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Saturday, December 31, 2005

A BACKWARD GLANCE O'ER TRAVEL'D ROADS

"So here I sit in the early candle-light of old age -- I and my book -- casting backward glances over our travel'd road." Walt Whitman 1819-1892
"November Boughs (1888) A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads."

Here we are at the end of another year, 2005, and one last chance to look backwards before we step into the New Year, 2006, and look forward again.

A lot of catastrophic and tragic events have happened this year, including my own private tragedy. But some good things happened too, and the benefits of one (my good fortune at winning an all-expense paid trip to Malaysia) are still to come. Besides losing someone dear to my heart, I also made new friends and for everyone's kindness and generosity I am truly grateful. I travelled, too, and had the pleasure of showing my pal Ingrid the beauties of Greece, my second home as well as introducing her to my Welsh cousins while we were in the U.K.

If there was anything I could have done better in the past year, it would have been to have completed my novel. I really had hoped this would happen by the end of the year, but the upsets of the past months have intefered somewhat with my creativity, though I did have some success in publishing this year with my travel articles. I was thinking about this yesterday, realizing how many more stories I have yet to write, and why do I keep detouring instead of focusing on catching up before the next round of trips begin? 2006 already looks like a year I'm going to make some fantastic new travels. First, to Malaysia in March, and hopefully to Chile later in the year. So I better make a firm resolution to get those old stories written!

I've always been a historical fiction writer, but twenty-four years ago, while taking a Creative Writing class, I realized that in order to get a novel published I should first try to get some publishing experience. That is when I decided to put my journalism skills to work and try writing travel articles. I sold the first one I sent out. That set me on the course to be a travel journalist, and whenever I could, to combine my historical research trips with travel writing.

Okay, the next part of this 'essay' is cheating because it's already been published on-line and in a small press publication. But it goes along with the theme of Travel and time-travel, looking back in time and looking forward to the future.

"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are. " Samuel Johson 1709-1784

WRITING AWAY

The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.
Tao te Ching, Verse 64
There is a similarity between historical writing and travel writing. Both are about journeys: one is a journey back in time, the other a journey of the present. Where the difference lies is in the style of the writing. Historical fiction is a lengthy prose style, historical non-fiction can be more documentary or essay. Travel writing is either journalism or the less formal style of creative non-fiction, a story-telling style where creative embellishments are allowed. I am both a historical and a travel writer. I write about my travels because of what I write in my historical fiction.

The historical fiction writer in me was born when I was twelve years old. Our family traveled across Canada by train, a long journey from the gentle hills and maple forests of Ontario, across the wide expanse of sun-dried flat lands an d yellow wheat fields of the Prairies, through the densely forested wilderness of the majestic Rocky Mountains to the lush green shores of the Pacific Ocean. My was transformed on that journey. I imagined how it must have been to be a pioneer, and I became one of them, an explorer who forever after wanted to know what was over the next mountain.

I began to write about the pioneers’ lives. Everything I wrote came out of my imagination, sparked by that train trip across Canada. Later, encouraged by my father who was a Baptist minister, I began writing stories with a Biblical theme, set in the Holy Land and ancient Rome. At sixteen, I was introduced to a historical character who would have a profound influence on my future as a historical-fiction writer. The legendary life of Alexander the Great caught my interest. Before graduation, I had a written novel with an Alexander theme. Thus began my quest in search of Alexander that continues to this day.

My keen interest in Celtic and Greek history eventually took me to Europe. I wanted to see the places I was writing about and try to get in touch with the ‘spirits’ of my characters. When I graduated from high school I had worked in the editorial department of a newspaper, and had some journalism background so I used these skills to write about my travels. The first travel article I submitted was published. This gave me the incentive to launch a new ‘career’ as a travel writer which has led to me teaching classes in Travel Writing and Novel Writing.

My journey in Alexander’s footsteps has taken me around Greece and Asia Minor and I return there often for research trips, living there while I write. I have been privileged to research at libraries in Athens and have visited many sites, making contact with Classical Scholars and archaeologists. While traveling for research I always look for angle for a travel article. Two years ago I visited Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) and Fetiye, Turkey (site of the fabled Lycian tombs). In Greece I visited, for the first time, Aristotles’ school, the Nymphaion, near Naoussa, where Alexander and his Companions spent two years studying philosophy and the sciences. In 2005 I once again explored the ancient agora in Athens, this time paying particular interest in the various public buildings where political affairs were held, to correct setting details for my novel.

While visiting the locations for my novel, I try to capture the essence of the countryside, use sensory details, and attempt to get in touch with the spirits. This helps place the reader at the scene, makes the characters more dimensional, and draws the arm-chair traveler into the scene.
To be a writer, you have to write. To be a travel writer, you have to travel. But to be a historical writer, you have to do both. Not only does it take imagination, but discipline, and a great deal of planning and research. Accuracy is important. Write about what you know. Spend some quite time to let the Muse speak, to absorb the essence of each place you visit as your recreate the world you are writing about.

"A traveller has a right to relate and embellish his adventures as he pleases..."
Rudolph Erich Raspe 1737-1794 "Travels of Baron Munchausan."

So, in 2006 I look forward to my new adventures in Malaysia. Winning this trip was one of the special 'gifts' I received in 2005 (from the B.C. Travel Writer's Association and Malaysian Tourism). My other 'gift' is the invitation by his ex-wife, to visit Chile and see the country through Anibal's eyes. You can read about my old and new adventures on my travel blog:

http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE IN BLOGLAND. I WISH YOU GOOD FORTUNE, GOOD HEALTH, SUCCESSFUL WRITING & PUBLISHING AND HAPPY TRAVELS!

Monday, December 26, 2005

FIFTEEN GREAT WAYS TO PROCRASTINATE

"Never do today what you can
Put off till tomorrow."
William Brighty Rands (Matthew Browne) 1823- 1882 "Lilliput Levee"

PROCRASTINATE: To put off intentionally and habitually
To put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.

Before beginning this tried and proven list of procrastinations you'd better set yourself a time limit or suddenly the day will have slipped away. My general rule (providing I'm up by at least 9 a.m.) is to begin writing by 11 a.m. and try to carry on til at least 3 or 4. It doesn't always work, but if you have allowed yourself time to 'play' a little before getting down to the task, once the Muse starts speaking you might find yourself on a non-stop writing jag.

1. If you know you have writing to do, take your time getting out of bed in the morning. Make
yourself some coffee. Eventually get dressed. (Well, at least by noon!)

2. Check your e-mail while you drink your coffee. In fact, check your email at least a dozen
times a day. While you're at it, check your blog site, maybe read a few of your friend's blogs.
Perhaps even write (or plan) a new one. If you also keep a journal (on-line or written), spend
some time writing in that too.

3. Stop checking the internet and play a few games of Free Cell and Solitaire. (To be fair,
I limit myself to five games each and quit once I've won.)

4. If you don't have a computer, play a few games of Solitaire with real playing cards.
(I limit myself to ten games, or it will go on all day.)

5. In between, make a few phone calls.

6. Check your email again. If you have no new mail, write a couple to friends.

7. Play with your pet (my bird loves this attention).

8. Google yourself. You'll be amazed!

9. Wash dishes, tidy up the mess you've left from the night before.

10. Make another cup of tea/coffee and prepare something to eat.

11. Read the newspaper. Do the newspaper cross-word puzzle(s). If you're using a cross- word book, you might have to limit how many you do) This is an excellent exercise for
writers. You learn lots of neat new words!

12. Maybe you need to take the garbage out or go for a little walk or do some stretching
exercises just to get the blood flowing to the brain before you start your day's writing.

