quaint festival with good food, arts and crafts for sale, a stage for live music, and tons of lilacs blooming everywhere.

What I actually saw: near chaos. Maybe it was the gorgeous weather. Maybe it was the fact that Rochesterians had survived the longest, coldest winter in recent history and were finally able to get out and celebrate spring. Or maybe the Lilac Festival is always a madhouse. Since I’d never been before, I don’t know the reason why; I just know that it was way bigger and busier than I’d expected. The paths between vendors were frequently bottlenecked, and my claustrophobic tendencies nearly kicked in.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We ate some yummy food, listened to a really good band, perused the art and craft items for sale, bought some delicious English toffee, gawked at the ridiculously long line of people waiting to purchase kettle corn, and strolled through the mostly-nonblooming lilac trees. That long, cold winter must have really pushed the growing season back; there were just a few blooms here and there.

One of the few lilac blooms we could find.

One of the few lilac blooms we could find.

We enjoyed our time at the Lilac Festival, but I’m in no hurry to go back. I prefer my fictional version. Have you ever had a similar experience?


About HFBrainerd

Published novelist and Disney World fanatic. Thanks for coming along on this wild ride!
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2 Responses to Setting: the Lilac Festival

  1. J.Q. Rose says:

    Sounds like you had a good time despite the crowds. I don’t believe I have written about a place I have never been to, but I’ve included plenty of scenes from places I have lived. Sunshine Boulevard takes place in Florida and Coda and my WIP in Michigan. We spent a weekend at Mackinac Island’s lilac festival, just off the northern Michigan shoreline. The festival is early in their tourist season, so it was easy to take a ferry to the island and stroll the uncrowded streets and shops–no motor vehicles allowed, only horse-drawn carriages and bikes. Gorgeous scenery and the lilacs were at their peak! Their sweet fragrance settled all over the quaint town. Your photo is lovely. Our lilacs aren’t even close to blooming yet. Looking forward to enjoying them.

    • HFBrainerd says:

      Thanks for your comment, JQ. The Mackinac Island lilac festival sounds spectacular! My parents have several lilac trees in their yard, so we’ll have to have our own little festival once they’re in full bloom. 🙂

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