13. How about taking the dog for a walk, or change the cat box, or clean the bird's cage?

14. Tidy up the piles of papers and books in your work space. How can you think with
all that clutter? While you're at it, you might notice things need dusting.

15. Make your week's/day's grocery list. This will make you hungry so take time out for a
snack.

Okay. Enough already! Now it's time to get down to work!

That, folks, is how I've perfected the art of procrastinating. And that's why my novel still isn't finished!

Okay, I'm exaggerating. However I do allow myself a bit of time to play around before I sit down to do serious writing or editing. It's a routine that seems to work for me though some days I really have to 'force' myself to get those first few lines written. Then, once I do I find myself propelled into it soon I'm in that 'other world' oblivious to anything that's around me. (Unless of course the bird is making a nest in my hair or climbing up and down my arm as I type.)

"Procrastination is the thief of time."
Edward Young 1683-1765 "The Statesman's Creed" st 1 - 393

"It is only a moment here and a moment there that the greatest writer has."
Robert Frost 1874-1963 "Comment"






Saturday, December 24, 2005

NOTHING LIKE SALSA DANCING TO MAKE THE SEASON MERRY

"...On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet."
George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron 1788-1824 "Chile Harold's Pilgrimage" st 22

One thing I love doing almost as much as writing, is dancing. I was brought up in a rather old-fashioned house with Victorian thinking, so when I was younger dancing was a forbidden pleasure which might lead to heaven knows what! So during high school, in order to attend dances I'd have to make up stories such as "It's only a Square Dance" in order to get permission to go.

By the time I had graduated and started working for the newspaper, I was fully in love with dancing, both classical and jive. I got free passes to see jazz musicians and attend concerts and ballets. I bought myself ballet lessons and later flamenco dancing lessons. I hid my ballet shoes and tights, and flameco shoes and castanets in my bottom drawer so Mom wouldn't find out. But one day she did, and asked me what they were for, so I told her. Surprisingly, she accepted that I was taking ballet lessons. Perhaps because my younger sister was taking figure skating (dancing on ice) which was apparantly OK in my parent's eyes.

Of course, I was too old to ever become a ballerina and after practicing my zapadeados in the marble hallway of the newspaper building while waiting for the elevator, I eventually gave up that idea as well. It was fun though and I never lost my love of dancing or the music that goes with it.

When I was married, my husband and I used to socialize at a private club. Rumba and chacha lessons were offered and we enrolled. So when there were dances, we were able to participate in the latest dance craze from Latin America.

Now it's salsa dancing. I love any kind of Latin American music. It always takes me back to those days past, especially my first trip to California back in '53 when Tito Puente was popular and everyone was dancing the Mambo. I had never heard anything so exciting as that music and I recall my friend and I bouncing in our seats to Tito's music (humming it as we heard it in our heads) all the way home on the Greyhound bus. Who would have guess then that many years later (last year) I'd be in Havana for the Jazz Festival, listening to some of Cuba's finest musicians.

My favourite place to go weekends is the Latin Quarter. That's where my friend Anibal played percussion with an excellent Latino group called Sumalao. I never get tired of listening to them play and dancing to the Latino rythmn even though there's only a small space in front of the band for dancing and we're only allowed after the first dinner seating is finished at 10.30 pm

For weeks now I've had a struggle going there and seeing that vacant spot by the band where Anibal used to sit. Sometimes, when they play songs I know he loved, I have to go outside and cry. I know everyone else there misses him too, especially the band members

Last night, even though I'd had a rather sad day thinking about him, I went with my friends to the L.Q. to dance and it turned out to be an excellent evening. Everyone was hugging everyone and saying "Feliz Navidad" and the band played and sang it too. I danced and danced and let the music flow through me. Anibal always said the music was his therapy. And I think it's mine too. I came home feeling joyful and grateful to have so many loving friends around me.

And today, as I walked to the Drive for my last-minute shopping, what a pleasant surprise!
There were Angels about -- specifically my own Guardian Angel, that lovely Frenchman J.P.
We always seem to meet on the street and it's always big hugs, big smiles, and kisses. Truly magical!

That set the tone for the rest of my day and I am certain that tonight's festivities will be jolly and great fun. He's a 5***** chef and when I told him what was on my menu tonight: "Life's Great Dinners: with cornish hens in sherry sauce, pate, rice and baby peas. Crab bisque for starters, he was impressed.
We hugged again, and off he went to the French restaurant where he works.

I was feeling so happy when I walked up the Drive, but coming past the coffee shop guess who was sitting there holding court -- my nemesis -- so I turned my face and walked by, ignoring her, then took the opposite side of the road back. No way was that person going to be allowed to enter my space on such a special day!

Now it's time to relax before the big cook-in starts and the guests arrive for an evening of merriment. There are loads of gayly wrapped gifts under my little gold tree. I bought a pretty poinsettia and more red led lights for my big plant, so the room looks very festive.
There's pomegranates and ginger ale and a plate of home baked goodies donated by a friend, so Santa will have a some treats too. (That's traditional in our house!)

Oh yes...and another Christmas surprise came yesterday in the mail -- a cheque for a Christmas story I'd submitted to a Christmas anthology. I didn't even know they'd published it! What a lovely surprise. The story was titled Christmas at Grandpa's and was about one special family Christmas when I was nine years old and bought everyone paper dragons for gifts.

So, light the candles (I'll light one for Anibal) and put on the Christmas music (or some salsa and jazz if you like!) pour a glass of ruby red wine and enjoy Christmas Eve with me.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HANNUKA TO ALL YOU BLOGGER FRIENDS.

"Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
Praise him with the psaltry and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance:
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud drums;
Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord."
The Holy Bible Psalms 150: 3-6

Thursday, December 22, 2005

SOME THOUGHTS ON A SOLSTICE NIGHT

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."
Anne Bradstreet 1612- 1672 "Meditations Divine and MOral" l 14

This was going to be "Musings on a Full Moon Night" but I never got around to writing the blog last week due to a number of disturbances and distractions (pleasant and otherwise).

I have been in the mood to hibernate the last two weeks, partly because I've been fighting colds and coping with sadness. Last week I chose to stay indoors for several days, except for short walks. I focused on my writing and did a new chapter segment for my novel. I was on a roll, I t hought, and by Wednesday night decided I needed a bit of socialiazing, so I went out.

"With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!"
Sir Philip Sidney 1554 - 1586

Unfortunately, my quiet reflective state of mind as I sat enjoying a beer at my favorite hang-out, was interrupted by the arrival of a person who was clearly looking for a confrontation and I was her target. A very upsetting scenario resulted with said person heaping verbal abuse on me to the point that I actually felt as if she'd physically abused me. Needless to say the unexpected drama created by this lunatic drama queen upset my evening, brought a load of negativity in to my space which carried over to the next day.
"Demonaic frenzy, moping melancholy,
And moon-struck madness."
John Milton 1608 - 1674 "Paradise Lost" XI l. 485

I'd hoped to carry on with my writing the rest of that week but it felt like I'd been smothered with black sludge. Things only improved when I took a friend's advice and did a smudge ceremony to clean my aura. I used some sage from my village in Greece and swept the sage smoke over me with a macaw feather (didn't have an eagle feather handy). Felt a lot better afterwards and then spent the evening with two good friends eating pizza and popcorn and watching one of my favourite Christmas movies "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

The weekend was an improvement and I had some fun but didn't get back to the writing. I spent the weekend out in the town where A's daughter's live. They invited me for a sleep-over to celebrate his birthday which would have been Sunday. So it was a bitter-sweet time, lots of talking and reminiscing and providing positive support for the girls who are really missing their Dad. He was much more of a family man than I had guessed and spent a lot of time with them being Dad and Grandpa, only coming into town weekends when he played with the band at the L.Q. And being the first Christmas without him, it's a very difficult time for his family. Still, we ate nachos, dranks some Chilean wine and made a toast to him with his favourite Napoleon brandy. I'm sure he was there with us, smiling, and pleased that I have made this connection with his daughters.

This week I wanted to write but somehow have felt a lack of energy and spirit. I wish I'd feel inspired, but I'm not. I spent a whole day Monday putting together a photo album for my son for Christmas. Only went out to attend my writer's group that night. Tuesday made an attempt to go to waterfit, could hardly drag myself out of bed and got there late, but I did swim an extra couple of lengths to make up for it. I vegged out on the settee last night watching TV: an Ed Sullivan Christmas show and a special with Barbara Walters about "Heaven" which was very good and somehow seemed appropriate for me to watch under the circumstances.

So here it is Wednesday, Winter Solstice, and I am still uninspired and haven't written a word except e-mails, journals and this blog. Today I went for lunch with a very interesting woman from my Memoir group who paints amazing portraits. She's involved in spiritual healing and her paintings reflect this. It was something I needed, to sit and talk with her and I felt better afterwards. I was set to stay in tonight but another friend called and suggested we go out so we could talk so it turned into a pleasant night, with some fine jazz playing at the LQ and good conversation. (I find Ihave to keep occupied these days, even when I'm at home alone -- and I do enjoy my solitude -- but somehow when there's a lapse in activity I find myself in tears.)

I searched for an excerpt from my Celtic story to post here because it seemed appropriate for this Solstice night, but it must be buried somewhere in my files.
So here's all I can write just now. I'm feeling exhausted, sick and still very sad but the weekend's coming and it's Christmas. I'm sure, in the end, everything's gong to be alright!

"See, Winter comes to rule the varied year,
Sullen and sad."
James Thomson 1700-1748 "The Seasons, Winter (1726)" l. 1

Monday, December 12, 2005

HOW DO WRITERS CELEBRATE THE FESTIVE SEASON?

"Heap on more wood! -- the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still." Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 "Lochinvar" VI - intro.st 1

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."
Charles Dickens 1812 - 1870 "A Christmas Carol." 1843

Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" as a serialized story for a newspaper, probably not realizing it would become a world classic. Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" is another all-time favorite. (I love the little movie they made of it and I watch it every year.) Louisa May Alcott begins chapter one of "Little Women" with the famous line "Christmas won't be Christmas without any present." And Clement Clarke Moore's beloved "Visit from St. Nicholas" is recited every year. "'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse..."

A lot of famous writers have written about this Festive Seasaon, and many songs lyrics have been written about Christmas too, besides the traditional Carols. "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..." Irving Berlin 1888 - 1989 "Holiday Inn (1942) White Christmas"
And the well-known children's songs such as "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and
"Frosty the Snow Man."

How do other writer's celebrate Christmas?

I was pleased last week to get a few shifts at the daycare. It's always fun this time of year being with the little ones, singing the Christmas songs, and watching their excitement as the Big Day arrives. Christmas has always been a special time for my family and we keep a lot of the old traditions handed down from my English/Welsh grandparents and great-grandparents. It disturbs me now to see how those 'politically correct' folk want to take the "Christmas" out of Christmas, even to changing it to a 'holiday tree'. What nonsense. First thing you know they'll abolish Santa Claus as well. These are old traditions passed down in our culture for hundreds of years and I see no reason to change them. Christmas is Christmas. Hannuka is Hannuka. Just as other cultures (Indo-Canadian, Buddist, Muslim) have their own Festive holidays we have Christmas.

Last night our Scribblers writer's group had our annual Christmas party. As usual, a delicious pot-luck dinner, an amusing exchange of gifts and guessing who wrote the anonymous Christmas stories. The tradition of writing the Christmas stories began several years ago so some of us have quite a collection now. These stories can be Christmas memoirs or short fiction with a festive theme. There was a good variety of stories read last night. S. wrote one that was patterned after Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales". K. brought a poem about a Prairie Christmas, D. wrote a dailogue of someone being interviewed for a Santa job and I wrote "Christmas with the In-laws." (How I, an innocent girl from a tee-totalling family who celebrated traditional English family Christmases was introduced to the hard-drinking, rowdy Christmases celebrated by my new husband's Ukranian family.) There was much merriment and good-will. The Scribblers' parties are always a highlight of the holiday season.

And there's more to come...dinner with friends, a party to honour my friend Anibal's birthday which would have been next Sunday, (Too bad I'll miss Santa's arrival at the daycare but I might try and drop in for that. I love watching the reactions of the little ones when Santa appears.)For my own family, I'll have the Christmas Eve gourmet dinner which I've prepared for a number of years: Cornish hens with sherry sauce and other goodies. The only family members who will be able to attend are my son and his wife (daughter and grandson go to the mountains to ski). And I've invited a few special friends, a couple of them writers. After dinner we'll sit around the pretend fireplace (my TV with the fireplace video) drink wine, get silly and have jolly good fun.There'll be presents for everyone. And for sure " the stockings will be hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon will be there..."

" 'Most all the time, the whole year round, there
ain't no flies on me,
But jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be."
Eugene Field 1850 -1895 'Jest 'Fore Christmas" st 1

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) "A Christmas Carol." 1843










Thursday, December 08, 2005

WRITING IN CAFES

THE CALABRIA ON A WINTER DAY
Outside, the rain has turned the snow to slush
but in here where
plump fruit-filled cakes hang from the rafters
I am surrounded by works of art
Aphrodite rises from her sea-shell, Caesar holds court,
painted walls are bright with Michaelangelo’s murals,
A curly-haired Adonis serves frothy latte in tall glass mugs,
while a blonde, beautiful Eros waits on tables.
Andreas Boccelli’s sweet tenor soars
above the cacophony of clattering crockery
and the mix of Italian and English voices.
The warmth of the Mediterranean fills the room.
It could be a cafe in Venice or Rome,
but outside the steamy windows of the Calabria
on this wintry day,
the west coast drizzle
has melted the snow
and bright-coloured umbrellas bob on the crowded sidewalk.

Written at the Calabria Coffee Shop, December, 2003

There has been some disccusion by other bloggers lately about favourite locations in which to compose and create, namely writing in cafes and/or coffee shops. Perhaps this idea has been made popular by the fact that J.P. Rowlings wrote her first highly successful Harry Potter book while hanging out in a coffee shop. However, writers have long been known to choose taverns, pubs and cafes as venues where they either write, generate ideas for their literary work, or perform (as in the case of many well-known poets). Writes such as Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durell, and Ernest Hemingway once hung out at the side-walk cafes of Paris imbibing wine while discussing (or writing) their latest literary work. In London there are various pubs where writers (especially poets) loved to congregate.

Last summer I visited the famous Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia where Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan notoriously swilled pints of Guiness and recited their poetry. It's a veritable writers' den of a pub, with pictures on the walls of the various literarai who hung out there. ( Virginia Woolf and George B. Shaw lived right around the corner.) That entire area of London, spilling over into Bloomsbury, was the haunt of writers and there are other pubs in the area that were popular with writers.

It seems nowdays there is a revival of coffee houses where poetry and prose readings are held. At least, in my city there are several excellent venues where you can take advantage of the open mike and rub shoulders with the local literary crowd. It has become a popular occupation these days to hang out with a notebook or a lap-top at a small (smoke free) cafe and even if it's crowded somehow you can feel like you're an island unto yurself as you write. (Perhaps the non-writers are in in awe of us?)

Usually when I'm working on new writing, I prefer the solitude of my apartment. Sometimes I don't even want background music, and certainly no interruptions by conversation or other noises. But often if I'm working out new ideas I'll write at the coffee shop.

My favorite place on the Drive is the Calabria. It has the ambience that seems condusive to conjuring the Muse. It's run by an Italian family - the handsome father and his 3 attractive sons. (One of them has been in the movies and there are photos of Italian movie stars and entertainers on the wall). The place is decorated with Italian kitch: plaster models of David and Aphrodite, copies of Michaelangelo's murals on ceilings and walls, larger than life Roman centurians in full armour, one jousting on horse-back. (These were purchased from Caesar's Palace in Los Vegas!) Only Italian music is played, often the language is spoken and they serve the best Italian sandwiches, biscotti and lattes on the Drive.

At any time of day or night you'll find people lounging at the tables, occupied intently with laptops or, like me, scribbling notes or editing scripts. It's a favourite haunt of screen-play writers. One of my friends has written most of her novel on her palm pilot while relaxing in the friendly cameraderie there. It's a place where writers congregate.

Usually I drop in to drink a latte and relax or visit with friends, but sometimes I go there to write. When I was working on the script for my play "The Street" I wrote pages and pages of dialogue while at the Calabria. It was a perfect atmosphere for this play, which is about an Italian immigrant family in the '50's.

Once in awhile I've had the spontaneous urge to write poetry there. And last week I spent part of the afternoon brainstorming the next few chapters of my novel. Often I've jotted down memoirs, journal notes, story ideas, lines of narrative for my works-in-progress.

A lot of writer's critique groups like to meet a cafes these days. Members of the Travel Writer's Association which I belong to sometimes get together at the art gallery restaurant downtown to workshop new stories. There's a group of literatis called The Shebeen Club who meet monthly at an Irish pub in Gastown for literary evenings. Sometimes writing (or hanging out with) the company of like minds is a good alternative to the solitude most of us writers experience , alone in our rooms staring at a computer screen. And there's something about writing in coffee shops that adds to the mystique of the lone writer. Where do you like to write?

"Some writers take to drink, others take to audiences."
Gore Vidal, 1925 - Interview in Paris Review 1981





Sunday, December 04, 2005

IN THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS

"The endearing elegance of female friendship."
Samuel Johnson 1709-1784 "Rasselas" 1759 ibid 46

It's been a busy week, much of it spent in the company of good friends, mainly women friends and a good many of them writers like myself.

Thursday there was lunch at a Mexican restaurant with my lovely Memoir ladies. Thursday evening, an Italian dinner with a some women who used to have a little writer's group. We always meet for dinner during the Festive season, about the only time we see each other.

Last night, Friday, was the gala sixth annual Christmas Blues Party. I had given up my quest to find the red blouse, instead, I searched through my closet and found the scarlet embroidered Chinese jacket I had bought a few years ago to wear when attending the performances of my play. As the playwright I had to be present and on stage after every show for the panel discussions they held. So I had a different costume each night. Nothing like living it up for my moment of fame!

I don't think I've worn the Chinese jacket more than a couple of times since then, and almost forgot I had it. Anyway, I wore my black silky slacks and a black silky high-neck shirt under the jacket and dug out a pair of gold dragon earrings with fake jade beads that I hadn't worn for years. Put all together it made quite an elegant outfit. And with the copper streaked hairdo I fetched a lot of compliments.

There was a long table reserved for my friends. The interesting thing was, they were nearly all writers. There were also a couple of my very long-time girlfriends there which made it even cozier. We had a grand time. The music, provided by my son's excellent Blues band, kept us dancing all night. They served delicious food at the Bistro too, so there was plenty to eat and drink. We writers (and musicians) sure know how to party!

It was good to be in the company of my friends. For the first time in weeks, I managed not to sink into a sad mood or dwell on missing A. I actually had fun, dancing and laughing and enjoying great conversation with people I hadn't seen in awhile. (There were even a couple of my son's long-time buddies who used to hang at our house when the kids were in high school.)

Today I had another delightful day with my women friends. Ingrid and MJ and I went to see that wonderful Indian movie "Water" which was so touchingly beautiful. Then we had a fantastic dinner at a Greek restaurant. (Oh ,so good hearing that Greek music! That always lifts my spirits.) The only time today I felt sad was when we walked by the hospital -- remembering all those weeks that I visited A. in Palliative Care.

I stayed home tonight and did very little, but Sunday I am determined to start work on the novel again. I have a few days without anything written on my calendar and then the merriment starts and there's lots to look forward to, even decorating my apartment.
And plans are already underway for the annual Christmas Eve dinner at my place.

"I fall back dazzled at beholding myself all rosy red."
Edmond Rostand 1868-1918 "Chantecler" 1910 - Act II, scene iii

"Keep your sunny side up." Buddy De Sylva (George Gard) 1895-1950
"Sunny Side Up" 1929 - title song



Thursday, December 01, 2005

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY

"At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year."
Thomas Tusser 1524-1580 "A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry" 1557
"The Farmer's Daily Diet."

Well, here it is December. Kala Mena, as the Greeks say at the first day of a new month.
"Good Month!" What do writers do when they aren't writing? Well, now that the holiday season seems rapidly upon us, my social calendar is quickly filling up with all sorts of
luncheons, dinners, parties and other festivities. I have been spending some time at home these days, between shopping sprees and visits with friends, so I didn't do a lot of writing this week other than in blogs and journals. I felt I needed a bit of time to 'regroup'. It's time for some changes.

So...today I went to my stylist's in the suburbs (a long sky-train and bus journey) and had my hair done -- a new style, something more 'gamin' and a new colour, bright and attractive for the festive season -- had some copper (red) streaks put in the blonde, so now my hair has a definite apricot glow which looks quite nice, a change from the platinum of the summer.

On my way home I decided to go Mall shopping. I haven't been to this particular Mall for several months and since my last visit they've renovated and changed things so it was a bit overwhelming. I was wandering around trying to relocate the Food Fair (because I was starving!) and who should I bump into my my son. What a nice surprise! He pointed me in the right direction for some souvlaki and Greek salad, and then I started my quest to find a new top for my Christmas wardrobe.

I'd had my eye on a red India-type shirt I'd seen at a small shop on the Drive, but when I'd gone back to look at it yesterday, decided it was a bit cheesy looking and too expensive. So I started to search at the Mall and I believe I went into every clothing store in the place, all three shopping tiers. Couldn't find anything that I liked. Saw a lot of ugly stuff and weird colours and found the music annoying in the shops -- talk about retail hype!!! -- and eventually gave up. Didn't spend a coin! And when I came out of the Mall it was already dark.

I'm in the mood for a total make-over and that includes wardrobe. But I don't want to spend money needlessly. So tonight I excavated my closet and found a couple of very nice tops that I'd totally forgotten I had. Trouble is, I have a lot of black stuff and I really have my heart set on red for the holidays. I guess partly because the last few months have been a very sad time for me, and I really want to get out of the doldrums and cheer up. RED to go with my RED streaked hair.

By the time I got home tonight the bird was beside himself with loneliness and flew right out into the hall way in his excitement to greet me. He then proceeded to act crazy for awhile, flying around the whole apartment from room-to-room. Later he settled down on my shoulder. He did make one attempt to nest in my new hair-do but I discouraged that pretty fast.

I was supposed to go and meet some writers from my Prompts class tonight, but as it was very late, and it appeared they might have decided to cancel, I decided not to go across town and instead stayed home and had an enjoyable evening doing absolutely nothing. Do I feel guilty for not writing the last couple of days? Not really, because I do write in my journals/blogs and I have been thinking over things about my novel. It's good to take a break now and then, regroup, and revitalize.

By the end of this week I should have some fresh ideas for the next chapter segment, and a good grip on my diet, hopefully my exercise program, and try to get myself in better shape for the festive season. Friday night is the sixth annual Christmas Blues Bash that my son, his wife and I always have at the Cottage Bistro. That sort of kicks off the holiday season and gets us in the mood for Christmas cheer. After that I'll think about hauling out the decorations. I've already almost finished the Christmas shopping. Now, if only I could find that red blouse I want!

"Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and y outhful jollity,
Quips and cranks and wanton wiles,
Nods and becks and wreathed smiles."
John Milton 1608-1674 "L'Allegro" (1631) 1.25

Sunday, November 27, 2005

MY LITTLE WRITING BUDDY

"The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises...
A gold feathered bird
sings in the palm." Wallace Stevesn 1879-1955 "Of Mere Being." 1957 st 1, 2

The last few days have been rather productive and now we're at the beginning of a new week I am ready to launch into more of the novel. I finished revisions on a Literary Travel piece, sent it off as requested. And wrote two travel bits for www.pothos.org travelling to Alexander sites.
Then I went over part of the new chapter for Shadow where I'd done some revision as suggested by my writer's workshop last week. Tomorrow I should finish that and get on with a new chapter segment.

I have a lot of friends who are writers, and this weekend spent quite a bit of time with various people, starting on Thursday when I had lunch downtown with M. one of the women from my Memoirs and critiquing group. I stayed in all day Friday writing, invited G. for dinner and had a pleasant evening talking (mostly he wanted to know the story of A.) Saturday I had a nice surprise when a Peruvian writer I know invited me for lunch. Over a bottle of Chilean wine, home-made ministrone, accompanied by excellent classical music, we talked the afternoon away, mostly discussing writing and life. And again today, I was invited to my friend M.J.'s for a little wine & sandwich soiree to meet her folks from the U.S. and mostly all the women there were from my writer's groups. An inspiring lot to hang out with!

In addition to the real live writers I know, I seem to have acquired a new writing buddy at home. His name is Cheeky. He's a grey and white cockateil with a yellow crested head and rosy cheeks. He can say a couple of words, but mostly he loves hanging out with me, follows me everywhere I go or perches on my shoulder. I adopted this feathered scamp a couple of weeks ago from the Grayhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary. I'd had a cockateil for a couple of years but he unfortunately died last year. He was the same colour and exactly the same name "Cheeky", but he wasn't hand-tamed and we communcated mostly with whistles. This little guy, Cheeky #2 actually seems to think he's a person. Friday night when G and I were having dinner, he dived right into my wine glass and had a few gulps, then waddled around the table pecking samples of the dinner (he loves potoates and even tried the chicken livers --- tsk! what a cannibal!)
He can be a pest, and that particular night got very hyper, like a naughty three-year old on a sugar high. I had quite a time getting him into his cage and boy, was he mad! He puts on his fierce eagle scowl, spreads his winds and hisses at me. Tough little guy!

Mostly, he loves sitting on my shoulder, nesting in my hair or observing me from the top of my computer when I'm working. I think he want's to be a writer. At best, I'm trying to teach him a bit more vocabulary. We once had a budgie who's favorite expression was "Wanna beer, Bert?"
I expect Cheeky to take up the refrain 'Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!" (Especially with the Christmas season coming up.)

He is a kind of small parrot, indiginous to Australia, and a very adept flier even though his flight feathers are clipped. He zoofs around my apartment and finds me no matter where I am.
At least I know what costume to wear next Hallowe'en. I always did like pirates and now I have my very own little parrot to perch on my shoulder!

"Keep a green bough in your heart
and a singing bird will come." Chinese proverb.



Thursday, November 24, 2005

OVER THE RAINBOW (and other Happy Endings)

"Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I dreamed of
Once in a Lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow -
Why then, oh why can't I?"
Edgar Y. Harburg 1898-1981 "The Wizard of Oz (1939) "Over the Rainbow"

As I was recently writing about Luck, Fate and Fortune, it seems appropriate that today something very significant happened -- an omen of 'luck' appeared out of the fog and rain and gloomy skies.

Actually the good fortune started yesterday although there have been a number of things happening since last week that for me were very fortunate. But yesterday was special. I was invited to lunch with A's wife and daughter and for me this was a significant occasion. C. is returning to Chile this weekend. We exchanged addresses and I promised to write to her -- in Spanish --(I really must make an effort to review what I learned last year and gave up on, much to A's chagrin!) And...C. has invited me to come to Chile to visit her. This would not only be a sentimental journey of great importance, but an excellent opportunity for me, the travel journalist to see Chile through A's eyes (guided by C.) This is a beautiful 'gift' I have had bestowed on me -- that I have come to know his family -- and somewhere up there, I can just see him smiling that bright smile of his. Who could have imagined that all this would have happened? I certainly never did!

Today, I was invited for lunch with my friend M. and we went for Persian food, then coffee and dessert. It had been foggy all morning, then raining, but M. and I decided to go for a walk in the park anyway. We had lots to talk about and as she's been away in Europe, and we were enjoying our time together. The rain didn't dampen our good spirits, and by the time we came out of the Park, the sun was trying to shine though the rain was still falling. I remarked that perhaps there would be a rainbow, though in November this might be unusual.

Well, by the time we reached the bus stop there was a magnificent rainbow arcing overhead. And a few minutes later, second rainbow appeared, arcing faintly above it. Double rainbows!
Double Luck! I took it as a good omen. There are things to look forward to : Christmas time; my trip to Malaysia in March. Meanwhile, I'm writing again. And I have been so fortunate to have such a team of loving, generous friends around me through these difficult weeks. Truly, I feel blessed!

"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky..."
William Wordsworth 1770- 1850 "My Heart Leaps Up." 1807

I used to wear a rainbow-colour cap from Guatemala. My friends called me
"Ruthie Rainbow" ( Remember that, *Sparkle*? )







Saturday, November 19, 2005

WRITING THROUGH THE STORM

"Fortunately psychoanalysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. Life itself still remains a very effective therapist." Karen Horney 1883-1952 "Our Inner Conflicts" 1945

It has not been so easy for me to write these past weeks, at least not the serious new chapter segments of my novel which required psyching myself into Alexander's world and focusing on the characters and plot. Yet writing really is my therapy, so I concentrated instead on revisions and did editing for my writing class students. Mostly, I wrote in my blogs or journals (on-line and written.) I've kept a written journal for at least 25 years though I don't necessarily write in it every day. However for the past few months I've tried to record everything that happened, snippets of conversations and events that took place between A. and me at the hospital or his home, before he died. And since he died, I've tried to write some of my thoughts on my on-line journal and blogs as well. Writing things down definitely seems to have a therapeutic effect. I know for my hand written journals which contain mainly private thoughts, when I look back over the months or years and read about the events in my life, I see how I weathered storms and how various experiences had their affects on my life, or in changing my life.

I had not realized how much grief I would feel over A's death. Ours was a rather unusual relationship, based mainly on the fact we were both writers. I found him fascinating and mentally stimulating and now that he's no longer here, I realize what a profound experience it was knowing him. I also know that life must go on...

So I have been trying the weather the storm (which has included things like smashed windows resulting in a draughty bedroom, resulting in an ear infection and assorted other ills. Not to speak of my usual state of pennilessness.)

I have skirted around the serious writing lately, but now it's time to buckle down again. And one thing I know is that when I immerse myself in Alexander's world, I am far, far away from this one and so it's a good distraction from those thoughts of sadness and regret. In preparation for a new week to begin, one in which I hope I will be able to get more writing done (not only on my novel but I must start preparing some articles to market), I have tried to keep myself occupied with pleasant events which has included spending time with good friends. Lucky me to have such a wonderful network of guardian angels!! It began Thursday, when care-packages of groceries started to arrive, and friends dropped by to spend time with me, to provide hugs and consolling conversations. I went last night to listen to the Latin music, still so aware of that vacant spot in the band. I got feeling very tearful when they played his favorite songs, and others there did too. But I knew I had to stick it out, stop dwelling on the sad stuff.

Today again there was music when I went with a girlfriend to hear my son's Blues band. Sunday I've been invited to the Santa Claus breakfast with another friend's family, then to watch the Santa parade along with their two little boys. Time to be a kid again and get into the festive spirit.

My hope is that by Monday I'll be feeling better both in body and spirit and can return to work on my novel. As my night school classes are all finished this week I'll have plenty more time to spend on my own writing. I know it's going to take awhile to get over the tragedy. There's still a lot of tears left to shed and many things to think about. Already I have learned some valuable things about myself. In the meantime I know I have to keep on writing!

"No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world's storm troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear."
Emily Bronte 1818-1848 "Last Lines" 1846 st. 1


Monday, November 14, 2005

LUCK, FORTUNE AND FATE

"This is the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd numbers...
There is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance or death."
William Shakespeare 1564 - 1616 "The Merry Wives of Windsor" Viii,10

Last week at my Memoirs group, we had an interesting discussion on habits and 'old wives tales'. One of the members who is of Greek descent, brought in a list of the beliefs the Greeks have, many of them going right back to ancient times. One was the discussion about how things happen in threes. For instance, the Greeks with 'spit' (Ptoo, ptoo, ptoo) three times to ward off evil.

"Our concern be peace of mind: some old crone let us seek,
To spit on us for luck and keep unlovely things afar." Theocritus 310-250 BC "Idylls" VII

The "mati", or "eye" is a charm worn to ward of the Evil Eye. I have several of these charms and wear them often.

The 'things come in threes' theory was proven once again on the weekend when I got a phone call early Saturday morning from the Greek Man on the Bus who is an aquaintance I knew when I lived in Athens, and happens to be a friend of the taverna owners where I hang out there. I hadn't heard from Dimitris for awhile and suddenly he called, inviting me to join him one day for coffee. This call was followed by one from my favorite nephew who I also had not heard from for several months. He also invited me for coffee. Then, a third call from a cousin back East who almost never phones except perhaps at Christmas. Was this simply a coincidence or is it true: Things happen in threes?

As far as luck is concerned, I feel fairly lucky, and fortunate too. Because just when I feel at my wits end about things, someone or something happens to help out or change things. I was lucky the other week when a brick came through my window in the middle of the night as I sat at my computer chair. If I'd been in my bed I'd have been showered with shards of glass. And when I found the brick right behind my computer chair I realize how lucky I was not to have been conked on the head! (I actually thought the 'explosion' I heard was a gunshot. Lucky me!)

The ancient Greeks were great believers in Fate and Fortune. It was called "Moira" . The Persians called it "Qismet". So the characters in my novel often talk about fate and fortune, piously appealing to the gods for 'signs' and guidance, just as we do in our modern lives.

In this scene from Part II of "Shadow of the Lion" Alexander the Great's little son questions his Uncle Ptolemy:

The child looked intently at Ptolemy. "What is moira?"
"That is your destiny," Ptolemy explained. "The path the god has chosen for you. It is why your father took his army to Persia. He was following his moira. While he lived, he always walked with the gods and went where they led him. His death was ordained by the gods. The seers foretold his coming to Babylon. They also foretold his death. Alexander was like the fire that falls from heaven. He burned so brightly he lit the sky more brilliantly than the sun. All the world marveled at his deeds and will speak of them fo years to come."

"Leave all else to the gods - "
"Cease to ask what the morrow will bring forth,
and set down as gain each day that Fortune grants."
Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) 65-8 BC "Odes" 1:13
Sometimes the characters in Shadow seized opportunities to improve their good fortune, as did Alexander's half-sister Thessaloniki. (You'll recognize her name. She had a city named after her. But how did that come about?) Kassandros, son of the recently deceased Regent Antiipater, and a long-time rival and enemy of Alexander, plots to seize the Regency by engaging himself to a daughter of the Royal House.

"Let me help you," insisted Kassandros. "Marry me and I will not only put you on the throne, but name a city after you!"

Thessaloniki's eyes narrowed. "Is this a brbie, Sir?"

"I beseech you,Madam," he said in a tone of conciliation. "Do not entrust your kinsman's throne to a foreign child of dubious birthright, who is under the control of a has-been soldier of fortune who cares nothing for your well-being. Give consideration to what I have offered you."

She looked at him silently. "Leave now!" she commanded. Then her voice softened. "I am not prepared to give you my answer now, but I will consider it."

Kassandros bowed with exaggerated deference. "As you desire, Princess. May you prosper."

Thessaloniki turned quickly back to her loom. She knew Kassandros had gone only by the sound of the door closing. She realized her head was aching and her hands trembled so her fingers snagged the threads. Had she insulted him by refusing to answer immediately?

For a long time she sat, until the lamps had burned so low the wicks spluttered in the oil. Kassandros' proposal both startled and confused her and bred in her mind curious thoughts. She needed wise counsel, but who was there to turn to? She was alone and friendless in the palace. Kassandros had offered her protection and a name. A city named in her honour! What other Macedonian princess could claim that? The Regent's son and the King's daughter. Such a combination might well suit both their purposes. How could she turn him down?

She allowed herself to smile. "To prosperity!" she thought.

"Do you wish to roam farther and farther?
See! The Good lies so near.
Only learn to seize good fortune,
For fortune's always here."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 - 1832 "Remembrance"

But will the new Regent, Polyperchon, be so fortunate when he appeals to the god for counsel in bringing peace to the Greek city states and appeasing the Athenians?

The shrine was in a grove of sacred oaks. The clearing trilled with birdsong. Polyperchon was alone in the grove yet, even in the stillness, he could feel a Presence and his nape prickled. In the midst of the wood was the most sacred spot, a small-roofed colonnaded temple adorned with paintings and statues of bronze and marble. Here the holy altar stood, guarded by Zeus' eagle, its wings spread wide. A curl of smoke rose from the alter stones and the semll of burnt offering hung in the air.

He stpped forward. Last year's oak leaves rustled under his feet. He bowed and made the proskynesis, bringing his right hand to his lips to kiss the tips of his fingers. He burned an offering of frankincense on the altar and spread his hands to invoke the god with the proper praises and epithets.

"Oh Zeus, much honoured, Zeus supremely great, to Thee these holy rites I consecrate, my prayers and expectations. King Divine, be favourable to me, Father Zeus, and what I shall undertake, according to my prayers."

He prayed that he would receive the God's guidance in all that must be done to save the peace. He knew he was holding the destiny of Athens in his hands. What if the Athenians rejected his edict? He recalled the battle at Chaironeia after Thebes and Athens had refused Philip's treaty. General Phokion had urged them to heed the oracles at Delphi and accept it, but he had been laughed down by Demosthenes who derided Philip and said that everyone knew Philip had bribed the Pythia. The resulting slaughter and defeat had been a complete victory for Macedon, acknowledging Philip as Grand Hegamon, supreme war-leader of Greece. But could he, Polyperhcon, lead his country to victory again if the city states rebelled?

He was not a pious man, but he calle ddown Zeus' power, invoking the god for wisdom in his actions and success in his conquest.

"Father Zeus, Send me a sign now, and I will follow your command."

He felt the great carved eyes of Zeus' eagle bore into him. A chill draught brushed by him and the breeze ruffled the leaves of the sacred oaks. He thought of the fleet he must raise, and the army he must deploy to bring order to Athens. He wondered what Antipater would have done and what he should do in Antipater's place. And Alexander? And Philip? Their legacy was too great for him, but he must do his best for Macedon.

And so we too face our "Fortunes" and our "Fate". And are we the masters of the way things turn out? Why is it that someone who is passionate with life is suddenly snatched away by accident or terminal illness? Is it fate? Why do things happen, good or bad? Is it just a matter of 'luck' like winning the lottery? (Or me, winning a trip to Malaysia?) How much is simply coincidence like the three phone calls I got on Saturday morning, or escaping injury from a flying brick and exploding window?

"Lead me, Zeus, and you, Fate, wherever you have assigned me.
I shall follow without hesitation; but even if I am disobedient and do not wish to,
I shall follow no less surely."
Cleanthes 3300-232 BC from "EPICTETUS, Enchiridion." sec. 53









Tuesday, November 08, 2005

PSYCHIC CONNECTIONS

DEJA VU: (F. deja vu - ad.) literal: 'already seen"
PARANMESIA: something overly or unpleasantly familiar. The illusion of remembering scenes and events experienced for the first time = deja vu
EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION: residing beyond or outside the ordinary senses.

"The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space." Sameul Taylor Coleridge 1772 - 1834

I've always experienced a sense of feeling connections with something or someone outside the ordinary, as in ESP. It goes back to my childhood, when I was convinced there were spirits (ghosts). Perhaps it was just part of the early development of my writer's imagination. But I do know these feelings have carried over into my adult life, and I have many examples of this. Most recently, there were the dreams, the psychic connections I had related to very close friends who have passed. One distinct event happened five years ago when my close friend and soul-brother Roberto was dying in a hospice in Athens.

I was in the bathroom getting ready to go out for the evening but my thoughts were focused entirely on Roberto, and I stopped what I was doing to project myself to his bedside, praying that he would know I was 'with' him. At that moment something squeezed my hand so tightly that my ring was crushed onto my finger and bent out of shape with the force. It startled me, of course. I had to pry the ring off my finger and was amazed at how it had bent that way. But I knew somehow that Roberto had transfered psychic thoughts to me at that moment and had squeezed my hand tightly. What I didn't know was that was around the time he died.

Late last July, when I had lost track of my friend Anibal but knew something was wrong as people had reported seeing him and said he looked unwell, I had a dream that I was in a community centre where there had been entertainment and people were sitting around at tables eating. I spotted him and his friend H. and went to speak to them. Anibal looked thin and gray and was sitting staring down at his plate, unsmiling. I spoke to them and H. grinned at me in his boyish way. When I greeted Anibal he looked up and held out his hand. When I took his hand in mine it was ice cold. This startled me as he always had a warm touch. A few days later I found out he was in the hospital with terminal cancer. When I went to see him, he held out his hand to take mine, and his hand was ice cold, and he looked thin and gray just like in the dream.

Last week, I woke suddenly at 8.15, looked at the clock and went back to sleep. I had a troubling dream about being in a house in a place called White Rock. There was a lot of noice, tv blaring, music and people talking and I was distressed because I couldn't concentrate to do my writing. I woke, relieved to be in my own apartment. An hour later I got the call from his daughter to say Anibal had died at 8.15. And later, when I told her about the dream, she said her Dad and Mother had once had a house in White Rock.

How can we explain these eerie psychic connections? I knew from the start there was some kind of mental connection between A. and myself. That was what drew us together as friends, and in the same way my friend Roberto and I were very connected, almost like brother and sister - Gemini twins.

There are been many other incidents in my life, and in particular some vividly connected with deja vu or "Paramnesia" in which I have been somewhere that seemed uncannily familiar, as if I have been there before. A lot of these incidents have been connected to my historical fiction writing and travel experiences.

I first began to write about Alexander the Great's world when I was seventeen. At that time I had never been to Greece and only read about it in library books but the characters and places became familiar to me. People used to ask if I thought perhaps I'd 'been there' -- lived in that time in a past life. Perhaps. Because the first time I went to Greece, many years later, then referred back to that original manuscript, the descriptions of the land and other details were uncannily as they were. In fact, the first time I walked into the ancient Agora in Athens, I stopped dead in my tracks and burst into tears, because the whole scene unfolded as if I was back in time and could see it all exactly as it had been. I've had that happen a few places in Greece.

When I began my second novel (a w.i.p.) "Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale" in which I narrate the story in the voice of "Olwen" a girl who has been raised by the Druids, there is also an Alexander connection. Olwen is very much like my alter-ego. She speaks through me to tell her amazing story. When I first went to visit Stonehenge which is part of the setting, I was waiting in the bus depot at Salisbury and learned of an Iron Age hillfort nearby. I walked out to the site, and as I approached the grassy, tree-covered mound, I could suddenly visualize it exactly as it had been. I turned down a path through the fields to explore. But something held me back. I tried a couple of times to pass by, but couldn't, and realized that something foreboding had happened there. Later, Olwen would reveal this incident to me. She had witnessed a murder there!

Another interesting psychic connection with this story was my inclusion of some details about a Druid holy place, Senghenydd, in Wales. When I showed my father the early draft of the MSS to get his opinion on the cadence of the Welsh speakers, he remarked that my great grandfather had been killed in a mining explosion in Senghendd. A couple of years ago, I actually visited there.

While I was researching on site for my current novel "Shadow of the Lion" I was hiking up the road toward Amphipolis, the hill fort where Alexander's son was murdered. As I approached, the sky grew dark, and a bolt of lightening struck right above the place where the citadel was located. I took this as a very eerie omen, and that day I didn't reach the site. But on a second visit a year or so later, I went all the way up to where the fortress ruins were, then climbed down the embankment under the remains of the walls, on a quest to retrace the path the boy (Alexander's son) and his friend might have taken in their attempt to escape. When you put yourself right into the scene, and let your imagination loose, it's surprising what psychic connections you can conjur!

How much of this is imagination and how much is 'real'? I suppose it depends on what you believe in and how you react to incidents -- if you are open and sensitive to accept these paranormal and psychic experiences. I do believe that we are sent signs and messages from the loved ones who have departed, and I have had enough deja vu experiences (especially in Greece) to firmly believe I might have lived there in another time. What do you think?

"And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brighteness of the expanse of Heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3

"The earth's about five m illion years old, at least,
Who can afford to live in the past?" Harold Ppinter 1930 - "The Homecoming" 1965 act iii

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

REQUIEM FOR A HERO

Please don't mourn as I depart, for that is when my life will start.
No longer will I be facing death, I'll be breathing Heaven's breath.
Please don't weep, don't weep for me,
I'll be home in Eternity." Bob Gotti 1957 from "Don't Weep for Me."

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy."
Somehow, for me, a writer, I always seem to be writing tragedies. My play "The Street: A Modern Tragedy" was partly autobiographical, based on the unfortunate demise of my first love who had become a heroin addict. My second play House of the Muses (work in progress) is about the poet Sappho who committed suicide because of unrequited love. The protagonist, Olwen, of my first-person w.i.p. novel Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale is a somewhat tragic heroine too. And my current w.i.p. Shadow of the Lion about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty, is a classic Greek tragedy.

And once again, today, I am writing a tragedy -- one that is true. That is, the unfortunate death of my friend Anibal who passed away last Friday.

He was a man who loved life, who was a champion for social justice, working for the poor and oppressed, a hero in his own country, Chile, who was forced to flee Pinochet's military junta and lived here in exile. He was a scholar, a philosopher, a writer, a poet, a musician -- a man who lived passionately in everything he did. He was my mentor, in a way, as well as my friend. He encouraged me to read more, learn more about philosophy and educated me about the politics of his country. He spoke often of "nostalgia" and "melancholy". He longed for his homeland. He read voraciously -- almost always had a book with him -- and it was he who introduced me to his favorite poet, Pablo Neruda.

You are taken in the net of my music, my love,
and my nets of music are wide as the sky.
My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning,
In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begin.
Pablo Neruda "In My Sky at Twilight."

It was truly a tragedy that Anibal had to die. He said to me several times during his weeks of intense suffering "What have I done that was bad?" Of course, he had done nothing. His illness, cancer, was one of the great misfortunes that can happen to any of us. He had lived his life well, taken care of himself, so who can say why these things happen? Truly, his death is a tragedy, a great loss for everyone -- his family, his many friends. He said to me once, "We will be friends til the end of time." And yes, we will be, Anibal, because I will never forget you. Nor will I forget all the wonderful things you taught me in our long talks and discussions. Especially, when I hear the music, I will remember you and your brilliant smile. But now you are going home, where you always wanted to be. And we who loved you will never forget you.

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways -
I to die, and you to live. Which is better, God only knows.
Plato 428-348 BC Apology (ibid 42)

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 Hamlet Vii, 373





Monday, October 24, 2005

A WEEKEND IN LITERARY LAND

"You can declare at the very start that it's impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your back so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels."
Gunter Grass (1927 -) The Tin Drum (1959) bk 7 "The Wide Skirt"

This weekend was the Surrey International Writer's Conference (www.siwc.com) and I was a volunteer (mainly because, being a poor full-time writer I can never afford to attend it otherwise.) I was thrilled with the jobs I was given: to introduce several of the authors and agents for their workshops. I was also able to attend a few of the workshops where I was either a door monitor or just sitting in. I made a lot of notes, and will include them here to share the information with you other writers who sometimes visit my blog site.

I introduced Deirdre Knight of the Knight Agency. This is what she had to say about the Author/Agent Relationship:
There will be several good agents, so start with the right person. Keep a good personality fit. You want someone who likes the full scope of what you are doing. Agents are the managers of your careers. Regarding blogs: Blogs help you equip yourself better.

I monitored and sat in on an exception lecture by Michael Slade, crime/suspense writer. Interestingly, this is his pen name. He also co-writes with his daughter. He used to be a lawyer and is a dynamic speaker as well as a high-impact writer!
Suspense - How to Avoid the Mistakes that Break It:
Keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Start with action, explain later. Hook the reader with the first line. Every chapter ends with a hook too. Write the last sentence in the book before you write the first one. Then you know where the payoff goes and the plot will all move to this point.Make it tough for your hero. Give him a worthy villain.

I introduced a B.C. author who writes Memoirs. This is what Luanne Armstrong had to say:
Memoirs are a best-selling genre these days. You can make a brilliant story out of ordinary life. ("Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard was an example of this.Attention to details is important in a memoir. Involve the reader. Turn the focus on to ordinary things. The memorist's job is to get under the story: What happened? Why? Ask yourself "What is the story beneath your story?"

At the workshop for "Why Anne Boleyn is the Poster Girl for Historical Fiction" I introduced agent Irene Goodman. She told us:
The story must capture the imagination of the reader. Write with authenticity. Write what comes from the deepest part of you.The time for historical fiction has never been better than now. Her agency looks for stories with strong, interesting women heroines drawn from real historical characters. (The agency also handles other genres.)

It was quite a thrill for me to be chosen as the introducers for three best-selling authors:
Jean Auel, Diana Gabaldon and Terry Brooks for the workshop: "Worlds that Were and Worlds that Used to Be" This was a panel discussion with a lot of input from the audience. Here's some of the comments the authors made:
Terry Brooks, author of the best-selling Magic Kingdom series -- "The Sword of Shannara" etc.On World-building: It has to resonate in a way to make sense. There must be a level of believablity - a willing suspension of disbelief. He says he outlines everything but doesn't necessarily do a lot of research.

Jean Auel ("The Earth's Children" series, most notably "Clan of the Cave Bear") says she starts with a story idea, researching and makes lots of notes, and then makes a bare outline. She is still using the origianal draft of "Clan of the Cave Bear" to build on her newest novel in the series (book six).

Diana Gabaldon, author of the best-selling "Outlander" series, warns that researching can be a pitfall for historical writers. (Be careful you aren't just researching and not writing!) Research and writing feed off each other. Interesting pieces of information can trigger plot ideas. She writes in bits and pieces (randomly) rather than in a linear way.

They all said: Keep working at something! You need to keep writing! Trust your instincts!

Both Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte, a B.C. writer, are very popular presenters at the Surrey Conference. I was pleased to be able to introduce Jack Whyte for his interesting workshop on
Description.
Jack Whyte has a series of books about the Arthurian legends and Roman Britain and is currently writing a series on the Knights Templar. One thing he emphasized was: Don't over-describe. Description is crucially important. Set the scene and describe what is visually relevant. In "telling" you have to "show" Don't use complicated words. Keep it simple. Don't give too much detail. Leave something to the reader's own imagination.

I also attended a workshop on Blogging: A Writer's Tool by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor.

Blogging helps you break out of writer's block. It keeps you in touch with other writers and puts your words out there. She says she always replies to comments on her blog site!

I sat in on two workshops with author Jessica Morrell. One was "Nail the Ending" in which she pointed out:
The final lines are important. Make your ending satisfying to the reader. Spectacular endings may seem false. Keep your work true to itself.

In the lecture : "Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches -- Bad Guys in Fiction" she suggested:
Work on the back story of the antagonist or villain. Create a plot so the secrets of the back story come up toward the end of the story. She went over the various types of antagonists and their personality flaws, traits etc. She said an unlikeable antagonist is difficult to pull off and has to have an extreme personality. (such as Don Corlioni). Anti Heros are somewhere between villain and protagonist and often seen as an outsider. (Willie Loman). Is he redeemable?Multiple point of view works best when you have unlikable protagonists in your story. The come-uppance in your story can't be contrived. Usually the unlikable character brings himself /herself down. Show your characters are like us, not unlike us, by presenting their back-story. Where did they go wrong? What made them into the kind of person they are now?

I found this workshop relevant to my own novel in that I have a multiple point of view with many of the historical characters portrayed as anti-heros - and one distinct villain! In fact, I created a couple of fictional 'heros' for my novel because so many of the key players in the fall of Alexander's dynasty were anti-heros or antagonists. This particular lecture also gave me some good insights and ideas for strengthening the real heros of my novel. I have also built up the characters of several of the women involved because historians gave them bad press and in researching their lives I realized what strong women they really were. In fact, there's a couple of them who deserve books of their own!

It was a great conference and I was so glad I was able to participate, although it would have been even more excellent had we been invited into the lunches (especially the genre lunch) and dinners. We did manage to schmooze a ticket for the Saturday dinner with the keynote speaker award winning author Jennifer Cruisie. And on Sunday we sat in on the keynote address by Diana Gabaldon who is a delightful person. I came home yesterday (Sunday) totally exhausted, my head full of ideas, burning with inspiration. So this week I am determine to focus entirely on my novel writing, although I'm happy to learn the teacher's strike is over so my night-school classes will resume this week too. Lots to write. So little time! Better get to work right now!

"Really, the writer doesn't want success. He knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall - 'Kilroy Was Here' - that somebody a hundred, or a thousand years later will see."
William Faulkner (1897-1962) From "Faulkner in the University (1959) session 8